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Baseball Preview: Infielders

Luke Mann will lead the group, but the departures of Torin Montgomery and Josh Day have left voids in the infield

via Twitter / @MizzouBaseball

In 2022, the three-headed monster of Luke Mann, Josh Day and Torin Montgomery led a Tigers infield that carried the team. In 2023, Mann is back, but the Tigers will need to replace Day and Montgomery who are in the minor leagues now. The good news for Missouri fans is that the Tigers have some reinforcements who might just be able to recreate the success of last year’s infield.

No matter who fills the voids of last year, the Tigers will be relying on Luke Mann to recreate his 2022 production. The senior from St. Louis slashed .270/.401/.595 and hit 17 HR with a 130 wRC+ and .434 wOBA. Mann got some recognition this week for his 2022 performance when he was named to the Preseason All-SEC First Team. He was the first Tiger to make Preseason All-SEC since Kameron Misner five years ago.

Last season, Mann hit some leadoff, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that again this season. He got significantly more ABs by being at the top of the lineup, and it paid off in the form of a number of homers. Mann will also DH some days as he has done in past years. In his absence, Hector Mangual is probably the favorite to occupy the hot corner. Mangual is a sophomore and had a .754 OPS in 19 PAs last season.

The man who will be asked to replace Josh Day at SS will be Justin Colon. A sophomore who was the No. 115 overall recruit in his class, Colon has the pedigree to fill Day’s shoes. A defensive wizard at SS, Colon’s glove might even be an upgrade on Day, but where he will have to show his value is at the plate.

In 40 PAs last season, Colon slashed .294/.385/.618 with 2 HR, 3 doubles, a 134 wRC+ and .441 wOBA. It’s unlikley he can recreate that production on a larger scale, but I wouldn’t rule it out as Colon has excelled every chance he has gotten. Who’s to say that will stop now?

When Colon gets the day off, he will likely get relief from one of Missouri’s most prized freshmen, Jackson Lovich. The younger brother of OF Ross Lovich, Jackson was taken in the 19th Round by the Mets in last summer’s MLB Draft.

via Twitter / @MizzouBaseball

With Nander De Sedas’ departure from the program, it seemed like Trevor Austin would be the everyday 2B again for Missouri, but from what I’ve been told, Austin is going to primarily play the OF and Bethune Cookman transfer Matthew Garcia will be the everyday 2B.

Garcia played SS last year for Bethune Cookman, but he should easily make the transition to the right side of the infield. Last season Garcia slashed .305/.364/.456 with 4 HR, 101 wRC+ and .374 wOBA. While none of that is exceptional, neither was Nander De Sedas’ 92 wRC+ and .356 wOBA.

If Garcia can simply replicate De Sedas’ production from last year, his addition to this infield can be seen as a success.

via Twitter / @MizzouBaseball

At 1B, one of Missouri’s most exciting transfers, Hank Zeisler will do his best to replace Torin Montgomery’s reliable middle-of-the-order bat. Montgomery’s 141 wRC+ and .455 wOBA led Missouri’s everyday players, but somehow Zeisler actually produced at an even higher rate for UNLV in 2022.

Zeisler slashed .396/.494/.693 with 17 HR, a 174 wRC+ and .523 wOBA (none of these stats are typos by the way). Naturally, Zeisler was named to the All-Mountain West First Team for that ridiculous level of production. The likelihood that Zeisler can bring that same output from the MW to the SEC is slim-to-none, but he should instantly slide into the middle of this order with Trevor Austin and be one of Missouri’s most feared bats. I could easily see him being a better version of the instant-impact transfer bat that Fox Leum was for the Tigers in 2022. Prior to playing at UNLV in 2022, Zeisler had spent his previous three years of college baseball playing D3 at Champman University.

Where the Missouri infield is getting its biggest upgrade this season is behind the plate. Last season, Mike Coletta slashed .263/.346/.296 and Tre Morris was also subpar slashing .244/.300/.336. Enter Arkansas transfer Dylan Leach.

Leach was a Top 500 player according to Perfect Game in the 2020 class and has been Arkansas’ backup C the last two seasons. The switch-hitting Leach had an .898 and .814 OPS in his first two collegiate seasons and hit 5 HR in 113 PAs. Hopefully with more consistent ABs, Leach can continue to post an OPS around .800, and the Tigers’ lineup can reap the rewards of not having an automatic out at the catcher spot.

Last year on April 5, Leach it for the cycle and homered from each side of the plate against Central Arkansas. When he gets the day off, you can still expect to see Tre Morris getting some time behind the plate, but lesser role could be good for Morris as Missouri won’t rely on him to be an everyday player.

This concludes our preseason position previews, but we will be back later this week with a look ahead at the College Baseball Showdown where the Tigers will face perennial powers and old Big 12 foes Oklahoma State, Texas, and TCU.

Follow me on Twitter @KortayVincent for all your Missouri Baseball news.