Mizzou is 10-2, and they’re just one weekend away from a date with Tennessee in CoMo. However, before they take on the Volunteers, the Tigers have one final test in non-conference play.
NJIT isn’t going to wow anybody with its 4-6 record, but they’re a team that’s proven they can steal a game, or two, from Power 5 competition; just ask Purdue. New Jersey Tech even went toe-to-toe with undefeated No. 21 NC State in their Sunday game last week.
While their record might not be the most intimidating, you could make the argument this is possibly Missouri’s toughest opponent since the College Baseball Showdown on opening weekend. So what can the Tigers expect when the Highlanders come to Taylor Stadium this weekend?
At the Plate
Everything for the NJIT offense starts with CF Albert Choi. A first team All-America East selection in 2022, Choi was ranked the No. 3 draft prospect in the conference by D1Baseball coming into this season.
Choi’s a veteran of this Highlanders ballclub, and his best season came in 2021 when he posted a 126 wRC+. In 2021, that regressed to 106, but he still stole 25 bags and made first team all-conference.
In 2023, he’s back to his 2021 ways at the plate slashing, .386/.438/.682. He has 2 HR, 10 RBI and a 160 wRC+. Coming into this series with Mizzou, Choi is riding a nine-game hitting streak, and he’s proven that he can hit against high-major competition with 7 of those games coming against Purdue and NC State. He even mixed in a 5-5 performance during this hot streak.
After Choi, you get a little less certain with this NJIT lineup, but a pair of hitters are streaking early for the Highlanders. The first of these is C Luke Longo. Despite only starting seven games this season, Longo has a hit in six of them, and five of those have been multi-hit games.
Longo isn’t just hitting for average; he’s hitting the ball over the fence quite often and already has 5 HR this season. His previous career-high was six. He’s also slashing .367/.375/.900 with 10 RBI and a ridiculous 176 wRC+. Being able to say a player has a .900 slugging percentage is ridiculous, even if they’ve only played seven games.
The final player I’m going to spotlight in this preview is SS Ray Ortiz. After playing 2B last year, Ortiz has transitioned to the left side of the infield, and he’s improved as a hitter as well.
After having just a 99 wRC+ in 2022, Ortiz has raised his wRC+ to 125 this year. He’s slashing .293/.396/.585, and he’s hit three home runs.
Last year, his biggest flaw at the plate was the swing-and-miss in his game. A 34.4% K-rate was atrocious, but he’s cut that down this season. With that being said, Mizzou has one of the better staffs in the country at missing bats, so the Tiger starters could bring back some old bad habits for Ortiz this weekend.
On the Mound
On Friday, Mizzou will face probably the best pitcher in the American East, Ryan Fischer. The No. 4 draft prospect in the American East according to D1Baseball, Fischer was also American East Pitcher of the Year in 2022.
With a 3.97 ERA, 3.39 xFIP and 90 strikeouts in 95.1 innings in 2022, Fischer was dominant, but in 2023, things have gone a bit differently for the NJIT ace. In his first three starts, he has a 6.60 ERA and outside of a decent 5 inning, 2 ER start against Purdue, it hasn’t been pretty for Fischer this year.
While I haven’t been able to watch Fischer, just looking at his numbers, there’s been a heavy decline in his control which could be a place some of these issues stem from. In 2022, he had a 3.90 K-BB rate, but in 2023 that’s dropped over 50% to 1.83. This is a result of both his K-rate decreasing and BB-rate decreasing. Missing less bats and issuing more free passes is never a recipe for success.
On Saturday, Mizzou can expect to see lefty Aidan Kidd. Few pitchers in college baseball had a better first two starts than Kidd. In 10 innings, Kidd allowed just 1 ER and struck out 18 batters, but a wrench was thrown in his gaudy stat line when he faced a strong NC State lineup last weekend.
The Wolfpack roughed Kidd up to the tune of 6 ER in 2.2 innings as they cruised to a 21-2 win over NJIT. Kidd’s numbers returned to normalcy after that outing as he now owns a 4.97 ERA in 12.2 innings and has a 4.21 xFIP. Those numbers fall in line with his 2022 numbers when he made 10 starts and had a 4.97 ERA in 41.2 innings.
Despite a poor last start, it’s hard to ignore the success Kidd found against Davidson and Purdue in his first two starts. With a lineup that features some key lefty bats like Luke Mann, Cam Chick and Hank Zeisler, Mizzou will definitely need their A-game when facing Kidd.
Joe Georgini gets the ball for NJIT on Sundays. He’s got maybe the lowest upside of the Highlanders’ three starters, but he’s been the steadiest this season. In 16 innings, Georgini has a 3.94 ERA, and his best performance came against his toughest competition.
Against NC State last Sunday, Georgini gave NJIT six marvelous innings of one-run ball and allowed just three hits.
Prior to this season, Georgini spent most of his time as a reliever, making just 5 starts in 37 career appearances. In 2022 he was rather mediocre, throwing 39.2 innings with a 5.67 ERA.
Don’t expect him to strike many batters out, but also don’t expect him to walk many batters either. Georgini likes to pitch to contact, so if the Tigers can barrel a few balls up, they should be able to get to him early.
Thanks to some odd weather, some first pitch times have changed this weekend. Here’s what you can now expect:
Friday @ 3 p.m.
Saturday @ 1 p.m.
Sunday @ 12 p.m.