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BYU Cougars Baseball to open 2016 season with 4 game series against St. Louis

Get ready to play ball with this preview of the season opening series with the St. Louis Billikens.

Brett Hemmings/Getty Images

The BYU Baseball team is set to take the diamond  for the first time, officially, in 2016 on Friday against St. Louis.

Head Coach Mike Littlewood (career 82-78 at BYU) begins his 4th campaign with a huge influx of young talented players to join a solid core of veterans. The team is looking to improve upon their 28-26 record last season and exceed their projected 5th place WCC finish.

Of the newcomers, none of them is expected to make their impact more felt than Freshman Kyle Dean. Dean was considered the 22nd best outfielder nationally in his high school class and the 2nd outfielding prospect in the state of California. He was also honored as a 2nd team All-American by Perfect Game. Here's a look at a draft preview video made by Major League Baseball on Dean.

Dean chose to BYU over MLB for the time being. The 6'2" 205-pounder from San Diego is expected to crack BYU's starting lineup on day one. He will be patrolling right field.

Another freshman is expected in the starting lineup this weekend at 3rd base. Hailing from Meridian, Idaho, Jackson Cluff was Idaho's 3rd overall prospect. A Perfect Game All-American honorable mention, the 5'11" 175 lbs. Cluff has earned his way onto the field with a high display of competitiveness.

Brennon Anderson returns to the Cougars after serving a two year mission in Santiago, Chile. Anderson was BYU's starting 2nd baseman during his freshman season. He will likely return as the starter at 2nd.

The 2016 season sees the return of 3 players that started 53 of BYU's 54 games last season in the powerful C/1st baseman Colton Shaver, on-base machine SS Hayden Nielsen, and the speedy CF Brennon Lund.

Shaver was one of college baseball's best home run hitters ranking 40th nationally in home runs/per game (.25). Colton hammered 13 bombs and 42 RBIs while hitting for .313 average. Not a bad freshman campaign. The Cougars will once again rely on Shaver to produce at the plate.

Nielsen was clutch for the BYU in 2015 leading the team with 6 game winning RBIs. Nielsen has the Cougars best returning batting average hitting .342 last year. His steady glove is noticed at short -- converting 263 outs on 270 fielding opportunities.

Lund will serve as the Cougars leadoff batter. He hit.308 in 2015. His speed is utilized on the base paths as Brennon led BYU is stolen bases with 8. His ability to cover ground makes it difficult for opposing hitters to tuck-in hits toward center field.

On the bump, the Cougars will be looking for Michael Rucker to be their ace. Rucker led the 2015 Cougars in ERA posting a 3.32. Rucker made 23 appearances with 6 starts going 5-1. The junior righty struck out 56 batters while opponents hit just .280 off his arm.

A lot of new and unproven arms will be providing starts and relief for the 2016 Cougars. Pitching, once again, is BYU's biggest question mark.

The opening series against St. Louis will be a good challenge. The Billikens have won the Atlantic-10 championship in each of the last 4 season. They are projected to win the A-10 once again.

The first four games of the season are being played at Las Vegas' Cashman Field, the New York Mets AAA home of the 51s. They play ball Friday at 2 PM MST. A double header on Saturday with games at 1 PM MST and 4 PM MST. The series concludes Monday with the first pitch scheduled for 1 PM MST. If you are in Las Vegas, the games are free to attend. The games will not be broadcast, however, fans can follow along with live stats found on the BYU Baseball schedule page.

The starting pitching rotation for this weekend:

4 game series vs. St. Louis Name Hand 2015 W-L record 2015 ERA Year
Game 1 Michael Rucker Right 5-1 3.32 Junior
Game 2 Maverik Buffo Right 0-1 8.77 Sophomore
Game 3 Hayden Rogers Left 0-1 9.00 Sophomore
Game 4 Connor Williams Right 0-0 0.00 Sophomore/JC Transfer

Vanquish The Foe's projected starting lineup:

Position Name Year Bats Throws 2015 HR 2015 RBI 2015 Batting Average
Catcher Bronson Larsen Junior Right Right 3 16 .288
1st Base Tanner Chauncey Junior Right Right 0 23 .335
2nd Base Brennon Anderson Sophomore Right Right 4* 24* .279*
3rd Base Jackson Cluff Freshman Left Right
Shortstop Hayden Nielsen Senior Right Right 0 38 .342
Left Field Eric Urry Senior Left Left 2 22 .328
Center Field Brennon Lund Junior Left Right 1 27 .308
Right Field Kyle Dean Freshman Right Right
DH Colton Shaver Sophomore Right Right 13 42 .313

*Anderson's 2013 statistics

(Not applicable left blank)