BYU baseball is set for another exciting season in 2017. The Cougars finished the past regular season as West Coast Conference champions in a 3-way tie with Gonzaga and St. Mary’s. A couple of weeks ago, the WCC coaches predicted BYU to finish in 4th place in conference play behind San Diego, Gonzaga, and Pepperdine.
BYU will begin the season unranked, but are receiving votes in the Baseball America poll as well as the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll. Last season, Mike Littlewood’s squad spent most of the season nationally ranked powered behind one of college baseball’s most explosive offenses.
The Cougars finished the season 2nd in team batting average with a blistering .325. In addition, they hit with power. The team hit 50 homers in 54 games — good for 36th nationally. If it didn’t go out of the park, it resulted in a multiple base hit. The Cougars were 13th in slugging percentage.
It gets better. Not only did BYU contact hit and hit for power, the Cougars did so with plate discipline. The Brigham Bats drew just under 4 1⁄2 walks per game. The result was a .404 on-base percentage —11th nationally.
The result of the batting dominance was a whopping, 6th in the nation 8.1 runs scored per game. Yo.
If you prefer spectating an offensive explosion instead of a pitcher’s dual, you’ll love BYU baseball.
In 21 of BYU’s 54 games in 2016, their opponents were able to rack up 6 or more runs. Amazingly, BYU was still able to win 8 of those games — run support.
The Cougars will be able to score again in 2017. The question is will they be able to get the pitching needed to make another run at qualifying for the NCAA tournament.
Junior righty Maverik Buffo leads a starting pitching rotation fresh off recovering from a ulnar ligament injury in his throwing arm, while the rest of the starting rotation is largely untested in making starts in the college game. The bullpen may get a lot of work this season.
Fortunately, the Cougar bullpen is led by experience pitchers. Between the efforts of RHP Keaton Cenatiempo, RHP Mason Marshall, and LHP Hayden Rogers, the Cougars have relievers who can deliver in various situations. But the depth of the pen is promising, but unknown.
The fielding behind the Cougar pitching also has some cause for concern. The Cougars lose their best fielding outfielders in Brennon Lund — who covered so much ground in centerfield he made a lot of tough plays seem routine — and Eric Urry — who was the Y’s defensive highlight king in left field. The Y also lost the “Cheif” Hayden Nielsen who was a stalwart at short stop over his 4 seasons of starting.
All of this combined leads to some worry about how the defensive half of the inning will play out.
However, the best way to give a pitcher confidence is to give them a few extra runs on the scoreboard. With the way the Cougars can swing the bats, BYU pitchers may gain so much self-assurance it could make Kanye West blush.
The Cougars can hit for power. Colton Shaver, Keaton Kringlen, Bronson Larsen, Brennon Anderson, Brock Hale and Kyle Dean can all change several games with a single swing of the bat.
The Cougars can overwhelm the opposing pitcher with contact hitting. You can’t find an easy out or poor at-bats between Tanner Chauncey, Daniel Schneemann, or Nate Favero. The returning Cougars from 2016 had a collective .458 on-base percentage to go with their .330 batting average.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the 2017 BYU baseball season comes in the form of their schedule. BYU will take on 7 of the 64 teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament last season. 6 of those 7 regional qualifying teams will be playing at Larry H. Miller field. So, a lot of really good team are coming to Provo in 2017.
As usual, BYU will be on the road to open the season. February in Provo isn’t really baseball weather. So, the Brigham Bats will be away for the first 3 weeks of the season.
The Y open the season against host and tournament qualifier Georgia Tech in the Georgia Tech Tournament in Atlanta, Georgia. BYU will also play Kennesaw State and Georgia State over the opening weekend.
BYU baseball will then travel to San Jose to play the Spartans as well as Northern Colorado.
The final season opening road trip is to Bakersfield, California to take on Cal State Bakersfield.
The season opener at Larry H. Miller field will see UC Santa Barbara take on BYU. The Gauchos are one of the elite college baseball programs in the country. This will be an exciting test and opportunity for the Y.
In addition, UConn, Utah, Utah Valley, St. Mary’s, and Gonzaga will make their way to Miller field.
This is a great schedule. Watching and attending BYU baseball games should be a lot of good fun.
With the bundle of great bats and a couple of promising arms, the 2017 BYU baseball should make another run at winning the West Coast Conference with a chance to make their first NCAA tournament under Mike Littlewood.