Luckily, I was able to in take a few innings of Appalachian’s final scrimmage before their opening series this weekend at NC State. It was hard to keep track of the players, considering the players were not wearing their numbers. It seems the team has not had as much live action as they did last year when the winter was milder in Boone.
The relatively young pitching staff will be depended on heavily this season. Returning are sophomores Jamie Nunn and Jeffery Springs who are expected to be the Friday and Saturday starters. Both Springs and Nunn had great freshman campaigns. Nunn finished 5-2 with a 4.24 ERA in twenty-three appearances, six of them being starts. Nunn spent time in the bullpen in the last half of 2012. Springs was 2-1 in twelve appearances, five starts and held a 4.80 ERA. In a weird twist, last year’s 2012 Sunday starter Rob Marcello has been moved to the closer role, where he will look to fill in production lost from Nathan Hyatt who had 16 saves in 28 appearances. Marcello had trouble getting deep into games last season. Filling in the third starter role will be junior college transfer Sam Agnew-Wieland, who began his career at Georgia State. The right-hander is considered a strikeout pitcher, but will also give up a lot of singles. His 2011 Georgia State statistics can be found here. At Middle Georgia College in 2012, Agnew-Wieland started fourteen games and went 7-3 with a 2.36 ERA with three complete games, while leading the staff in innings pitched (84.0). If Agnew-Wieland does have a weakness, he tends to hit batters quite often. His full 2012 stats can be found here.
In 2012, Appalachian had a memorable season and went to the NCAA regional for the first time in decades. Outside of their starting pitching, the Mountaineers got plenty of run support from their experienced lineup. That lineup lost several seniors to graduation and juniors to the minor leagues. Tyler Tewell was expected to catch this season, but was drafted by the Atlanta Braves after playing right field exclusively last season. Expect Preston Trouman to take over in right field. In center field, Appalachian expected to see the return of Tyler Zupcic who was injured last year in the regional against Oklahoma. Zupcic suffered a setback in rehab late last year and is expected to redshirt. His loss will affect the leadership and run production at the top of the Mountaineer lineup. Taking over in center field for Zupcic will be the freshman Jaylin Davis, who has similar tools as Zupcic. Davis can cover ground in the outfield and will be expected to steal some bases. Brandon Burris will likely be in left field. Burris spent time at several positions in 2012, but was mostly effective in left, and his bat will be counted on as he is one of the toughest outs on the team.
The infield does not see nearly the turnover as the outfield. Alex Leach will start at first base, taking over for the graduated Trey Holmes. Hector Crespo and Will Callaway provide a very solid middle infield on defense and offense. Both have the green light to steal bases and will likely be at the top of the lineup. Third base is a question mark. Noah Holmes has always played great defense at the hot corner, but his bat is shaky. Freshman Dillon Dobson could see time at third base if he can swing the bat. Dobson is maybe the best true athlete on the team. Josh Zumbrook will likely start the season at catcher, but expect to see a rotation behind the plate. Alex Minton was Zumbrook’s high school teammate at West Wilkes, so expect some competition at the position between the former teammates.
Expecting the season Appalachian had last season is a lot to ask for. Even the SoCon writers and coaches feel the Mountaineers will take a step back. The media picked Appalachian to finish fourth while the coaches picked the Mountaineers to finish sixth. Four points separated fourth place Samford, fifth place Georgia Southern and Appalachian in the coaches poll. In the media poll, Appalachian edged out Georgia Southern by one vote and Western Carolina by four votes.
Predicting the season:
Predicting a baseball season is tough, but we will try it for the first time ever. The Mountaineers are scheduled for 56 games, thirty of those in conference. I think the Mountaineers can easily win 15-17 games in conference play. There is a fine line between the top six and the bottom five in the conference.
The 26 non-conference games include NC State, Butler, Cornell and Gonzaga in three game series. Two games series are scheduled with North Carolina A&T, Georgia, ETSU, High Point and UNC-Asheville. Single games will be played against Canisius, Eastern Kentucky, Campbell and North Carolina. I expect the Mountaineers to also win 16-17 games in non-conference action. So, in the end, I think we are looking at a team that can go 32-24 give or take a few games and rainouts. Appalachian will only be as good as their pitching staff this season, which is very young, but also talented. Middle relief will be heavily relied upon early on. Run production will come, and Appalachian will need a find a way to replace the base stealing, and extra base hits that the team excelled in last season.