Feb. 15, 2012
RENO, Nev. - The University of Nevada baseball team will begin its 2012 in Albuquerque, N.M. this Friday, meeting the University of New Mexico in the first game of a three-game set at 2 p.m. The second game will be played at noon on Saturday, with the third at noon on Sunday. All of the games will be played at Isotopes Park. Head coach Gary Powers will lead the program in his 30th season.
The 2011 Nevada Wolf Pack was a promising mix of talent and experience, but the members of it found out quickly that at the collegiate level, nothing is guaranteed. A 24-31 record meant frustration all the way from head coach Gary Powers to the last player on the bench. A tough February was followed by an improved March and an even better April and May. Seeing improvement throughout the lineup and pitching staff gives Powers confidence that the team will begin the season better than they did a year ago.
"We need a few games, but our depth gives us a chance to be a good team," head coach Gary Powers said.
That depth will be a key component of this year's Wolf Pack, as the coaching staff worked hard to develop a sense of competition among the players. Multiple freshmen and newcomers will not only see time this season, but have a chance to compete for starting spots up and down the lineup.
Every one of the first-year players on the roster will be asked to play a role in the growth of the team. In total, 16 players will see their first action with the Wolf Pack. The group includes 10 freshmen with high school experience, seven juniors with two years of junior-college experience and one junior with a mix of four-year college and junior-college experience.
Two players, Brooks Klein and Kody Gorden, played two seasons at Western Nevada College. Ray Daniels, a Reno native, comes back to his hometown after spending two seasons at Southern Nevada College in Las Vegas. Dan Levine spent his first collegiate season at Concordia University in Irvine, Calif., before transferring to Irvine Valley College at the outset of last season.
Offensively, many players will be asked to play a specific role.
"Offensively we feel that it may take some time for this to develop because of their youth," Powers said."There is potential though, for them to develop into a productive and consistent group."
Competition throughout the Fall season existed at almost every position, with only a few players being penciled into a starting spot from the first day.
At first base, Nevada will likely begin the year with a newcomer getting the starts, the only question for the coaching staff is which one. Brett Jones, who played two seasons at Fresno City College, will compete with Kewby Meyer, from the Kamehahmeha Schools in Honolulu, Hawai'i. Jones hit five homers and drove in 29 runs last season at Fresno City. The lefty goes 6-2, 225, and will provide the Pack with a dangerous bat when he gets his chances. Coach Powers called Jones a "very good" defensive first baseman.
Meyer might not hit as many balls over the right-field fence at Peccole Park as Jones, but the 6-1, 185 lefty is no slouch with the bat. His senior season was the second straight in which he hit over .400, posting a blistering .523 average. If Meyer does not start at first, he may do so in the outfield.
"Kewby is a smart hitter," Powers said. "We expect him to be a presence in our lineup this year."
Joe Kohan will return for his senior season in 2012, starting at second as he did in 55 games for the Pack in 2011. The Second-Team All-WAC performer hit .283, with four home runs and 34 RBI as a junior. Four homers were tied for the team lead. In the field, Kohan made six errors and had a fielding percentage of .976. He was a part of 32 double plays. Powers pegged Kohan as one of the Pack's leaders, and said his experience would be something the team counted on throughout the season. He may also see time at shortstop and is the only all-conference position player to return this year.
Third baseman Garret Yrigoyen is another player with experience that will be called on to play a key role in Nevada's starting infield. Like Kohan, Yrigoyen started 55 games for Nevada last year. He hit .257, and was a clutch performer at the plate, driving in 33 runs. Defensively, Ygrioyen was a solid performer as well.
Two newcomers, Austin Byler and Daniels, will also compete for a few starts at third. Byler is a 6-3, 210 pound lefty from Peoria, Ariz. He hit .530 with 10 homers during his senior year in high school. He could also see time at first. Daniels returns to Reno to try to find a spot in the infield for the Wolf Pack. The Damonte Ranch graduate could also see time at second base.
Shortstop will be an interesting position for the Pack this year, with multiple players likely to get starts. Freshman Kyle Hunt will likely get the first start in New Mexico, but he will be forced to produce from the get go, as Braden Shipley is capable of taking back his starting spot at any time. The move allows Shipley to take a spot in the starting rotation. Hugo Hernandez will see most of his time at the designated hitter position, but will also provide the Wolf Pack with depth in the infield.
The Nevada outfield will be one of the most interesting parts of the team that takes the field early in the 2012 season. Short on experience and long on ability, the Nevada outfield will likely be made up of at least one newcomer, and could see all three spots occupied by players in their first year in the silver and blue.
Jay Anderson, a freshman from Claremont, Calif., could trot out to center field when the Pack takes the field in New Mexico. A spectacular all-around athlete at the Bishop Amat High School, Anderson has the ability to play all three outfield positions. He hit .432 during his senior season, and was a consistent producer at the plate throughout his career.
The corner outfield positions will no doubt produce two starters who earned the right to take the field, and do so knowing capable replacements wait on the Nevada bench. Four players will compete for the two positions, including newcomers Klein and Cameron Brooks, as well as returners Jamison Rowe and Tommy Neibergall. Row could also see time in center field. Klein hit eight career homers at Western Nevada and drove in a total of 55 RBI in two seasons.
"Brooks is another player who has benefited from the great deal of competition we had this Fall," Powers said.
Cameron Brooks is a strong hitter, who will benefit from seeing collegiate pitching as he continues to develop. He has a chance to start in either left or right field in 2012. In his 30th season at the helm, Powers talked about the number of positions that players, even his seniors, had to earn due to a great deal of talent on the 2012 roster.
"The internal competition has pushed our seniors to the point that they have stepped up their level and have provided leadership by example, which we hope continues to happen throughout the season," he said.
The returners have seen time in a Nevada uniform.
Rowe is a career .203 hitter with two varsity letters to his credit. Neibergall hit .190 last season, working his way into the starting lineup 16 times in his freshman year. Anthony Rosa would have also been a player that competed for playing time during the 2012 season, but will be forced to redshirt due to injury. Rosa is a career .195 hitter.
Carlos Escobar Jr. will begin the season behind the plate for the Wolf Pack, returning after starting 46 games there last season. The junior from Chatsworth, Calif. hit .289 last year with four homers and 25 RBI. Escobar will be backed up by two freshman, Taylor Sanders and Ryan Teel. Sanders played at Lake Oswego High in Lake Oswego, Ore., while Teel played at Mater Dei High School.
Returning to the starting rotation this season will be Tom Jameson and Troy Marks. Jameson went 6-6 in 2011, becoming one of Nevada's most consistent performers. He posted an ERA of 4.84, just behind Marks. Marks won twice last season posting an ERA of 4.21. The duo threw a total of 221.3 innings, and was heavily relied on to get quality starts for the Pack. This season, their experience will be a benefit, and be a part of what should be a deep starting mix.
"The rotation early may shift daily since 5-6 guys are still in major competition," Powers said. "After the first month of the season we will know more. All 6 guys have had good falls and early springs so that is encouraging from a quality depth stand point."
As a pitcher, Shipley has developed into one of Nevada's most valuable assets. The right hander will be counted on to eat up valuable innings as a part of the rotation as well as seeing some time at the shortstop position. Shipley could also see time in the DH spot. He could take the ball on opening day in New Mexico, and is someone Powers has slated to be a big part of the Wolf Pack staff this year.
Culligan was 1-3 last year with a 7.84 ERA. Levine went to Green Valley High School in Las Vegas, and pitched at Irvine Valley last year. Wells had a standout senior season at Maxwell High School in Maxwell, Calif. He did not allow an earned run, winning 12 games and striking out 121 hitters.
Matt Gardner will return to the bullpen to close games for the Pack in 2012. In that role during the 2011 season, Gardner had a 1.71 ERA in 19 appearances. He will be joined by a bevy of both right and left handers, providing a deep bullpen for Nevada in its final season in the WAC. From the right side, Bryan Suarez, Sean Prihar and Jayson McClaren will be back.
Newcomers Griffin Kirsch and Colby Blueberg will also be right-handed relievers in 2012. Suarez, Prihar and McClaren each won a game for Nevada last season. Kirsch graduated from Reno High and played at San Mateo College, while Blueberg graduated from Carson High School. From the left side, Elliot Van Gaver, Kody Gorden and Barry Timko will see time on the mound. Van Gaver did not compete, but was a member of the Pack last season. Gorden won nine games in two seasons at Western Nevada College, losing only one. Timko graduated from Junipero Serra High in San Bruno, Calif.