Editors Note, This article was written by one of our new baseball contributors, LittleNaitch who will be joining the STS team to cover baseball.
Yes, we are in the middle of one of the best basketball runs ever witnessed in Gods Country,but we are now under 2 weeks away from the baseball season. If you are like me, there’s just something about the ping of that aluminum bat echoing through the air, the sound of a 90mphfastball popping the mitt on a called 3rd strike, and the roar of the crowd as a Seth Beer homerun disappears into the night sky.Tiger baseball is in the air. So what can we expect from Monte & Co in 2018? The Tigers come into the season ranked high as 12th and picked to finish 3rd in the Atlantic.Offense should not be an issue. I do not think any other team in the nation will boast a 3 headed monster as potent as what we should see with Davidson, Beer, & Williams in the middle of thelineup. The 3 combined for 42 of the teams 73 HRs and 143 RBI last season. We should expect more of the same in 2018, if not more.
Kier Meredith, the highly touted freshman is expected to compete for the CF job along with one of the top spots in the lineup. Rated as the #42 prospect by Perfect Game, he truly is a 5 tool guy. This kid is FAST. He is expected to miss at least theearly part of the season however, after having suffered an injury during batting practice back in fall camp.
Another freshman to keep an eye on is Bryce Teodosio. He showed some pop in hisbat during fall camp although he did not see a lot of action, as he was injured as well. This should be a fun team to watch at the plate.The biggest questions lie with the pitching, particularly the starting pitching. The entire starting rotation must be replaced. Of the 19 pitchers on the team, only 10 have actually pitched in agame, and the 19 have combined for only 18 starts. All but 3 coming in non conference games.
While there is not much experience on the roster, there is certainly some talent. Owen Griffith,Ryan Miller, and Spencer Strider are candidates for the rotation. All 3 throw in the low 90s. Jake Higginbotham is also back, after having missed all of 2017 due to injury. Closer Riley Gilliam isback as well. He was Team USA’s closer over the summer. There is a lot of inexperience but I think we will be fine. The infield is fairly set. Seth Beer will make the switch to 1st. He has put in a ton of work preparing for the move. Jordan Greene is back at 2nd, Davidson at SS, and Byrd at 3rd. ChrisWilliams is back at catcher, though I am sure we see Kyle Wylkie too. Outfield is not quiet as settled. Drew Wharton is a candidate for one of the open spots as is Sheldon Reed, andpossibly Robert Jolly, who will try to make the move from catcher.
The biggest question in the outfield however, is how long will Meredith be sidelined. I think we all have been ready to see him in action from the time he stepped on campus. Hopefully, he won’t be out to long. Fingers crossed.The season gets underway Feb 16 at DKS with William & Mary coming to town, then Dallas Baptist visits the following weekend. Dallas Baptist made it to the Final of the Fort Worth regional last season, and are ranked in at least one preseason poll, so they will come in battle tested. The staff best have the pitching staff questions answered fairly quick, because the following weekend is the all important series vs SC. Clemson has taken 3 straight series from the Gamecocks, and Mark Kingston will get his first taste of the rivalry as the SC Head Coach.Gone is Chad Holbrook, after he was fired following another underwhelming season in 2017.
Here’s to hoping we make it 4 straight vs the Dirtpeckers. The next weekend begins ACC play,and I think the schedule is fairly favorable. First up is Ga Tech, then the Mighty Laptops, or Wolfpack of NCST. Whichever you want to call them. Both series are at home so the Tigers won’t play a true road series until a month into the season, when they travel to Louisville to face the Cards for the first big showdown inside the ACC. The Cards were picked to finish 2nd in the division. Winning that series could set the tone for the rest of the season. Then we get BC at home, Notre Dame on the road, Miami at home, and Wake on the road. Ten weeks in and allbut 1 are what I think are all very winnable conf series. The next two series however, get a little tougher, as we have FSU and Va. Two of the biggest series this season. The Noles do come to DKS this year but the Tigers will go on the road to face the Wahoo’s. After Austin Peay comes to town for a late OOC series, we will finish the regular season up on the road at Pitt. We have home and home midweek games vs Coastal Carolina too. Conway isn’t far from me, so that should be an easy trip. We also have 2 midweek games with the Dawgs. One in Athens and one in N Augusta.
I really like this teams potential. Again, maybe it is just me, but I do think the schedule is favorable. At the very least, manageable. I have no doubt this team will be hosting another Regional come tourney time. I think a national seed is a realistic expectation, as is advancing and hosting a Super Regional. Maybe even making it back to Omaha. You can argue Monte has overachieved in his first two seasons, and if that is the case again, that trip back to Omaha may very well be in the cards.