At the end of practice, the team can be heard chanting “Big Ten champs!” with enthusiasm. After a cold yet mild winter MSU baseball is finally back.
Every spring marks a baseball fan’s favorite time of the year. And now that January is on the books, the MSU baseball team is about two weeks away from starting its season.
Last season was successful for the Spartans, who finished with a 34-23 overall record and a 14-10 conference record, which was good enough for a three-way tie for third in the Big Ten with Maryland and University of Michigan.
Head coach Jake Boss Jr., now going into his eighth year as MSU baseball head coach, is optimistic in what this season holds for this team.
“I’m really looking forward to competing with this group of guys,” Boss said. “It’s a good group of guys, they know how to take care of business both on and off the field, they’re fun to be around, it’s a real competitive group and there’s a lot of new faces.”
This season could be a big one for MSU, which looks to return to its 2011 Big Ten championship form. Last season, the Spartans received key contributions from underclassmen, such as current sophomores Brandon Hughes and Andrew Gonzalez. These are just a few on the roster that are going to step up and fill the voids of last year’s seniors, such as Connor Mohr, Cam Gibson, Anthony Cheky and Joe Mockbee.
Hughes raised eyebrows last season, starting 55 of MSU’s 57 games. Hughes, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound lefty, posted a .280 batting average in his freshman season. In 200 at-bats last season, Hughes posted a .405 slugging percentage with 13 extra-base hits (seven doubles and six home runs) and 27 RBIs. Hughes also walked 19 times last season and held a .353 on-base percentage.
Hughes is hoping he can build on last season’s performance and help his team even more this season.
“I’m pumped, I’m really excited,” Hughes said. “We’re a great group of guys and we’re all working really hard. ... We’re all a close group and nobody is scared to say something to each other, so we’re all playing for each other. We all want to be the leaders.”
Gonzalez hopes to improve his freshman year numbers. On the bump, Gonzalez posted a 2-0 record and a 3.41 ERA in 16 appearances last season. The 6-foot-2 right hander also struck out 21 and only walked nine in 37 innings pitched, holding opponents to a .259 batting average.
“The expectation for those guys is to get better and to take the next step,” Boss said. “We evaluate (our team) every day and now I think we’re just looking forward to playing somebody.”
And just like last season, MSU could enjoy the contributions from freshmen and transfer students. The Spartans currently have nine freshmen on the roster and are looking for immediate impact players.
This year’s Spartan roster has a good mix of hunger and experience, with 25 of the 34 players on the roster being underclassmen, there are three seniors on this year’s’ roster. One of which, Kris Simonton, transferring to play from the University of Akron.
Redshirt junior and left-handed pitcher Cam Vieaux is hoping that this year’s Spartan baseball roster is stronger than ever.
“We have a lot of guys who work really hard,” Vieaux said. “We’ve all bought in and pretty much have the same goal... I think all of (us) are really surprising with the confidence they play with and the swagger that they bring to the field every day.”
The Spartans will open up play on Feb. 19 when they travel down to Greenville, South Carolina for the First Pitch Invitational. MSU will start the season against Presbyterian and play Furman and Fordham on Feb. 20 and 21.
“With some of the arms that we have on this club right now and some of the new position players that I think offensively can have really good years,” Boss said. “Our goal is to make a run at a championship just like it is every year.”