Friday, April 19, 2024

‘Fearless’ MSU baseball team gears up for 2024 season

February 16, 2024
<p>The on-field team gathers at the mound during MSU&#x27;s matchup against Notre Dame at Comerica Park on April 26, 2022.</p>

The on-field team gathers at the mound during MSU's matchup against Notre Dame at Comerica Park on April 26, 2022.

Photo by Olivia Hans | The State News

Baseball season is in swing and all forms of the sport are starting to take shape for Michigan State and the Big Ten. 

For the Spartans, the practice has already begun and the team’s first game will be played in Charleston, S.C. on Friday, Feb. 16 against Merrimack College in the 2024 Swig and Swine College Classic tournament.

As a new season begins, high expectations continue for the team and a search for new hope begins as well. In 2023, the Spartans finished 33-22 and 12-12 in the Big Ten, as they placed seventh in the Big Ten, right behind the University of Michigan. MSU’s win total last season was the highest since winning 36 games in 2016

Last season, the Spartans had three players drafted to the Major League Baseball, or MLB, and one undrafted signee on offense. Mitch Jebb went to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Brock Vradenburg signed with the Miami Marlins and Bryan Broecker was picked up by the Tampa Bay Rays. Also, Trent Farquhar was an undrafted signee for the Philadelphia Phillies. The three drafted brought the total number of players drafted under head coach Jake Boss Jr. to 38 throughout his tenure. 

Having lost those players means four massive holes in the lineup for this upcoming 2024 season. Michigan State is coming off of a highly successful Spartan offense during the 2023 season that averaged just over seven runs per game. 

Boss said that the young players will eventually have to replace that level of talent, something he thinks can happen this season

“I think (it’s) similar to when Broecker and Jebb and Vradenberg were all freshmen,” Boss said. “At that point, I mean, you know, new guys are going to get their opportunities, and they need to take advantage of their opportunities similar to what those guys all did as freshmen, for us.”

Boss also cited Jacob Anderson and Sam Busch as potential positional and offensive replacements, mainly because Busch has improved in the field and will play more because of it. 

With the loss of such offensive production, the Spartans will be looking towards any veterans and newcomers to fill the void. Boss mentioned the potential for a different style of offense and approach at the plate this year if need be.

“It could be a different brand of offense that we have to play this year, maybe more small-ball,” Boss said. “We may have to hit and run a little bit more, and we may have to bunt a little bit more, which is fine. We’ve done that here in the past, it just kind of depends on what your roster looks like, at the same time, if these guys come out, and, you know, start hitting doubles and home runs all over the place, we’ll let them do that, too.”

Boss also said that there is a huge potential impact of newcomers and freshmen joining the team and that throughout the season, there will be plenty of opportunities to “run a lot of guys out” on the field, whether that be pitching, in the infield and outfield, or hitting

In addition, plenty of newcomers will be among the pitching staff. The back end of the bullpen notably lost former Spartan Wyatt Rush, but incoming right-hander Tommy Szczepanski— who transferred from Virginia Tech— is one player figured to be up for the main closer role.

One particular battle amongst four players is who will be the Spartans’ main catcher and how often the other catchers will play, after losing Broecker. 

Both graduate Sam Thompson and junior Christian Williams have seen significant playing time in years past. Incoming backstops junior transfer Noah Bright and freshman Adam Broski both have made the competition more interesting for coach Boss to make a decision. All of those players have received praise from Boss. 

This team has found itself a very veteran-led team despite newcomers making up a large portion of the team. There are just 10 seniors, graduate transfers and redshirt juniors, compared to 13 new freshmen and underclassmen transfers.

However, two veterans that are leading the way are senior infielder Dillon Kark and senior outfielder Jack Frank. Both players have played their entire career at Michigan State, two of just a few currently on the team who have done that.

Having as much experience as they do, they not only are poised for a bigger role offensively, especially with the loss of production but also acting in a leader and mentor role for the new players.

“I love getting these new guys comfortable,” Kark said. “The game speeds up when you're young, so just kind of passing along the experience and knowledge that I have with not only playing but just being a part of the program for five years (is great).”

Frank, similarly, is excited to help the younger teammates with any problems they have both on and off the field, especially the transition from high school to college

“I've been here a long time, so I think to me, it's kind of now, just … how can I help some of the guys with the ups and downs of the experience of being a young guy,” Frank said. “That’s the role that I now see myself in.”

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Both Kark and Frank have had long careers, and within those careers, the largest part of the game is the mental aspect of playing. Both players said that they’ve grown as a player and also mentally within those five years being a part of the Michigan State baseball team. 

 “I've just kind of sat back and reflected on my career and the experiences that I've had,” Kark said. “I've just really wanted to focus on all (of) the positives that happened this year. And just when a negative (thing) does happen, just kind of let it go one ear out the other just over my head and just really focus on the positives.”

Frank said that he has gained a lot of confidence in his game throughout his career as a Spartan, a huge aspect that he once failed to have during his first period on the team.

“I was super skittish and nervous and afraid to make mistakes and all those things are bad combinations when you're trying to play at a high level like this,” Frank said. “Every year it gets a little bit better and you get a little more confidence. I've been that person and now I have gained the confidence.”

Both Frank and Kark are optimistic about the team’s season and that they could possibly improve to better than finishing seventh in the Big Ten conference

“Everyone knows we have a lot of new guys, but I think this team is really going to surprise people with the depth that we have in our pitching staff,” Kark said. “I think we're going to surprise a lot of people and make it back to the (Big Ten) Tournament.”

Frank, alike, believes that the team will be able to make improvements along the season, both individually and as a team.

“I just want to see those guys play well and play up to their ability,” Frank said. “I think if that happens, this team is scary (for other teams).” 

As a well-rounded team, as Frank said, the “Spartan identity” is “fearless” and is able to play great baseball

More information on the Spartan’s roster and schedule can be found on the Michigan State baseball website.

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