When thinking about Shocker baseball, it’s easy to get side-tracked from what appears to be the essential statistic in recent seasons: Seniors and juniors matter. The best teams of the recent era feature rosters heavy with experience:
- The 2002 team that hosted a regional had six seniors and 10 juniors.
- The 2004 team that came within an eyelash of a super regional had 10 seniors and four juniors.
- The 2007 (8 seniors, 11 juniors) and 2008 (7, 9) teams advanced to super regionals.
- The 2001 team that did not play in a regional had three seniors and nine juniors.
- The 2009 team that finished 30-27 had three seniors and seven juniors. All three seniors were pitchers and two (Logan Hoch and Tyler Fleming) were injured and did not pitch until 2010. Max Hutson went 1-2 with a 8.18 ERA.
- The 2011 team that finished second in the MVC and did not play in a regional had four seniors and nine juniors. Three of the seniors were pitchers: Tim Kelley, the No. 1 starter until an injury ended his season; little-used Justin Kemp; Mitch Mormann, who redshirted. DH Preston Springer was the lone senior who played the entire season and made a significant contribution.
- This season’s team had five seniors and five juniors. By season’s end, two seniors (P Josh Smith and RF Don Lambert) started, with CF Kevin Hall starting occasionally. The junior class slimmed to four when coaches kicked INF Walker Davidson off the team early in the season.
Juniors and seniors do a team no good if they are not talented. That will be the question next season, when WSU is again short on seniors, but heavy with 13 juniors eligible to return, five of whom redshirted. The numbers game that went against WSU in an upper-classman dominated MVC begins to flip in its favor in 2013.
It is shocking to look at the recruiting classes from 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10. Those three classes set back the program to its current condition through a combination of bad luck and bad choices.
The players who signed for the 2008 season included three who signed with a pro team (SS Jon Gilmore, 1B Pete Kozma, C Derek Norris), one who didn’t come to school (P Nick Cobler), two who transferred after a short stay (P Clint Maune, P Cameron Maldonado) and P/OFMitch Caster, who died in an auto accident before the 2011 season. WSU got a reasonable amount of production from three from the original group - OF Kevin Hall, P Tyler Fleming and P Logan Hoch (although injuries sidelined all three for at least a season).
After the draft gutted that class, WSU added players such as Taylor Brown, Justin Kemp, Ryan Engrav and Grant Muncrief. That class will looked back upon as a major turning point. Add some of that talent to the 2008 team and perhaps it goes to Omaha instead of losing in a super regional. Then 2009 and 2010 look much different with any or all of that drafted trio on the roster.
The next class, players who were freshmen in 2009, was basically a hit or miss proposition. P Dalton Banwart, C Josh Rosecrans and OF Andrew Letourneau transferred. P Cobey Guy and P Chance Sossamon did not contribute as much as expected. 2B Logan Watkins signed with a pro team and never made it to school. P Jordan Cooper, P Brian Flynn, P Charlie Lowell C Chris O’Brien and SS Tyler Grimes all played well for most of their time at WSU, but even that is misleading. Cooper pitched two seasons before getting drafted and Flynn missed one due to academic eligibility. 1B Johnny Coy sat out 2009 before playing well the past three seasons. WSU added P Josh Smith as a walk-on, and he turned into a valuable member of the rotation. It also added 2B Will Baez when Watkins and returning SS Dusty Coleman signed.
All things considered, that is a solid class, one that produced several draft picks and MVC pitchers of the year in Cooper and Lowell and player of the year O’Brien. It wasn’t enough to make the Shockers big winners without help from other classes.
The next class did not add enough talent. P Garrett Gould, as expected, signed with a pro team. INF Nate Goro transferred after one season. OF Micah Green has improved each season, but has never claimed a regular spot in the lineup. P Aaron LaBrie and P T.J. McGreevy are relievers on the current team. P Tobin Mateychick missed 2011 with elbow sugery and returned in an encouraging manner this season. DH Preston Springer gave WSU a middle-of-the-order bat for two seasons. Late additions such as SS Erik Harbutz and OF Garrett Bayliff helped.
- WSU added 12 newcomers for the 2008 season, none of whom earned All-MVC first- or second-team honors during their career.
- WSU added 15 in 2009, five of which earned All-MVC honors at some point.
- WSU added 12 in 2010, two of which have earned All-MVC honors. But those two were OF Travis Bennett, a one-year transfer, and Springer. None of the high school recruits from the class have been among the MVC’s best to this point. Eight played on the 2012 team, and all are eligible to return in 2013.