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2012 Liberty Baseball Preview
With the start of the 2012 Liberty baseball season just seven days away, LibertyFlames.com previews this year's Flames. Liberty will open its 2012 season next Friday in Charleston, S.C. at the Citadel Challenge against the Richmond Spiders at Noon.
The Liberty Flames will look to several new faces to continue to build upon the strides the program has taken during its first four years under Jim Toman in 2012. The 2012 looks to be the last season for the Flames at Worthington Stadium, as plans are underway for a 2,500 seat facility across from Williams Stadium, the home of Liberty football, set to open in 2013.
After posting 35 wins in 2011 and a school-record 42 wins in 2010, the Flames will enter this year's campaign with several positions and roles up for grabs.
Liberty had seven players taken during this past June's Major League Baseball Draft, the most players chosen in a single draft in the 38-year history of the Flames program, with six signing a professional contract. The number of Flames taken in the MLB entry draft tied the 2007 and 2010 Coastal Carolina squads for the Big South Conference record for players picked in a single draft.
Add in the graduation of a large senior class in 2011, and the Flames will have new players and up to seven of the nine spots in the batting order and several pitchers assuming new roles on the mound.
"Our team is definitely going to have a different look," noted Toman, who has led Liberty to the best record of any head coach during his first four years at the helm of the program. "We have only three starters back from last season and one pitcher with 30 or more innings back from last year, but we brought in 17 new players and several stepped up and earned positions this fall."
"Right now, our staff has a pretty good idea of what our day-to-day lineup might look like. There are about 15 players who could fill positions in our lineup in the field. Despite all the guys we have lost over the past two years and the number of new players we have added, we will still have mostly upperclassmen in the field."
The 16 players who return from last year's squad have been joined by 17 new players, including 10 pitchers and seven position players.
"We have many guys who are capable of playing and getting the job done," stated Toman. "The players this fall showed a team first attitude and we have good chemistry. They worked hard on the field and in the weight room and they get along well together."
"We had a lot of competition at each position on the field and in my experience, competition is a good thing, as it breeds success. It forces guys to step up their play and builds depth throughout the squad."
A LOOK AT THE FLAMES BY POSITION
With only one pitcher who pitched over 30 innings last season, John Niggli, returning, the Flames will be looking to fill many roles on the mound coming into the year.
Last season, Flames pitchers posted the lowest ERA by a Liberty pitching staff since 1991, with a 4.05 ERA. Pitchers Garrett Baker, Steven Evans and Keegan Linza, each of whom were drafted and signed professional contracts, earned Big South All-Conference honors. Baker was the first Liberty player taken in the 2011 Draft, when the left-hander was selected in the 11th round by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. With his selection in the 13th round by the Minnesota Twins, left-handed pitcher Steven Evans was the next Flame drafted, while Linza was chosen in the 38th round by the Chicago White Sox.
"Although several of our pitchers did well in the fall, we really haven't defined any roles, as far as starters, set-up men and closers," stated Toman. "There are so many different combinations we can use that it is going to take the preseason and maybe a few weeks into the season, to set roles out there."
Heading the staff is Niggli, the lone returning starter from 2011. The senior right-hander made 15 appearances and 13 starts in his first year as a Flame, posting a 4-4 record with a 3.69 ERA over 85 1/3 innings. Last season, he posted the third-lowest ERA among Big South pitchers returning in 2012. He showed excellent control, striking out 43 batters and walking just 16.
Also returning for the Flames are right-handers Daniel Brown, Patrick Eckelbarger, Blake Forslund, Jacob Kemmerer and Willi Martin, along with left-hander Tim Dudley. Outfielders Ian Parmley and Ryan Cordell could also see mound time. They are two of the eight players on the Liberty who pitch as well as play a field position.
Kemmerer, a senior, made 15 appearances with no decisions and a 3.10 ERA during 29 innings of work last season, while junior Blake Forslund returns to the roster after being one of four Liberty pitchers selected in last year's MLB Draft. Forslund was selected in the 17th round by the Boston Red Sox.
Newcomers to the staff include transfers Patrick Bankemper, Trey Lambert, Matt Marsh, Brooks Roy and Kody Young, all right-handers, along with freshmen right-handers Carson Herndon, Kyle McKelvey, Adam Parks and Ashton Perritt and left-handers Shawn Clowers and Jared Lyons.
McKelvey and Parks come into the program with arm injuries and will utilize 2012 as a medical redshirt year. Other possibilities on the mound include catcher/first basemen Alex Close and Danny Grauer.
With last season's starter Casey Rasmus being drafted and signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in June, the Flames will have a new face at catcher for the second consecutive year. After weathering injuries to several players, leaving the squad thin at the position in 2011, Liberty seems to have improved their depth behind the plate for 2012.
Coming out of fall practice, transfer Danny Grauer looks to have won the starting nod, with Trey Wimmer, who sat out last season due to injury, as the backup. Grauer will also see time on the mound. According to Toman, Wimmer will see time at both catcher and first base, where he started 43 games in 2010.
The Flames will have to replace three out of their four infield starters entering the year. The lone holdover, Zack Haley, will move to shortstop or third base in 2012 after playing second base last season.
"We are not quite settled at the infield positions, especially at shortstop and third base, but we have plenty of players capable of manning those positions for us," commented Toman on his new look infield.
The Flames have much depth at first base, with as many as five different players capable of playing there this season. Leading the pack is Trey Wimmer who according to Toman had a good fall returning from injury and may be the best defensive option at the position.
Ryan Cordell, who is also in competition for a starting spot in the outfield, has also impressed at first base. The sophomore started nine games last season in the outfield and six games as the Flames' designated hitter, batting .255. Cordell also hit two home runs in a game at defending National Champion South Carolina.
Another returner to the Liberty roster is Justin Sizemore. The junior saw time at first base and also served as the Flames designated hitter in 2011. He hit .231 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 38 contests last season.
At second base, transfer Bryan Aanderud takes over after a strong fall. The junior showed steady defensive play at the position and lead the team in hitting during the fall. He is expected to hit in the middle of the Flames batting order during the year.
The play of Aanderud has allowed Toman to move Haley to either shortstop or third base. Haley will compete with Josh Richardson to take over for three-year starter Matt Williams, who departed after being drafted in the 15th round and signed by St. Louis Cardinals this past spring. In his first season with the Flames, Haley hit .284 with 19 RBIs and 28 runs scored in 48 games.
Meanwhile, Richardson moves back to the infield as a two-way player after working exclusively as a pitcher last year. The junior played shortstop as a freshman and is in the mix once again to man the position. He could also see time on the mound this season.
At third base, Dalton Sype is expected to take over for three-year starter, Tyler Bream, who was drafted and signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks this past June. Sype played in 10 games at various positions on the infield as Flame, before being injured and receiving a medical redshirt in 2011. Carson Herndon provides depth at the position.
The outfield is one place where there will be a lot of familiar faces for the Flames. Liberty returns two out of its three starters from a year ago, along with several others who saw time in the outfield last season. Seniors Ian Parmley and Michael Robertson return after holding down center field and right field, respectively, for the Flames in 2011.
After a solid year in his first season in a Flame uniform in 2011, Parmley moves to left field. He hit .314 and led the Flames with 48 runs scored and 27 stolen bases a year ago. The outfielder finished the year third in the Big South in steals, helping Liberty swipe 119 bases during the year, the most by a Flames squad since 2001. Parmley will also expected plenty of time on the mound.
Robertson has been the Liberty right fielder since becoming a member of the Flames roster in 2009. Last season, he hit .316 with 35 RBIs and 39 runs scored. In addition, the outfielder had 14 extra base hits, including 12 doubles, and stole 18 bases.
Taking over center field is junior college transfer Andy Smith. A left-handed hitter, Smith displayed good speed and a solid bat during fall practice.
"With those three in the outfield, we will be better defensively than last year," noted Toman. "Add in Ryan Cordell and we look pretty solid out there."
Cordell, who may also see time at first base and as a designated hitter, could also start in left field. With Parmley possibility pitching, the sophomore could find himself in outfield.
Also in the outfield mix are returnee Tony McClendon and freshman Ashton Perritt. McClendon, who missed last year after transferring to Liberty due injury, could add some power to the Flames roster, while Perritt may be the fastest player on the team. The freshman, a two-way player, will also pitch.