Photo by Mark Mize // Sidelines Archive
The Middle Tennessee baseball team begins their regular season journey to the College World Series as they host Indiana on Friday. The Hoosiers are one of the most impressive non-conference opponents the Blue Raiders play in 2016, having gone to the CWS in the 2013-14 season.
2015 was a less than stellar campaign for the Blue Raiders. The team finished 32-27 overall and 19-11 in Conference USA, placing fourth in the conference.
Outfielder Ronnie Jebavy led the Blue Raiders offense, batting .359 with seven home runs, 36 RBI, and a .531 slugging percentage. Jebavy’s outstanding 2015 season led to the San Francisco Giants drafting him with the 156th overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft.
Middle Tennessee will rely heavily this season on their second best bat from 2015, Brad Jarreau. The junior outfielder was named to the Preseason All-Conference team for 2016, one of only four outfielders. Jarreau batted .338 with a .396 slugging percentage and a .408 on-base percentage. However, Jarreau only hit one home run in 2015 and was caught stealing five times.
Middle Tennessee’s offense was barely middle of the pack in 2015, ranking sixth overall in Conference USA. The Blue Raiders amassed 455 strikeouts, the most in the conference, and only hit 36 home runs. Teams that strikeout more often tend to hit more home runs but MTSU only finished with the sixth-most home runs in the conference.
Middle Tennessee’s infield is fairly young, especially the middle infielders. The four primary middle infielders have had a combined 20 career starts. The middle infielders will need to find chemistry with each other to effectively turn double plays and lead the outfielders to eliminate extra base hits.
Senior pitcher Nate Hoffman, along with Jarreau, was named to the College Sports Madness Preseason All-Conference USA team. Hoffman threw 77 1/3 innings in 2015, racking up 45 strikeouts and 29 walks. Hoffman had a 3.61 ERA and went 4-1 last season in 15 appearances, 13 of which were starts.
Hoffman was one of two MTSU pitchers to have an ERA under four last season. Pitching is absolutely vital to any team’s success, and the Blue Raiders are going to have to improve immensely on the bump.
Seniors Tyler Troutt and Garrett Ring will join Hoffman in the starting rotation, starting 11 and eight games respectively. Middle Tennessee lost Johnathan Frebis to the MLB Draft, who led the team with 15 starts on the mound. Frebis had a 4.86 ERA in 86 1/3 innings while collecting 70 strikeouts and giving up 35 walks.
MTSU’s cumulative ERA in 2015 was 5.12, dead last in Conference USA. The Blue Raiders bullpen will be the most important factor in their run for the conference title.
Middle Tennessee baseball begins regular season play this Friday at 3 p.m. at Reese Smith Jr. Field,
To contact Sports Editor Connor Ulrey, email firstname.lastname@example.org.