#26 Missouri State Baseball 2016 Preview

Missouri State Bears
Overall Rank: #26
Conference Rank: #2 Missouri Valley
 Missouri State Logo
Missouri State had an amazing 2015 season. The team went 18-3 in Missouri Valley Conference play and hosted an NCAA regional. Bears fans had flashbacks to the 2003 campaign when Missouri State went to the College World Series. However, the magic ran short in the Super Regionals. The Bears had to travel to Fayetteville and Arkansas took the series two games to one. But this group returns enough talent to make another run at an MVC title and the College World Series.
2015: 49-12, 18-3
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Keith Guttin
Field Players:
Missouri State returns their top two hitters in Jake Burger and Spencer Johnson. Burger batted .342, hit 22 doubles, three triples and four homeruns. Burger is not the most patient hitter, but he does not need to be since he is so effective reaching out of the zone and making something out of nothing. Johnson is more of a power hitter, but he still .310 in 2015. Johnson knocked out six homers. Speaking of power, Justin Paulsen is also back. He led the team with eight homeruns and 47 RBIs. Blake Graham and Matt Fultz were regulars in the lineup as well and both have some pop in their bat. With a few key departures, most notably Dylan Becker and Tate Matheny, Graham and Fultz will both be asked to step up their game.
The Bears lose their top two pitchers in Matt Hall and Jon Harris. Hall went 12-2 last season and sported a 2.02 ERA. He was a workhorse, pitching 125.0 innings and striking out 171 batters. In all those innings, he allowed just three homeruns and walked only 45 batters. Harris had even better control. He struck out 116 batters in 103.0 innings, while walking just 36. On the year, Harris went 8-2 with a 2.45 ERA. Those are some tough numbers to replace. Lefty Jordan Knutson started 14 games and went 6-2 with a 3.16 ERA. He will likely emerge as the new ace of the staff. Andy Cheray also earned 14 starts and could emerge as a solid weekend starter. Senior Sam Perez did not start any games last year, but went 9-1 and had a 3.31 ERA in 68.0 innings pitched.
Who to Watch:
However, the starting rotation shakes out, Missouri State will have one of the best closers in the game to depend on late in games. Bryan Young recorded 16 saves, ranking third in the country, and sported an amazing 1.30 ERA. In 41.2 innings of work, Young allowed just six earned runs and struck out 52 batters. There are not many other players a team would rather have on the mound late in a close game. Young never lost a game last season and his offense helped him win seven games.
Final Projection:
Missouri State does not have the most challenging non-conference schedule, so they should get off to a quick start. However, they do stay on the road until March 1st, so there are opportunities for a loss or two along the way. But all eyes will likely be on the trip to Dallas Baptist from May 13th to 15th. That late season series could decide who wins the Missouri Valley regular season title.
Projected Postseason: NCAA Baseball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Jake Burger, IF, 228
Hits: Jake Burger, IF, 78
Home Runs: Justin Paulsen, IF, 8
RBIs: Justin Paulsen, IF, 47
Runs: Spencer Johnson, IF/OF, 50
Stolen Jake Burger, IF, 4
Wins: Sam Perez, P, 9
Innings Pitched: Jordan Knutson, P, 88.1
Strikeouts: Sam Perez, P, 62
Saves: Bryan Young, P, 16