With everything going on in the world of K-State sports, it nearly escaped us that the Bat Cats season was about to begin. But who could blame us? Not only did this team finish a measly 25-30 last season (its worst season in nearly a decade, edging out 2012), but it also looks majorly different from last season. 22 newcomers join the K-State program after 19 players (but only four seniors...) left the program at the end of the 2014 season. Included in that group was All-American Ross Kivett, who was drafted in the 6th round of the MLB draft by his Detroit Tigers.
So what do we know about the 2015 edition of Wildcat Baseball? We know we have three returning Seniors in Shane Conlon (who will be looking to improve his draft stock this season), Carter Yagi, and Max Brown. But we are also only returning three full-time players in Conlon, Yagi, and Clayton Dalrymple, though Max Brown did finish the season on a strong note. Backup catcher Alex Bee will look to take over the starting role behind the plate. But a lot is unknown in the field.
Helping on offense, assistant coach Andy Sawyers is returning to Manhattan after a several-year stretch in College Station. Sawyers, K-State's
old new hitting coach/offensive coordinator, is best known for directing the stellar offenses in 2009 and 2010 and helped lead the BatCats to their first two NCAA tournament appearances.
There is also a bunch of solid pitching returning. Junior Nate Williams, star reliever in the Wildcats dream 2013 title run, is finally healthy again after sitting out all of 2014. Starting pitchers sophomore Nate Griep and junior Levi MaVorhis return to lead the rotation after solid 2014 seasons where each pitched complete-game shutouts.
With so much unknown, it's very hard to make any sort of prediction about this team. Thanks to Sawyers, we can expect more small-ball and more aggressive play on offense (more stealing). We can be pretty confident in the Friday and Saturday pitching starters, as well as their relief. We can count on solid hitting from Shane Conlon and Cater Yagi (who struck out only four times in 115 at-bats last year ...FOUR). And then there is a lot of unknown to grapple with.
Luckily, we won't have to wait much longer for some answers to those questions. Today, Friday the 13th, the BatCats open their season in Florida against an Iowa team that the Wildcats swept in Manhattan last season. K-State will also face Pittsburgh (Saturday morning), George Mason (Saturday afternoon), and Saint Louis (Sunday) over the weekend. Next weekend the Cats will head to Arizona for the Big12/Pac12 Challenge. Finally, on February 27th the Cats open their home schedule at Tointon Family Stadium in Manhattan, where they will get to stay until the middle of March. Hopefully the BatCats can get off to a better start than last year, when they dropped their first five contests and eight of their first nine before getting things turned around in March.
Coach Hill has a lot of new faces this season after a disastrous end to 2014. But by no means is he on the hot seat, as K-State's winningest head coach his seat isn't even warm right now. But based on comments from last season's end, and this season's beginning, he does feel the urgency to get the ship righted. He's built and rebuilt this program before, and lets hope he has it in him again.