Emerson Stephens, 23 Sports

Baseball season is back in swing in Columbia, and the Tigers are ready to back on the diamond. The season opens up Friday, Feb. 16 against Florida International University. Steve Bieser is headed into his second season at the helm of the program, and will look to improve upon the teams 36-23 record from a year ago.

The lineup for the Tigers will be headlined by a pair of sluggers, Catcher Brett Bond and OF/2B Trey Harris. Bond, who was taken in the 23rd round of the last MLB draft, decided to come back to Mizzou for one more season. He had his best season to date last year hitting an impressing .307 and swatting 10 home runs to go along with 45 RBI’s. Two years ago he hit a meager .219 but that year can be chalked up as an anomaly, considering his Batting average on balls in play was only .293. Outside of that season, that number has been exactly .400. Harris had a bit of a breakout season in 2017, setting career highs in many offensive categories, including a team leading 12 home runs. He also walked an impressive 32 times, and stole nine bases.

The rest of the lineup will feature a lot of competition, which will force a high level of motivation from many players. Some likely pieces are junior Brian Sharp at 1B, sophomore Chris Cornelius at SS, sophomore Kameron Misner in the outfield, and senior Alex Samples at 3B. Misner had an amazing summer in Newport and will look to carry that over to his second year in college. He is definitely capable of surprising some people in 2018.

The pitching staff will be especially interesting. The biggest point of interest has to be junior Bryce Montes de Oca, the 6’7 righty. He didn’t really have a great season last year, finishing out with a 4.28 ERA. He does however have an amazing build for a pitcher and at some point should be able to tap into his potential and become a real ace for this team. Most guys similar to him in height take a little longer to get their mechanics down and break out as pitchers. Mizzou fans surely hope he can make this his year. The word around the team is that Michael Plassmeyer and Andy Toelken will join Montes de Oca as the primary starters for the team.

The bullpen holds another start pitcher in the form of TJ Sikkema. Sikkema pitched extremely well last season in a multitude of roles. He recorded three starts and earned four saves in 71.1 innings pitched. Biesel seemed to like using him in a long relief role, but in his last start he recorded a complete game shutout. It’s not certain exactly what role he will fill this season, but this is a problem any coach would be happy to have. Konor Ash is a lock for the bullpen with a fastball that touches 92. One guy whose role is very uncertain is freshman Ian Bedell. He reclassified to come to college a year early, but was expected to be drafted in the early rounds out of highschool. He features a mid 90’s fastball and a ¾ arm slot, so he should find some mound time even in his freshman year.

There is a lot to like about this team, and coach Bieser can put their talent to use. The SEC is always a tough conference, but Mizzou should be competitive. It’s hard to predict that takes a lot of people doing a lot different jobs, but the potential is there for this to be a very successful season.