Season Preview: Baseball

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Matt Vereen, 23 Sports

Sunday, February 8 –

Joining the Southeastern Conference for the 2012-2013 athletic year was a positive move for Missouri Athletics. For the baseball team, however, this meant a move into one of the premier NCAA Division-1 baseball conferences.

The SEC boasts 10 National Championships since 1990, including last year’s, won by the Vanderbilt Commodores. This high level of opposition has led to little SEC success for the Tigers, despite having won the Big 12 Championship in their last season before the move.

After two seasons, Missouri has done poorly with records of 18-32 (10-20) in 2013 and 20-33 (6-24) in 2014.

While the Tigers haven’t shined on the diamond, the SEC transition has had a major positive impact on the program leading into this season. The Missouri recruiting classes have remained inside the top-25 since joining the SEC. This year’s class was ranked 12th in the nation by Baseball America (the highest-ranking Missouri class since 2007 when they were ranked 11th).

This new class hopes to have an immediate impact on the field behind Bryan Montes De Oca and Shane Bennis, both of whom were ranked in in the top 400 incoming players according to Baseball America. Montes De Oca is attracting special attention as he was ranked 72nd of the 400 and was the third-highest ranked prospect to enter Division I this season. While four other SEC schools still earned higher recruiting class rankings, it’s a step in the right direction for Missouri.

All the hope for the team, however, does not lie solely in the hands of the freshmen. Junior Josh Lester and sophomore Ryan Howard are among the big names that show promise for this season.

Lester, who batted a .237 last season, has developed into one of the SEC’s best shortstops. He has been named to the All-SEC Freshman Team in 2013 and tallied 14 multi-hit games in 2014, including two 4-hit games.

Howard, a fellow infielder, has also had an impressive career with the Tigers. He also posted a .237 batting average last season and finished with a .340 on-base percentage.

All is not bright for the Tigers, however. The loss of key players from last year’s team leaves plenty of shoes that will be tough to fill. Four of Missouri’s top hitters from last year, including Bryan Kelly and Eric Anderson, all graduated. Anderson was also a major contributor in the pitching rotation.

While we may not see any major improvement this season, Missouri is certainly on the right track toward success in future years. It won’t be long before the Tigers become major players in the SEC.

Missouri will begin the 2015 season with a four game series against Iona starting on February 13 at 2 p.m. CT at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary, NC. The Tiger’s home opener will be against Illinois-Chicago on Friday, February 27 at 6 p.m.