As students come back from a relaxing, joyful and definitely not-long-enough winter break, students at the University of Utah can expect a season to remember on the diamond.
The Utah baseball team, just three years removed from a Pac-12 championship win over the University of Washington, is looking to repeat their level of success as they head into the 2019 season. With a lot of returning talent and a much more manageable schedule, things are looking up for the former champions.
Last year was a season to forget for the Utes. A 0-13 start greeted the team to 2018, with losses to pretty average ball clubs like the University of Santa Clara, San Jose State University, and UC Riverside, where the team recorded their first win just over a month into the season.
Both the bats and the pitching went completely cold from the start of the season, with the Utes being on the bad end of some pretty rough blowouts early on, losing 20-13 to Ohio State in February, before losing to Stanford by twenty runs later in the season.
The inconsistent scoring and score-preventing is usually the mark of a team with much to improve on, and in the offseason, the Utes did just that. Eight pitchers will make their collegiate debut for the Utes in 2019, not to mention two freshmen catchers and several key positions in both the infield and outfield.
One of the Utes’ newest additions is right-handed pitcher (RHP) Jake Dahle. Playing out of Tremonton, UT, Dahle is the top-ranking RHP in the state according to stats gathered from perfectgame.org, a stat-gathering source for high school prospects. At just 19 years old, Dahle hits a 90 MPH fastball in the 93rd percentile in the country. Much of the team’s pitching depth lies in their left-handed pitchers (LHP), with now-seniors Joshua Tedeschi and Kyle Robeniol leading the way as the team’s best pitchers. The four senior pitchers — Spencer Johnson and Austin Moore, along with Tedeschi and Robeniol — while trying to forget last season, still have that taste of championship glory from 2016 and will look to find that again as leaders in 2019. The team lost three pitchers (two RHP, one LHP) to graduation, and the now-veterans, who shared relief time for most of 2018, will now be tasked to become the role models for a huge group of incoming players. The team is also looking to replace junior outfielder Dashawn Keirsey, Jr., who was drafted in the fourth round of the MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins. In the pipeline, Utah recruiting has filled the gap, with senior outfielders in Chandler Anderson and Erick Migueles to fill in at center field.
Consistent hitting is also a factor that eluded the Utah offense for the better part of last year. The run-generating element of the offense had instances of consistency but was usually overshadowed by long stretches of inactivity. The Utes would either lose a game 2-1, or lose a game 18-12. Through recruiting, the team hopes to fix that inconsistency. Braden DeBenedictis, a redshirt sophomore, was third on the team in on-base percentage (OBP), behind Keirsey, Jr., and junior infielder Oliver Dunn, who trailed Keirsey but still posted a solid .319 OBP, to DeBenedictis’ .299. This means that many of the team leaders in hitting the ball and getting on base will be returning this spring, which is good news for a team looking for more consistent offensive production.
Overall, the team’s season looks manageable. The team has a few stints against Oregon State, who finished second in the country, and UCLA, who was among the top 20 throughout last season, but other than that, the field looks pretty level for the Utes.
With several home stands sprinkled throughout the season, the Utes will also find themselves playing at home a lot throughout the season, which is where they posted the best record of their season, posting a 9-13 record, as opposed to a 7-22 record on the road, and a winless 0-4 at neutral sites. With positives coming at record lows for the team, this should help them as the season progresses, as intangibles can come in when playing an evenly matched opponent.
As the Utah baseball team looks to turn around what has been a lost few years, they will have veteran leadership and a more solid hitting foundation to back up a veteran pitching core along the way.