Spartan infield takes shape as season approaches

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Spring is quickly approaching and that means baseball season is right around the corner. The Michigan State men’s baseball team begins their 2018 season on Friday, Feb. 16 in Fresno, Calif., as they will kick off a four-game series with Fresno State.

The Spartans are coming off of a season in which they finished with a 29-23 record, missing out on the Big Ten tournament. Part of the Spartans’ success in 2017 was their infield. With a new season, there is certain to be some change on the team. Here’s what the infield is shaping up to look like.

Behind the plate

Starting behind the plate, senior catcher Chad Roskelly played in 39 games last season, making 29 starts all at DH. Roskelly finished third on the team with a .324 average while also finishing second on the team in OBP (.427). Although Roskelly didn’t play catcher at all last season, he is more than capable of handling the position, as he owns a career 99.5 fielding percentage and has thrown out 25 percent of baserunners. Roskelly will probably get most of his playing time at the DH spot, which leaves the catchers’ spot wide open.

Outside of Roskelly, senior Will Salter has the most experience at the catcher’s position. Salter started five games at catcher last season, turning in four hits, and two extra-base hits, over 24 at-bats while driving in four runs. Salter also didn’t commit a single error in his limited playing time.

Other options behind the plate include junior Nic Lacayo and freshmen Scott Combs and Adam Proctor. None of the three have seen any time at the Division 1 level, but Lacayo did play at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, AZ prior to transferring to Michigan State. In junior college, Lacayo hit .346 with 26 RBIs over 50 games as a freshman.

Up the middle

The Spartans are losing their leading home run hitter in 2017, second baseman Dan Durkin. Durkin was a multi-year starter at the position for head coach Jake Boss Jr.’s team, and hit .279 with nine home runs in 2017. Now that Durkin is graduated, it leaves a pretty big hole for the Spartans in 2018.

As of right now, the favorite to lock down the second base job seems to be senior Kory Young, who saw playing time in 21 games last season and made four starts at shortstop. However, Young struggled defensively, turning in a 86.7 fielding percentage over 30 chances. A move to second base might make things easier for him on the defensive end.

On the offensive end, Young’s sample size isn’t that large. The senior turned in a .211 average with five RBIs over 19 at-bats last season. However, Young did own a respectable .360 OBP. If Young can get keep getting on base in 2018, he should have no problem seeing playing time.

Junior Royce Ando made 48 starts at shortstop last season and appears to have the spot locked up in 2018 as well. Ando had the sixth-best average on the team last season (.281) while also slugging a couple home runs and driving in 19 runs.

Ando turned in a 94.3 fielding percentage and made 12 errors up the middle. If he can make less errors in 2018, he will be a very productive two-way player for the Spartans.

The corners

Both corner infield positions seem to be locked down already with senior Zack McGuire starting 50 of the Spartans’ 52 games at first base and junior Marty Bechina starting all 52 games for the Spartans at third base.

McGuire will likely get most of the playing time yet again at first base in 2018, though he did also make two starts at DH in 2017. The 6-foot-3 righty hit .279/.356/.475 with seven home runs, 32 RBIs and came in second on the team with 15 doubles while ranking third on the team with 51 hits. McGuire’s 15 doubles was also tied for eighth in the Big Ten. McGuire was also third on the team in total bases. McGuire will return this season and look to put up even bigger numbers offensively. He will look to be one of the leaders offensively in his senior season.

McGuire also features a solid glove, committing five errors in 459 chances. He should have no problem holding down the position for the majority of the season.

Bechina was one of the team’s more productive contributors at the plate last season, hitting .263/.396/.426 with 29 RBIs and hammering seven home runs, the second-most on the team. This is Bechina’s third straight year as a starter, as his offensive numbers improved slightly from his freshman season. Bechina gets on base at an excellent rate, drawing walks in nearly 20 percent of his at-bats in 2017.

Others in the mix

Among others in the mix for the Spartans’ infield are sophomores Bailey Peterson and Justin Antoncic and freshmen Ryan King, Peter Ahn, Brendan Regan and Zach Iverson.

Of the six, Antoncic is the only one to see any playing time with the Spartans, though it is a very limited sample size, as he was held hitless in two at bats over nine games last season.

Peterson played one season at Kellogg Community College and put up monster numbers at the plate, hitting for a .473 average, which was 12th-best in the NJCAA DII, and posting the second-highest OBP in the nation (.590). Peterson also slugged 11 home runs and drove in 67 runs. If his success carries over to the Big Ten level, Peterson will be one of the better hitters on the team.

The most notable freshman seems to be King, who led Brother Rice High School to a Chicago Catholic Blue Baseball conference title in 2017 as his team finished 29-10 overall and 18-3 in their conference.

The Spartans will more than likely be calling on younger players like King and Peterson to take on fairly large roles in the infield in 2018.

With the majority of the Spartans’ starters in the infield from 2017 returning for the 2018 season, the infield will likely be an area of strength for the Spartans in their quest for a NCAA tournament berth.

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