Three takeaways for the Spartans after Crosstown Showdown

LANSING, Mich. — The month of September doesn’t quite scream “baseball.”

But Tuesday’s Crosstown Showdown took the spotlight away from Michigan State football for a night. The Spartans were in action against the Lansing Lugnuts, and there was plenty to keep an eye on. Here are three takeaways from Tuesday night’s exhibition.

1. BIG SHOES TO FILL

Looking across the diamond, there were many familiar faces, as the Spartans retained a large portion of their 2017 roster. However, there are a couple key spots where coach Jake Boss Jr. will turn to some new faces to rise up and fill a big role.

Former catcher Matt Byars, who started all 47 games he played in, graduated last spring. His backup Will Salter started only five games last year, while playing in 14. The Spartans will turn to Salter to complete the back end of the battery this coming spring. Byars hit a solid .271, while homering four times and driving in 25. Spartans will miss his production at the plate, but while only throwing out 17 percent of baserunners and committing eight errors on the year, he was a liability defensively. Salter doesn’t have quite the offensive upside as Byars, but Salter will look to sharpen up the Spartans on defense.

Senior infielder Kory Young will have to replace one of the 2017 captains, and John Kobs MVP team award winner, Dan Durkin. Durkin, a second baseman, was an asset in the clubhouse, at the plate and on the field. Most importantly, Durkin was a work-horse. He and Marty Bechina were the only two to start in all 52 games the Spartans played. Fortunately for the Spartans, Young played in 21 games and started four of them last spring, so being in game action isn’t unfamiliar territory for Young.

2. WHO’S THE ACE?

Using a myriad of pitchers against the Lugnuts, it’s clear Boss Jr. wanted all hands on deck, seeing what everyone returned from their summer league teams. With the likes of returning starters Ethan Landon, Caleb Sleeman, and Andrew Gonzalez, depth isn’t a question. The problem at hand: who will replace 2017 ace Alex Troop? The Washington Nationals selected Troop in the ninth round of this year’s MLB draft, and Troop signed, forgoing his final two seasons of eligibility.

Riley McCauley got the start against the Lugnuts, in a move that was surprising to some. McCauley spent all of his 2017 season entering in relief. His 25 appearances and nine saves ranked third and first, respectively, in MSU’s bullpen to Joe Mockbee and Walter Borkovich, who are no longer Spartans. McCauley was also awarded Cape Cod Russ Ford Outstanding Relief Pitcher Award and led the team in saves. Boss Jr. can possibly turn to his closer from a season ago to be a starter for his pitching staff, and maybe even a Friday starter.

McCauley, Landon and Mike Mokma impressed, allowing a combined two baserunners and striking out five in three innings of work. On the other hand, Jake Lowery and Gonzalez struggled, surrendering two runs each.

It’s unclear who will step up as the ace of the pitching staff. All signs are pointing towards McCauley to carry the heavy load on his back. Don’t be surprised to see a starter-by-committee system, which can very well be where things end up this spring.

3. FRESHMEN WILL BE CALLED UPON

If there’s one certainty amongst past Spartan teams, it’s that freshmen will hear their names called. Mitchell Tyranski and Bryce Kelley played significant roles for the Spartans during their freshman year, a season ago. Kelley’s accolades speak for themselves, as he was named a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American, and made the Big Ten Conference All-Freshman team. Tyranski appeared in 17 contests, and averaged over a strikeout per inning.

Adam Proctor is a name Spartan fans will hear a lot. After winning the Showdown derby, Proctor drove in the only run for the Spartans in his first at-bat. Even after being recruited as a catcher, Proctor won’t see much time behind the plate, as Salter is lined up to be the everyday starter. His bat won’t be kept out of the lineup, however, as he’ll spend a lot of time at designated hitter, just as he was Tuesday night. Proctor will be a middle of the order hitter and drive in a ton of runs for the Spartans, come February.

Freshman infielders Ryan King and Brendan Regan assumed the double play tandem after being subbed in for starters Royce Ando and Young. If Young struggles, King and Regan are poised to see action early in their Spartan careers. King looked sharp defensively at shortstop making a tough backhand play in the fifth, showing off his quick glove-to-hand transfer and strong arm. The left side will be locked down by Bechina and Ando, but as for now, second base looks to be an opportunity for playing time for either of these freshmen.


Stepping up will be the early key for Boss Jr.’s squad. With draft picks and a former team captain to replace, the Spartans will look to patch up some holes on the field and on the pitching staff this winter, in preparation for the season opener in February.