What do you do when you have seven players in the hunt for three starting jobs in the outfield? If you are the Stetson coaching staff, you sit back and wait to see if the cream eventually rises to the top.
That is basically the tact the Hatters’ coaches have taken to finding the starters in the outfield this year – wait and see.
“There’s a lot of talent in the outfield, but none of those guys, with the exception of Mitchel Brennan, has proven that he can be a consistent hitter over the course of an entire season,” Dunn said.
Brennan is fairly anchored in right field, but he could also see playing time at first base and as the designated hitter, opening that spot for one of the six other players in the hunt for playing time.
The group of outfielders includes four returning players – senior James Rasmussen, juniors Kyle Zech and Robert Bruce and sophomore Tanner Blackman – along with junior college transfer Mike Fernland and freshman Kevin Fagan. Other returning players who could see time in the outfield are junior Brian Eggleston and sophomore Darby McCormick.
All of the returning players have shown flashes of ability and all bring different strengths to the game.
As a senior, Rasmussen has the most experience of the outfield candidates, but he also has a history of injuries. As a junior last year he started 24 games and hit .265 for the season. He made it all the way to the end of the year before a crash into the bullpen fence against Belmont in the Atlantic Sun Tournament ended his year.
“Ras had a very good fall,” Dunn said. “He’s a good outfielder.”
Zech had a solid freshman year and got off to a good start last year before an injury cost him a month of the season. After he returned, he wasn’t the same player and struggled to regain the offensive groove he was in early in the year. With his speed, if he can hit enough, he’ll be tough to keep out of the lineup.
“Zech wasn’t able to do anything in the fall after his operation, but Coach (Mark) Leavitt has worked with him to shorten his swing,” Dunn said. “The key for him is cutting down on the strikeouts and putting the ball in play. With his shortened swing, he’s doing a much better job of putting the ball in play and he’s taking a much better two-strike approach.”
Bruce started 21 games as a sophomore last year and hit .253 while Blackman started 19 games and hit .226.
The two new ingredients in the outfield soup are Fernland and Fagan. Fernland played two years at Marion Military Institute and the Stetson coaches say he is the best defensive outfielder of the bunch. Fagan, who is another left-handed hitter, is more of an offensive threat and could play in left or center.
“The bottom line is, whoever hits is going to play,” Dunn said. “No one has really proven that they can swing the bat yet. For us to have a great year, we have to shorten the learning curve for these freshmen. We need for guys like Rasmussen and Zech and Fernland to put together special years. If that happens, then the outfield could turn into more of a constant than a question mark.”