2014 Baseball Season Preview, Part I: Overview
This is the first of a four-part series previewing the 2014 Stetson Baseball season. Today, we have an overview of the upcoming season, which begins Feb. 14 vs. Ole Miss at Melching Field in DeLand:
As Stetson head coach Pete Dunn embarks on his 35th season in charge of the Hatters, he is looking to put the disappointment of last season behind him.
In 2013 the Hatters boasted the youngest roster of Dunn's tenure, at times starting seven first-year players, many of whom were freshmen. But despite the youth, Dunn and his staff saw several players emerge last season. And those players will all play critical roles as the Hatters move forward in 2014.
Stetson returns six everyday positional starters from last season and the entire weekend starting rotation returns intact, as does much of the bullpen.
Despite all that experience, the 2014 Hatters are still a relatively young team. The roster of 33 players features just six seniors and six returning juniors. The other 21 players are either freshmen or sophomores, with one first-year junior.
Young experience, however, is still experience. And that experience showed in fall workouts as Dunn and his staff spent more time on working to improve the squad, instead of teaching the game like the previous fall.
“I'm really pleased with how our fall workouts went even though we didn't have all of our pieces in place,” said Dunn. “We had a few guys coming back from injury that either didn't participate or were limited as to what they could do.”
Pitcher/first baseman Kurt Schluter, who missed all but three games last season and has battled injuries for much of his career, didn't pitch during fall practice but he did hit and play in the field.
Sophomore second baseman Kevin Fagan, who made 11 appearances on the mound last season and recorded a 2.28 ERA in addition to, also didn't pitch as he makes a return from an arm injury which kept him off the mound for the last half of the 2013 season. In fact, Dunn says Fagan's days as a pitcher are likely over.
“He's so important to us as a position player we're not sure we're ready to put him back on the mound and risk another injury.”
Sophomore reliever Tyler Warmoth also skipped fall workouts. Warmoth, who appeared in 31 games as a redshirt freshman, had a tired arm so Dunn and his staff let the right-hander rest.
The rest of the squad, though, was perfectly healthy and appears ready for a strong 2014.
“Most of our position players were healthy in the fall so we were able to get a pretty good feel for who is ready to compete for starting positions,” said Dunn. “The Hatter Series was extremely competitive and went down to the last game. From a coaching standpoint the team chemistry was really good. That's a hard thing to measure sometimes but the locker room and on the field seemed really good.”
The Hatters have an excellent mix of youth, experience and experienced youth on the pitching staff. All three weekend starters return as do several key bullpen pieces, plus a bevy of young pitchers on which Stetson will rely heavily.
But perhaps no pitcher may end up meaning more to the Hatters in 2014 than Schluter. A fifth-year senior who graduated last May and is currently pursuing a graduate degree, Schluter appeared in just three games last season before injuries forced him off the mound in early March. The 2011 Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Year is expected to serve as either the team's closer or as a weekend starter. Dunn says the coaching staff may not make a decision on Schluter's role until shortly before Opening Day.
“Kurt could fill the closer's role but he can also pitch on the front end of the rotation for us,” said Dunn. “We think he might be a great closer. At the end of the fall we weren't ready to say whether he starts or closes, but either way he'll play a significant pitching role for us.”
Stetson faces an ambitious schedule in 2014. In addition to the typical strong Atlantic Sun Conference slate, the Hatters will play 13 games against either ACC or SEC foes. And they won't waste any time with the challenging portion of their schedule, opening the season Feb.14 with a three-game home series against Ole Miss. The Hatters are also scheduled to face Boston College, South Carolina, Miami, NC State and Florida State as well as traditional foes like Bethune-Cookman, FIU and South Florida.
“This schedule is as strong as I can remember in my 35 years as a head coach,” said Dunn. “I can say with confidence we've never played 13 combined games against SEC and ACC opponents in the same season. It's really nice for our fans because nine of those games are at home. It gives them a good opportunity to see the two strongest baseball conferences in the nation.
“These are the types of teams we're going to face in the post-season. When you match up with the teams we're facing early on you're going to find out pretty quick what you're made of. We had a really young team last season, so we'll see how much our young kids have matured in the last year.”