During the Nebraska baseball team’s 2014 season, ‘The Boys’ from Lincoln energized the fan base in a way that hadn’t been seen in years. As a result, they brought massive crowds to Hawks Field and record-setting ones to TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha for the Big Ten tournament. They even earned their first NCAA tournament bid since 2008.
Fast forward to last week’s MLB draft. Most expected to see Husker football and baseball recruit Monte Harrison get picked early.
The young man was rated extremely high by most baseball publications and was selected No. 50 overall by the Milwaukee Brewers. He’d sign just a few days later for a $1.8 million bonus.
Nebraska’s next highest rated commit, Jakson Reetz, was selected in the third round by the Washington Nationals, also putting pen to paper soon after.
I believe going into the draft, the majority of fans had come to terms with the idea of these losses happening. What many didn’t expect was losing two key contributors from 2014.
Pat Kelly, the Huskers’ second baseman for most of his career, dominated this past season. Leading the team in RBIs, home runs and hits, Kelly started every game of the past two seasons.
Apparently, the pros took notice. Selected in round No. 12 by his home state Minnesota Twins, Kelly couldn’t pass up the opportunity and elected to sign; a huge loss for Darin Ertad’s roster.
Joining Kelly in the majors is Nebraska baseball’s Saturday starting pitcher Aaron Bummer. Selected by the White Sox in round No. 19, Bummer leaves a big void in the weekend rotation for pitching coach Ted Silva’s staff.
The Huskers also lost stud pitchers in seniors Christian DeLeon and Zach Hirsch. All-Conference outfielder Michael Pritchard took his leave, too. Pritchard was a multi-time award winner for the Huskers, manning left field.
If there’s a season in which Darin Erstad must earn every penny of his salary, it’s 2015. How will he replace who’s been lost? I have a few ideas.
Let’s start on the mound. Chance Sinclair and Kyle Kubat return to more than likely handle the Friday and Saturday pitching jobs, respectively. It’s always good when you return an All-American and Sinclair garnered third-team honors in 2014.
He stepped into the Friday night role when DeLeon went out with an injury and was very skilful.
With two of the three weekend spots locked up, it’ll be interesting to see what Silva does on Sundays. The guy I’m high on is Jake Hohensee, a sophomore-to-be from Lincoln.
He has an amazing arm and I think he could eventually position himself as a staff ace after another season.
Other options would be guys like Max Knutson, Derek Burkamper and Big Ten Conference tournament championship game starter Austin Christensen.
In the bullpen, the Huskers look for a new set-up man for senior closer Josh Roeder with the inning-eater Hirsch no longer in scarlet. Returners who are candidates for that role include Jeff Chesnut, Ben Miller, and my pick, Colton Howell.
Howell didn’t get a lot of chances this year with guys like Hirsch and Bob Greco getting the most looks out of the pen, but he’s an upperclassman now and it’s logical to think coach Silva can look at him to get more innings thrown. He finished 2014 with 19.2 innings pitched, a 4.12 ERA, and 18 strikeouts.
At the plate, Nebraska clearly takes a hit after losing their three and four hole hitters in Pritchard and Kelly. Returning is freshman All-American Ryan Boldt. He’ll have to keep at a level that produced a .311 average and 31 RBIs if the Big Red wants to keep up its 2014 offensive production.
Other starters likely to keep their spots in 2015 include Austin Darby in right field, catcher Tanner Lubach, first baseman Blake Headley and third-baseman Jake Plazcek.
The middle infield is more of a mystery thanks to Kelly’s departure. I look for either Steven Reveles or Wes Edrington (both shortstops) to move to second base. Both guys will have to work on consistency at the plate for any chance at matching Kelly’s output.
Replacing Pritchard likely falls to Christian Cox. He spent most of 2014 as a DH and spot pitcher, but he has the goods to grab the starting job in left field. Great speed and a solid bat (.300 average with 6 RBIs) will definitely give him the advantage over other contenders in the outfield.
There’s no doubt that coach Erstad’s program took a big hit thanks to the MLB draft, but with returners at most spots, there’s no need to panic. It’ll be up to him and his staff to mold the new pieces of the puzzle into humming parts of the Big Red Machine.
So far, they’ve earned the trust to believe they’ll do just that.
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