2007 Wichita State Season Outlook
Head coach Gene Stephenson will begin his 30th season as a Shocker with seven returning starters and 21 returning lettermen from a team that went 46-22 in 2006. Wichita State advanced to its 24th NCAA Tournament and won more than 40 games for the 29th-consecutive year. Stephenson has posted a 1,552-511-3 overall record in his 29 seasons at Wichita State, which ranks him first in winning percentage among active coaches and second in wins. He expects the 2007 edition of the Shockers to be very good.
“I believe if we can get all of the people who were injured this fall healthy and have a good preseason practice in January, we can be a pretty good team and can be able to compete with the difficult teams on our schedule,” Stephenson said. “We just need to get everybody healthy and understand the importance of doing all of the little things right on a regular basis and if we do that we can be really good.”
Stephenson also stresses the importance of surrounding himself with quality coaches, as he has demonstrated with the make-up and tenure of the program’s assistant coaches. Pitching coach Brent Kemnitz returns for his 29th season, while assistant coach Jim Thomas begins his 15th. Volunteer assistant coach Jerod Goodale will begin his first year.
The 2007 pitching staff will be without just two pitchers from the 2006 squad as WSU returns 13 pitchers. Gone is first-round draft pick Kris Johnson (6-2, 4.86) and Jereme Foster (0-3, 11.17). WSU returns 87 percent of its wins from its 2006 pitching staff and finished last season with a 3.66 ERA.
Returning to the Shocker staff in 2007 are weekend starters Aaron Shafer, Travis Banwart and Rob Musgrave. Last season, Shafer earned Valley Freshman-of-the-Year honors as well as Valley Pitcher-of-the-Year honors after going 11-3 with a 2.63 ERA. He also earned third team All-America honors as well as being a first team Freshman All-American. Banwart, an honorable mention all-Valley selection, went 9-4 with a 3.87 ERA, while Musgrave went 6-3 with a 4.11 ERA.
“Aaron was Valley Pitcher-of-the-Year and an All-American and just needs to understand that nothing comes easy,” Kemnitz said. “He’s going to have to make the next step and continue to improve and stay locked in. If he does all those things, he should be amongst the best in America. He had a good fall so I think he understands that it doesn’t come easy and that you have to continue to get better.
“Travis has had two outstanding years at Wichita State and followed it up with being a Cape Cod League All-Star. He took it easy this fall and just threw bullpens. His goal should be to be an All-American. He is a guy that doesn’t need to take a back seat to anyone.
“Rob has been a very solid pitcher here for two years, but needs to make the next step. He showed flashes last year of being dominant and just needs to sustain that with confidence and the normal maturity he should have for all of the experience he has over two years. He needs to make the next step and if he does that he is as good as any left-hander in the Missouri Valley Conference.”
Ten other pitchers return to the Shockers from 2006 including seniors Noah Booth (1-1, 2.50), Danny Jackson (0-0, 0.00), Kyle Touchatt (4-1, 6.75), Noah Krol (0-1, 2.95) and Jared Simon (0-1, 8.71), juniors Damon Sublett (1-0, 0.00), Khol Nanney (2-1, 3.97), and Max Hutson (3-0, 3.76) and sophomores Anthony Capra (2-2, 1.76) and Matt Smith (1-0, 2.55). Junior Andy Womack also returns after sitting out 2006 due to transfer rules.
“Noah Booth has proven over and over again how valuable he is to our bullpen,” Kemnitz said. “He’s a guy who is capable of closing a game out and he’s capable of coming in early in the game and throwing three or four or five innings. He throws three pitches for a strike. He throws the best in big game situations and has proven he is amongst the best in the nation out of the bullpen.
“Two years ago Danny was outstanding out of the bullpen. He’s fought some injury issues and it seems like he is regaining his arm strength. He is a fierce competitor and strike thrower. If healthy, he is certainly a big-time contributor.
“Kyle needs to gain consistency. On a good day he can chew up any lineup in America and on a bad day struggles to get outs. He has outstanding stuff and is a hard worker. He just needs to be more consistent.
“Noah Krol made a big step over the course of the summer and fall. He continues to get better, has an outstanding slider and has gained confidence in his fastball and needs to work off of it and continue to show his changeup. He is a guy we have a lot of confidence in out of the bullpen.
“Jared has really improved his stock when he started dropping down to the side with a sidearm delivery. He had an outstanding summer in the Texas Collegiate League and followed that up with an outstanding fall. He has the confidence of everyone that he can be used in whatever role and be successful.
“Damon continues to be dominant out of the pen. He just needs to freshen up his arm. In my mind he is the best closer in America. He can be very dominating.
“Khol needs to gain consistency. He was our top right-hander out of the pen the first part of the year and he kind of lost that job late in the year, but has shown that he is capable of giving us one, two, or three innings out of the pen. He has a good makeup and just needs to gain consistency.
“Max had a great fall. He was inconsistent last year and struggled this past summer in the Texas Collegiate League, but had an outstanding fall, which he needed to. He needed to gain that confidence not only for himself, but for the team and coaching staff and I think he attained that.
“Our main goal this fall was to make sure that Anthony’s knee was okay and we are headed in the right direction with that. He had an outstanding year out of the bullpen for us last year. Our goal is to make him a starter and what he needs to do is be able to be consistent with his curveball and changeup and if you throw that in with his ability to throw two and four-seam fastballs you’ve got an outstanding starter. He did improve his curveball and changeup and gained confidence in those pitches. If he can sustain that, with his makeup, he should be a quality starter.
“Matt finished strong his freshman year and went to the Texas Collegiate League and pitched well, but struggled this fall which makes no sense. He’s a guy that in my mind needs to take the next step. He finished his freshman year by grabbing everyone’s attention. He needs to take the next step and become a household name in college baseball.
“Andy is a guy that redshirted last year. If he can get comfortable and stay within himself, he is a guy that can chew up a lot of innings. He just needs to be consistent and needs to be able to relax and stay within himself.”
Five newcomers will look to make an impact in 2007 including Dusty Coleman, Andy Dirks, Tyson Fugett, Tim Kelley and Ronnie Morales.
“Dusty is very capable of being an outstanding pitcher, but we’ll focus mainly on him being a position player,” Kemnitz said. “He is a guy, if needed, that is very capable of being an outstanding bullpen guy.
“Like Coleman, Andy will primarily be used as a position player. He can give us added pitching depth if needed and has ability on the mound, but first and foremost will be used as a position player.
“Tyson made big steps this fall. He is a strike-throwing left-hander capable of throwing four pitches for a strike. He just needs to gain confidence, which he should have attained by throwing 10 shutout innings to finish the fall in the Shocker World Series. He had some arm issues the end of his senior year of high school, but seems to be healthy. If he is healthy and gains confidence, he will be a factor either as a starter or out of the bullpen.
“The sky is the limit for Tim. He made huge strides this fall. He also finished strong throwing four shutout innings his last outing of the fall and should go into the winter with a lot of confidence and a great game plan to continue to improve.
“Ronnie needs to gain consistency. He can by very tough on hitters out of the bullpen especially left-handers. He is a guy who could be very valuable to us if he gains consistency and confidence.
“Our goal every year is to have the best pitching staff in America. To cover the schedule we have, we need to have outstanding pitching along with outstanding pitching depth. We feel that we have enough quality starters and relievers to cover our schedule.”
The Shockers return four starters to the infield, first baseman Derek Schermerhorn, second baseman Damon Sublett, shortstop Noah Krol and third baseman Conor Gillaspie, but Stephenson sees the infield being very versatile in 2007.
“We are going to be very versatile and able to do a lot of different things with a lot of different people,” Stephenson said. “It’s just going to take a while to get those things sorted out. For the first month or so we are going to be trying different lineups different ways to see which way will mesh the best, which chemistry will be the best and which will get the most out of our team. It is quite possible a freshman could step up and take a job from a returning starter.”
Senior Derek Schermerhorn started 48 games at first base a year ago and hit .329 with 14 doubles, 29 RBI and had 17 stolen bases. Senior Danny Jackson and junior Tyler Hill also spent time at first in 2006 and Stephenson sees those three as the top candidates for 2007.
“Based on the fall, that is going to be an interesting position because Tyler Hill was injured and was unable to perform the whole fall and Danny Jackson, who looked very good at times this fall, was injured late in the fall and was unable to participate the last week,” Stephenson said. “Those appear to be the top candidates, although everyone knows Derek Schermerhorn can play wherever, we just don’t know where at this point. Those would appear to be the top three choices at this point.”
Redshirt freshman Clint McKeever could also see time at first base.
“Clint McKeever is going to be a good hitter,” Stephenson said. “He needs to get better defensively. We have just scratched the surface of what he can be offensively.”
Returning to second base is 2006 Joe Carter Valley Player-of-the-Year and All-American Damon Sublett. Last season, Sublett, a junior, started 39 games at second base, while hitting .394 with nine doubles, one triple, 10 home runs, 45 RBI and 12 stolen bases. He played in just 46 games after having wrist surgery on May 5.
Senior Noah Krol returns at shortstop after starting 50 games there in 2006. He hit .247 with six doubles, two home runs and 20 RBI, while also tying the school record with 15 hit by pitch.
According to Stephenson, second base and shortstop are interchangeable with seven different players being capable of playing both positions including seniors Noah Krol and Derek Schermerhorn, junior Damon Sublett, sophomore Josh Workman and freshmen Dusty Coleman, Harrison Dreiling and Kyle Sisney.
“Obviously, Damon Sublett is the key and the guy we must have a good year from,” Stephenson said. “He must be healthy. If he can remain healthy and have the kind of year we all expect, he can be something really special. He’s just had a history of endless injuries of different sorts, so we are hopeful he will be able to help. We have a very good group of middle infielders that are able to play second or short and who are capable of doing a lot of things. We have a lot of confidence in a lot of different people there.
“Josh Workman has made vast strides with his arm this fall, but needs to improve his arm strength this winter in order to play second base this spring. That would free up Sublett to play shortstop, but Sublett’s arm also has to get stronger. Noah Krol really improved as a hitter through the fall. He’s going to be holding down a good load on the mound in relief and we need to have some quality people to step in and play at shortstop or take over the shortstop position.
“We’ve got two guys in the fall who showed they can do a good job defensively but struggled offensively in Coleman and Dreiling. I feel that either could play right now if they improve offensively and have more confidence in themselves. The secret square is Kyle Sisney that no one knows about because he was injured all summer and fall. His status won’t be known until we start the season about whether it is better to redshirt him and get him seasoning or not. But he is a good ball player who understands the game really well. We are blessed with a lot of middle infielders that are capable of doing a lot of good things.”
First team all-conference performer and Freshman All-American Conor Gillaspie returns to third base where he started 67 games in 2006. Gillaspie hit .352 with 18 doubles, three triples, seven home runs and 67 RBI a year ago. Stephenson considers Gillaspie and Schermerhorn to be the mainstays at third.
“Obviously, we have two really good people at third in Conor Gillaspie and Derek Schermerhorn,” Stephenson said. “I also feel that other guys could step in and play there if they had to. Although Gillaspie was hurt this fall, he improved his speed dramatically over the last year and is now a quality runner and a base stealing threat. He showed last year that he improved dramatically as a hitter during the course of the season and should be one of our offensive leaders. Any of the other aforementioned guys including Krol could be an excellent player at third, but it all depends on who hits.”
Brandon Hall started 37 games at catcher a year ago and is gone, but the Shockers return junior Tyler Weber who started 29 games behind the dish in 2006. Weber hit .305 with four doubles, a home run and 21 RBI last season.
The Shockers have three returning catchers in Weber, Tony Pechek and Cody Lassley with Derek Schermerhorn also getting a chance in 2007.
“This is the one key area that is so important for our success this year,” Stephenson said. “We need a great leader behind the plate, one who can get the most out of our pitchers all the time and a guy who is strong mentally and emotionally to give us a good presence on the field. The leading candidates on paper are Tyler Weber, Tony Pechek and Cody Lassley. We just need to see who is going to become the most consistent of the three, who is going to be the best leader and who is going to get the most out of the pitchers. Lurking in the background is Derek Schermerhorn because he worked this fall extensively as a catcher and looked very good. There’s no question that Derek Schermerhorn is going to play everyday somewhere.”
The Shockers return two starters to the outfield in 2007 in junior Matt Brown and junior Tyler Hill. Lost is Kenny Waddell who hit .282 with 38 stolen bases in 2006. Brown, a first team all-Valley selection, hit .335 with 23 doubles, six triples, four home runs, 57 RBI and 15 stolen bases, while Hill hit .286 with 39 RBI.
In 2007, Hill is expected to play primarily at first base leaving two open spots in the outfield.
The outfield has lots of possibilities as Stephenson has six other players, besides Brown, who are capable of playing this season. Those include senior Blake Hurlbutt, juniors Kenny Williams Jr. and Andy Dirks, and freshmen Kelly Quirk, Bret Bascue, and Ryan Jones.
“We have Brown returning and Hurlbutt came around late last spring and had a good fall,” Stephenson said. “Andy Dirks had a really good fall offensively and defensively. Those would probably be the top three guys but Kenny Williams is a good possibility. He can go and get the ball and do some things but he has to get better offensively if he’s going to play everyday. Ryan Jones had good moments this fall and Kelly Quirk is a much better player than he was a year ago. Bret Bascue can go get the ball, but he has to improve offensively to have a chance to play.”