FAIRBORN — Wright State University’s baseball team returns six of its starting eight position players from the 2018 Horizon League champions. That’s the good news.
The not-so-good news is that offseason attrition includes four pro draftees/signees, the league’s player of the year (21st-round draft pick Gabe Snyder), three of last season’s top five starting pitchers, and every reliever who recorded a save in 2018.
New head coach Alex Sogard was the team’s pitching coach the last two seasons. Sogard likes what he has seen from his new pitchers—so, Raiders fans can consider that more good news.
“Our position players are pretty experienced,” Sogard said. “I’m very confident in our offense and defense.
“Pitching-wise, we have a lot of talent. It’s just a matter of how quickly some of our young pitchers step up and how quickly they can learn to pitch at this level against a challenging schedule. We have a lot of talented guys with not a lot of experience.”
Wright State was 39-17 overall last season, 22-6 in the league, and won its third league tournament championship in the last four seasons. A trip around the diamond reveals a level of talent and experience that could allow that success to continue.
Right fielder Peyton Burdick was the team’s second-leading hitter (.347) and was second in the league in RBIs (65) and runs scored (60). He was first-team all-league and the tournament MVP. Burdick followed up his terrific redshirt sophomore season by slugging three home runs on Opening Night in the Cape Cod League.
The remainder of the starting outfield—center fielder Zach Weatherford and left fielder JD Orr—returns intact.
Weatherford, always a solid defender, batted .284 last season, was perfect on 18 stolen-base attempts, and was the team’s most improved hitter in the fall, according to Sogard. Orr, the Raiders’ leadoff hitter, batted .318 with a .465 on-base percentage, stole 34 bases, led the Horizon with 62 runs scored, and was second-team all-league.
The fourth outfielder is likely to be redshirt sophomore Quincy Hamilton, a left-handed hitter who played in 31 games in 2018 and was named to the league’s all-freshman team.
Shortstop Chase Slone was named first-team all-Horizon League in his first season after transferring to Wright State. He batted .280 and was charged with only eight errors in 55 games.
The early season starter at second base will probably come down to a battle between freshmen Jason McConnell and Tyler Black. McConnell is a right-handed hitter, while Black bats from the left side. Damon Dues hit .317 in 15 games last season and could be a factor when he returns from Tommy John surgery later this season.
Third baseman Seth Gray joins Burdick as the most likely Raiders to be taken in the 2019 pro draft. Gray is already there defensively but is hoping for a bounceback year at the plate after his average dipped from .300 as a freshman to .267 last spring.
Across the diamond, left-handed hitter Kyle Casserly and righty Alex Anders are likely to share time at first base. Alders, a converted outfielder, batted .300 last season and is a solid baserunner. Casserly offers solid defense and is likely to improve offensively with more than the 20 at-bats he saw last season.
Senior Brandon Giltrow was the team’s everyday catcher in 2017. He will try to regain that job, but must battle juco transfer Konnor Piotto and freshman Cameron Rountree.
Designated hitter Zane Harris was second-team all-league as a freshman after batting .342 and slugging .495 with 20 walks vs. 14 strikeouts. He may also fit into the mix at first base.
The Starting Pitchers
No. 1 starter Ryan Weiss was taken by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the fourth round, but right-hander Daniel Kreuzer and left-hander Zane Collins return. Kreuzer’s 3.35 ERA ranked no. 5 in the Horizon League and Collins had a 4.18 ERA in 15 appearances/12 starts.
Freshman right-handers Riley Perlich, Tristan Haught, and Bradley Brehmer could earn significant roles as starter/relievers. Brehmer was a 23rd-round pick by Baltimore last June, but did not sign. University officials say he is the first high school draftee to choose Wright State over going pro.
Mitch Gremling (2.84 ERA, 28 strikeouts in 31.2 innings) will likely start the season as the Raiders’ closer. Other pitchers likely to begin the season in bullpen roles include sidearmer Evan Moores, left-hander Wes Earles, power pitcher Jake Schrand, and fireballer Tyler Luneke.
The Season Ahead
Wright State has only posted one losing season in the conference since 2004, advanced to the NCAA regional finals in 2015 and 2016, and could have returned to the finals last year but for an extra-innings loss to No. 2 Stanford. There’s no reason not to expect the Raiders to compete at that level again in Sogard’s first season despite the turnover in the pitching staff.
“The coaches in the past really built a foundation here,” Sogard said. “I love everything this program brings. We’re still going to play fast and aggressive. I like being known for that.
“When our new players look around them, they can see everyone around them has had success. We have plenty of talent. It will just depend on how quickly that talent grows up.”