Baseball Begins 2019 Season Friday at Nationally-Ranked Mississippi State

Web Charles (Photo by Mike Yourstowsky)
Web Charles (Photo by Mike Yourstowsky)

The Youngstown State baseball team will begin the 65th season in program history this weekend with a three-game series in Starkville, Miss., against nationally-ranked Mississippi State at the newly-renovated Dudy Noble Field at Polk-DeMent Stadium. The Penguins and Bulldogs will play at 5 p.m. Eastern on Friday in the opener followed by a doubleheader on Saturday beginning at 1 p.m. The threat of inclement weather on Sunday forced a change in the original weekend schedule.

All three games will be broadcast live on SEC Network+ and WatchESPN, and live audio will be available via the MSU Radio Network. Live stats will also be available throughout the weekend through links on YSUsports.com. Fans can also follow @YSUBaseball on Twitter for live updates.

The weekend will feature a number of special promotions, dedications and recognitions as Mississippi State opens the new state-of-the-art Dudy Noble Field and honors MSU greats Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro. After a three-year project costing $68 million, the facility is the largest on-campus facility in college baseball and features a 360-degree view of the playing surface with 130,000-square feet of space. Dudy Noble Field owns 17 of the top 20 largest on-campus crowds in college baseball history, and capacity at the new ballpark is more than 15,000.

Scouting Mississippi State

Mississippi State is ranked No. 9 in Baseball America's preseason rankings and No. 15 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. The Bulldogs finished 39-29 in 2018 with an appearance in the College World Series, where they reached the bracket final before falling to eventual national champion Oregon State. MSU is under the direction of first-year Head Coach Chris Lemonis, who spent the previous four seasons at Indiana. Key returners include senior OF Jake Mangum, who hit .351 in 2018 and has been the Bulldogs' top hitter three of the last four years, and junior LHP Ethan Small, who posted a team-best 3.20 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 18 starts. Freshman P/IF JT Ginn was selected 30th overall in the 2018 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but chose to play for Mississippi State rather than sign professionally. Friday will mark the first meeting on the diamond between the Penguins and Bulldogs.

Preseason Recognition

Multiple YSU players have earned preseason recognition from various publications heading into the 2019 season. Junior IF/OF Blaze Glenn, senior RHP Joel Hake, sophomore IF/OF Jeff Wehler and senior 1B Trevor Wiersma were named Top Players to Watch in the Horizon League by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper in its 2019 preview edition. D1Baseball.com projected freshman P/IF Travis Perry to be the Horizon League Freshman of the Year in its 2019 conference preview.

D1Baseball also noted Glenn, Wehler and sophomore OF Lucas Nasonti as top draft prospects in the conference. Glenn was ranked the No. 7 prospect for the 2019 draft, while Wehler and Nasonti were No. 3 and 4, respectively, for 2020. Glenn was also ranked No. 56 on D1Baseball.com's list of the top 100 draft-eligible hitters in the country, that was released this past fall. Glenn was the top-ranked collegiate player in the state of Ohio, and one of only two hitters from the Horizon League to appear on the list.

Penguins Picked Fourth in Preseason Polls

YSU was picked to finish fourth in the Horizon League in a preseason poll of the league's coaches as well as in projections by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and D1Baseball.com. The Penguins finished fifth in the conference standings in 2018 at 18-38 overall and 10-19 in league play. Wright State has been picked unanimously to defend its regular season and tournament titles, and Raiders' outfielder Peyton Burdick was the consensus Preseason Player of the Year.

2018 Season in Review: Another Step Forward

  • YSU posted its highest number of league wins (10) since 2009, and its most total wins (18) since 2010
  • The Penguins have recorded the most conference wins (19) in back-to-back seasons since 2009–2010, and the most regular-season wins (32) since 2010–2011.
  • YSU had seven players garner postseason Horizon League honors. That total matched the most in a season in school history; YSU also had seven players honored in 2007. Four Penguins were named to the first or second teams for the first time since the 2010 campaign.
  • The Penguins earned their first Horizon League Tournament victory since winning the championship in 2014 with a 4-1 win over Oakland in the first round on May 23.
  • Youngstown State won its first season opener since 2010 with an 8-4 win at Belmont on Feb. 16, and swept a league opponent for the first time since 2012 when it won three straight over UIC at Eastwood Field on March 30–31.
  • YSU drew a league-best 272 walks, shattering the previous school record of 234 that was set in 2013. The Penguins set the record in a win at Toledo on May 8, and finished 2018 ranked 42nd in the nation in base on balls.
  • The Penguins recorded 86 stolen bases as a team last season. That total ranked second in the league and 30th in the nation. It is also tied for the second-most team stolen bases in a single season in school history.
  • Youngstown State hit 44 home runs as a team, which ranked second in the Horizon League and as the third-most in a single season in school history.
  • The Penguins finished the campaign with a 5-2 record against opponents from the Mid-American Conference. YSU notched two wins over Bowling Green and one each against Eastern Michigan, Ohio and Toledo.
  • Trey Bridis hit 13 HR while Glenn had 11, marking the first season in school history in which two players hit at least 11 homers. Bridis and Glenn are also two of just four players in program history to record at least 10 homers and 10 stolen bases in the same season.
  • As a pitching staff, YSU registered 399 strikeouts last season. That total ranks as the fourth-most in a single season in program history. It was the first season since 2010 in which Penguins' pitchers struck out at least 350 batters.

Glenn Coming Off Stellar Season

Junior IF/OF Blaze Glenn made quite an impression in his first season as a Penguin in 2018. The transfer from Sinclair Community College was named Second-Team All-Horizon League after ranking in the top 10 of the league in nine different offensive categories. Glenn led YSU last season with a .325 batting average, 64 hits, 13 doubles, 43 RBIs, a .558 slugging percentage and a .445 OBP. He was also second on the squad with 39 walks and 16 stolen bases; he was a perfect 16-for-16 in stolen-base attempts.

The Toronto, Ohio, native reached base in 46 consecutive games from Feb. 24 through May 15, a streak that was the longest in the country when it ended. His 11 home runs last season tied for the fourth-most in a single season in school history. Glenn was the only Penguin to play and start all 56 games last season. His 56 games played tied for the most in a single season in school history, and he was the first Penguin to play in that many contests since Phil Lapari in 2013. He also became one of four players in school history to record at least 10 home runs and 10 steals in the same season.

Returning Firepower in the Lineup

In addition to Glenn, YSU returns three other position players who earned postseason Horizon League honors last season. IF/OF Jeff Wehler, 1B Nick LaBrasca and OF Lucas Nasonti were each named to the Horizon League All-Freshman Team last season, and Wehler also earned all-league second-team honors. Wehler led YSU while ranking second in the league with 25 stolen bases, and also posted a team-best 216 at bats in 52 games. He tied for the team lead with 13 doubles while ranking third with 25 RBIs and 71 total bases. He batted .282 with nine doubles, 17 RBIs and 15 steals against Horizon League opponents. 

Nasonti batted .264 with seven doubles, two home runs, 14 RBIs, 19 runs scored and nine stolen bases in 10 attempts. The Warren, Ohio, native played in 42 games, 33 of which he started. After starting the season just 1-for-12, LaBrasca hit .328 over his final 22 regular season games. In 32 games and 15 starts, he batted .277 and slugged .422 with six doubles, two home runs and 18 RBIs overall. He hit .289 with two doubles, a home run and six RBIs in 17 league contests.

Pitching Staff Preview

YSU will begin the 2019 season with 16 available pitchers, only five of whom are upperclassmen. The Penguins will be without veterans Collin Floyd and Zack Minney, who are both out for the season with injuries. Floyd, a left-hander who was named Second-Team All-Horizon League last season, ranked fourth in the league with a career-high 82 strikeouts and has recorded at least 50 K's in each of the past three seasons. Minney, a right-handed relief specialist, has pitched in 39 games over the past two campaigns. YSU's staff includes seven pitchers who made at least 10 appearances in 2018, and six pitchers who made at least two starts.

Junior right-hander Greg Dunham returns after tossing 67.1 innings in a team-high 12 starts last season. Senior left-hander Zach Lopatka made eight starts in 2018 while reliever Joel Hake made a team-high 26 appearances out of the bullpen. YSU also returns a group of versatile arms in Colin Clark, Chad Coles, Kip DeShields and Dalton Earich. Each made 19 or more appearances and at least two starts a year ago. Coming off strong fall seasons, Clark and Coles are set to start games one and two this weekend, respectively. Hard-throwing freshman Jon Snyder  is slated to start the series finale after being redshirted last season due to an injury.

Experienced Core

YSU returns 19 letterwinners and a total of 22 players who were with the program last year. That is in stark contrast from 2018, when 23 of the team's 35 players were newcomers. The Penguins return six position players who made at least 30 starts last season, and two more who started more than 20 times. In addition to Glenn, Nasonti and Wehler, senior C Nick Caruso senior OF/IF Web Charles and senior IF Drew Dickerson each started more than 30 times in 2018.

Caruso started 36 games behind the plate while Charles made 38 starts — 32 at third base, three at second and three in left field. Charles has played in a total of 118 games in his three seasons at YSU. Dickerson started 52 times at second base last year, ranking third on the team with a .280 batting average and 54 hits. He also recorded 15 multi-hit games, and batted .283 in Horizon League play. Junior IF Cody Dennis started 27 games at shortstop before suffering a season-ending injury while senior P/OF Zach Lopatka started 14 games in left field and nine as the designated hitter before also being lost to injury.

Impressive Debut Season for Wehler

As a true freshman infielder in 2018, Jeff Wehler was named Second-Team All-Horizon League and to the league's All-Freshman Team after starting 52 of YSU's 56 games. He led YSU while ranking second in the Horizon League with 25 stolen bases, the most ever by a YSU freshman. He also became the first Penguin since 1988 to reach at least 25 steals in a season. That total is the fourth-most in a single season in school history, and only three freshmen in the nation had more steals than Wehler at the end of the regular season.

He recorded a team-best 216 at bats, tied for the team lead with 13 doubles and ranked third with 25 RBIs and 71 total bases. He batted .282 with nine doubles, 17 RBIs and 15 steals against Horizon League opponents. In conference play, he led the league with 124 at bats while ranking second with 15 steals, third with nine doubles and fourth with 35 hits. He had 13 multi-hit games and eight games with multiple RBIs while reaching base in 17 straight games at one point.

Hake Anchors Bullpen

Senior reliever Joel Hake will again serve as a key part of the Penguins' bullpen in 2019. The right-hander served as the team's primary closer and led the team with 26 appearances last season. He is now tied for sixth all-time in school history with 76 career appearances. Hake led the Penguins and tied for second in the Horizon League with a career-high four saves in 2018. His four saves also tied for the sixth-most in a single season in school history.

The Youngstown native finished with a 1-1 record and a career-low 4.36 ERA in 33 innings pitched last season. He recorded a career-high 35 strikeouts while walking just 12 batters. In addition, his 9.55 K/9 in 2018 was more than a five-point improvement from the season prior. He recorded more than three outs in 12 of his 26 appearances. Hake was also named to the Horizon League's 2018 All-Academic Team, holding a 3.65 GPA as a nursing major.

Talented Group of Newcomers

A group of 13 newcomers to the program includes nine true freshmen, two transfers and a pair of sophomores in their first season. D1Baseball.com projected freshman P/IF Travis Perry to be the Horizon League Freshman of the Year in its 2019 conference preview. Coming out of Rocky Grove High School, Perry was ranked the No. 24 overall prospect in the state of Pennsylvania and the No. 9 pitcher by Prep Baseball Report.

Senior 1B Trevor Wiersma, a graduate transfer from Division II Concord University, hit at least .320 in each of his three seasons with the Mountain Lions. He was a first-team all-conference selection in 2016 and 2017. Sophomore right-hander Cade Negley joins YSU after spending his freshman year at Santa Clara in 2018. He appeared in 18 games out of the bullpen and started once, finishing with a 1-0 record and a save. Sophomore OF Zach Farrar is in his first season with the program after playing wide receiver for the YSU football team this past fall. He was a two-sport star in high school, and was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 2016 MLB Draft.

Up Next

The Penguins will play their second straight nationally-ranked opponent when they face Florida State Feb. 22-24 at Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.