BYU out to prove they're no WCC cellar dweller

2012-02-20T09:31:00Z 2012-02-21T14:27:19Z BYU out to prove they're no WCC cellar dwellerNeil K. Warner - Daily Herald Daily Herald
February 20, 2012 9:31 am  • 

Let's be real. This time of year even the Air Force Academy is talking about a winning season.

Is that World Series talk coming from the Kansas City Royals spring training camp?

With baseball, February is the time of year when it rains optimism, it's the time before reality blooms.

So how can you spot a contender from a pretender?

Take for instance, BYU's baseball team. The Cougars will make the move from the Mountain West Conference to the West Coast Conference this year.

The WCC coaches think BYU will finish seventh? BYU believes it will win the conference.

Is BYU about to get the respect of its new conference or are the Cougars out of their league?

It shouldn't take long to find out.

BYU opened the 2012 baseball season over the weekend by taking two of three games from UC Riverside. BYU will now open conference play at St. Mary's when the Cougars open a three-game series that begins on Thursday.

"That's our goal (conference title) that's what we go after every year. I feel like we have the players and desire and they've put in time," said BYU coach Vance Law. "Now it's just a matter playing the way we're capable of playing. They know what they are capable of doing, I don't think they'll settle for less."

The change in conferences has done nothing but spark BYU's confidence.

"I'm definitely excited, especially for our pitching staff to pitch in that California weather. I don't think we're intimidated at all going into the conference," said BYU pitcher Chris Capper. "I feel like there are some teams in the WCC who might be a little intimidated (by us) because we've gone there before and put a little whopping on them."

Capper is a key to a pitching staff that appears good enough to help the Cougars contend for an NCAA regional spot. Capper, a junior, was 3-6 last year with a 4.91 ERA in 84 innings of work.

"Personally, I feel like I"m more in shape than I've ever been and I'm more excited than I've ever been," Capper said. "Everything is falling into place. I'm throwing the ball hard and my stuff's working really well. I'm just excited to get out there and see what I can do."

Capper will be followed in the rotation Mark Anderson, a junior lefty, who was 4-2 last year with a 5.03 ERA.

Desmond Poulson, an All-American last year, was 6-0 with a 4.15 ERA. Another candidate for a spot as a starter is return missionary Adam Miller, who started as a freshman in 2009 (3-3, 4,04 ERA). Miller will be limited in his innings to start the season, but with a 96-mile an hour fastball, he could be the staff ace by year's end.

Another return missionary that could have a promising season is sophomore, Marc Oslund, who was brilliant as a freshman. He was 7-1, with a 2.49 ERA in 2009.

BYU has a lot of other options if Law wants to go with a lefty. Chris Howard, Daniel Welch, David Parry and Tyler Westensee will be available out of the bullpen.

The Cougars added one junior college pitcher to the staff in Matt Milke, from San Diego. James Lengal, a freshman from Spanish Fork could see some spot duty on the mound and could add depth in the outfield. One guy that could be a surprise is freshman Cameron Keysor, an invited walk-on from California.

Another local product, Daniel Sechrest form Lone Peak High School, will join Chunner Nyberg and Jeff Barker on the DL for the season.

On paper BYU's pitching looks good, but the player with the best perspective of this year's staff is starting catcher Wes Guenther.

"I think the biggest difference in this year's staff is their mentality," he said. "Every pitcher knows he can go out there and get anyone out in any situation. We've got guys who throw a lot of strikes and they're not afraid of anybody. Up and down the whole staff we're solid. If someone is not preforming they know someone will pick it up behind them which is big because once we start hitting the season we have as many of five games a week and we need that depth."

While the pitching staff appears to be improved, the offense will be on the spot to give the pitchers some wiggle room.

Led by Jaycob Brugman, the Mountain West Conference freshman of the year in 2011, the Cougars have the potential to rack up runs. Brugman hit .317 with 9 home runs and 49 RBI. He'll be joined in the outfield by Stephen Wells (center) and Kelton Caldwell and JC transfer Christian Mua will man left field.

Former Lone Peak star Dillon Robinson, returns to anchor at the hot corner. Robinson is hoping for a breakout season.

"I'm expecting big things and I know the coaching staff is as well. I've had another year under my belt. I know exactly what I'm getting into. As a freshman you kind of get thrown into the fire. I know I belong here," Robinson said. "I had a great fall. I just need to continue to work hard and have confidence in myself and carry my team on my shoulders when they need it."

The Cougars will go with Austin Hall at shortstop and could at second they could platoon Adam Law and Bret Lopez, the Daily Herald Valley Player of the Year in 2007.

Brock Whiteney should see the majority of time at first. Chase Frampton will likely see time at first and could be used as a DH.

Coach Law has been so impressed with freshman Tanner Chauncey, that he said he must figure out a way to get him into the lineup. Chauncey could bounce around the infield as he searches for playing time.

BYU is not sure what its going to get out of senior catcher Alex Wolfe, who hit .275 last year with 11 home runs. He's on the mend from an arm injury and will likely see most of his time in the DH role.

Whatever lineup Law settles on one thing you can expect to see this year is more small ball, bunting, stealing and using the hit-and-run.

"Obviously we play a lot of games in California this year where the ball doesn't travel as well so playing small ball is big, being able to get guys on, bunt them over and score them from second,"Guenther said. "We have a good team effort. No one's trying to hit a home run when they're trying to get the guy over. That team mentality is something that everyone's bought into. We're confident that we're going to win the conference, there's no doubt in our minds. We feel like we can beat anybody in the country right now."

BYU knows that this time of year everyone talks a good game, now it's time to back it up.

"I remember last year we had some buzz that we should make a regional, that was kind of a disappointment," Robinson said. "There is a whole different attitude on this team. We want it more. We're a closer group. We definitely have the team to do it. As along as we play catch, throw some strikes and hit we're going to be there. I know we will."


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