McDaniel providing steady backstop presence

The sophomore has contributed with the bat while handling the myriad of responsibilities that comes with being a starting catcher.
Designed by Corey Hadfield

When Missouri baseball took the field against the University of North Florida on Feb. 15, eight of the nine players between the lines were juniors or older.

The only exception was sophomore catcher Chad McDaniel. McDaniel, who played mostly designated hitter his freshman year, was getting his opportunity to play regularly behind the plate, handle the pitching staff and control the opponents’ running game all while still having to produce with the bat. The plan was for McDaniel to start every game and he was up for the challenge.

“I like the adjustment because now I’m in every play, every pitch,” he said. “Last year, it was kind of a struggle for me just because of the fact that I’d get an at-bat, then have to wait two or three innings for me to go back in the game, so I like the role I’m in now and wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Exactly one month later — with SEC play set to begin this weekend — the switch-hitter has established himself as a mainstay in the middle of coach Steve Bieser’s lineup, hitting .345 in nonconference play. That figure becomes more impressive when taking into account that McDaniel started the season with one hit in his first 15 at-bats. Since then, he’s hit at a blistering .395 (19-for-43) mark.

“I feel confident for sure when I’m at the plate right now,” he said. “It just feels like everything’s going the way I want it to and just feels that whoever’s out there, I’ll be able to hit him no matter what he throws me.”

McDaniel’s also made his presence known on the basepaths, stealing six bases in seven attempts, the second-highest mark on the team and uncommon for a catcher. Only one backstop in the nation, Blake Dunn of Western Michigan and A.J. Lewis of Eastern Kentucky has swiped more bags than McDaniel.

“He may not look like it, but he’s one of the faster guys on our team,” Bieser said. “And being a catcher, I think he understands that it’s not really easy to throw guys out, and he takes his chances out there. He’s a guy that has the green light, and he’ll take advantage of it.”

Defensively, it was a rocky start for the Florida native. McDaniel had five passed balls during Missouri’s opening road trip in his home state, a performance Bieser called “unacceptable.” Since returning to Columbia, however, he’s been much more reliable behind the dish. He’s had just two passed balls in that time and continued to hold opposing baserunners in check, throwing out 50 percent of would-be base stealers for the season.

“He’s been doing a solid job,” Bieser said. “He got most of those passed balls — he had three in one game — and got those early. He’s been doing a lot better… he did a really good job of blocking balls back there.”

Despite McDaniel’s relative lack of experience, it hasn’t taken him long to gain the trust and respect of a pitching staff that’s posted a collective 3.66 ERA.

“I love it,” sophomore reliever Konnor Ash said of pitching to McDaniel. “He’s a great catcher, so that just helps out a lot.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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