Notebook: Playoff-ineligible Tigers look to ‘control the controllables’
Missouri will head to Jacksonville State in Alabama for a three-game series this weekend.
Feb. 14, 2020
Missouri baseball enters the 2020 season with a Barry Bonds after 1999-sized elephant in the room and will look to channel the frustration from the NCAA’s ruling into a successful regular season.
When the team found out in November that it won’t be participating in either the Southeastern Conference tournament or the NCAA Tournament — as a result of the actions of a tutor who left the university before any of them arrived — they were understandably devastated. In the months that have passed since then, the Tigers have worked to put that feeling behind them and focus on winning the baseball games they can play.
“We’re just gonna control the controllables, and this isn’t something that we can control, so we’re gonna move on and do the best we can with what we have,” coach Steve Bieser said. “And I think to a T, all of our guys have responded.”
Bieser’s message has resonated throughout the team, with players echoing his “control the controllables” sentiment.
“There’s everything to play for,” pitcher Konnor Ash said. “We’ve said from the beginning that this is out of our control; there’s nothing we can do. Just going out there and winning every single game that we can, going out there every day with the same mindset, and then going out there and competing to win the regular season SEC title.”
“It was for sure tough, but gotta keep grinding, honestly,” second baseman Mark Vierling said. “You can try to block it out, but it’s always going to be there. We’re just focused on the regular season; it’s all we can basically do.”
Beiser said that Vierling will hit leadoff this weekend for the Tigers, after the middle infielder posted a career-high .378 on-base percentage last season. In a position in the lineup in which turning singles into doubles through stolen bases is traditionally paramount, Missouri’s every-day second baseman acknowledged that his team doesn’t have as much to lose this season and may show it on the basepaths.
“The vibe around here is just playing with confidence,” Vierling said. “You know you’ve got nothing to lose.”
Ash, Bedell set to lead starting rotation
Neither pitcher Ian Bedell, ranked No. 63 on MLB Pipeline’s rankings for the 2020 MLB draft, nor Ash started more than two games last season. That will change starting Friday, as Bedell and Ash are penciled in as Missouri’s No. 1 and No. 2 starters for the Tigers’ series at Jacksonville State and are likely to remain there for the duration of the season.
The duo dominated the Cape Cod league last summer, with Ash pacing all pitchers in strikeouts and Bedell putting up an astounding 0.59 ERA. Bedell, who will be Missouri’s opening day starter, was named a starting pitcher in the league’s all-star game.
“Both of those guys are riding pretty high,” Bieser said. “They’ve got a lot of confidence and they’ve got good stuff, so to move into regular-season play here and start off Friday and Saturday with those guys, it feels pretty good as a coach to have those two guys lead your staff.”
“I’m just excited to get out there and compete with everybody,” Ash said. “As far as pitching goes, we know what we can do.”
Despite Misner’s departure, Bieser likes the lineup more than ever
Out of all Missouri position players who started at least 20 games last season, no one had a higher OPS or on base percentage than outfielder Kameron Misner. Misner is now a member of Miami Marlins’ organization after being selected No. 35 overall in last June’s MLB draft.
Still, Bieser believes that he has a better offensive baseball team heading into the season than in any of his first three in Columbia.
“I see a lot of power potential there in that lineup,” Bieser said. “It’s likely that a guy like Mark Vierling, who could hit three for you, is probably gonna lead off for us, so to see him in that spot and to have enough behind him to make your lineup deep enough is pretty exciting.”
Catcher Chad McDaniel and designated hitter Peter Zimmermann will lead the way in terms of power production, and first base should see a healthy mix of Pepperdine transfer Brandt Belk and sophomore Cameron Swanger, who played sparingly last year. The depth, however, is what excites Bieser about putting together his batting order on a daily basis.
“There’s some pop up and down the lineup; you’re gonna see some power at the bottom of the lineup,” Bieser said. “Guys such as [shortstop] AJ James and [outfielder] Seth Halvorsen, both those guys have tremendous power. And when you’re hitting those guys down in the eight and nine hole, that means there’s something up there.”
Edited by Wilson Moore | firstname.lastname@example.org