Lineup Features Depth, Versatility in 2014
Feb. 13, 2014
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Depth. That is the single word that can describe what first year head coach Rob Cooper has with his position players and lineup in his first season at Penn State. The Nittany Lions return almost every player in its lineup from 2013 and Cooper knows that.
However, he's not looking at last year. Not one bit.
"I have been really making sure that I don't look at anything from last year," Cooper said. "I don't look at their batting averages from last year; I honestly don't know what they were.
"There were guys on the team last year that aren't on the team this year and so I think it's really important that you move forward."
His players have moved forward, as well.
Sophomore James Coates, a Big Ten All-Freshman Team pick in 2013, highlights the group of returnees, but they too aren't taking anything from last year into consideration when looking at their 2014 campaign, which starts this weekend at Gardner-Webb.
"I feel real comfortable and real confident with our lineup this year," Coates said. "We have a solid group one through nine. Everyone can hit, lay a bunt down and get the job done. We have a couple new guys in there that can help us out and a ton of experience too, so all of that together puts forth a great lineup for this year."
Cooper and his staff have an idea of how they think the lineup will turn out, but there is no guarantee that is how it holds up. The depth though, makes little reason for concern.
Starting with the outfield, Coates leads the group, but seniors Steve Snyder and Zach Ell and transfer Greg Guers give the Lions an experienced group of versatile players. Snyder can play all three outfield positions, while Guers and Ell will have multiple roles on the team in 2014.
The South Carolina Upstate transfer, Guers, is set to compete for starting jobs in both the outfield and at first base, while Ell will also be used in a bullpen role for pitching coach Brian Anderson.
That characteristic continues throughout most of the position players: they can all play at multiple spots. Cooper has been toying with that luxury since the fall and will continue to do so through the early parts of the season.
"You're always doing that as a coach, looking at where we are at and if we have the right guys at the right positions," he said. "It's something that we evaluated during the fall and a couple of them we have waited until recently to make changes, but that's something you are always evaluating."
In the infield, Penn State has six or seven guys that Cooper listed as players that will compete for time in the infield.
Guers and junior JJ White anchor first base, with 2013 starting shortstop Taylor Skerpon moving over to second base. Freshman Jim Haley will start the season at shortstop next to returning starter at third base Tyler Kendall.
Behind the dish, Alex Farkes returns for his senior season and is perhaps the most vocal leader on the team.
"He's an unbelievable leader behind the plate and loves that position and takes a lot of pride in playing it," Cooper said.
Farkes will anchor the catcher position, but also will have the task of mentoring true freshman Stevie Robinson and Skerpon, who has been seeing time at catcher as well.
It all goes back to what Coates said is the most unique part of this Penn State team. While there are multiple guys competing for multiple positions across the board, they all can lean on each other to ultimately get better as a team.
"It's nice because we can go to each other for advice and for help," Coates said. "Our coaches do a great job coming together and teaching us, but it's also great to have guys around you that have experience that you can lean on and ask for help on certain things."
Piece all of that together and Rob Cooper's team is ready to put their work to the test.
"We are real excited about the season and everyone is focused, prepared and ready to go," Coates said. "We can't wait to get to some nice weather and play baseball. The guys have really come together as one team this year and we are pumped to play together as a unit."