This year, the Tigers are losing what seems to be an inordinately large number of regular starters:
■ Position players: Seniors Ryan Lollis, Kyle Mach, Steve Gray and Austin Holt will be gone; Juniors Greg Folgia, Aaron Senne and Trevor Coleman will likely be drafted this coming week, and most, if not all, will sign professional contracts and not be back with the Tigers in 2010.
■ Pitchers: Seniors Ian Berger, Scooter Hicks and Ryan Gargano will be gone. Junior Kyle Gibson will most certainly be drafted - probably in the first round - and will be gone.
■ The only likely 2010 seniors will be SS Michael Liberto and RHPs Ryan Allen and Andrew Mueller.
So who will lead the 2010 Tigers?
C: Ryan Ampleman has proven himself as a capable catcher and productive hitter. He will likely be given every chance to grab hold of that starting job, competing with the returning Ben Turner and Andreas Plackis, plus newcomer Brett Nicholas, a JuCo transfer, and incoming freshman Brannon Champagne (OF/C).
1B: Ben Turner started 4 games at 1B early in the season, the only returning player to start at that position this year. Jonah Schmidt, who has some experience at 1B, will also be back. There was a rumor floating around that Kelly Fick, who was a productive every day player in high school, has been taking some fielding practice at first. Two incoming freshmen could also compete for the job: Ryan Crowley is both a pitcher and a first baseman, and Scott Sommerfeld is an all-around utility player (OF, 1B, C). First base is usually a position where offense is the most important qualification, so whoever is hitting the best among the candidates will likely win the starting job.
SS: Returning Junior Michael Liberto filled this position nicely in 2009, both in the field and at the plate. He would have to suffer a complete breakdown in both categories to lose his job here. If he does falter, though, incoming freshman Eric Garcia has put up stellar numbers in his senior year in high school.
2B / 3B: Sophomore Conner Mach will almost certainly grab one of these starting jobs, having shown flashes of the offensive capabilities everyone expects from him (and which should become more consistent and solid in his 2nd year at this level). Junior Andrew Thigpen could have a head start on the other starting job, if he shows increased consistency in offense and defense. Returning redshirt Sam Lind, Junior TJ Scheiber, and Junior OF/IF Rex Meyr will also be in the competitive mix for the infield. Among the incoming recruits, Eric Anderson (RHP/IF) and Jack Dudenhoeffer (3B/RHP) will have their shot to be noticed. And the wildcard is, again Eric Garcia. If both he and Michael Liberto have stellar performances in the fall, both could earn starting jobs, pushing someone else out of the 2B or 3B position.
OF: The biggest hole in the field is in the outfield, where Lollis, Folgia and Senne will all likely be gone from their every-day positions. Returning players with significant OF experience are Junior Rex Meyr and Sophomore Ryan Gebhart. Also returning are Juniors Russell LaFleur and Jonah Schmidt, who have seen little playing time in the past two years but will be working hard to earn an everyday job in a wide-open OF competition. Sophomore Garrison McLagan saw action only as DH in 2009, but is an outfielder as well, and his capable bat may give him a leg up in the battle for the OF. Also in the mix could be redshirt Andre Rodriguez. The incoming recruit class features some outfielders as well: Blake Brown (OF/P), Brannon Champagne (OF/C), Scott Sommerfeld (OF/C/1B), and, perhaps most notably, Dane Opel (OF) - IF Opel isn't enticed by what will almost certainly be a rather lofty position in the MLB Draft and jump ship altogether.
P: The pitching staff, other than the Outfield, is the area that is of most concern to many fans. All of our pitchers with a significant number of starts will be gone, except for Nick Tepesch. But Nick, while he will hopefully take command as the Friday night starter and the the heir-apparent to the Scherzer-Crow-Gibson mantle (which may be an expectation unfair to put on anyone), cannot pitch 56 games by himself. But there are some real prospects among the returning pitchers:
■ Tyler Clark, 3-0, 2.86 ERA, 1 start, 28-1/3 IPThat group represents the returning players most likely to compete for starting jobs and for the closer role (Buehler, if he gets back to his mid-2009 form, is the likely closer again). Filling in the gaps and vying for inclusion in 2010's version of Johnny Wholestaff will be Andrew Mueller and Ryan Allen. Brian Carr is reportedly transferring to a Junior College.
■ Jeff Emens, 0-1, 4.07 ERA, 0 starts, 24-1/3 IP
■ Kelly Fick, 2-3, 5.71 ERA, 3 starts, 34-2/3 IP
■ Brad Buehler, 1-3, 4.29 ERA, 0 starts, 8 saves, 35-2/3 IP
■ Ryan Clubb, 3-2, 6.03 ERA, 3 starts, 31-1/3 IP
■ Phil McCormick, 1-1, 7.25 IP, 2 starts, 22-1/3 IP
And then there are the newcomers. The incoming recruit class has a number of highly successful high school pitchers: Eric Anderson (RHP), Blake Brown (), Ryan Crowley (LHP), Jack Dudenhoeffer (RHP), Andy Heifner (RHP) and Cody King (RHP). Plus, a successful JuCo transfer, Zach Hardoin (LHP) from Blinn College. We've all learned not to expect too much too quick from freshman pitchers coming into the NCAA D-1 level. But several of these guys will be making their mark with the Tigers at some point in the 2010 season.
Now that I've typed all that out and see it spelled out in front of me, I'm feeling a lot better about next year. I hope you are too.