Earlier in the countdown, we talked about how wide open the Missouri Valley Conference could be in 2016, what with last season‚Äôs top teams, Dallas Baptist and Missouri State, dealing with some roster turnover.
While those two programs still have plenty of talent and will have something to say about how the league standings shake out, their personnel losses could open the door for a team like Wichita State.
Head coach Todd Butler has been building the Shockers from the ground up for a few years now, and with the type of talent he has been bringing to campus, it seems to be only a matter of time before they break through in a big way.
Two years ago, Collegiate Baseball had Wichita State‚Äôs recruiting class ranked second in the nation. On top of that, this most recent recruiting class, a group buoyed by a few potential high-impact freshmen, was ranked 25th in the country by Baseball America.
Tops among the newcomers this season is Dayton Dugas, a 29th-round pick of the Detroit Tigers. The Louisiana native is a dynamic, physical athlete that could be a big-time star from the very start. Similarly, Alec Bohm, a 6‚Äô5″, 240-pound slugger from Omaha, could provide some sock in the order from day one. Rounding out the list of physically imposing players who look the part, Greyson Jenista is a 6‚Äô4″, 240-pound infielder who could carve out a role as well.¬†On the mound, Connor Lungwitz, a big righty from Maize High School in Wichita, appears ready to step right in.
It won‚Äôt just be newcomers doing heavy lifting, however, as plenty of veterans remain.
On the mound, look for Sam Tewes to bounce back and have a big season. Two years ago, he was fantastic as a freshman, going 8-3 with a 3.27 ERA. Last season, though, he was held to just five games thanks to injury, although he was effective in those five games, as evidenced by a 2.42 ERA. John Hayes, who has some experience closing games, will also be a key piece back. Last season, in 51.2 innings across 26 appearances, he had a 2.79 ERA and four saves.
In the lineup, they will look to Ryan Tinkham to make them go. Last season, he introduced himself to the MVC loudly, hitting .333/.446/.576 with 19 doubles, ten home runs, and 46 RBI. Also back is catcher Gunnar Troutwine, who didn‚Äôt hit with much power last season as a freshman, but with a .298 average and .404 on-base percentage, proved to be an on-base machine.
No one is predicting that this will be the Wichita State team that will¬†restore the Shockers back to their place as a national power, but this is the best combination of returning contributors and young talent that Butler has had during his tenure, and they will make some noise in the MVC this season.