The Mercer baseball team took the field for its first official practice of the 2012 season last Friday afternoon at Claude Smith Field. “I like the way the guys came out with a lot of good energy on the field today, and hopefully things carry over throughout the weekend,” said head coach Craig Gibson to MercerBears.com. “It will be good for our guys to get out here and see some pitches, certainly our pitching is ahead of our hitting right now, but early on I am just looking for a lot of energy and for guys to be fundamentally sound,” he added.
The Bears look to improve from their 2011 campaign that saw them go 39-20 overall. The strong finish had them ranked number 56 in the nation according to the National Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).
This season, Coach Gibson’s squad has just 13 returning letter winners while featuring 18 newcomers. 14 of the 18 newcomers are freshman. The small portion of three seniors will have to pave the way for a team that has won a combined 77 games over the past two years. That impressive mark puts them into a tie with powerhouse schools such as Miami, LSU and Alabama for the 28th most victories in the nation over that span.
With a roster full of youngsters, the Bears will have their work cut out for them in the upcoming season if they hope to replicate their doings from a year ago. Losing bats and veteran presence such as John Moreland, Jacob Tanis, Thomas Carroll, Billy Burns and Joe Winker due to graduation, the Bears may find a few voids that need filling. “We would rather reload than rebuild, but the ball doesn’t know how old you are or what you have done in the past so we think we are very talented and we expect to compete for a championship again this season,” said Gibson.
Hoping to fulfill their needs on the diamond, the baseball coaching staff will look to both youngsters and crafty veterans in the 2012 spring. Returning for his sophomore year, outfielder Derrick Workman had one of the best freshman seasons in the country. “[Workman] had the best freshman campaign I have ever seen,” said Gibson. Workman posted up jaw-dropping stats that included a .332 average, 12 doubles, nine homeruns and 47 RBIs en route to being named to the A-Sun All-Freshman team and the Louisville Slugger Freshmen All-American Team.
Pacing right behind Workman in the order is fellow sophomore Austin Barrett. Barrett posted a mere.286 average, seven doubles, eight homeruns and 25 RBIs. The duo of Barrett and Workman will look to wreak havoc in the lineup game in and game out and force the issue against the opposing pitchers.
Speaking of pitching, senior Brandon Love and junior David Teasley were named to the Preseason All-Atlantic Sun team, while the Bears were picked to finish fifth in the league’s Preseason Coaches’ poll. Senior ace Brandon Love put together a dominating 2011 season going 8-1 overall with a miniscule 3.26 ERA. Right behind him was Teasley with a 6-5 record over 45.1 innings pitched. His 32 appearances tied him sixth in the A-Sun. His six victories landed him in the top 10 in wins as well.
In the same preseason poll that saw Mercer listed at number five, Stetson was slotted to take the conference while Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Belmont and Mercer rounded out the top five.
Mercer looks to kick off their spring season with a visit from Atlanta Braves All-Star Chipper Jones on Feb. 7 in the University Center followed by a four-game series at home against Morehead State on Feb. 17.