Editors Note: This is the first of a three-part series previewing the Central Michigan baseball program’s 2014 season. An in-depth look at the infield will be released on Thursday, Feb. 6 and the series will conclude with a look at the pitching staff and catchers on Friday, Feb. 7. A video season preview with head coach Steve Jaksa and junior pitcher Jordan Foley will also be released with the final part of the series.
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – An outfield loaded with talent and pure speed returns in full force for the Central Michigan baseball program as it prepares to embark on the 2014 campaign.
The Chippewas return all three starters from 2013, but it is the depth that head coach Steve Jaksa and his staff have built that has the 12th-year head coach’s confidence high.
“We always talk about building depth so that we are comfortable in any situation,” Jaksa said. “The hope is that when we put anyone in those situations, we aren’t going to fall too far from the tree. Everyone understands their roles. We have talked to them about their roles, but we know how baseball goes. As someone gets dinged up, or needs a days rest, we have the ability to maneuver our lineup with the depth we have in the outfield.”
The Chippewas’ outfield will once again be anchored by junior center fielder Nick Regnier, sophomore left fielder Neal Jacobs and sophomore right fielder Logan Regnier, while sophomore Ryan Heeke and junior Tyler Huntey are expected to provide depth.
The elder Regnier had a breakout sophomore season a year ago, batting .321 with 71 hits in 221 at bats, leading the team in extra-base hits (19) and total bases (102). Regnier racked up 12 doubles, a pair of triples and five home runs for the Maroon and Gold while manning center field with a .991 fielding percentage. In addition to his power production at the plate, the Novi, Mich. product stole 21 bases and is expected to man the No. 3 spot in CMU’s lineup.
His younger brother Logan is coming off one of the best freshman campaigns in program history as he led the Mid-American Conference and ranked seventh in the nation with seven triples. He finished his rookie season with a .288 batting average and 15 extra-base hits, while bolstering the CMU offensive attack with 25 stolen bases on 29 attempts.
“There is a level of pressure Nick and Logan put on opponents offensively,” Jaksa said. “Not just stealing bases, but having the ability to go first to third, or score from first on a double. They have great instincts to read balls in the dirt and take advantage of mistakes by moving up a base when the opportunity is there.”
Jacobs rounds out the starting outfield following his redshirt freshman season in which he started 52 games and hit .271 with six doubles, three triples and six home runs to drive in 31. He failed to make an error in his 70 chances in the outfield, recording three outfield assists from his corner spot.
The development of Heeke, now in his redshirt sophomore season, will provide the Maroon and Gold with a player that can play both left and center field with no drop off defensively. Heeke was hampered by injury last season but was able to mature during the offseason thanks to a productive summer-league season.
“Ryan has matured so much over the last year,” Jaksa said. “He had the ability to play all last summer and was able to get more at bats to become comfortable at the plate. He has become more comfortable going deep into counts, understanding how to get on base when the defense is playing him back and having a good two-strike approach.”
Though Heeke’s maturation process has developed his offensive game, it is his defensive ability that has Jaksa so excited.
“He might not have the 60 speed as some of our other players, but he has a tremendous ability to track balls in the outfield. He covers a lot of ground in centerfield and it really is a lot of fun to watch.”
After starting 26 games behind the plate and being named the team’s Most Improved Player as a redshirt freshman in 2012, Huntey split time behind the plate and in the outfield last season, and will continue to do so in 2014. Despite a slight drop off in offensive production last season, the junior is ready to regain his form.
“Tyler is a very athletic individual and we feel he is in the right spot to have a rebound year,” Jaksa said. “He has been motivated and working hard to get back to where he was. His ability to play multiple positions, including a corner outfield spot, will be valuable to our success this season.”
The Chippewas will open the season with 20 games on the road, beginning with a four-game series at UNLV Feb. 14-16.
Central Michigan baseball is on Twitter and Facebook. Follow the program’s official account (@CMUBaseball) and head coach Steve Jaksa (@CoachJaksaCMU22) to get insider news, information and team updates. The Chippewas can also be followed on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CMUBaseball.