Editors Note: This is the second of a three-part series previewing the Central Michigan baseball program’s 2014 season. An in-depth look at the outfield was released on Wednesday, Feb. 5 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. — Central Michigan head coach Steve Jaksa is looking for one thing out of his infield during the 2014 season; Consistency.
The Chippewas’ infield brings back three of their four starters from a year ago, including junior first baseman Cody Leichman, junior second baseman Pat MacKenzie and senior shortstop Noel Santos.
Leichman led the Chippewas and ranked third in the Mid-American Conference with a .341 batting averaging, driving in 30 runs on 12 extra-base hits despite battling a hand injury for a majority of the first half of the season. The first-year Chippewa ended the season making 46 starts and racking up 60 hits at the plate, while playing a steady first base defensively.
“As Cody got healthy last year and continued to make the transition to Division I baseball, you saw the consistency at the plate that we want out of our players,” Jaksa said. “He put together a very solid year and we were very pleased with that. The thing now is that its not an end product and we have to make sure as a staff he doesn’t fall off from that production.”
MacKenzie is entering his third season as the Chippewas’ starting second baseman and will look to bounce back from a slight drop in production last season following his breakout redshirt freshman season. After batting .326 and sparking the Chippewas to an appearance in the MAC Championship in 2012, MacKenzie hit just .253 last season, but continued to get on-base thanks in large part to a 36 walks.
“Pat is your prototypical top-of-the-order guy,” Jaksa said. “We want guys that can get on base and Pat has demonstrated he has the ability to do whatever it takes to get on base. “We feel real good about where he is right now and his experience is going to pay off as a leader this season.”
Santos made 37 starts at shortstop last season, his first with the Chippewas after transferring from Copiah-Lincoln Community College. The switch hitter batted .237 with four doubles and a triple, while stealing five bases in six attempts. Santos will need to improve his defense this season, something that Jaksa drove home before the he went back to the Dominican Republic for offseason workouts.
“Noel showed flashes of brilliance last year, but he got in his own head a little bit,” Jaksa said. “He started to think too much instead of just playing the game the way he knows how. He doesn’t have to be anything but consistent. He doesn’t need to be flashy unless absolutely necessary. He worked very hard over the summer, day in and day out, to be get back to the basics and find consistency.”
The hot corner is expected to see a competitive battle with a group of underclassmen in the mix. Redshirt freshman Alex Borglin and Adam Collins, as well as sophomore Morgan Oliver will also see time at the third base spot over the first few weeks and Jaksa believes they will mature through healthy competition.
“It is going to be a fight over there in the most positive way,” Jaksa said. “We have a talented group of guys that are going to be able to play over there and it is going to be fun to watch them develop. “We haven’t had consistency at the third-base position since 2010 when James Teas put together a tremendous season. We have had spurts, but we haven’t had someone take over and take control of the position. We need the left side to become a little bit more like the right side has been the last few years; consistent.”
Sophomore Zack Fields also returns for his second season and will provide another option at first base behind Leichman, while serving as the Chippewas’ primary designated hitter. Fields came to the Chippewas with pure power a year ago and showed flashes of that power with 11 doubles and four home runs, but he struck out 42 times and will look to improve his approach at the plate.
“Zack has really been putting together very solid at bats over the last three weeks,” Jaksa said. “You can’t have the idea that you are going to go out there and hit 25 home runs in a season. If you find the barrel, you’re going to hit home runs. Guys don’t hit home runs because they are trying to, they do it because they are big and strong. Zack is a prime example of that. He needs to stay with the approach he has been taught and understand the situations he is in.”
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.