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Kansas Baseball Preview

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What to expect from the Jayhawks on the diamond this spring.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

College baseball gets started for the Kansas Jayhawks this weekend as they travel to Baton Rouge to face second-ranked LSU in a three game set.  Let's think warm and get ourselves prepared for spring with a preview of this year's squad.

Last Year

The Jayhawks played well last season and even worked themselves into the Top 25 (for the first time since 2009) for several weeks toward the end of the year.  Kansas finished 36-25 overall and 15-9 in conference, good for third in the Big 12 (after being picked last in the preseason) which earned them a trip to the Louisville regional of the NCAA Tournament.  (The Big 12 was rated as the second-best conference in 2014 per conference RPI.)  Kansas won their first game of the tournament against Kentucky, but fell to host Lousiville and dropped the subsequent rematch with Kentucky.  Unfortunately, the Jayhawks did not finish in the year-end Top 25 rankings.

Historically, Kansas holds an overall record of 1812-1717-17 across 124 seasons of play.  KU has won four conference titles, most recently in 2006, and has appeared in five NCAA regionals, making the College World Series once (1993).

Kansas had six players drafted in the MLB amateur draft after the season, which tied them for third most among the 304 D-1 baseball programs.

Coaching

Rich Price is in his 21st season coaching and his 13th season at Kansas.  While in Lawrence, Price has compiled a record of 392-335-2.  Since the formation of the Big 12, Price is 127-183-1.

Position Players

The Jayhawks' most notable returners are at the middle infield positions and corner outfield positions.  The veterans should be able to provide the Jayhawks with some stability in terms of offense, and the expected emergence of Sophomore C Michael Tinsely should help the ‘Hawks score their fair share of runs.  According to Coach Price, Tinsely has a chance to be one of the best hitters ever at Kansas and will be inserted into the cleanup spot.  He saw limited duty last year, but still hit at a .361 clip in 61 AB's.

Elsewhere on the infield, Senior SS Justin Protacio returns after leading the Big 12 in runs scored in 2014 with 53.  Junior 2B Colby Wright ranked fourth in the Big 12 in OBP with a .415 in 156 AB's, so the Jayhawks definitely have some tablesetters here.

What about power and run production, you may ask?  Got ya covered there too.  Senior OF Connor McKay ranked eighth in the Big 12 last year with 45 RBI in his 220 AB's.  McKay also finished tied for fifth in the conference with 9 HR.  Senior OF Dakota Smith led the Jayhawks with a .337 BA last year in his 187 AB's.  Smith ranked tenth in the Big 12 last year with 43 RBI while also ranking tenth in slugging percentage at .460.

Pitching

KU will be replacing all three of their top starting pitchers (aka the weekend rotation).  Senior Drew Morovick (10-4, 5.00, 44 K's in 77.1 IP) takes over the "ace" role in 2015 after tying for the Big 12 lead in wins with 10 last year.  Rounding out the weekend rotation will be JUCO transfer Ben Krauth (9-2, 0.52, 116 K's in 103.2 IP last year at JUCO) and sophomore Sean Rackoski (1.2 IP).

The ‘Hawks will also be without last year's closer Jordan Piché.  Sophomore Stephen Villines (2-2, 1.50, 23 K's in 48 IP) will be taking over the closing role in 2015.  Villines tied for sixth in the Big 12 last year in total appearances with 29 while finishing fifth in saves with eight.  According to Coach Price, Villines has added about 3 mph on his fastball in the offseason and has improved his breaking ball. Villines has a unique, deceptive delivery which in theory should help him succeed in the closer role.

2015 Outlook

The Big 12 has four teams ranked in Baseball America's preseason Top 25 and they're all in the Top 10: #5 Texas Tech, #7 TCU, #8 Oklahoma State, and #10 Texas.  Last year, Tech, TCU, and Texas all made the College World Series.

Looking at what the Jayhawks bring back with Smith, McKay, Morovick, and Villines, they have a good chance of building on last year's success.  However, Kansas was picked to finish seventh in the 2015 Big 12 Coaches Preseason Poll.  As previously mentioned, last year the ‘Hawks were picked to finish last in 2014 and ended up third, so we've already seen that anything can happen.  (Side note: the Manhattan dynasty Kansas State was picked to win the Big 12 last year and finished dead last.  Also, CWS contestant Texas Tech was picked eighth, so definitely take the preseason coaches poll with a large helping of salt.)

I'm not bold enough to make a prediction, but let's hope that the Jayhawks are indeed able to build on what they accomplished last year, finish in the top half of the conference, and make a run at another NCAA Tournament bid.

Follow the Jayhawks

Kansas will have a total of 38 games televised during the 2015 season.  All 27 home games will be carried live on ESPN3 with eight of those contests also being carried on the Jayhawk Television Network.  For more information on the Jayhawk Television Network, visit KUAthletics.com/TV.  For a complete list of all televised Kansas baseball games, click here.

The Jayhawks open the 2015 season with a three-game series against No. 2 LSU this weekend, Feb. 13-15, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana,  Interestingly, Kansas is 5-1 under Coach Price against LSU in Baton Rouge.  The last time these two schools met Kansas won the series when LSU was ranked No. 1 in 2010.  The Jayhawks and Tigers face off Friday at 7 PM, Saturday at 2 PM, and conclude the series on Sunday at 1 PM.

After the set at LSU, it's off to Arizona (Feb. 19-22) for the Big 12/Pac-12 Challenge.

KU's first home game will be Friday, March 3, against Utah at 3 PM in Hoglund Ballpark.