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Utah Utes baseball: Utes ready to take to the diamond

C.J. Cron rounds third base after hitting a home run against Georgia Southern in the NCAA Baseball Championships in Fullerton, Calif. Photo provided by Matt Brown
C.J. Cron rounds third base after hitting a home run against Georgia Southern in the NCAA Baseball Championships in Fullerton, Calif. Photo provided by Matt Brown
Matt Brown

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah baseball coach Bill Kinneberg is hoping his team learned a thing or two last season.

And he's not talking about the Utes' improbable Mountain West Conference Tournament title and the NCAA regional victories over Georgia Southern and Gonzaga that followed.

Kinneberg is concerned about the 16 one-run losses his squad suffered in 2009. The setbacks left them with a 28-31 overall record by season's end.

"I hope this team remembers that or learns something from it," Kinneberg said. "So that we can turn that around and win those games this year. I think we're capable of doing that."

With seven returning position players and three starting pitchers back in the fold, there's plenty of reason for optimism up on the hill.

"Are we loaded? That remains to be seen," Kinneberg said. "I really like our new guys that we've added. I like our club right now. Our potential is very good."

The veteran cast in the field includes second baseman Tyler Yagi and catcher/first baseman C.J. Cron. Yagi, who was an outfielder last season, was the MWC Tournament MVP after racking up 10 hits in Utah's title run. Cron, meanwhile, had a stellar campaign and was named a freshman All-American.

"He's going to be a special player. Hopefully he can build on what he did last year," Kinneberg said. "... We expect a lot out of him. He's got a chance to be a tremendous player and a tremendous force in our league."

Other batters to watch include shortstop Michael Beltran, third baseman Nick Kuroczko and designated hitter Devin Walker. Outfielders Cooper Blanc and Rick Cornu also return.

Mark Moorman, a transfer from Cochise College, tops the newcomers and is expected to be the starting first baseman. Lamar transfer Nik Gumeson, a utility man, is also expected to see a lot of action.

The pitching staff is headlined by right-hander Jordan Whatcott. The all-conference performer was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but he opted to return for his senior year at Utah instead.

Kinneberg said Whatcott is "probably our No. 1 recruit because we didn't expect him back."

RHP Andrew Wilding, LHP Bryn Card, LHP Stpehen Streich and LHP Tyler Andersen are other notable returnees. Junior college All-American Rick Anton, a lefty, is a bright addition.

"As far as a team on paper, I'm really excited about this team," Kinneberg said. "We were close in so many games last year."

But that, however, was then. The Utes are firmly focused on the task at hand. Last year's postseason run is now a thing of the past.

"It was a great accomplishment. It was a great experience," Kinneberg said. "... But it's a new year and we've got to kind of wipe that away and start over — build new memories for this year."

The 2009 success, he acknowledged, has had a significant carryover in terms of team confidence. It's never been higher.

Even so, Kinneberg said the program is still developing and there's still a lot of work to do.

"We've got to be more consistent, do a better job throughout the season and try to win more games. Our goal is just to get better every pitch, every inning, every game and make sure we're playing our best baseball at the end of the year," he explained. "We want to take that next step forward and be a more consistent team and challenge for the regular season championship. That's a goal of ours every year. We want to make sure we're a player in our league throughout the year."

The Utes begin preseason play Friday at UC Davis. They'll open their MWC slate March 19 at New Mexico.

2010 UTAH BASEBALL

2009 record: 28-31 (MWC tournament champions, NCAA regionals)

2010 predicted finish: 4th (MWC preseason poll)

Returning starters: C/DH C.J. Cron (83 hits, 19 doubles, 11 homers); C/DH Devin Walker (.314 BA, 14 doubles); 2B Tyler Yagi (.343 BA, MWC Tournament MVP); SS Michael Beltran (.309 BA, 23 multiple-hit games); 3B Nick Kuroczko (.353 BA, nine triples); CF Cooper Blanc (.227 BA, seven homers); RF Rick Cornu (.281 BA, eight homers).

Returning pitchers: RHP Jordan Whatcott (5-3, 4.91 ERA, 61 strikeouts); RHP Andrew Wilding (13 starts, 6.29 ERA, 49 strikeouts); LHP Bryn Card (6-2, 5.61 ERA, 55 strikeouts); LHP Stephen Streich (2-4, 6.80 ERA); LHP Tyler Andersen (1-1, 7.71 ERA).

Top newcomers: 1B Mike Moorman (Cochise College); utility Nik Gumeson (Lamar College); OF Tyson Gonzalez (Salt Lake CC); OF Austin Shackelford (Whitman College); LHP Rick Anton (All-American, Yavapai College); RHP Brock Duke (Spanish Fork HS); RHP Zach Adams (Cottonwood HS).

SCHEDULE

FEBRUARY: 19-21 — at UC Davis; 26-28 — at Sam Houston State.

MARCH: 5-7 — at Washington State; 12-13 — at Oregon State; 12, 14 — vs. Portland (at Corvallis); 19-21 — at New Mexico; 23 — UTAH VALLEY; 26-28 — NORTHERN COLORADO; 30 — UTAH VALLEY.

APRIL: 1-3 — AIR FORCE; 6 — SOUTHERN UTAH; 9-11 — UNLV; 13 — at Utah Valley; 16-18 — at San Diego State; 20 — at Southern Utah; 22-24 — at BYU; 30 — TCU.

MAY: 1-2 - TCU; 7-9 — at USC; 14-16 — at UNLV; 20-22 — NEW MEXICO; 25-29 — at MWC Tournament (San Diego, Calif.).

*Note: Home games listed in ALL CAPS.

e-mail: dirk@desnews.com