Head coach Bill Kinneberg and the Utes open the season Feb. 3.
Jan. 24, 2006
University of Utah head coach Bill Kinneberg is looking forward to the 2006 season. The Ute mentor has a nucleus of strong returning players to go along with a large crop of newcomers this season.
"I'm really optimistic about this group," Kinneberg said. "We had a terrific fall. There are lots of new players and we've really added quality depth to the team. I'm anxious to see how much improvement we've made."
Utah will be looking to improve on last season's 19-36 overall record, including a 10-20 mark and a fifth-place finish in the Mountain West Conference.
Part of the reason Kinneberg is optimistic about his team's prospects for improvement is the aforementioned group of returners. Two-time all-conference player Jay Brossman returns to the middle of the lineup, while Ryan Khoury is back for his fourth season at shortstop. Other starters returning include outfielder John Welsh and first baseman Clayne Garrett.
"Most of the middle of our lineup is returning," Kinneberg said.
The Utes have all-Mountain West Conference pitcher Josh Cooper returning this season. In addition, Jason Price, who has led the squad in innings pitched for the past two seasons, returns to the mound. Despite returning these two veteran hurlers, many of the Utes taking the hill this season will be new to the program.
"We have revamped our pitching staff," Kinneberg said. "Cooper and Price give us a chance to have some experience. But the number-one area we tried to recruit to was our pitching staff. We have 10 new pitchers in the mix and I think they can all help us. I feel like we have good depth. We'll have lots of options with our pitchers. We really lacked depth in our pitching staff last year."
Kinneberg said he is looking forward to the first few weeks of the season, to see who steps up to assume different roles on the pitching staff. The Utah coach said every spot from starting pitchers, to middle relief and closer are all up for grabs.
"It will be interesting to see how it all molds together," he said.
While many of Utah's changes have come on the hill, there are certainly new faces in the field as well.
"Offensively, those three guys should have some impact," he said. "They could be quality pieces to the puzzle for us on offense."
Kinneberg said he believes his philosophy of putting pressure on the opposing defense should be even more successful this season.
"I'm more optimistic than I was about it last year," he said. "We have more speed and a little more power. We should really be a more balanced offensive club."
Once again, Utah will face a stiff schedule and will play for more than a month before playing a game in the friendly confines of Franklin Covey Field.
"Any time you play your first 15 or 20 games on the road it will be tough, no matter who you play," Kinneberg said. "But we do have Portland and New Mexico State coming in here. We haven't had any true non-conference series at home in the past few years. The Texas A&M tournament will be a good test against quality teams."
In the midst of a challenging non-conference schedule, the Mountain West Conference will hold a preseason tournament in San Diego. Each MWC team will play four league opponents during the event.
"The preseason Mountain West tournament will be very interesting and very important," Kinneberg said. "Those four games will count toward the league standings. It will be important that we are ready at that point."
The Mountain West Conference slate should be even more difficult this season. Perennial national program Texas Christian University joins the league in 2006. The Horned Frogs are ranked as high as No. 19 in the preseason and were an NCAA Tournament qualifier out of Conference-USA last season.
"The addition of TCU really adds the competition in our conference," Kinneberg said. "By far, TCU was the best team we played last year. They'll probably be as good or better this year. UNLV has won the conference the last couple years and will be good again. It will be a more well-balanced conference than it has been. I think we're better and hopefully we'll make some noise in the league standings."
The following is an overview of each position for the 2006 Utah baseball team:
All-MWC performer Josh Cooper will be counted on to be the Utes' Friday night starter. While his place in the rotation hasn't been fully determined, the Ute coaches expect Jason Price to pick up where he left off last season.
"Cooper has a chance to be a real force in the MWC this year," Kinneberg said. "He has a chance to win a lot of Friday night games for us this year. We expect Price to be a good leader on the staff and get a bunch of quality innings again."
"That group will ultimately be the core of our staff," Kinneberg said.
The infield may be the strongest area on the team, according to Kinneberg.
"We have guys who can play different positions, so we can really mix and match them," he said.
Two-time All-MWC performer Jay Brossman returns at third base and will see some time at the other corner as well. He will see action at first base in order to get Erich Kemp on the field. Returner Clayne Garrett will also see some time at first base and should also serve a great deal in the role of designated hitter.
"Brossman and Kemp both need to be in middle of the lineup," Kinneberg said. "Kemp had a great fall, plus he is a very good third baseman."
Ryan Khoury will man the shortstop position for the fourth straight season. Kinneberg said Khoury has continued to get better through the off-season.
"Ryan can be a terrific shortstop in this league," the Ute coach said.
Second base is the only question mark in the infield, as all-MWC performer Doug Beck was lost to graduation. Bret Baldwin, Tyler Kmetko and Mike Tummolo are all in the running at second. All three bring different abilities. If healthy, Baldwin may have the inside track as he gives the Utes a left-handed bat in the lineup.
Two of the outfield positions will be manned by solid returners in 2006. John Welsh returns for his junior campaign in center field. Senior Joe Mozeleski started 51 of 55 games last season, mostly in right field.
"Welsh will be the anchor of our outfield," Kinneberg said. "He had a tremendous fall."
"Shimada adds some real speed and he is learning to play the outfield," Kinneberg said. Shimada was an infielder in high school. "Joe Mozeleski, I believe, is a very good defensive outfielder."
"Adam had a good fall and will be our starter," he said. "TJ had a great fall, offensively. Between the two of them, I feel good about the catching position."