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January 15, 2008

Top 25 Countdown: No. 18 Wichita State

Head coach: Gene Stephenson
Last season: 53-22, 20-4 in Missouri Valley
Postseason: With another talented pitching staff, Wichita State won the Missouri Valley title before winning the Wichita Regional with two wins over Arizona. The Shockers' season ended at home against UC Irvine in Super Regional play.
2008 breakdown: Probable starters | Overview | Offense | Starting pitching | Bullpen | Outlook

Overview

After winning the Missouri Valley crown last season, the Shockers are back in familiar territory they're the league favorite.

While the WSU offense is in good shape, the pitching staff has some questions to answer particularly in the bullpen.

Newcomers Tyler Fleming and Logan Hoch are expected to have important roles, while shortstop Dusty Coleman could end up being the closer.

The Shockers are also excited about senior right-hander Andy Womack, who made 14 appearances and had a 2.54 ERA in 28 1/3 innings of work last season.

WICHITA STATE SHOCKERS
Junior third baseman Conor Gillaspie spearheads a talented offensive lineup.

Probable Starting Lineup
C Tyler Weber
1B Tyler Hill
2B Josh Workman
SS Dusty Coleman
3B Conor Gillaspie
OF Cody Lassley/Kenny Williams Jr.
OF Andy Dirks
OF Ryan Jones
DH Cody Lassley/Clint McKeever
SP Aaron Shafer
SP Rob Musgrave
SP Anthony Capra

Though the bullpen has something to prove, the weekend rotation is in business with Aaron Shafer, Rob Musgrave and Anthony Capra leading the charge.

Shafer is one of the nation's top prospects, while Musgrave and Capra are coming off impressive campaigns.

With the return of several talented offensive contributors and an experienced weekend rotation, Wichita State is aiming for Omaha.

Offense

The Shockers must replace their two best hitters, but are still in great shape at the plate.

Damon Sublett and Derek Schermerhorn could be tough to replace, but now third baseman Conor Gillaspie, outfielder Andy Dirks and catcher Tyler Weber lead the charge.

Gillaspie is one of the nation's best players. The junior batted .325 with six homers and 63 RBIs last season. He also slugged .495 and had a .358 on-base percentage.

Dirks hit .320 with three homers and 31 RBIs, while Weber hit .297 with 11 homers and 49 RBIs.

WSU is also looking for more production from Josh Workman, Tyler Hill and Dusty Coleman.

Workman hit .289 with four homers and 30 RBIs last season, while Hill and Coleman each finished the year with batting averages under .290.

Even with some key departures, the Shockers are in good shape.

Starting pitching

Having a productive offensive lineup and a stable weekend rotation usually puts a team in the driver's seat.

If history is any indication, the Shockers are in great shape.

Though Wichita State has some questions to answer in the bullpen, the weekend rotation is in business with Aaron Shafer, Rob Musgrave and Anthony Capra leading the way.

Shafer is one of the nation's most highly touted pitchers and is coming off a successful sophomore campaign. In 2007, the talented right-hander went 8-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 84 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 90 and walked 23.

Musgrave, a senior, is also coming off an impressive campaign. The left-hander went 10-2 with a 2.59 ERA in 111 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 85 and walked 17, while opponents hit him at a .230 clip.

Capra might be the most intriguing player to watch.

The talented left-hander hasn't earned as many headlines as Shafer, but compiled phenomenal numbers last season. The junior appeared in 24 games last season (eight starts). He also had a 1.76 ERA in 76 2/3 innings of work. Additionally, he struck out 77 and walked 24, while opponents hit him at a .204 clip.

Bullpen

The Wichita State bullpen has some questions to answer this spring.

The weekend rotation is in great shape, while the bullpen still leaves something to be desired.

WSU pitching coach Brent Kemnitz is looking for some clarity with the situation.

The Shockers are excited about the additions of JUCO transfers Logan Hoch and Tyler Fleming. They also welcome talented freshmen Justin Kemp and Cameron Maldonado to the mix.

Kemp will serve as a reliever, while Maldonado is expected to be a reliever and a midweek starter. The other midweek starter is likely to be redshirt freshman Tim Kelley.

Also keep an eye on redshirt sophomore Clint McKeever and utility player Dusty Coleman.

McKeever has a good slider and was throwing 90 mph during fall workouts. Coleman's situation is intriguing.

Coleman is expected to start at shortstop. However, the coaches believe in his ability to be a dominant closer. According to Kemnitz, Coleman didn't allow a run during fall workouts.

Outlook with postseason forecast
Like most teams, Wichita State enters the spring with some question marks. Fortunately for Gene Stephenson and his coaching staff, they have some uncertainty in the best possible area the pitching staff. Going back in time, I can't remember the last time the Shockers didn't have an outstanding pitching staff. With that in mind, we're inclined to think the Shockers are still in great shape. WSU is also confident in its offense. The Shockers welcome back hard-hitting third baseman Conor Gillaspie, outfielder Andy Dirks and catcher Tyler Weber, among others. With a productive offense, an outstanding weekend rotation and a talented bullpen, the Shockers should once again win the MVC title. They should also make another run at the CWS.

Shoes to Fill

The Shockers have some huge holes to fill both at the plate and on the mound.

Wichita State is without its two best hitters Damon Sublett and Derek Schermerhorn. They must also replace weekend starter Travis Banwart and relievers Noah Booth, Noah Krol and Kyle Touchatt.

Sublett finished last season with the team's best batting average, while Schermerhorn was second on the team with an impressive .347 average. He also hit seven homers and drove in 38 runs.

The Shockers must also replace outfielder Matt Brown, who finished 2007 with a .303 batting average, eight homers and 61 RBIs. He had a .468 slugging percentage.

WSU also has some work to do in the bullpen.

The Shockers must replace weekend starter Travis Banwart, who finished last season with 10 wins. However, the most significant losses come from the bullpen, where the Shockers are without three key relievers.

Booth made 30 appearances and had a 1.23 ERA last season, while Krol made 26 appearances and posted 12 saves. Last but not least, Touchatt made 23 appearances and had a 2.22 ERA.

Even with some significant holes to fill on the mound, the WSU pitching staff is still in great shape.

Must Step Up

As the Shockers reached the Super Regional round last season, they were led at the plate by veteran infielder Damon Sublett.

They must now find a way to adequately replace Sublett, who finished last season with a team-leading .354 batting average.

With that in mind, the Shockers will look to shortstop Dusty Coleman and second baseman Josh Workman for more offensive production.

Coleman, a sophomore, finished last season with a .264 batting average. He also hit a pair of homers and had 19 RBIs.

Workman, a redshirt junior, was primarily the designated hitter last season. He batted .289 with four homers and 30 RBIs. He also had a .408 slugging percentage and a .407 on-base percentage.

The Shockers are also looking for more production from Tyler Hill and Andy Dirks, among others.

Impact Newcomer

With the departures of Booth, Krol and Touchatt, the Shockers' bullpen enters the spring with something to prove.

WSU is hoping newcomers Tyler Fleming, Logan Hoch, Cameron Maldonado and Justin Kemp rise to the occasion.

The Shockers try to recruit primarily high school pitchers, but with the bullpen a need they couldn't pass up on Fleming and Hoch.

Fleming went 10-3 with a 3.69 ERA at Cowley College last season, while Hoch went 7-3 with 59 strikeouts and a 2.59 ERA at Hutchinson CC.

The Shockers are also excited about Maldonado and Kemp.

Maldonado was one of the top players in Colorado last season, and will serve as a reliever and midweek starter. Meanwhile, Kemp had a strong fall and was throwing around 90 mph. The WSU coaching staff believes he's best suited for the bullpen.

With the bullpen the only question mark, it's only natural the Shockers expect the new pitchers to make the most impact.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 25. Coming tomorrow: No. 17.



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