GVSU baseball set to be fast, controlled in 2016

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Jason Ribecky

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Jason Ribecky

A.A. Knorr

Following the end of the 2015 season, the Grand Valley State baseball team lost a number of key players, power and talent. The Lakers, quite simply, shed some weight.

Though most of that weight was muscle, GVSU is undeniably lighter around the core than in seasons past. The slimming down leaves room for new players to shine in new roles, and, of course, leaves the Lakers as a speedier team heading into 2016.

“We lost a lot of big bats, but one thing that we gained is we have a lot of team speed,” said outfielder Jason Ribecky. “Teams are going to have to make note of our speed on the base paths.”

Of GVSU’s top four hitters by batting average last season, three – Kevin Zak, Jamie Potts and Mike Nadratowski – have graduated. The fourth, catcher Connor Glick, is back for his sophomore season after a surprisingly strong freshman campaign in which he hit .368 while appearing in 32 of GVSU’s 52 games.

“(Glick) walked on as a freshman and by two or three weeks into our season last year he emerged as our No. 1 catcher,” said GVSU head coach Jamie Detillion. “He’s a hard-working kid, he deserves to be where he’s at right now and he’s had a good offseason and he’s gotten bigger, stronger, and fine-tuned his skills so he’s in good shape to be a leader for us.”

In addition to being a middle-of-the-lineup hitter, Glick will handle GVSU’s pitching staff throughout the season. The Lakers lost a few strong throwing options after last season, most notably Patrick Kelly (7-2, 3.64 ERA), but will return Zach Anderson (5-3, 4.31 ERA) and Tim Tarter (3-4, 3.92 ERA), both of whom figure to fit into GVSU’s 2016 rotation.

Anderson and Tarter are both slated to start games in GVSU’s first series of the season, as will Elgin Community College (Illinois) transfer Troy Dykhuis. Junior Kyle Lawson and senior Josh Griffith will also see time as pitchers for the Lakers, along with closer Matt Williams – the leading receiver on the GVSU football team in 2015.

While GVSU’s pitching may not be overpowering, its control and composure are expected to be hallmarks of the 2016 staff.

“We had pretty good arm talent last year, but were kind of erratic at times,” Griffith said. “But we’re doing a really good job of hitting our spots and that’s going lead to more outs.”

In replacing the host of graduated seniors, the Lakers accepted a number of transfers for the 2016 season.

Outfielder Keith Browning, a junior transfer from Kansas State, is expected to help anchor a speedy outfield. Ribecky, who slashed .292/.375/.487 last season, will slate in as a starting outfielder and cleanup hitter this season. Junior Alex Young, a Sinclar Community College (Dayton, Ohio) transfer, is another quick-moving outfielder who the Lakers expect to plug in at center field this season.

Williams, a big bat and electric closer, will slot in as a DH and occasional position player. He hit .330/.350/.474 last season in limited time, and will take on a bigger role in the GVSU lineup this year.

When not on the bump, Griffith will man first base. Johnny Nate, a former Michigan State player, will have a shot at shortstop to start the season, while sophomore Josh Smith may be his double-play partner at second base.

Anthony Villar, a former Grand Rapids Community College player, is expected to round out the infield on opening day as a third baseman.

“We have a fairly balanced lineup,” Detillion said. “One of the better teams with speed we’ve had, so we do run a little bit and we got a few guys that are going to swing for some power, but we keep putting the focus on putting good swings on pitches.

“If we hit for power, so be it, but we just want to focus on the process of putting good swings on pitches, and hopefully the results turn out to be a little bit of power.”

GVSU’s depth is expected to be a strength this season, and the lineup could see shakeups throughout the year.

“What we had in the past was some stability. We had some guys that were here for four years, that provided some stability,” Detillion said. “With losing as much as we did this past offseason, (the new players have) just got to prove themselves in a game situation.

“Not an ounce of doubt, it’s more about excitement on seeing what they can do on the game field.”

In a scheduling twist, the Lakers will play the majority of their games as nine-inning tilts, as opposed to seven-inning doubleheaders, which will be limited to GLIAC play this season. Postseason play is solely nine-inning games, and the wealth of regular season experience in those games will serve GVSU going forward.

The Lakers are defending GLIAC North champions, and were picked to finish first in the division in the GLIAC preseason coaches’ poll, securing 10 of 12 first-place votes.

“That’s the expectation you have when you’re coming into this program is to win conference and go to the postseason,” Griffith said. “We’re pretty talented, but I think the best thing about this team is that we’re competitive in all facets — we’re going to go out and have a blue-collar mentality.”

GVSU will open its season with a three-game road series, weather permitting, at Southern Indiana from Feb. 19-21, but won’t play at home until April 6.