The Toledo Rockets ended their 2013 campaign on a high note, entering the Mid-American Conference tournament as a 7-seed and making a good run towards the championship. Having to play rivaled Bowling Green three times in tournament play, the Rockets dropped the last game 1-0, having only 2014 to look forward to.
The Rockets, who finished last season with a 25-32 record (13-14 MAC) last year, were a very good hitting team with good pitching to give them a good balance of both. Leading the MAC in batting average (.289), they were fourth in on-base percentage (.362) and sixth in slugging percentage (.362).
Probably the most notable returning name on the roster is outfielder Tyler Grogg. Holding the school record with 36 stolen bases in 2013, Grogg has been named to College Sports Madness's Preseason All-MAC First Team. Grogg went from a mediocre batter in his first two years as a Rocket (.241/.293/.277) to one of the conference's best as a junior. Compared to the rest of the MAC, Grogg was first in runs scored (62), stolen bases (36), second in OBP (.444), and fourth in hits (74).
While Grogg was one of the best leadoff hitters in the MAC, it takes a strong supporting staff to get him around the bases to put those runs up on the scoreboard.
A pair of seniors on the 2013 roster that will be missed are center fielder Ben Hammer and designated hitter Matt Delewski. Hammer had a "down year" in 2012, but was able to bounce back to tie for the seventh-highest slugging percentage in the MAC with a .467 clip. In MAC play, he and Delewski had a combined batting average of .335, on-base percentage of .386, and a slugged a total .431 percentage. The two normally batted third and fourth in the Rockets lineup, so it'll be interesting to see who head coach Cory Mee uses in those slots this season. Three names that could fill those holes are Ryan Callahan, Anthony Smith and Tyler Baar.
Last year's Saturday and Sunday starters will be returning to the Rockets' rotation this year, Ryan Wilkinson and Cameron Palmer. In conference play, Wilkinson pitched for 70 innings with five complete games. He also had a 1.41 ERA, WHIP of 0.757, and was second in opponents' batting average with a .197 clip. Needless to say, Wilkinson is a realistic option to use as the new Friday starter.
Before their first home game against Bowling Green on March 25, the Rockets are scheduled to play 21 games starting Feb.14, and it's pretty loaded. Teams they will play on the road are Xavier, Norfolk State, Furman, Texas Southern, #2 LSU, Virginia Tech, #13 Louisville, #11 Indiana, College of Charleston, The Citadel, Charleston Southern, Dayton and Kent State.
*Rankings per USA Today Top 25 Coaches Poll.
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