The last team left out of the Mid-American Conference Championship tournament a year ago, Eastern Michigan head coach Jay Alexander feels that last year was a disappointment, hoping to change things around this year.
"Judging by last year, we under-achieved to say the least," Alexander said. "There's a lot left to prove to myself and to our program, but it was very disappointing to finish in the bottom."
Pre-season injuries handcuffed Alexander into playing others who he didn't exactly plan on using too much last year. The most notable injury happened to 2012 MLB Draftee Steve Weber. Electing to play another year for the Eagles instead of going straight into the Miami Marlins' farm system, the starting pitcher suffered had to go through Tommy John surgery right before the start of last season. Once Weber is healthy enough to be a starting pitcher on a regular basis, he'll be looked at to be the Friday starter for EMU.
Until then, Alexander has already figured out his pitching rotation for the weekends. They will begin with Jake Andrews, a transfer from Mesa Community College, followed by true freshman and 2013 MLB Draftee Sterling Sharp on Saturdays and end with Paul Schaak, who had a 5.46 ERA last year and was second on the team with 47 strikeouts through 61.0 IP. Out of the bullpen, Alexander said that sophomore Devon Bronson will be looked at to be the first reliever to come into the game and Mesa C.C. transfer Charlie Land is going to take on the responsibilities as the Eagles' closer.
Sixth in the conference in batting average (.274), the Eagles had a habit of hitting for hitting for extra bases last year. EMU was second in the MAC in slugging percentage (.386), sixth in doubles (91), first in triples (23) and fourth in home runs (24). Eagles fans could expect more of the same this year, as most of last year's lineup is returning.
The primary two through five hitters are all still around for EMU: shortstop John Rubino, right fielder Sam Ott, first baseman Lee Longo and catcher Adam Sonabend. Combined, the four returners had a slash line of .306/.397/.431 in 2013. The only real losses around them coming into this season were leadoff hitter Daniel Russel and Jamie Simpson in the sixth slot. Replacing them will be sophomore center fielder Austin Wilson and either third baseman Ty Gilmore or designated hitter Adam Dennison.
While Dae Bowden should see a lot of playing time in left field, he's going to have to earn his time. Alexander brought up another name on the roster that's been having strong practices to play more than he did last year: Jackson Martin.
"Scouts really love him," Alexander said. "He's probably our highest draft-able, potential player in the outfield."
Martin only had one hit through 16 at-bats last year for EMU, but progressed very well in his summer collegiate season with the Cheyenne Grizzlies in the Mountain Collegiate Baseball League.
Impressed with how much his team has matured since last winter and knowing the talent that he has on this team, Alexander holds really high expectations for this Eagles team.
"If we don't come in the top third of the conference would be disappointing," Alexander said. "Not winning a MAC Championship would be a disappointing as well."
EMU starts their season off with a road trip against #21 Clemson, who finished with a 40-22 record (18-12 Atlantic Coast Conference) last year, for a 3-game series starting on February 14. Other road trips before their first home series include Tennessee-Martin, Austin Peay, Kentucky, Morehead State, and Evansville.