The 2011 season for the Union University baseball team is one of high expectations. The Bulldogs enter the season as the No. 16 ranked team in the NAIA preseason poll and are picked to finish second in the TranSouth Conference preseason coaches’ poll. Union is coming off back-to-back appearances in the NAIA National Tournament Opening Round. The Bulldogs look to make the next step in 2011.
Despite graduating their top weekend starter and five starters in the lineup, Union is reloading to continue the momentum started by the previous teams. Union head coach Brent Fronabarger and assistant coach Joseph Talley have assembled 15 newcomers to go along with 13 returning players. Of the 13 returners, three starters are back along with the second, third and fourth best starting pitchers from last season.
The senior class has just five players, including two that are new to the program in 2011. Returning seniors include Kevin Kirksey, Derek Copley and Dan Beck. Kirksey is the only four-year player and returns after posting a .997 fielding percentage and earning a TranSouth Gold Glove award last season at first base. He also was second on the team with three saves. Copley was a first team all-conference performer as a weekend starter last season with eight wins. Beck is coming off his first season as an offensive player, in which he excelled as one of Union’s top pinch-hitters. New to the program is right handed pitcher Matt Fike and outfield slugger Oscar Depablos. Both will be counted on often this season.
The junior class is the largest on the roster with 12 players. Five of the 12 are returning for Union. Jeremey Stack, Danny Grimm, Clint Barnes and Cody Dew are back for their third seasons with the Bulldogs. Stack was the No. 2 weekend starter last season before injury caused him to miss several starts during conference play. However, Stack remains one of the best arms on the staff and will be among the leaders in the rotation in 2011. Grimm was named a second team all-conference player and gold glove winner at the shortstop position last season. Barnes was one of the leaders in on-base percentage and led the team with 28 steals. Dew returns as a quality arm out of the bullpen, leading all relievers with three wins. Tim Anderson returns for his second season, having provided quality backup at the catching position last season, demonstrating a great arm behind the plate by throwing out 4-of-12 would-be base stealers. R.J. Rayborn, Kian Jost, Doug Joyce, Brett Pawlen, Ben Monticello, Bryan Hill and Justin Bryan are all new to the program this season. Each will be called on often to contribute to the success of the team.
Six sophomores are on the roster, including four returning after a successful freshman season. Jared Davis went 8-1 on the season as a starter, earning a second team all-conference selection. Benjie Fesmire pitched in six games and also played in the field for Union as a freshman. David Leisey saw limited action out of the bullpen, but will be called on more after developing his game as a freshman. Cole McAdams sat out last season, but made a huge impact as a freshman in 2009, earning a gold glove at first base. He is the team’s most versatile infielder, plus a very valuable stick at the plate. Colin Hatch will red-shirt this season after going 2-0 with a save in eight appearances last season. He missed the second half of the season with an injury. Derek Roof is new to the program and the right-hander will add more depth to the pitching rotation as a sophomore.
The freshman class includes five players. Kyle Bryan, Logan McDougall, Jim Martin, Martin Key and Wacey Russell. Bryan, McDougall and Russell will each provide depth in the outfield. Martin and Key will solidify the infield.
The Bulldogs face a tough schedule in 2011. Union plays at No. 1 Cumberland April 1-2. Cumberland is the defending NAIA National Champion, and is picked to repeat as conference champs. Union’s win over Cumberland in the conference tournament last season was the only loss for Cumberland in their final 29 games of the season. Conference opponents Bethel (Tenn.) and Trevecca Nazarene (Tenn.) are receiving votes in the preseason rankings.
In the non-conference schedule, Union plays several ranked opponents. Union host No. 18 South Carolina-Beaufort on Feb. 5. and No. 12 Belhaven (Miss.) on March 16. On March 21, Union plays No. 6 Embry-Riddle (Fla.) in Lebenon, Tenn. and then at No. 12 Belhaven on March 29. Union host NCAA DII opponent North Alabama on April 26.
Fronabarger will be leading this team in his sixth season. He is just 30 wins shy of 200 for his career (170-98-1, .633).