It’s August and the baseball world’s eyes are fully glued to the exhilarating ongoing pennant races, but that doesn’t mean it’s ever a bad time to talk some Tiger Baseball.
The summer offseason of college baseball is finally over and with the conclusion of summer leagues and the MLB draft, that means it’s time to take a look at what the 2023 Tigers could look like on the diamond.
In the portal the Tigers added a handful of names that could all contribute this year, so let’s jump right into who they are, how they’ve made their way to Columbia, and where they could fit into Steve Bieser’s team.
*Something worth noting, JP Massey, a pitcher from Minnesota, did commit to the Tigers through the portal just days before the MLB draft, but he was selected in the 7th round by the Pirates and signed for $150,000. Hopefully Massey has a fruitful career in pro-ball and we wish him the best of luck in the Pirates organization
One of the first players to pledge their future to the Tigers in the off-season was Missouri-native Brock Daniels. A graduate of St. John Vianney High School in St. Louis, the middle infielder originally took his talents to Norman, Oklahoma, but a lack of playing time has led Daniels back to his home state.
Daniels is a natural SS and was highly recruited out of high school in 2020. Perfect Game ranked him as the No. 101 player in his class, the No. 28 SS, and No. 2 players in the state of Missouri. An inability to break into the lineup at Oklahoma might initially seem concerning, but the Sooners were one of the best teams in the country last year, making it all the way to the National Championship series. They were led by starting SS Peyton Graham, who was drafted in the second round of July’s MLB Draft. Graham was one of the most fun players to watch in College Baseball last year, and I certainly won’t be holding it against Daniels that he was stuck behind Graham.
The good news for Tigers fans is that Daniels’ long layoff from game action hasn’t seemed to bother him as much as he’s been finding success in the Appalachian League this summer. He made the All-Star game for the league and went 3-5 with 1 R and 2 RBI in the game. He also hit for the cycle on July 20.
When the college season finally rolls around, expect to see Daniels get a lot of action at 2B. That’s where he’s seen most of his reps in the Appalachian League, and with Justin Colon’s defensive prowess, it’s hard to imagine anyone taking the SS job from him. I’ve also heard rumblings that 2022 starting 2B Nander De Sedas has left the team, which would indicate that guys like Trevor Austin and Daniels will be competing for the void left by De Sedas.
Here’s to hoping Daniels can provide more clutch hits in the Black and Gold like this one in the Appalachian League All-Star Game:
For the last four years, Cam Chick has played a significant role for a solid Nebraska Cornhuskers team, but in his final season, he decided it was time to return home. Chick grew up in CoMo and graduated from Hickman High School before shipping off to Lincoln for his collegiate career.
In his four years at Nebraska, Chick was a major contributor, playing 44 or more games each year (excluding the COVID-shortened season). After struggling his freshman year, Chick excelled at the plate for the next three never having lower than a .855 OPS. Last year, he slashed .252/.425/.456 and slugged 8 HR from the left side of the plate.
Defensively, Chick gives a lot of versatility, as he can play OF and 2B, but most of his reps have come in the outfield. I’d expect him to push guys like Ty Wilmsmeyer and Ross Lovich for playing time. I’m assuming Carlos Peña will have his spot in RF locked down, but the other two spots should be open for Chick to take.
Overall, Chick seems like a really solid addition in the portal for the Tigers, but the one thing that concerns me is his performance in the Cape Cod league. It’s no secret that the best competition in college baseball takes place on the Cape. The best players from every conference ship up to Massachusetts for the summer, and they all swing wood bats, but when Chick got his shot on the Cape he looked like a shell of the guy who’d been so reliable for the Cornhuskers week in week out for several years.
Whether these struggles were due to having to adjust to a wood bat or the higher level of competition is unclear, but I sure hope it’s the former and not the latter. Nebraska is a solid team, and Chick has gotten to play in the postseason with the Cornhuskers, but it would be ignorant to say moving to the SEC won’t be a major step up in competition, so I hope that’s not what led to his summer struggles up north.
Nevertheless, the safe bet is that Chick will be a regular in the Tiger lineup next season, and hopefully he can bring some of his pop back home:
Perhaps my favorite addition of this offseason was Dylan Leach. For the last two seasons, Leach has served as Arkansas’ backup catcher, but in an attempt to find more game action, Leach is bringing his powerful bat to Columbia.
Coming out of high school in 2020, Leach was a Top 500 player according to PG, and he immediately made an impact in Fayetteville. The switch-hitting catcher isn’t the biggest guy on the field at 5’11 and 196 lbs, but he packs a lot of pop in his bat. During his time with Arkansas, Leach got 113 plate appearances and appeared in 41 games, slashing .237/.372/.484 with 5 HR and 20 RBI. For a guy to not see the field every day and still be able to give you an OPS over .850 indicates to me that Leach is a hell of a ballplayer.
The highlight of Leach’s Razorback career came on April 5th of this year when he hit for the cycle AND homered from both sides of the plate. I mean, that’s video game type stuff right there.
Now, I know the batting average isn’t pretty, but the numbers say this kid can play. Mizzou has gotten little to no production from the catcher spot these last two years, and Leach will be an instant upgrade at the plate which should immediately get him in the lineup. For reference, Mikey Coletta slashed .263/.346/.295 and Tre Morris wasn’t any better at .244/.300/.336.
Leach is a clear improvement offensively, and there shouldn’t be as big of a learning curve as some of the other names on this list because of his experience playing in the SEC, even if it was limited.
Here’s a look at Leach’s sweet stroke, which will be coming to Taylor Stadium in 2023:
Of all the names on this list, Rorik Maltrud probably had the most unique journey to get to Mizzou. Originally, Maltrud was committed to Oklahoma out of high school, but after enrolling and playing fall ball in Norman, he elected to transfer to Grayson College in the spring of his freshman season. After playing two years at Grayson, Maltrud transferred to New Mexico State for the last two seasons, and now he’s going to conclude his collegiate career with Mizzou.
At NMSU, Maltrud appeared in 21 games, starting 15 of them, and posted a 4.40 ERA and 1.239 WHIP in 88 innings. While those numbers aren’t going to blow anyone away, they are solid, and Maltrud made a big jump from year one to year two at NMSU. In his second year with the Aggies, Maltrud got his WHIP down to 1.04 and increased his K/BB rate from 2.39 to 3.75. Likewise, he only surrendered 3 HR in 30.2 innings, so it seems that he may have gotten a little unlucky in the ERA department considering he did a very good job of keeping the ball in the ballpark and not allowing free passes to hitters.
Even with Maltrud’s positives in 2022, I still have my doubts about transitioning from the WAC to the SEC. Even a guy like Carter Rustad, who was widely regarded as one of the best transfers in College Baseball last year, found out it was much harder to pitch in the SEC than a G5 conference.
Realistically, I see Maltrud giving the Tigers rotation depth as a middle reliever and spot starter in midweek games. I don’t think he’ll crack the weekend rotation, but it is likely that Maltrud will have a role to play in Steve Bieser’s pitching staff.
No matter what role Maltrud carves out for himself, one positive thing he is sure to bring to Columbia is his personality. In the past, he’s gone viral on Twitter for his K-strut, and let me tell you, I’m all for it.
The final transfer addition for the Tigers is Matthew Garcia. A middle infielder from Florida, Garcia originally attended Chipola Junior College before playing at Bethune-Cookman.
In his time at Chipola, Garcia was named one of Prep Baseball Report’s Top 50 JUCO players to watch. Last year at Bethune-Cookman, Garcia was one of their biggest contributors. He slashed .310/.367/.460 while playing SS for the Wildcats.
The only place Garcia has struggled in his collegiate career is the Cape Cod league. He slashed .150/.227/.200 in his time on the Cape. The silver lining to that situation is that he’s improved every year at the collegiate level, so I don’t know that it’s fair to hold prior failures over a guy who’s consistently shown an aptitude to adapt and overcome.
I don’t know if Garcia is going to compete for a starting spot, but I don’t want to rule anything out. What I would guess is that Garcia will find a role providing depth in the middle infield, getting a chance in some midweek games to earn more playing time in the weekend series, but again, you never really know.
There are not many clips of Garcia out there, so unfortunately I have nothing to finish off his section with, but keep an eye out for his name as a guy who could contribute in 2023.
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