The Huskers made the NCAA tournament last season, but experience some key losses including Michael Pritchard, Pat Kelly, and Christian Deleon. Who is going to step up to replace the production lost?
Derek: Erstad will field a pretty experienced and deep ball club, so I don’t think the production of the players mentioned will fall on two or three players. However, if we had to pinpoint a few players, I’m rolling with the obvious suspects.
If Kyle Kubat can get back to his 2012 form where he posted a 5-1 record and a 2.63 ERA, that would cushion the loss of the workhorse Deleon. Let’s hope he’s past all his "dead arm" woes as well. Couple Kubat with senior Chance Sinclair, a third-team All-American in 2014, and Erstad should have a pretty lethal duo at the top of his rotation. Losing Kelly and Pritchard’s production is huge, but I think losing their leadership is even a bigger loss. Look for Tanner Lubach (can we make "Lubach Music" a thing?) and Austin Darby to step up as the leaders of the 2015 version of the Huskers.
Keith: Kubat can be a wild card, but I think he is truly healthy and ready to go. I think it is not out of the question for Kubat to get double digit wins this season. If Kubat can consistently locate his changeup he will be lethal. Kubat will have to step up and be the go to man on Saturday’s this spring. As far as replacing production, I think Darby will truly have a breakout season at the plate. Darby can be a streaky hitter, and may struggle during the early portion of the season. However, I believe that Darby will be the team’s best hitter and has the best shot to hit double digits in the home run category. As far as leadership, it has to be Headley. Headley is just the blue collar, hard working player you want as a leader.
Last season Ryan Boldt was a highly anticipated freshman, which freshman this year do you believe will have a large impact on this team?
Derek: I’m high on Jake Myers, the pitcher/outfield recruit we pulled in. His skill set and versatility will make it difficult for Coach Erstad to keep him off the field.
Keith: Scott Schreiber is the one freshmen who may start this weekend. The physical tools, and the real lack of a true first baseman on this team could allow him to showcase his talent early. Note that I do not count Headley as a first baseman.
The Huskers lose Zach Hirsch, but keep Josh Roeder in the bullpen. How does the bullpen shape up with the lack of quality relievers outside of Roeder?
Derek: With closer Josh Roeder still in the fold, I think Erstad and Ted Silva will be able to piece together a serviceable bullpen in front of the closer spot. The starting pitchers will still be the strength of the pitching staff though.
Keith: I think Nebraska will struggle at times in the bullpen, as the Huskers seem to have a large quantity of mid grade relievers. I love Roeder in the ninth, but getting to the ninth may be an adventure at times. Derek Burkamper, Jeff Chestnut, and Colton Howell all could be quality relievers, but I am skeptic at this point of the season.
With a change of baseballs this year, to a ball with lower seams, should the Huskers power increase, or will they keep playing small ball?
Derek: Although most Nebraska baseball fans would like to see us dramatically shift from playing Ned Yost Ball, I don’t think we’ll see that much of a change this season. The team’s strengths seem to be pitching and defense, and Erstad will play to that.
Keith: The good ole days on Ken Harvey having 23 home runs in a season are long gone. Hell, if someone hits 11 home runs they are considered to have extreme power. Haymarket park does lend itself to some good hitting days, and I do think the Huskers will see an increase over last seasons 19 home runs, but I think the total will still be under 30.
Jon: I thought small ball was a trademark of Erstad as a person and as much a part of Nebraska baseball as people want a fullback to be part of Husker football. (There, I did it, I brought football into this.) We’re always going to play small ball. Always. Even if it doesn’t look like it sometimes.
Give one bold prediction for the Huskers this season.
Derek: Erstad’s boys will win TWO CWS games this year.
Keith: Kubat and Sinclair combine to go 19-4 in the regular season. Kubat then shuts down Maryland en route to Nebraska’s first BIG baseball tournament championship in front of 50 fans in Minneapolis, all of whom are wearing red. Second bold prediction: from March 23rd until March 28th the Huskers will go 4-1 against Fullerton and Texas.
Jon: Nebraska will win the Big Ten and host a regional. 15,000 people show up for the Big Ten Tournament in Minneapolis in search of good baseball.
Season Predictions for the year?
Derek: Nebraska will be near the top of the B1G standings along with Maryland and Indiana all season and at least make the semifinals of the B1G baseball tournament. The team will ride error-free, consistent baseball all the way to the CWS. Jeff Larish ran out of eligibility, right?
Keith: Nebraska will be challenged right out of the gate against UNLV, and may struggle early on in non-conference action. If the Huskers can not suffer and ill fated loses such as a series against Northwestern, then the weekend series against Maryland may determine the regular season BIG championship. The Huskers end the year with 45 wins, and receive a home regional. Haymarket park breaks attendance records as Texas is the 3 seed, and advances to the championship game. The Huskers then break the NCAA record and beat the Longhorns 51-0. The Huskers then lose in the super regionals.
Jon: They will struggle early with pitching, and everyone will wonder why Erstad ever hired Ted Silva because everyone knows more about pitching than Silva does. (I’m not being fair, actually, this happens every year no matter what the pitching coaches’ name is, doesn’t it?).
Otherwise, I already made season predictions above.