Last season, the Nebraska offense was disappointing to say the least. Who returns, and who could be the surprises to come in from the freshmen class? Take a look at the position breakdown for the Huskers and what to expect at each position.
First Base- Scott Schreiber returns after becoming the starting first baseman as a freshmen for the Huskers. Schreiber should improve on his .271 average, while also seeing his power numbers continue to grow. Schreiber tied for the lead in home runs last season with four, expect a jump towards double digits for him while still contributing solid defense.
Second Base- Jake Schleppenbach returns after becoming one of the catalysts for the Husker offense. Schleppenbach will continue to put the ball in play, and be a factor in the bases. Schleppenbach led the Huskers in sacrifice hits last season with nine. Expect Schleppenbach to lock down the two spot. Defensively, focus on making the simple plays will be key for Schleppenbach.
Third Base- The Huskers lose arguably the best hitter of last season in Blake Headley, but return two players who could fill this spot. Jake Placzek is back for his senior season, and could see significant playing time as he has the past two seasons. The Huskers have also worked out Luis Alvarado at third base. Look for numerous Huskers to play third base, as Darin Erstad tries to figure out a consistent lineup. Freshmen Alex Altavilla and Alex Henwood could also see playing time at third.
Shortstop- Steven Reveles returns after receiving a fifth year from the NCAA. Reveles is the unquestioned leader of this team. Reveles can make outstanding plays at shortstop, but will never be an elite defender. With the bat, Reveles is the best bunter on the team, and gives Erstad another flexible bat who can run a little. Much like Schleppenbach, Reveles is primarily a player who puts the ball in play to find the holes. Altavilla and Henwood could backup Reveles here as both were naturally shortstops in high school.
Catcher- Tanner Lubach has moved onto the Los Angeles Angels farm system. With Lubach gone, the primary catcher duties will fall to Jesse Wilkening, a standout freshmen from Cedar Lake, Indiana. Wilkening will hit for average and power. Defensively, Wilkening will need to learn quickly to not have a drop off from the skills that Lubach displayed last season. Wilkening will need to work on pitch framing and to improve his pop time. Taylor Fish will serve as the backup for his senior season.
Left Field- Luis Alvarado returns, but looks to see possible playing time in the infield. If Alvarado does not play left, then candidates to see playing time include Elijah Dilday, AJ Johnson, Cole Klemke, and Jake Meyers. Dilday could have the leg up, as he saw playing time in the outfield last season. Johnson and Klemke are most likely back up outfielders, while seeing occasional playing time. If Dilday could lock down the left field spot for Nebraska, that would be huge for the Huskers as it has been a weak spot in the defense.
Center Field- Ryan Boldt returns for his junior year, and barring any injury should be the only center fielder that Nebraska will use. Boldt looks to improve on his power numbers, while projecting to be a possible first round draft pick in the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft. Boldt should continue providing elite defense, speed, and offense. Look for a potential All-American season from Boldt if the Huskers could make some noise in the postseason.
Right Field- Gone is the cannon that is Austin Darby, a defensive specialist that was a human highlight reel. Expect this to be another competition in camp where Jake Meyers could be a big factor. Meyers saw limited playing time in right last season, and showed the potential to be an above average outfielder. If Meyers is pitching, Dilday, Alvarado, Johnson, or Klemke could all see action in right.
Designated Hitter- Ben Miller will get almost every start for the Huskers. Miller should continue to put up decent power numbers. Miller has worked on his speed and could surprise with an approach to hitting the ball to all fields instead of being pull heavy. Miller will also pitch out of the bullpen, so look for the occasional double switch as players like Dilday or Meyers could see time at the DH position.
The Huskers will run out a lot of familiar names, and should see a better overall offense, but do on paper have concerns about the corner outfielders, third base, and catcher. If the Huskers get even decent contributions at these positions, expect a surprising season in Lincoln. The season opens this Friday as the Huskers travel to The College of Charleston, with first pitch being set for 4:00 local time.