You’ve met the coaching staff, now let’s take a look at the players. Another year, another 20+ new players. It’s becoming quite the trend of roster turnover all around college baseball, and Nebraska is trying to learn each year the best way to shake up the roster and improve the team.
Coach Bolt and his staff tried to capitalize off the conference championship team by bringing in highly ranked high school recruiting class. That year led them to realize they needed to get older fast, bringing in experienced JUCO and graduate transfers. This year, it seems getting depth up and down the pitching staff is priority number 1. No more relying on 5 guys to get you through a weekend.
Hold on though, we will get to the pitchers. First let’s look at the position players, starting with the infield. Last year we witnessed perhaps the best offensive middle infield in Husker history. Brice Matthews, “Mr. 20-20”, a first round pick, the man who could track down any pop up. Teamed up with Max Anderson, the kid that hit over .400, led the NCAA regular season in hits, and is all over the Husker record books. Replacing that production is going to be a team effort. Let’s see who will be leading the charge.
Gone: Griffin Everitt, Zach Johnson
New Faces: Max Buettenback (Fr.), Will Jesske (Fr.)
Back: Josh Caron (Jr.), Ben Columbus (Sr.)
We start our preview with the one position that should look almost identical to 2023. Josh Caron returns as the starting catcher after a year in which he started out as one of the hottest bats in the lineup (.358, 3 HR, 13 RBIs a month in) before coming back to earth. Where his offense faltered, his defense improved. His blocking went from a liability to solid, and he always has a strong arm. Ben Columbus was a solid backup. Not the strongest arm, but looks like he’s been behind the plate all his life on defense. Combine that with spending most of the season around .290 as a hitter, and the catching position is in good hands.
The graduation of Griffin Everitt and loss of Zach Johnson, a former JUCO player of the year who just couldn’t find the field in 2023 means the catching position needs to get younger. Enter freshmen Max Buettenback and Will Jesske, both from Lincoln Southeast HS.
Buettenback (we have to come up with a nickname) comes in with some pop from the left side of the plate with that beautiful ‘ping’ sound that you don’t hear as often as you used to. Jesske is one of the best all around athletes on the team. He was committed to Wichita St, but reopened his recruiting and joined Coach Sirianni at Nebraska. He played mostly third base in HS but is projected as catcher by the NU coaching staff. Don’t be surprised to see him in a corner infield or outfield spot if needed though.
Gone: Charlie Fischer, Mikey Pauley
New Faces: Tyler Stone (Jr.), Case Sanderson (Fr.), Josh Overbeek (Jr.)
Back: Will Walsh (rJr.)
It’s been a while since Nebraska has had a natural first baseman, that can also consistently provide some pop. Tyler Stone steps right into the everyday lineup and brings that with him from Gonzaga, by way of Iowa Western CC. Power. Swagger. Bat flips! Get used to seeing a lot of all 3 of those things. Stone hit .366 with 17 HR and 72 RBIs a year ago, and didn’t miss a beat during the fall ball season either.
Hailing from Phoenix by way of Gonzaga then Iowa Western, @TyStone24 swings a big bat from the left-handed batter's box. He's got a chance to leave the ballpark during any at-bat, which excites this coaching staff. pic.twitter.com/rx8LdN4Ij8— Nebraska Baseball (@HuskerBaseball) October 24, 2023
Ben Columbus and Will Walsh are probably going to see time at first, just like last year. Though it will not be either player’s primary position. Case Sanderson brings a highly touted bat from Missouri, where he hit .469 as a senior. In the time he was on the field for fall ball, Sanderson looked like an upperclassman in both stature and ability. He can also jump to a corner outfield spot should a lefty bat be needed there. Josh Overbeek started his career at Pitt before being the runner up for his JUCO conference player of the year last year. He’s a switch hitter and the lone guy that can step in the right handed batters box that plays first, so may see some opportunities there.
Gone: Max Anderson
New Faces: Rhett Stokes (Jr.)
Back: Cayden Brumbaugh (rSo.), Bryce Hughes (rJr.)
After an injury the week before the season started last year, Nebraska’s biggest offseason addition on offense was lost for the year. Cayden Brumbaugh was one of the top middle infield prospects in high school in the entire country. After leaving Oklahoma State, Coach Bolt saw him as the next Jaxon Hallmark in centerfield, but new additions in the outfield, plus the two big losses in the infield led them to bring him back to second base.
I can’t imagine what last years offense would have looked like with Brumbaugh in front of Anderson and Matthews. He brings so much speed and a great ability to get on base. Expect him and new centerfielder Riley Silva to be the best 1-2 combo on the base-paths for the Huskers in years.
Bryce Hughes is back as a backup at the position after redshirting last season, and joined by Rhett Stokes. Stokes comes as a JUCO All star. He led all of junior colleges with 101 runs scored last year, after leading the country in triples his freshman year with 11. Add to that being a .400 hitter for his career and you can expect to see him get some looks somewhere early on.
Gone: Brice Matthews, Efry Cervantes
New Faces: None
Back: Dylan Carey (So.)
This is the easiest position to project on the team. The man poised to take on the role of offensive leader is Dylan Carey. He had a great fall season at the plate to back up his impressive start to his college career.
Carey was groomed last year to be the SS of the future for the program, and has the demeanor and skill set to excel. Will he be able to make the spectacular plays we’ve become accustomed to watching Schwellenbach or Matthews, or even Altivilla? Maybe not. But he’s going to be closer to Schwellenbach in his instincts to get to grounders you wouldn’t think he could off the bat, while also being more stable on routine plays than his immediate predecessor.
Nebraska has a few guys that could come in and play SS if needed. In fall ball, the next man up was Dylan Hufft, but more on him in a minute. Bryce Hughes could also play in a pinch, but really don’t expect to see anyone besides Carey here barring injury or a huge blowout.
New Faces: Dylan Hufft (rSo.), Aaron Manias (Jr.)
As Dylan Carey slides over to his natural short stop, he leaves perhaps the biggest unknown at third base. In fall ball, former JUCO SS Dylan Hufft got the first opportunity and played the position well. He brings a steady glove, a good bat (.904 OPS), and 25 stolen bases. Hufft almost chose Nebraska after high school, and again after choosing to transfer from Kansas State following his freshman year, but realized playing time behind Brice Matthews and Max Anderson would be difficult to come by.
.@dylanhufft is a winner and brings a do-it-all mentality to the infield. Fresh off a NJCAA D1 World Series, Hufft led his team and conference with nine triples last season at Johnson County CC. He also paced the Cavaliers with 24 multi-hit games and had seven games of 2+ SB. pic.twitter.com/lUyDOGsW4p— Nebraska Baseball (@HuskerBaseball) January 18, 2024
Joining the speedster in what could be a platoon situation to start the season is Aaron Manias. Manias joins the Huskers in what seems to be a pipeline as of late from Canada. He bats left-handed, opposite of Hufft, and provides a little more pop, finishing fifth in all of the JUCO ranks with 25 doubles, and 15th with 77 RBIs, while also adding 14 home runs last season. The two newcomers could provide a lot of situational flexibility for the coaching staff at the position.
As we’ve seen in the past, Bolt likes to tinker with positions and lineups. He seems to prefer to go after the best players and figure out a position later. So while this is where players have been placed during the fall games or preseason, expect to see them move not only all over the infield, but back to the outfield as well.
Speaking of the outfield, check back tomorrow as we take a peak at the outlook of the 2024 outfield.