Tointon Family Stadium was upgraded in a big way, giving K-State baseball a state-of-the-art facility to enjoy and showcase. That’s not the only positive heading into the 2020 campaign, however. The team also has a new culture to go with added talent and depth, changes that has Coach Pete Hughes very excited heading into his second year in Manhattan.
“I had a blast last year,” Hughes remarked at last week’s baseball media day event. “But the culture changed, as far as wanting to win as bad as those guys wanted to win. When I started to see the losses hurt those guys – they loved it when they won, and they hated it when they lost – and that’s when your program has changed.”
The new culture is important, but culture alone won’t be enough. The reality is that more talent and depth is key, and the Cats have both entering this season. Hughes builds his teams on pitching and defense, and it appears that K-State has many more options to turn to on the mound this year. Hughes didn’t hesitate when asked about the biggest improvement from a year ago.
“Our pitching depth is where it begins and ends,” said Hughes. “That’s where our season ended last year, because we didn’t have enough depth. You can’t have enough arms in college baseball, with injury and with the draft. We didn’t have any depth on the mound to get through a 56-game schedule. We wore some guys out. We got tired in the end. When you have pitching depth, you’re fresher at the end of May and June.”
Make no mistake. K-State is thinking about May and June. Omaha is always the ultimate goal, but K-State wants to be a regional host. What better way to showcase their new facility? Turning those goals into reality will be a challenge, especially considering the difficult schedule awaiting the Wildcats this season. K-State faces the likes of Missouri, Wichita State, Creighton, Stanford and Nebraska to go with the always challenging Big 12 slate. Hughes admits that it might be a top-five schedule awaiting his team this year.
K-State brought in some reinforcements to navigate the grueling season ahead, including several transfer arms looking to make an immediate impact. Carson Seymour, Connor McCullough, Zak Herbers and Wesley Moore are all in the mix for the Cats in 2020. With several of those players forced to sit out last year due to transfer rules, the newcomers are even more eager to contribute to this new era of K-State baseball.
Seymour, a transfer from Dartmouth, certainly looks the part. The righty stands at 6-foot-5 and weighs 250 pounds. He throws hard and is a possible Friday starter for the Wildcats. McCullough made the move from Arkansas and would currently be the Saturday starter according to Hughes. Herbers (Saddleback College) and Moore (Cal State Northridge) will also compete for time on the mound. One thing was very clear during the media day interview. Hughes had many more pitchers to talk about than he did a year ago.
As great as the transfer talent is, you can’t forget returning pitchers such as Jordan Wicks, Caleb Littlejim and Kasey Ford. Those returners will be asked to lead on the mound and in the clubhouse. Wicks has already noticed a significant change from a year ago.
“It’s night and day difference from last year,” admitted Wicks. “We had a lot of good guys last year that really did a good job for us. But when you come in this year and the options that we have, and the rotation, and coming out of the bullpen… I think our bullpen is really going to be one of our strengths this year. I think we’ve got some really good options there, as well as our rotation. So, I’m really excited about this season and about where the pitching staff is at.”
Coming off of Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors a year ago, it’s clear Wicks isn’t letting the year of success get to his head.
“The day you get content in this game is the day that tons of people pass you by,” Wicks stated. “So that will never happen with me. I’m always looking, even if I have a good start, I’m always looking at the three batters were bad as opposed to the ones that were really good. There is always something to fix and always something to work on.”
That’s the kind of mentality and approach that can rub off on his teammates, and it’s exactly the kind of leadership Hughes expects from his returners this season.
K-State’s pitching staff appears to be in a good place as the 2020 season approaches. While added talent and depth doesn’t guarantee anything, it should certainly give the Cats a great chance at success this season.
“Pitching depth was addressed,” Hughes finished. “We do have depth. Now we just have to stay healthy and perform.”
Source: Kansas State Sports