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Xavier Baseball Preview

The Musketeers would rather completely forget about 2015 and talk about 2014. Finding the formula for that magical season will be a challenge, but the X can certainly try.

GoXavier.com

Hangovers are terrible. Your head hurts. Your mouth is dry. Your stomach is churning. You are sweating even though it isn't hot out. All in all, they are just a terrible penance for a night of glory. The 2015 season might have been the worst hangover in recorded history. Well, at least if you ask Xavier. After making a stunning run to the Big East title in 2014, the Musketeers came crashing back to the planet floor. In fact, they probably drove a few hundred miles into the earth's crust as well. With just 15 wins and 38 losses, the Musketeers' flash-in-the-pan 2014 campaign became a distant memory and the doldrums of losing more than twice as often as winning because the team's reality.

Conventional wisdom says the best way to beat a hangover is to drink lots of fluids, sleep as much as possible and to eat protein and carbs to soak up the booze. The coaches in the Big East seem to think Xavier will recover, at least partially, as it was picked to come in fourth in the preseason poll released in December. Here's hoping because two-day (season) hangovers are the absolute worst.

Players to Watch

Daniel Rizzie, C - An injury hampered Rizzie in his junior campaign one in which he was pegged to be a team leader and All-Big East performer. After throwing up numbers that would make any manager salivate in 2014 (.307/.395/.459, 4 HRs, 38 RBI), Rizzie clearly has the tools to be an offensive force and it is that optimism that encouraged voters to make him a unanimous All-Big East preseason pick. He earned the same honor before 2015 but played only 14 games and batted .275 before his season came to an unfortunate end. If he can avoid the injury bug, Rizzie should return to his 2014 form and that will be a major boost for the Musketeers.

Andre Jernigan, SS - Speed kills. Just ask Team Speed Kills. Jernigan may not be a wide receiver in the SEC, but he certainly has the type of wheels that would keep opposing defenses up at night. He does bring on bouts of insomnia for Big East pitchers, as he snagged 16 bags on 20 attempts last season. He still hasn't come into his own as a hitter, with a career average of .251, but his speed and surprising pop (3 home runs, 2 triples, 10 doubles in 2015) make him an intriguing player to keep an eye on.

Nate Soria, C - With Rizzie down because of injury, Soria played far above his years as a freshman. He was named the Big East Freshman of the Year and voted onto the Louisville Slugger All-American Freshman squad. In 43 games (42 starts) he hit a team-high .335 and collected 15 extra-base hits. Rizzie is obviously at the top of the depth chart at catcher, but Scott Googins will certainly find a way to keep Soria in the lineup.

Trent Astle, LHP - The workhorse for the Xavier staff, Astle didn't always get the run support he deserved, leading to his 3-8 record, but that's why wins and losses are going the way of the 8-track when it comes to meaningful statistics used to evaluate pitchers. Over the course of 79 total innings (a team-high), Astle posted a 3.42 ERA, struck out 55 batters and allowed just a .268 opponent batting average.

What They Do Well

With two of the top catchers in the league, Xavier is obviously set up nicely at backstop. But the Musketeers really struggle in most areas outside of framing pitches and stripping off the knee pads to swat a few base hits. That said, Xavier was a team with power last season, leading the Big East in home runs (27). Of course, Derek Hasenbeck (6 HRs) and Patrick Jones (4 HRs) were a major reason for all the pop, but with Rizzie back, the Musketeers may still have the slugging bug.

What They Don't

How to put this without sounding mean? As might be expected for a team that lost its best player and managed only 15 wins, the Musketeers were weak at just about every part of the game. Soria was the only batter to hit above .300 and Xavier finished second to last in the Big East in team batting average (.253). Xavier's bats weren't just unlucky, too often, they didn't even put the ball in play, striking out a league-worst 397 times. The pitching staff didn't alleviate those issues, posting a 4.75 ERA, scraping together a league-low six saves and walking 231 batters. No other team reached the 200 free-pass mark. In essence, a full-scale reshaping is needed for the X to mark the spot.

Outlook

Googins has generally put a winning product on the field. In five of the six seasons before 2015, the Musketeers finished at .500 or above. Of course, this is just their third season in the Big East, which may not be a noted college baseball powerhouse but still has a few strong squads (St. John's, Creighton and Seton Hall especially), so maintaining the type of success it had in the Atlantic 10 will remain a challenge. With Rizzie back, the X hope they can rekindle the magic of 2014 and complete that challenge.