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Butler Baseball 2016 Preview

After a lackluster 2015 season, the Butler Bulldogs will turn to a strong core of returning players in hopes to ascend to the top half of the Big East Conference.

A 23-30 season was not exactly what the Butler Bulldogs had hoped for prior to the 2015 season's beginning. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the 2015 season was the fact that Bulldogs showed little to know improvement in their second season in the Big East. After a 20-30 season in 2014, the Bulldogs won just three more games overall in 2015, and only one more game in Big East conference play.

Despite the disappointment, however, the Bulldogs have many key pieces still in place headed into 2016, and could find themselves as a surprise contender if the everything comes together right. For now though, the Bulldogs will be faced with the harsh reality that they tied for fifth in the preseason poll released this past January, tied with Georgetown and Villanova for worst in the conference.

Players to Watch

Jeff Schank, Junior, LHP

Schank was the one of two Bulldogs to crack the preseason all-Big East team for 2016, and earned that distinction behind a superb 2015 season. Although he finished just 5-6 on the season, the Naperville, Illinois native finished the season with a 3.21 ERA over 86.2 innings, and averaged a k/9 of 7.48, good for second on the team amongst consistent contributors. He will once again find himself as the front-man in Butler's weekend rotation, and will be relied on to provide consistent innings for the second straight season.

Danny Pobereyko, Junior, RHP

If the Bulldogs can get consistent innings out of their starters, Pobereyko can help slam the door on a victory. The righthander appeared in 21 games last year, saving a team-high five games and amassing a k/9 of 8.47. His 4.81 ERA needs to drop in order to be a completely reliable late-game reliever, but that will likely come with another year of experience. The 'Dogs lost more than their fair share of close games last year, but Pobereyko could change that with a solid year out of the bullpen.

Tyler Houston, Sophomore, OF

Houston was arguably the best offensive threat as a freshman last season, and was the only other Butler player named to the preseason all-Big East team. Now imagine what he can do with a full year of experience under his belt. His .324 average was the best for Butler's normal starting 9 last season, and his slash line of .324/.405/.852 was arguably the team's most impressive. Add in his three home runs, 11 steals, and 26 RBI, and it is clear that Houston established himself as a threat every time he stepped into the box last season. If he can continue to be a solid backbone of the offense, the Bulldogs could make some noise.

Best-Case Scenario

Schank has an All-American type season, helping anchor a good-not-great Bulldog rotation. Behind Houston and other key offensive contributors, such as junior Drew Small and sophomore Garrett Christman, the Bulldogs turn themselves into the conference's best offensive attack. They win a ton of games in which they score seven, eight, or even nine runs, and put a scare into St. John's in the conference title chase, establishing positive momentum for a young program still looking for consistency.

Worst-Case Scenario

Schank is solid once more, but not nearly good enough to carry the rotation by himself. The bullpen implodes, as Pobereyko and lefty reliever Josh Goldberg both take substantial steps back. Christman and Houston go through sophomore slumps, and the Bulldogs struggle to win more than five conference games. The program remains in limbo for the third straight season.

Likely Scenario

The Bulldogs best players continue to play like all-conference nominees, but a lack of depth ends up hurting the team in the long run. They finish at 9-9 in the Big East, but still slightly below the .500 mark overall. There is a sense of positive direction, and the Bulldogs end 2016 with a sense of optimism.