With spring right around the corner, baseball fever is in the air. Penn State is looking to rebound from a dismal 2013, a season in which they crawled to a 14-36 record. Onward State takes a look at the future of Penn State baseball.
The rebuilding effort will begin at the top, with new head coach Rob Cooper. Coach Cooper, who was hired in August from Wright State, will look to turn around a program that has suffered six losing seasons in the past seven years. It’s not going to be easy, but Cooper brings with him new energy and a new approach that he hopes will rejuvenate the squad.
Cooper was able to notch a record of 286-230 in his nine seasons as head coach of the Wright State Raiders. During his tenure, he coached many remarkable players, notably the Horizon League’s Relief Pitcher of the Year as well as the Newcomer of the Year during the 2011 season. Under his leadership, 21 players signed professional contracts and seven were drafted by Major League organizations. Before taking over Wright State, Cooper held the assistant coaching position on an Oral Roberts team that won the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament. His resume is loaded with notable schools at which he has served as an assistant coach (Miami, Wake Forest, Tulane) along with an established repertoire of helping players make it to the Major Leagues. The coach has also been active in USA Baseball, most recently as the head coach of the U-18 National Team.
Aside from his baseball capability, Rob Cooper brings a new life to the team. He is both incredibly personal with fans and media alike. He has raved about how hard his players have been working for him since he arrived and how they are buying in to the potential winning formula he has mapped out. There is plenty of optimism surrounding the baseball program, and a lot of that positivity can be attributed to Rob Cooper.
“I hope that when these guys are done playing for me, they’re going to understand that I care about them deeply,” Cooper said to the Daily Collegian last week. “We want them to be successful. I want to see them be in the best position possible to succeed on the field.”
Players To Watch
There are at least a few notable Nittany Lions that are expected to have breakout seasons. Three key starters have been named to the Big-Ten Players to Watch list.
C Alex Farkes (Sr.): The returning senior looks to have a major impact on the diamond this year. He hit .259 with 12 RBIs and 18 runs in 2013 while getting 32 starts under his belt. More important than his impact as a hitter will be the leadership role he will assume as a senior. Farkes is going to be tasked with being a vocal leader in the dugout and leading by example in the batter’s box. Look for a solid year from the senior catcher.
“Every day when we get to the field there is a plan for us to follow and something to build off from the day before,” Farkes said at media day. “The coaches have established that with us and it has really made each player get better every day. It’s been a pleasure to be a part of.”
OF James Coates (Soph.): Coates is hoping to improve on a solid freshman campaign that saw him hit .260 with 9 RBIs and 13 runs and earn a unanimous All Big-Ten Team selection. While not much of a power hitter, Coates excels in swinging for contact. His .345 OBP was pretty solid in 2013, but look for that number to go up as well in 2014. To pair with his hitting ability, the lefty also is a solid outfielder with a good overall range and solid throwing arm. Keep an eye on number 14.
OF Greg Guers (RS Soph.): The 6’3, 205 USC Upstate transfer will be a nice power hitting spark for a team in need of one. In his big freshman season at Upstate, he hit .309 with 37 runs and 36 RBIs. His 4 home runs were a bright spot for the Spartans, and he will look to carry over his power hitting skill wearing a Nittany Lion uniform. He will be an important piece for Rob Cooper’s squad.
If the Nittany Lions want to make it far in Omaha, they’ll have to address some glaring issues. For starters, you won’t scare anybody with a conference record of 4-20 and a road record of 3-24. Winning conference games needs to be a focus point in Rob Cooper’s plan.
Coach Cooper’s team will begin its season with a road series at Gardner-Webb on Sunday, then moving to USF and Mount St. Mary’s. These are winnable games, but not guarantees by any means. The Lions’ Big-Ten Conference schedule begins with a home series against Northwestern at the end of March.
This team has the potential to make a splash in the Big-Ten this season. Cooper is very optimistic about the growth he has seen in his squad since the fall.
“I don’t know what guys ERAs were from last year because that was last year and I wasn’t here,” he said at media day. “There were guys on the team last year that aren’t on the team this year and so I think it’s really important that you move forward. I don’t think it’s fair to comment on something that I wasn’t a part of so I like where we are right now as far as moving into the first part of the season.”
His players have bought into his system, and there is a very positive buzz around this Penn State baseball program.