Rob Cooper’s Niitany Lions open the regular season Friday down in Fort Worth, Texas, against No. 1 TCU.
Each series there is an abundance of different elements to examine before taking on your opponent but as the Nittany Lions head down south there are three main entities to focus on before the season gets into full swing.
The biggest story of the weekend won’t be coming from the Penn State dugout but it’ll be from TCU’s mammoth first baseman and future MLB first-round pick, Luken Baker. If you’re a fan of baseball then you’ll be a fan of this kid. Standing 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Baker is a physical specimen and he wreaked havoc last spring as a true freshman. His jaw-dropping slash line of .379/.483/.577 with 11 homers and 62 RBIs commanded the thorough attention of major league scouts.
Oh, and the 2016 Big 12 Freshman of the Year also pitches. He posted a 3-1 record with a 1.70 ERA in 47.2 innings last year. If the Nittany Lions aren’t careful, the 19-year old has the ability to make it a long weekend for coach Cooper and company.
Another thing to look out for is who will fill the closer role for Penn State now that Jack Anderson is getting ready for his first spring training in the Seattle Mariners farm system. With Anderson gone, all signs point to senior right-hander Dakota Forsyth. The 5-foot-10 righty was Penn State’s setup man out of the pen last year and hopes to fill the void in the ninth. Forsyth enters his final campaign in Happy Valley riding the momentum of an impressive junior season. In 20 appearance last year, Forsyth finished with a 2.28 ERA in 43.1 innings of work. He added 28 strikeouts and one save.
This team’s leadership will undoubtedly be tested opening weekend. With veterans like Jim Haley and Tyler Kendall now graduated, it will be interesting to see who steps in to fill their role in the locker room. One player to keep your eyes on is senior outfielder Nick Riotto. The left-handed hitting Riotto has recorded more than 100 at-bats each of the last two seasons. Thanks to a roster loaded with 26 underclassmen, Riotto will be leaned on heavily to guide the younger players through adversity.
Cooper announced his starting rotation on Tuesday afternoon for the series opener down in Texas. Junior right-hander Sal Biasi gets the nod in game one, while lefty classmate Taylor Lehman should start game two. Sophomore right-hander Justin Hagenman takes the ball in the series finale this Sunday.
Penn State’s cleats will hit the infield dirt for the first time this Friday and Cooper isn’t looking for any excuses.
“When we go down to TCU, they’re not gonna give you two extra runs because of the weather up here. You have to be ready to play,” he said.
That’s the attitude the Diamond Lions will need when facing the top-ranked team in the country.