Penn State lost a multitude of talent across the board from last season, but the infield may have taken the biggest hit of any position group.
Among those in the infield who left the off-season program were Parker Hendershot, Justin Williams and Gavin Homer.
While only one of those three players currently plays professional baseball, each played a significant role for the Nittany Lions in 2021.
Luckily for Blue and White, it returns two key pieces to the field, along with all three catchers.
To improve on a mediocre 18-24 season, Coach Rob Cooper needs constant production from his returning players, in addition to freshmen standing up for their skipper.
Penn State will rely on the continued improvement of one of its full-year starters from the 2021 season.
Of all returning infielders, sophomore shortstop Jay Harry took first place in OPS, batting average and RBI during last year’s campaign.
Although Harry is only a sophomore on the Penn State program, it’s easy to see why he’s important to the team’s future success.
The then-freshman started all 42 of the blue-and-white games in the middle infield in 2021 and was once named Big Ten Freshman of the Week.
With the departures of Hendershot, Homer and Williams, Harry is the only returning player from the Penn State starting infield from his last game last year.
The blue and white hopes that his starting shortstop can continue to break out and provide consistency to the infield on both sides of the ball.
The Nittany Lions will look to a graduate utility player to provide solid play in the field when needed.
While Cole Bartels started the opening day at first base, in the team’s last game, the right hand was in the outfield for the blue-white.
Bartels, who is entering his sixth season with Penn State, was on base after one-third of his at bats during his fifth-year campaign, a stat that ranked the team second to last among the players who qualified.
However, the sixth-year player’s strength lies in the field, where he finished third on the team in fielding percentage in 2021, among players with at least 20 putouts, another stat in which he finished third and amassed 142 over the season.
With Hendershot’s departure, expect the 2021 26-game starter to play more consistently for the Nittany Lions in 2022.
From a sixth-year player to a group of guys who haven’t seen the field for Penn State yet, Cooper and his company will look to the newcomers to fill in infield gaps.
The Nittany Lions have five incoming freshmen who are, at least in part, on the 2022 roster as infielders, along with a major transfer addition.
Two freshmen were able to start straight away for Penn State at the corners of the infield, with both positions wide open thanks to last season’s exit.
Third baseman Jake Cooper, son and brother of coach Rob Cooper and catcher Tyson Cooper, and first baseman Connor Throneberry are two highly regarded infielders who could follow the same path as Harry.
Freshmen Ben DeMell and Anthony Steele could also spend time at Penn State in the infield, but appear poised to focus on revamping a pitching unit that lost 10-game starters to Bailey Dees, Conor Larkin and Kyle Virbitsky.
Another incoming player Penn State can look forward to is sophomore transfer CJ Pittaro, who was New Jersey’s No. 6 high school before playing five games with Vanderbilt as a freshman, hitting .333 in his short stint. .
On the other hand, Cooper knows what he will get from one group in 2022.
The catcher position will most likely deploy the two-headed monster approach it did last season, with red shirt sophomore Tyson Cooper once again holding the No. 3 role.
Junior Matt Wood and redshirt junior Josh Spiegel spent most of the 2021 season trading pitches with the designated batter and catcher for blue and white.
While both players finished in the top-five in the team’s RBIs, Wood collected one RBI less than Spiegel, despite having started in one more game.
Despite this, it was Wood who started more games behind the plate, as evidenced by the wide margin in eliminations between the two.
Wood, a second-team All-Big Ten roster last season, will likely take on the most reps behind the plate, with Spiegel dominating the designated batter role and making the occasional first base appearance.
As a result, the roles of these two shouldn’t change much this season from a baseball standpoint, although their leadership role is likely to increase.
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Penn State released its 2022 season schedule on Monday.