Hitting figures to be key as Air Force baseball seeks to continue improvement

February 15, 2017 Updated: February 15, 2017 at 7:49 pm
photo - Tyler Jones.  Photo by Jason Gutierrez.
Tyler Jones. Photo by Jason Gutierrez. 

Air Force hitters posted the third-best batting average in the nation last year.

And virtually everybody is back for the Falcons, who are fresh off their first winning season since 1995.

"From an offensive standpoint, we think we're as good as anybody in the conference," said preseason All-American Tyler Jones, who led the Mountain West in home runs (19) and RBIs (64) last year.

Jones, center fielder Adam Groesbeck, second baseman Bradley Haslam and third baseman Nic Ready earned preseason all-Mountain West honors - giving the Falcons more than any other team in the league.

Air Force opens the season in Baton Rouge, La., on Friday with a day-night doubleheader against Army and No. 4 LSU.

As the Falcons seek their fifth straight year of improvement, it is the offense that is expected to lead. And understandably so, as the team hit .325 last year and brings back five players who have started for three years and Ready, the conference's co-Freshman of the Year last season.

That the Falcons were picked just fifth in the conference reflects questions about the pitching staff.

Left-hander Jacob DeVries, considered the fifth-best pro prospect in the Mountain West, returns, but the team loses co-Mountain West Pitcher of the Year Griffin Jax after he was drafted in the third round by the Minnesota Twins. Jax remains a cadet, but is no longer eligible.

Into Jax's place steps touted freshman Evan Floyd. Other projected starters are Matt Hargreaves and Nick Biancalana, with submarine-throwing Nate Stanford stepping in as the new closer.

"Our pitching is going to have more depth, but when you lose a 10-game winner who won a third of our games, that's a hard kid to replace," coach Mike Kazlausky said. "We're just going to have to find young men who will go up there and eat up the innings that Griffin did last year."

Jax can't play, but he has still found a way to contribute by throwing batting practice.

"It's great for our first-team lineup to be able to face a third-round draft pick," Kazlausky said. "I think that's great competition, especially when we're going to be coming out of the chute playing Army and LSU."

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