LEBANON, Tenn. – Cumberland baseball opens the 2018 season with a three-game series this Friday at Reinhardt University. Woody Hunt enters his 37th season as head coach and 39th year with the Cumberland program, compiling an overall record of 1,529-695-5.
Hunt enters the 2018 campaign as the winningest active coach in the NAIA and fourth all-time in victories among NAIA coaches behind Gordie Gillespie, Ed Cheff and Larry Hays. He stands just 50 victories behind Hays for third place on the all-time list.
The Phoenix return just three everyday starters and three pitchers who tossed more than 30 innings from last season’s club that finished 26-29 overall, 7-11 in Mid-South Conference action. Senior Rayden Sierra was a First Team All-Mid-South selection and senior Hector Morales earned Second Team All-MSC honors in 2017.
This is the first of three season preview installments for the club, with today focusing on infielders and catchers:
Cumberland returns just one everyday infielder in Morales as well as Nick Mira and Jansen Neff behind the plate, though Neff got the bulk of his at-bats last year as the designated hitter or while playing third base.
Morales batted .319, third best on the squad, with 12 doubles, seven homers, 38 RBIs and 44 runs scored in 55 contests. He started 23 games at second base and 31 at shortstop last season but should spend the majority of his time at second base in 2018.
“Hector will be at second and we want to leave him there if we can,” Hunt said. “We kind of moved him around when we lost a couple of infielders [last season], but I think he’s comfortable at second. He’s also one of our key bats so I want to try and get him comfortable defensively.”
Fairfield, Calif., native Boston Romero assumes the shortstop position to start the year. He played two seasons at Sacramento City College in Sacramento, Calif., garnering All-Big 8 Conference honors both years for the Panthers. Romero spent last season at Cal State-Fullerton before transferring to Cumberland.
“We’re excited about Boston at shortstop. He’s really a level-headed kid, has some maturity and just really knows how to play the game. He’s not going to wow you all the time, but he’s going to be a very steady force for us. And he’s got the kind of makeup [to hit in the leadoff spot]. He’s just a baseball player that knows how to get on base, knows how to steal bases.”
Carlos Moseley, Jared Schmidt, Andy Garretson and Mykel Gordon will battle for playing time at the corner spots with at least one or maybe two individuals seeing time in the outfield as well.
Moseley and Garretson both hail from California, with Moseley transferring from San Joaquin Delta College in California and Garretson making his way to Lebanon from Cal State-San Marcos, a former NAIA school that has just moved to NCAA Division II. Garretson batted .369 with 17 doubles, three triples and eight home runs as well as 37 RBIs and 32 runs scored last season at San Marcos.
“Moseley [will be] one of our key bats, and he will play somewhere,” Hunt said. “And Andy will help us in a variety of places – at first base, in the outfield, and pitching.”
Schmidt spent the last two seasons at Dyersburg State Community College and is a product of Germantown Houston High School in the Memphis area. He batted .331 with seven homers, 41 RBIs and 58 runs scored last year. Gordon earned team MVP honors at Seminole State College following the 2017 campaign.
“Jared can play first and third, but we may push him to first base to start the year. Mykel played third last year and was an All-Conference player in Florida. He can play outfield and he’s comfortable with that, or it may be Schmidt that we move out there. We just don’t know right now."
Coach Hunt talked about the versatility of the four players and how those contributions can make a big difference for this year’s team.
“It’s a matter of getting guys comfortable, maybe in new spots. We’ve got to play them both because of their bats. We do have some versatility in our infield with guys that can swing the bat.
“This is a group of guys that can play the game and who aren’t just offensive-minded. They can play defense as well.”
Behind the plate, Mira started 33 contests and added another 11 as the designated hitter, batting .300 with 11 doubles, three home runs and 21 RBIs in 49 contests. He also drew 26 walks and brings the added flexibility as a switch hitter.
“We expect a lot out of [Nick] this year in leadership and offensively ability,” Hunt said. “I think he’s going to be a really good hitter again this year and he’s gotten better behind the plate. He’s going to have to be in the lineup every day because of his bat. He just stands out offensively.”
Neff and newcomer Jacob Herrera, a transfer from Bakersfield College in California, will push Mira for playing time.
“They’re pushing for playing time and as you well know, you’ve got to have two catchers at least, sometimes three, but those guys will share the time. I’m excited from an offensive standpoint what we can do behind the plate. I think we’re going to be very steady at that spot.”