Following a season where it finished 34-14, won the Big Ten Conference by 3.5 games and reached a regional final for the first time since 2007, the Nebraska baseball team will be looking to replace key pieces it lost from last year’s team.
Head coach Will Bolt will lead a group with 18 new faces—15 freshmen, two transfer pitchers and one junior college catcher. Gone is Big Ten Player of the Year, Spencer Schwellenbach, and pitcher Cade Povich, who were taken 59th and 98th overall in the Major League Baseball Draft, respectively. Jaxon Hallmark and Cam Wynne also signed with MLB clubs.
On a sunny and bright Tuesday afternoon, Bolt, along with players Cam Chick and Kyle Perry, met with media before the team held its first fall practice at Haymarket Park in Lincoln.
One of the biggest takeaways from the media availability was the competition—there will be plenty of it, especially in the outfield, where Mojo Hagge, “is not back for his 10th year of eligibility,” Bolt joked.
There are several players Bolt thinks can take over the three outfield spots, however.
“We have a lot of talented guys, guys who redshirted last year that probably in a normal year you would’ve seen get at-bats that went off and had really good summers,” he said. “We got some guys who maybe were injured that you didn’t see, some really talented incoming players that we recruited to come make an impact right away.”
Bolt mentioned that the incoming freshman class is all like-minded, and that’s by design on the recruiting trail.
“The talent has to be first and foremost, obviously, that’s what gets your foot in the door, but we’re trying to recruit guys who are like-minded that are here to win championships and here to be great teammates and the work ethic piece that it takes,” Bolt said. “If winning was easy, everybody would do it— you just show up and put on the uniform. But there’s a lot that goes into it. So I think these guys are all here not for individual accolades, but to help win championships.”
Helping guide Bolt’s new team is his mentor, Rob Childress, who joined Bolt’s staff this season after being the head coach at Texas A&M since 2006. Childress won’t be coaching the players, but instead helping them deal with the mental part of baseball.
“He can just bring them along off the field, put his arm around them when he needs to, challenge them when he needs to,” Bolt said. “It’s not a coaching position, so he won’t be able to coach their swings or delivery. But getting inside their head a little bit and seeing what makes them tick, he’s always been great at that anyway as a coach, and to have all of his time spent on the mental side of things I think is going to be a huge part of our team.”
On the injury front, highly-touted freshman Chase Mason, an outfielder and pitcher from South Dakota, will be limited this fall, Bolt said. Perry, a starting left-hander, and a few other arms won’t be pushed either.
Perry is a player that Bolt expects to take the next step as a leader.
“To have a couple guys who had a chance to go play professional baseball, him (Perry) being one of them that decided, ‘Hey, I need to come back, we have unfinished business,’ or, ‘I need to fine-tune something here or there so I’m more ready.’ So having a guy like him back is going to be huge for us,” Bolt said.
Other news and notes:
>> Nebraska will scrimmage three days a week this fall, which is a change from last year when the team scrimmaged two days a week. Bolt said you’ll see the Huskers stretch out a fair amount of pitchers. “We probably have more guys who will go two, maybe three innings this fall, maybe you’re looking at seven or eight of those guys.”
>> Gunner Hellstrom is now Coach Hellstrom. Hellstrom, who earned a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman Team during his first year at Nebraska in 2018, will forgo his last year of eligibility and be a student assistant with the Huskers while he works on his degree.
>> Perry was shut down after the regional against Arkansas and is working to get back to 100 percent. But he knows the goal that the team has set. “That’s going to be the expectation for many years to come, is to get that automatic regional bid first and foremost,” Perry said. “And then obviously get the job done, hopefully at home this time around and moving forward make that trip on I-80.”
>> Perry said that getting to Omaha is talked about quite frequently within the team. “Omaha gets talked about every day, whether that’s in the weight room where I need to go write Omaha on the white board or we’re up here running at 6 in the morning, it’s talked about on the last leg of whatever conditioning we’re doing. It’s that trip to Omaha.”
>> According to Perry, Childress’ presence is already rubbing off on the team. “He has obviously a wealth of knowledge and I think everyone is on board with trying to pick his brain. He really is a baseball genius if you get to hear him talk. It’s been really nice having him around and he’s already brought some of that intensity that he just brings naturally to the program and that’s very helpful for all of us to buy into.”
>> Chick said that he competed in the Cape Cod League over the summer and that he just got cleared to play following surgery. He’s a player who can play multiple positions, and that will be determined once the season gets closer. “It’s kind of the same thing as last year, it’s wherever they (coaches) see fit. I’m pretty versatile and will play wherever they need me, so wherever the coaches say they need me I’ll show up that day and give it my best shot. But right now, I think outfield for sure, but obviously infield and second base again.”