College of Charleston baseball coach Monte Lee says all of the pieces are there for the Cougars to be successful this season. He's just not sure where to place those pieces, since many of his players can fit nicely into a number of spots on the field.
For example, last year's Southern Conference player of the year, third baseman Matt Leeds, may be playing at third or he could be across the infield at first base this year. And Leeds isn't even the preseason favorite for SoCon player of the year. That honor belongs to Cougars center fielder Cole Rakar.
Charleston's personnel losses from last season's 44-19 squad are minimal.
"Our expectations are really high. We expect to be a good club this year. But the season hasn't even started yet," said Lee, whose team was picked by both the coaches and the media to win this year's Southern Conference title.
"Right now we're really trying to focus on getting better day by day, trying to figure out all of our roles and possibilities for our position players, our bench players and our pitching roles. Going into the season, we have high expectations, but we haven't done anything or accomplished anything yet."
Charleston returns catcher Rob Kral, who batted .344 and hit 15 home runs. Also back are Leeds (.326, 21 home runs, 88 RBIs) and shortstop Jamie Holler (.286), "who really came on toward the year offensively," Lee said. Back in the outfield are Rakar (.378) and Jose Rodriguez (.355, 16 HR).
Lee is confident that the Cougars have some solid players to fill the empty slots, both newcomers and returnees.
"Rob Harding (a junior out of Spartanburg Methodist) is one of the best players we brought in and is going to have an immediate impact," Lee said. "He's pushing to be an everyday player. It's just a matter of what we do with him. He's a very good defender at third, a solid defender at second. He could play first. He could play just about anywhere."
Marty Gantt, also from Spartanburg Methodist, could make the biggest impact of all the newcomers. Gantt is expected to start in right field.
"He's a really, really good player. He can swing the bat, can really run and is going to be a very big left-handed arm out of the bullpen," Lee said.
Lee said he thinks the Cougars' pitching will be improved from last season.
"I feel like we're deeper," he said. "My first recruiting class, it's paid dividends for those guys throwing as many innings as they did last year for us. David Peterson (8-3, 5.30 ERA) has been in our weekend rotation for two years. Josh Salay (2-3) will possibly be our Saturday or Sunday starter. And we have Christian Powell (7-4, 6.84 ERA), who pitched every weekend for us last year as a true freshman."
Also returning is Casey Lucchese (4-0, 3.18 ERA), the Cougars' top reliever last year.
Lee will begin to learn more about his team when the Cougars open their season Friday at home against Kentucky.