The Missouri State baseball team has been a perennial power under the tenure of longtime head coach Keith Guttin.
But the Bears reached uncharted territory in 2019 — and not the good kind.
The 2019 season was arguably the most forgettable season in program history. Missouri State lost a program-high 36 games.
“I think you take what you can from it,” Guttin said. “We were able to get a lot of younger players a lot of experience. They grew through that. You certainly don’t dwell on it. You take what you can. I don’t think it’s indicative of the type of team we’ve had in the past and anticipate having in the future.
“You wear it, and you move on.”
The Bears entered the fall offseason without All-American catcher Drew Millas and left-handed pitcher Davis Schwab, who continued their baseball careers in the Oakland Athletics and Atlanta Braves organizations, respectively, this past summer.
Missouri State also lost Brooks Zimmerman and Jake Lochner, who both graduated.
The Bears beat Drury 15-0 and Wichita State in their fall exhibition games on Sept. 21 and Oct. 5, respectively.
“Encouraged” was the word Guttin used to describe what he took away from the team this fall.
“I thought some of the guys over the summer got better,” Guttin said. “I liked what I saw there. I thought we had some contributors up-and-down the lineup offensively.
“It’s a very short sample size. We will have more pitching depth if we’re healthy. We are certainly trending that way with the guys we had last year.”
With empty spots in the lineup and pitching staff, Guttin will look at returners and newcomers to decide who should fill the roles.
Sophomore Dakota Kotowski returns after earning Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year honors last year. He finished the year batting .288 with 12 home runs and 29 RBIs. The Bears will build around his bat for the next two to three seasons.
“He works very hard on his game,” Guttin said. “We see him continuing to grow as a player.”
Missouri State also brings back key experience in seniors Jack Duffy, Ben Whetstone, John Privitera and Logan Geha.
Duffy and Whetstone are the notable names from that group. Duffy led the team in hitting with a .305 batting average last spring. Whetstone hit just .240, but slugged seven homers, and drove in a team-high 32 runs as a run-producer in the middle of the order.
On the mound, the Bears will once again have senior Logan Wiley, who anchored the rotation last spring. He had a 3.67 ERA over 15 starts for Missouri State in 2019.
Guttin looks for Wiley to be a stabilizing presence in the rotation once again this spring.
“The same thing we have always seen,” Guttin said. “He gives you consistency. You know what you are getting with him. He throws a lot of strikes. He has quality pitches. He is going to keep you in every game.”
Sophomore Hayden Juenger also returns after posting a 4.58 ERA over 26 games as a freshman.
The Bears open the season on the road at Central Arkansas on Feb. 14.
“Expectations are to play hard all the time,” Guttin said. “We want to play as close as we can as well as we can everyday. I’m looking for consistency and effort. I think we are going to get that. I think we will have some player leadership.
“Our expectation is always to try to compete for championships.”