UPDATE: Rain washed out the scheduled Fresno State baseball season-opener Friday night. The game has been rescheduled as part of a Saturday doubleheader beginning at 12:05 p.m.
Time to find out if Fresno State’s massive youth movement from a year ago will lead to bigger dividends this season.
A year after doling out playing time to as many as 13 freshmen, Bulldogs coach Mike Batesole will rely heavily on those same young players as sophomores as he chases career win No. 800.
Fresno State kicks off the 2019 season Friday, hosting Utah Valley for a four-game series at Beiden Field. The first pitch is 6:05 p.m.
Batesole sits on 799 career wins heading into his 17th season at Fresno State and 23rd year as an NCAA Division I head coach.
Despite going young last year, the Bulldogs finished with a winning record overall at 30-24.
But they also were exposed during much of Mountain West play, going 13-17 for fifth place in the seven-team conference and failing to qualify for the four-team conference tournament.
Will a more experienced and mature roster, which includes 24 returnees in all, help make the Bulldogs a championship contender?
Fresno State was predicted to finish third in the conference according to the Mountain West preseason coaches’ poll behind San Diego State (39-21, 18-12) and Nevada (29-24, 20-9). Nevada finished first in the 2018 regular season but San Diego State won the conference tournament and NCAA bid.
Fresno State sophomore left-handed pitcher Nikoh Mitchell was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Preseason Watch List.
In 57 2/3 innings last year, Mitchell struck out 53 and went 4-3 with a 3.28 ERA. He also held opponents to a Mountain West-low .197 batting average.
Fellow sophomores JT Arruda and Jaime Arias also are coming off big years as newcomers.
Arruda hit .305 with eight homers to earn the Mountain West Freshman of the Year award.
Arias received Freshman All-America honors after going 5-1 with a 3.69 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings.
Upper-class leadership comes from the Bulldogs’ two preseason All-Mountain West picks, senior outfielder Zach Ashford and junior catcher Carter Bins.
Ashford hit .352 with an .895 on-base percentage last season, and Bins batted .310 with seven homers and an .898 OPS.