Season preview: Mizzou baseball ready for 2021 after 11-month offseason
Missouri baseball was riding high about a year ago, on a seven-game winning streak and flying to Alabama for its Southeastern Conference opener.
As the Tigers deplaned from to their connecting flight in Chicago, the news came down. There wasn't going to be a weekend series and the rest of their season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
MU has patiently waited nearly 340 days for its next game. And while Columbia is covered in a blanket of snow, the Tigers head to Phoenix for four games against Grand Canyon to open the 2021 season.
The first game is set for Friday at 4 p.m.
"I think the way that we looked at it is almost, it was a blessing," Missouri head coach Steve Bieser said. "It gave us time to recollect and start getting things even more organized. When our staff has constantly been adjusting with guys getting a chance to move on to professional baseball, it always seemed like we were just kind of rushing through things to try to get everybody on the same page.
"But we had a chance to step back, really gather all the information that we have on this team, gather the recruiting classes and really focus and center in on what we know, what's going to take us to that next level."
MLB plucked some Missouri baseball players, but Bieser remains confident
Two years ago, Missouri was one of the "first four out" of the NCAA Tournament and was 11-5 when the remainder of the 2020 season was wiped out.
Some top-level talent has moved on to the professional ranks from those teams — Kameron Misner and TJ Sikkema were top-40 draft picks in the 2019 MLB Draft to the Marlins and Yankees, respectively.
Last summer, pitcher Ian Bedell was drafted by the Cardinals and Pete Zimmermann was a free agent signing of the Astros.
Despite being picked to finish second-to-last in the Southeastern Conference this season by the league's head coaches, Bieser has plenty of faith in the group that'll converge on Taylor Stadium's home dugout.
Bieser wants to move away from positions where committees of players get routine playing time and try to lock down a consistent batting order as much as possible.
What will Missouri's pitching rotation look like?
On the mound, the Tigers' rotation is still coming together, but some assignments are already known.
"We're going to give guys that have earned that opportunity to come in and throw the opportunity to do just that," Bieser said. "Spencer (Miles) is more than a three-inning guy and he's a guy that's kind of earned that role to be that Friday night guy, to be the guy that's going to secure us a great start on every weekend. But he's not built up to throw seven, eight or nine innings right now. He's built up to be a solid six for us."
Miles, a former Rock Bridge standout, is one of several hometown players to on the Tigers' roster this spring.
"It's very special. My brother (John) played here. So, I get to carry on this tradition, the hometown hero kind of," Miles said. "I get to make everyone proud, invite people out to the game, hopefully. I kind of want to put the city on the map and win games. Being a Missouri Tiger is everything to me, it's kind of my dream. I was playing 12-year baseball when my brother's playing at Mizzou. So, it's super special to carry on that and then play under Coach Bieser is also very special."
A look ahead to Missouri baseball's schedule
The Tigers are scheduled to open their 2021 home slate next weekend against Omaha. Missouri's first SEC series is March 19-21 at Kentucky, with its first conference matchups in Columbia the following weekend against defending national champion Vanderbilt.
On March 30 and May 18, the Tigers will play mid-week games against Kansas with the first Border War matchup taking place in Lawrence and the later in Columbia. Other nonconference opposition includes Saint Louis, Kansas State and Missouri State.
The Tigers finish the season with a three-game set against Auburn from May 20-22, with details for this season's SEC Tournament yet to be announced.
"We've got a good, solid group of guys who will kind of stay in the lineup. Then, guys who will know their role as either a defensive replacement, pinch runners and I feel like everyone's kind of going to gel together with that," Missouri infielder Luke Mann said. "... This year, there hasn't really been an easy day in practice. Before when we've inter-squad (games) and stuff, you'd have your Friday and Saturday guys and then all of a sudden, like it tempo down a little bit. But every time you step in the box, there's the guy up on the mound who's ready to compete and blow you away. So, I'm not necessarily going to say there's any easy day. So, I think with that kind of preparation every day throughout the fall, (that) will lead us into expecting competitive at-bats and ready to be ready to rock and roll in the box this year."
Contact Eric Blum at email@example.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.