23. CENTRAL MISSOURI MULES (36-13)

CENTRAL MISSOURI MULES (36-13)
The Mules of Central Missouri are one of a few teams that can be penciled in every year for a spot in the preseason rankings. The program is repeatedly one of the most dominant in the nation and each season reloads with top talent. This year won’t be any different for the boys from Warrensburg. UCM has retained several top hitters along with a cache of impressive arms which make the Mules contenders once again.

The Mules return their starting outfield with Kevin Gratza, Trevor Jones and Brad Wilson all back to roam the grass. Gratza was an All American Honorable Mention after pacing the team with a .371 batting average. He had 16 multi-hit games last season and struck out only 14 times while accumulating a .572 slugging percentage. Jones was third on the team in hitting at .364 and let the club with 19 stolen bases. Wilson hit .335, had double-digit stolen bases and was second on the team with a .455 on base percentage.  Head Coach Tom Myers expects Crowder College transfer Tony Sandifer to contribute and fill some offense holes left by graduating seniors. Sandifer was the MVP for the Roughriders last season after batting .393 with 60 RBI.  Strong armed infielder Brad Jelinek, who was a Missouri All State selection as a graduating senior last season, is also expected to be an impact player for the Mules.

The biggest question mark for the Mules headed into 2014 is their lack of experienced, quality starting pitching.  Jake Heissler was dominating as a middle reliever last season, going 5-0 with a 2.01 ERA and Zach Davis did a fine job as a closer with seven saves; however they’ll need someone to toss the first few innings if they are going to stay in the bullpen. The return of Kurtis Schuyler does give the team one experienced starter as he started 12 games last year, but despite striking out 50 batters in 55.2 innings with only six walks, Schuyler had a robust 5.01 ERA. Schuyler does have the ability to be a big time pitcher for the Mules and was a second team All-MIAA selection in 2012 after going 9-2 with a 2.53 ERA. Devon Brogan could also be an innings eater as he was promising in a relief role last year. Brogan went 5-1 with a 3.81 ERA in sixteen appearances. An emerging ace of the staff could be transfer Kyle Gehrs who has impressed in collegiate stops in Oklahoma State and Iowa Western Community College. Last season for the Cowboys, Gehrs had a 1.26 ERA in sixteen appearances and struck out 14 batters in 14.1 innings on the mound.