The West Florida baseball Argonauts open the 2018 season on Friday, hoping to improve over 2017. The Argos posted a 28-23 mark last season, finishing sixth in the Gulf South Conference tournament and unranked nationally.
“My job is to try to lead this team and build a culture and a team that they’re more than just playing for themselves,” said Head Coach Mike Jeffcoat, who enters his thirtheenth year in the dugout.
He says part of that job has moved from the diamond to cyberspace.
“In today’s society, our student-athletes are bombarded with the [sic] social media,” Jeffcoat says. “It’s our job to make sure they are appreciative; understand that it’s a privilege to do what we do and to represent this great university and the Pensacola community.”
Echoing the coach’s sentiments is infielder/outfielder Nick Kerkmann, a senior from Oviedo.
“You get with a group of guys and sometimes you automatically click and sometimes you shy away,” Kerkmann said. “With this group, everyone just gets along with each other and it’s fun to be around them all the time.”
The first order of business has been rebuilding a pitching rotation around Jared Middleton, Trace Penton, and Jared Gonzalez. All three had at least four starts and 15 appearances last season, but Jeffcoat continues to seek that “dominant arm.”
“Baseball-wise, you talk about the 90-plus mph type guy; we have a few guys that can touch that, but they’re going to pitch in the 85-88 range so we have more of those guys that are similar,” Jeffcoat said. “But my pitching philosophy has always been [that] I don’t break out the radar gun, I’m not as concerned with it. It’s a matter of changing speeds how to locate the fastball in and out and get the hitters off-balance.”
West Florida returns 12 position players, including a half dozen starters from 2017 Among the latter is senior infielder Nick Strasser from Orlando -- whose season last year was cut short by an injury.
“[It was] very tough, considering the fact that I started every [game] freshman year and sophomore year, and have that injury,” said Strasser. “I’m excited to be back and ready to get going.”
“If you look at [Strasser’s and Kerkmann’s] careers, you look at the stats; both of these guys when they’ve been in the lineup every day, both of them have hit over .300,” said Jeffcoat. “Which is being consistent and being productive.”
At this stage of preparation, the eleventh hour before the start of the season, Jeffcoat says you see both good and bad, which is tough to evaluate.
“I think our lineup is swinging the bat real well and they’re giving our pitchers fits,” said Jeffcoat. “But, we definitely want to have guys that can come in and throw strikes; that’s why we build our team around the pitching and the defense.”
West Florida will begin its 50-game season on Friday against Florida Southern in Lakeland; the home opener is a week later with Rollins College. In all, the Argos have 11 non-conference games before starting Gulf South Conference play against North Alabama in Florence on February 24.