Utah baseball coach Bill Kinneberg doesn’t care.
When the Pac-12 baseball polls were recently released, the Utes were picked to finish last. It’s obvious they aren’t expected to do much. And for a conference that’s traditionally belonged to teams such as Oregon State and Oregon, Utah is thought of as an also-ran.
Utah baseball scouting report
» The Utes are coming off a 21-31 season.
» Utah returns 19 players from last season.
» The Utes started this season with a four-game split at Sacramento State.
But Kinneberg drowns out the noise and the doubters.
"This is a brand new year," Kinneberg said. "It all starts over. The projections that we look at don’t know what they have. So I could really care less about the polls. Our goal is simply to play well this weekend."
The season began last weekend with a four-game split on the road against Sacramento State. Utah is attempting to erase the disappointment of a 21-31 record a year ago.
The Utes were young last season. Kinneberg knew that would be the case. But they were also unhealthy, suffering numerous injuries to key players, and there was no way to predict that. Now, with a youthful group who went through trial by fire last year, Utah’s looking to take a significant step up the Pac-12 ladder.
"We know that we have a chance to be good if we can all stay on the field and stay healthy," starting pitcher Mitch Watrous said. "We’re just trying to go out and get better every time that we play. We’re not worrying about what others are saying about us."
Watrous was Utah’s opening night starter this season, the ace of a young staff that features up-and-comer Dalton Carroll. There are a number of returning players all over. The Utes welcome back seven starters in the field and 19 returnees in all.
It will allow for Kinneberg to play a number of different ways. An aggressive coach, Utah will be able to manufacture runs. They will be able to put power or speed in the lineup. They have a deep and talented pitching staff, and the numbers will allow Kinneberg to mix and match during the nonconference portion of the season.
"These first couple of weeks are for continuing our preparation, getting new guys opportunities and formulating our lineups and pitching roles," Kinneberg said. "We want to make sure that we’re ready to go when conference play hits. We want to see what matchups are going to be best for us."
Kinneberg is particularly excited for Kody Davis and Dallas Carroll. An infielder from Taylorsville, Carroll has the potential to be one of the elite defensive players in the conference. Davis, also out of Taylorsville, started 33 games last season, hitting .273 with seven doubles and 10 RBIs. Those are two cornerstone guys whom the Utes will count on to produce every night.
If Davis and the Carroll brothers continue to improve, Utah has a chance to make that last place prediction look conservative. If Watrous can provide consistency as the top starter, the Utes will have an ace, which is a weapon anywhere.
"The main thing is we have to stay healthy," Kinneberg said. "We’ve been bitten in the last three years. We just need to have a full roster."
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.