LINCOLN — Nebraska’s less than two weeks away from the start of the 2016 season and its coach is indicating that several underclassmen are pushing unsuspecting veterans for their jobs.
Darin Erstad didn’t give a position-by-position report at a press conference Monday, but he did say that he’s not yet sure who’ll be starting — at any spot.
“I’ve seen some hunger in these younger guys and I’ve seen some coasting in our older guys,” Erstad said. “Our younger guys are flat-out beating them out of positions right now.”
Nebraska only has five seniors and seven juniors on its current roster, but almost all of them are expected to play key roles this year.
Erstad’s message Monday was that they better be ready to earn their innings and at-bats. They’re running out of time to do that, too, because the season begins on Feb. 19 with a weekend series at College of Charleston.
“If you think you’re going to come out and cruise through, and think you have something locked up — unfortunately, for those particular individuals, there are some young guys that are pretty good,” Erstad said.
Erstad said junior pitcher Derek Burkamper, who made 12 starts and recorded a 3.84 ERA last year, will be suspended for the season’s first two weekends because of a team rules violation. Senior Colton Howell, transitioning from a reliever to a starter, is still adjusting to extended work, according to Erstad.
“I have no problems starting two freshmen on the weekends, if that’s what it’s going to take,” Erstad said.
Working back to health
Erstad indicated that he plans to be cautious with a few players who spent the offseason getting back to full strength.
Shortstop Steven Reveles received a medical hardship waiver after a finger injury sidelined him last year — but he dealt with unrelated arm soreness during the summer and the fall. He said he feels fine. Erstad, though, plans to limit Reveles early.
Senior catcher Taylor Fish (hamstring) and sophomore Scott Schreiber (back) will also be monitored closely in February.
“I can anticipate seeing a bunch of different types of lineups,” Erstad said.
No predictions from Erstad
Erstad’s not exactly sure how the Big Ten race will shake out or how the league will build off its banner year in 2015. He’s focused on improving his team.
Like the Huskers, several teams in the conference have holes to fill, according to Erstad. A season after five Big Ten teams earned spots in the NCAA tournament, none were ranked in the D1Baseball.com preseason Top 25 poll.
But he hasn’t spent much time coming up with his own set of predictions.
“To say who’s going to take that next step — I don’t know,” Erstad said. “I know one thing, we’ve got to find out how good we’re going to be. I honestly couldn’t care less about anybody else right now.”
Perfect Game picked Nebraska to finish sixth in the league. D1Baseball.com had NU finishing fifth in its projections Monday.
The Huskers were eighth-place finishers in the league standings last season, their worst Big Ten showing under Erstad. They were second the two seasons before that, and fourth in 2012.
The top eight Big Ten teams will earn spots in the conference tournament in May. The event will be held at TD Ameritrade Park.