Kansas baseball kicks off its 2023 season with a road trip to Corpus Christi, Texas to face off against Valparaiso on Friday, and this season brings some unfamiliar faces to the program that finished last in the Big 12 Conference last season.
Coming off a 20-35 season finish while going just 4-20 in conference play, Kansas saw the retirement of the program’s all-time winningest coach Ritch Price after 20 seasons with the Jayhawks. With former LSU assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, Dan Fitzgerald taking the reins, Kansas continues to build on the culture change headed into the season.
The 2022 season saw a .270 team batting average for the Jayhawks, ranking seventh in the Big 12. Junior infielder Maui Ahuna led a struggling Kansas team offensively last season, slashing .396/.479/.634 in his sophomore season.
However, with Ahuna announcing his transfer to Tennessee in June, Kansas lost its most valuable bat in the lineup, but a productive offseason put the Jayhawks in line to fill his void.
Pulling in 18 transfers in the offseason, the Jayhawks transfer class was ranked No. 24 in the country by D1 Baseball, and No. 25 by Baseball America. Even more impressively, the Jayhawks’ junior college transfer class ranks No. 1 in the country by Perfect Game while adding 13 total signees to the 2023 recruiting class.
“We are really excited about our recruiting class,” Fitzgerald said in a November press release. “We feel like we addressed a number of needs, and most importantly, we feel like we have added great people to our Jayhawk family.”
Among the 18 transfers, infielders Collier Crawford and Luke Leto followed Fitzgerald from LSU.
“I just trusted him. It wasn’t necessarily one thing he said,” Crawford said in a press conference on Tuesday. “I knew obviously about Kansas basketball and the sports teams around Kansas. I knew that he had a vision, and that baseball was going to be that one day. Grow and be what we are trying to make it.”
The transfer class includes some powerful bats headlining the group, including infielder Jackson Cobb and outfielder Sam Hunt. Cobb slashed .360/.458/.547 at Crowder Community College last season following his brief stint with Big 12 foe Texas Tech. Hunt, having similar roots with the Red Raiders, slashed .348/.475/.457 in 22 games at Texas Tech last season.
Other offensive highlights include outfielder Janson Reeder from Cowley College and Mike Koszewskk from Wabash Valley College. The two were ranked in the Top 50 Impact JUCO Transfers per D1 Baseball, both slashing .391/.495/.621 and .420/.531/.571.
Though the offense contained notable gaps to be filled, the biggest need for Kansas this offseason was undoubtedly pitching. Ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 274 across all Division 1 teams, Jayhawk pitching posted an overall team ERA of 7.96. With opponents posting a .305 batting average against Kansas, the Jayhawk pitching staff allowed the most home runs in the conference at 99 and averaged 11.30 hits allowed per game.
Of the 18 transfers added, 10 pitchers highlighted the transfer class, including righty junior Thaniel Trumper. Coming in from Doane University as a 2022 NAIA All-American Honorable Mention, Trumper posted a 1.19 ERA for the Tigers last season while going 9-0 with 49 strikeouts.
Righty graduate Collin Baumgartner joins the transfer class and receives the Opening Day nod for the Jayhawks. In 13 starts at SIU-Edwardsville last season, Baumgartner posted a 6.50 ERA and 38 strikeouts across 54 innings pitched.
Looking ahead to the opening series, the Jayhawks face the Valparaiso Beacons for the first time in the program’s history. At a neutral site at Whataburger Field, Kansas and Fitzgerald are ready to show what the new regime will look like for the program.
“I’m really thankful and beyond blessed to be here, and to be here with my staff, guys I really wanted to do this with, and then really just our entire team and support staff,” Fitzgerald said on Tuesday. “Everyone has worked really hard, so yeah, I’m super excited. These guys have worked their tails off, and we are ready for weekend one.”
The first pitch is set for Friday at 3 p.m. Streaming is available through a FloBaseball subscription, with audio through Jayhawk Sports Network.