Kennesaw State baseball enters 2021 season with crowded roster

Kennesaw State’s Mike Sansing has coached the baseball team since 1992. (Kennesaw State)
Kennesaw State’s Mike Sansing has coached the baseball team since 1992. (Kennesaw State)

Mike Sansing has spent over 30 years coaching college baseball. He has never had a roster as big as the one this year at Kennesaw State.

The Owls have 42 players, seven more than the usual maximum of 35. The NCAA lifted the roster limit for 2021 and allowed schools to grant an extra season of eligibility. Last season was cut short because of COVID-19. Kennesaw State had a 10-8 record and never began its Atlantic Sun schedule. ASUN coaches picked the Owls to finish sixth out of nine teams this season.

Last year’s starting outfielders — Terence Norman, Garrett Hodges and Alex Carballo — return as fifth-year seniors. Sansing said he is grateful to have them roaming the outfield again.

“Terence and Garrett have been in the program for five years now,” Sansing said. “Their value is not just their play. Their value is their leadership and their team concept that both of them have. So there’s a lot to having them back.”

Norman finished the 2018 and 2019 seasons as first-team All-ASUN selections. In 2020, he ranked fifth among Owls players in hits and had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.

Hodges led the Owls and ranked second in the ASUN with 23 hits in the shortened 2020 season. He split time in left and right field.

D1 Baseball tabbed Carballo, a center fielder who bats leadoff, as the league’s most impressive hitter last season. Sansing praised the defensive range of Carballo, who transferred from Broward College before the 2019 season.

For all the outfielders’ benefits, their return only expands an already bloated depth chart. Sansing added eight transfers in October, including six pitchers. Three freshmen also joined the 14 already on the team. Players’ classifications from last year didn’t change.

In total, the Owls have eight seniors, six juniors, 11 sophomores and 17 freshmen. Spreading playing time around will be challenging, Sansing said.

The coaching staff tried to evaluate its talent during fall practice. The pitching staff in particular will be a puzzle. Sophomore Jared Rine and junior Ryan Kennedy both made four starts last season and figure to play important roles again this season.

The Owls also brought in right-hander Andrew Grogan, a graduate transfer from North Carolina. He made 21 appearances and seven starts for the Tar Heels in 2019, compiling a 4-2 record and 34 strikeouts. He won the 2017 and 2018 junior-college national championship with Chipola College.

The bullpen was inexperienced last season and received zero reps against conference opponents. Brayden Eidson and Monty Horn led the Owls with six appearances each. Both kept their ERA below 3.50.

Kennesaw State has two starting infielders to replace: first baseman Justin Russell and second baseman Marcerio Allen. Redshirt freshman Logan Fink received some reps at first base in 2020. The Owls likely will rely on transfers Jake Coro and Gavin Patel at second base. Ryan Smith made 10 starts last season as a sophomore, but is no longer on the roster.

Sophomore Tyler Tolve and freshman Nick Hassan provide Sansing flexibility. Both are middle-of-the-order hitters who can catch and play other positions.

Innings are up for grabs starting Friday when Kennesaw State opens its season against Saint Louis University at Stillwell Stadium.

The Owls will find that they’re not the only ones with a large roster. When they look across the diamond against Stetson on May 15, they will see 48 players in the Hatters’ dugout.

During a pandemic, more players might actually be a good thing. Any COVID-19 issues would make the large roster a moot point. The Owls have taken precautions, including closing the locker room to limit close contact.

“I think everybody in the country is in the same situation,” Sansing said. “We just have to manage it as best we know how.”

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