This is a squad that really struggled last year offensively on the way to a 20-31 overall record. They took two of three on the road against Florida A&M to start the 2015 season. Marshall outscored the Rattlers 34-11 in the final two games of the series. Here are the players to keep an eye on this weekend as the Thundering Herd take on the Bulldogs.
Corey Bird: He was the best hitter on a struggling Marshall team last season that hit a putrid .232 at the plate. Bird hit at a .292 clip, had 20 walks, and stole 14 bases in 19 attempts on his way to earning a spot on the C-USA All-Freshman Team. The speedy outfielder had six hits in 14 at bats last weekend against Florida A&M and drove in a team leading seven runs.
Caleb Ross: The junior relief pitcher broke the school record for appearances in a season with 36 in 2014. He had a 2-0 record with a 2.29 ERA in 19.2 innings pitched. Opponents hit .171 against the left-hander. He made two appearances against Florida A&M and did not give up an earned run.
TJ Diffenderfer: Although his average was not all that impressive, Diffenderfer had a slugging percentage of .417 and a team leading OBP of .379 last season. He also led the team with 29 RBI's and 13 extra base hits, four of which were homeruns. He's a player that will hit for power, especially with the new low-seem ball. Diffenderfer hit .333 with a homerun against Florida A&M. Marshall hit four homeruns as a team in the opening weekend after only hitting seven all of last season.
Like Marshall, the Alabama A&M Bulldogs also struggled last season, finishing 21-32. Pitching is a big concern, especially the bullpen. However, they are a team that can score a lot of runs when they are clicking offensively. A&M dropped three of four games last weekend to Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne. They gave up 29 runs in the three losses, but did score 14 runs in the lone victory. Here are the impact performers for the Bulldogs.
Andrew Utterback: Utterback, a senior outfielder, was named the 2014 SWAC hitter of the year after hitting an impressive .398 with five homeruns and 42 RBI's last season. He had a slugging percentage of .579 and an OBP of .509. Alabama A&M might not play the best of competition, but those numbers are impressive no matter who you're playing. He struggled in the first four games of this season hitting just .167, but I wouldn't expect that slump to continue.
Brandyn Crutcher: Another outfielder, Crutcher joined Utterback on the preseason All-SWAC First Team. He hit for average (.322) but made the biggest impact with his speed. He stole 18 bases in 22 attempts. He won't hit for power, but he puts the ball in play and forces a lot of pressure on opposing defenses. He went 6-for-8 in the leadoff spot last weekend, including three doubles and a triple.
Julio Nunez: Nunez provides the power for the Bulldog hitting attack. He is not your typical second baseman. On top of his .332 average, he led the team in both homeruns (8) and RBI's (45). He showed some speed as well, stealing 14 bases. Nunez was the only Bulldog to hit a homerun last weekend against IPFW.