Wed. Feb 21st, 2024

Photo Courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Jack Fitzpatrick

JMU Baseball begins its season on Feb. 16 on the road against preseason No. 3 Arkansas. The Dukes first home game at Eagle Field at Veterans Memorial Park is slated for Feb. 21 in a midweek clash against Virginia Tech. 

The Dukes are headed into the ninth season of the Marlin Ikenberry era, which has seen the Dukes go 184-184 with three postseason appearances and a 2-6 conference tournament record. 

This is a key season for the JMU Baseball program. In July of 2022 Ikenberry inked a two year extension which runs through the end of this season.

When that short term extension was signed, which was the second short term extension Ikenberry signed, Athletic Director Jeff Bourne said in a statement:

“Baseball has been a challenging sport to evaluate over the course of the last two or three years,” Bourne said. “Every sport has been impacted by COVID and the overall unique circumstances we’ve navigated, but baseball is so rooted in day-to-day routine and repetition, which became completely disrupted for over two years. This year there were so many bright spots early in the year before the team became decimated by injuries to key players. Marlin addressed some challenges during his tenure and positioned the team for success before the rug got pulled out. As we transition to one of the nation’s top baseball conferences in the Sun Belt, we look forward to Marlin’s potential to recover from these last few years and keep building upwards.”

Jeff Bourne

Over the course of Ikenberry’s JMU coaching career, there have been bright spots, most notably 18 players going pro including Kevin Kelly, a pitcher for the Rays, Nick Robertson, a pitcher now with the St Louis Cardinals and Chase DeLauter, the top prospect in Cleveland’s organization. 

The pitching staff has been exceptionally well equipped during Ikenberry’s run. Of the 18 players to go on to the professional ranks, 10 have been pitchers. 

However over his eight years as the head coach his staffs have finished 9th in 2016, 7th in 2017, 6th in 2018, 1st in 2019, 5th in COVID 2020, 8th in 2021, 5th in 2022 and 8th last season. That 2019 staff had four pros and two pitchers that have appeared in an MLB game. The kicker though is that the 2019 team failed to win a CAA tournament game. 

Now, with over 60 percent of its offensive production returning and over 70 percent of its pitching production coming back, JMU needs to have a year that finishes with a NCAA Tournament appearance. The Dukes have the talent to do just that.

Key Players 

INF/OF Fenwick Trimble | Trimble is the top rated MLB prospect currently on the Dukes roster per Perfect Game. Trimble was a 2022 All-Sun Belt second team member and in 2021 was named to the CAA All-Rookie team. 

Trimble is the most dynamic bat in the Dukes 2024 lineup. He had the best on base percentage a year ago, the second best batting average and was the only JMU player with double digit home runs in 2023 and over 50 RBIs. Trimble was also Top 10 in the conference in slugging percentage.   

LHP T.R. Williams | The Redshirt Sophomore left hander is ranked as the 15th best prospect in the 2024 class per Perfect Game. Williams has a fastball that hits the mid to high 90s which led to him having a 1.1 K/IP in 2023. Williams did have a 5.84 ERA and across the 158 batters he faced he allowed a .214 average. 

RHP Joe Vogatsky | The senior from Warrenton, Va. was a 14th round draft pick in the 2023 MLB Draft and decided to come back to finish out his collegiate career. Vogatsky had a career best 3.34 ERA in 29.2 IP in 2023 with 36 strikeouts and walking just 15 batters. 

LHP Jaden Kinsler | Kinsler is the No. 25 prospect in the 2025 Sun Belt class. The sophomore from Glen Allen, Va. made 15 appearances last season racking up 36.1 IP. He had a 4.21 ERA and struck out 36 batters on the season. 

INF Mike Mancini | The Sophomore led the team in walks and triples as a freshman in 2023. Mancini was 6th in the conference a year ago in walks per game as well. Out of JMU players that played 75 percent of games a year ago, he has the second best batting average returning and should provide some consistency in the lineup. 

Season Expectations 

This appears to be a put up or shut up season for JMU baseball. Ikenberry is going into the final year of his contract and has a team that is experienced. The coach with a .500 record at JMU should be able to manufacture a 35+ win season with the schedule that has been put together.

JMU returns 61 percent of its at bats, 64 percent of its runs, 59 percent of its hits and 67 percent of its home runs. The Dukes also return 74 percent of their wins and 73 percent of innings pitched. This is an experienced team, that on paper have the talent to compete in the Sun Belt. 

JMU finished last season right in the middle of the Sun Belt and would go on to go 1-2 in the conference tournament. This is a team that should grow and get better in its second season in the Sun Belt. 

My expectations for this team is a top 5 conference finish, a competitive week in the Sun Belt tournament culminating in an NCAA Regional appearance at the very least. 

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