Abe Valdez bats against UVU in 2020. Valdez had his senior season shortened due to COVID and decided to use his extra year of eligibility to help the Cougars in 2021. (Preston Crawley)

BYU baseball begins 2021 season with Texas road trip

The BYU baseball team will look to improve on a 7-9 record in a shortened 2020 season as the Cougars open up their 2021 season on the road in Texas.

The Cougars face a busy opening week to their season as they play eight games in seven days. BYU began the season with a four-game series against Texas State on Feb. 20-23, followed by another four-game series against the University of Texas Feb. 24-27.

BYU was voted fourth in the West Coast Conference coaches poll, receiving one first-place vote. No Cougars were named to the All-WCC preseason team.

The Cougars return nearly every player from the 2020 team, with the exception of a few key pieces.

Two BYU pitchers, Justin Sterner and Jardo Lessar signed MLB contracts over the summer.

Sterner, who signed with the Miami Marlins, posted a 2.86 career ERA. Sterner’s career ERA is fourth-best in BYU history and the best since Mike Wood’s 2.60 ERA from 1976-1978.

Lessar signed with the New York Yankees during the offseason. Lessar pitched a 4.60 career ERA with a 1.45 WHIP.

BYU will also be missing dual-sport athlete Jaren Hall. Hall will focus his attention on football in hopes of winning the starting quarterback spot this fall.

Two of BYU’s key returnees are relief pitchers.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Bryce Robinson threw a team-best 1.32 ERA in 13.2 innings in relief last season. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Mikade Johnson pitched a 2.16 ERA in 8.1 innings of relief work.

Bryce Robinson pitches against UVU in 2020. Robinson led the team with a 1.32 ERA last season. (Preston Crawley)

Head coach Mike Littlewood discussed the team’s pitching strength in a recent BYU SportsNation interview. “This is the most depth we’ve ever had (pitching-wise) since I’ve been here. We have a lot of guys who have great velocity, have good command, can really pitch. I feel like we have probably a dozen options to go to.”

Freshman left-handed pitcher Boston Mabeus and junior outfielder Cole Gambill are newcomers BYU fans should keep an eye on, Littlewood said.

Mabeus is returning from a mission and is projected to start in one of the first two series for the Cougars.

“Really good 12-6 curveball, developing a good change(-up). He’ll be a key for us,” Littlewood said.

Gambill is a transfer from Salt Lake Community College, where he batted .311 with 27 RBIs in his sophomore season. Littlewood said Gambill is their projected starter in the right field.

“Good left-handed hitter, really good defensive outfielder. We’re looking for big things from him,” Littlewood said.

Senior outfielder Hayden Leatham is expected to make big strides this season, after getting experience in division baseball last year.

“He came and struggled a little bit last year, but he’s looking really good this year, it’s just experience,” Littlewood said.

The 2018 JUCO All-American led the team in home runs last season with two.

The first home game for the Cougars will be on March 11 against the University of Utah, following a road series at the University of Oregon the first weekend in March.

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