Middle men

Moore-Liester, Mitchell have tough task of replacing Popick, Fackrell in Mavs' batting order

Kevin Mitchell is one of the two most likely players — Jordan Moore-Liester is the other — to replace Jeff Popick and Dustin Fackrell in the Colorado Mesa lineup this season. The Mavs, who practiced for the first time Thursday, also must replace two starting pitchers and their closer.

Jordan Moore-Liester is the two most likely players — Kevin Mitchell is the other — to replace Jeff Popick and Dustin Fackrell in the Colorado Mesa lineup this season. The Mavs, who practiced for the first time Thursday, also must replace two starting pitchers and their closer.

Colorado Mesa has long been one of the top hitting baseball teams in the nation.

The Mavericks continued to be after making the transition from power, hitting home runs, to contact, hitting line drives. They were fourth in the nation last year with a .342 batting average and eighth in scoring with eight runs per game.

Colorado Mesa, ranked 20th in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Division II preseason poll, had its first practice of the 2013 season Thursday, indoors in the Maverick Pavilion while the temperature outside hovered below freezing.

“We’re fortunate to have this Maverick Pavilion,” CMU coach Chris Hanks said. “We have three hitting cages, whereas before we had one. We used to have a wood, gym floor (Brownson Arena). Now we have this rubber surface. It has better traction for our purpose. It’s colder than heck, but I guarantee you this: It’s not an excuse for why we’re not ready.”

The Mavericks, who were hitting in the batting cages in the pavilion, will have to replace their two leading run producers — outfielder Jeff Popick and first baseman Dustin Fackrell — to remain among the nation’s best. Mesa lost 10 players to graduation, including two starting pitchers and its closer.

Popick is playing in the Colorado Rockies organization. Fackrell is a CMU graduate assistant coach. They accounted for nearly one-third of the team’s RBI (121) and home runs (13) in the three and four holes in the batting lineup.

“Jeff Popick and Dustin Fackrell were two big hitters in the middle of the lineup we will have to replace,” Hanks said. “We have some guys that need to step forward. Tim Fowler who was in our program last year has some potential to be a thumper. Kevin Mitchell is coming on as a sophomore, who was a backup to Dusty. Jordan Moore-Liester is a big, physical first baseman. He was a kid that was at the forefront of our mind based on his performance in the fall.”

Moore-Liester and Mitchell are not as tall as Fackrell (6-foot-8), but still have plenty of size.

Moore-Liester is a 6-3 junior transfer from Glendale (Ariz.) Community College where he often hit in the middle of the lineup.

“I love it here,” Moore-Liester said. “We have a great group of guys. I absolutely love the coaching staff. I’ve been through a couple schools, and it’s by far my favorite coaching staff I’ve ever had. They expect a lot out of us, which we are capable of. I think we’ll do well. I’m looking forward to it.”

Kevin Mitchell (6-4) was a backup first baseman as a freshman. He hit .308 in 13 at-bats.

“We’re going to miss them definitely,” Mitchell said of Popick and Fackrell. “But it’s exciting for the opportunity who will take over those roles.”

Fowler split time at catcher last year with Colton Schoelkopf, and he displayed power in fall practices and could bat third or fourth in the order.

Whoever bats in the middle of the order should have ample opportunities to drive in runs as the Mavericks still have plenty of speed returning at the top of the lineup.

“We have good team speed, and we have a lot of contact kids, but it’s nice to have some thump in the middle of that lineup,” Hanks said. “Somebody might materialize we don’t mention now. Maybe Mitch Corwin. Those are kids right now with the threat to leave the yard or hit a double. We certainly want to have some threats in the lineup like that.”

The Mavericks (39-16 last season) open this season with a three-game series beginning Feb. 1 at No. 23 University of California-San Diego.

“The break is nice and relaxing, but once you get here, I really want it to be February,” Mitchell said. “I’m already excited for the first series.”


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