Following a shortened 2020 season, 18th-year head coach Bill Kinneberg will welcome back several key players in 2021. That group in includes one of the best recruiting classes in the program's history as Collegiate Baseball ranked Utah's 2019 signees No. 18 in the nation and third-best in the Pac-12. Four of the rookies that joined the Utes were selected in the 2019 MLB Draft.
In the outfield, Utah returns two of three starters, but have plenty of guys that can play multiple positions.
Shea Kramer and Isaac Deveaux have the most experience in the outfield. Kramer can play multiple positions, but overall has played in 93 games with 82 starts. He has seen action in right field as well as first base. He hit .280 a season ago with 10 RBI. Deveaux has started in 26 games. He had some troubles at the plate last year, but has been working hard all fall and into the spring.
Vinny Zavolta led the team in batting average hitting .400 in 10 games played in 2020. He scored 11 runs and had six RBI. Zavolta led the team by a wide margin with a 1.291 OPS and had two home runs as well.
Another candidate to play center field as well as hit leadoff is Jaylon McLaughlin. He transferred in from Nevada and had a great season in 2019. He had a breakout season for the Wolf Pack in his first year as a center fielder, leading the team with a career-high .339 batting average. McLaughlin was named first-team All-Mountain West after batting .360 in conference, the fifth-best in the MW and led the league with 17 stolen bases. On the season, he had 25 stolen bases on the year ranked as the sixth-most in a single season by a Nevada player.
Tyler Thompson started eight games a season ago in left and center field. He scored three runs and had two RBI.
Jayden Kiernan and Trey Clarkson held down first base in 2020. Kiernan was in the lineup for 13 games, also starting at catcher and designated hitter during the shortened season. He hit .313 with a team-high 11 RBIs. Clarkson hit .261 with a home run and four runs driven in. Rykker Tom started at third base in 46 games in 2019 and was one of the better players at the plate for the Utes after he hit .279 with 17 RBI. He hit .226 in 10 games last year. Freshman Kai Roberts, a Lehi, Utah, native was an all-state selection at Skyridge High School, also figures to get time at third base.
Matt Richardson and Chase Fernlund have shown the ability to move around the past two years. Richardson has been a three-year starter at shortstop. He hit .250 with 17 RBI while starting 40 games in 2019, then made 11 starts in 2020. Richardson also slid over and played some second base last year. Fernlund has played at every position in the infield the last two years and hit .286 in 2019. He was utilized at second and third in 2020, hitting .235 with nine RBIs in 12 games. Kayler Yates was pushing Richardson for the starting job at short in 2020 and played in nine games.
With the majority of the pitching staff returning as well as some of the additions with signees and transfers, it's one of the deepest and most talented pitching group Utah has ever had.
Justin Kelly and David Watson were the top two starters for Utah last season. Kelly started on Friday nights last season and held a 2.66 ERA. He allowed seven earned runs while striking out 14. Watson led the team in strikeouts with 19. He had a 4.50 ERA.
There are as many as seven potential starters on the team. Kyle Robeniol is using his extra season granted by the NCAA for how last season abruptly ended. Dustyn Schramm went 1-1 last season with a 4.30 ERA. Brett Brocoff and Randon Hostert are back from injuries and will also provide great depth.
Out of the bullpen, Zac McCleve has pitched a lot of innings and they also had Brayson Hurdsman transfer in from Houston that has a lot of experience. Trey Clarkson will also provide depth while also getting playing time in the field.
On the catcher side, Brock Rudy and Jayden Kiernan have the most experience. Kiernan was second on the team last year hitting .314 while leading the team with 11 RBI. Rudy saw action in five games and had one home run and four RBI.
Bill Kinneberg is in his 18th season at the helm of the Utah baseball program and 26th as a head coach at the collegiate level. He has 610 career wins, including 365 during his Utah tenure. Kinneberg was named the 2016 Pac-12 Coach of the Year after leading the Utes to the conference championship.
Kinneberg has taken the Utes to a pair of NCAA Regional appearances, placing second in Fullerton (Calif.) in 2009 and going 1-2 in Oxford (Miss.) in 2016. Eleven Utah players have been taken in the first 10 rounds of the MLB Draft under Kinneberg, including the school's first-ever first-round selection in C.J. Cron (2011, 17th overall). Four players drafted in 2017 tied a Utah school record. Kinneberg has also established school records for wins in a season at three schools: UTEP (1985), Wyoming (1990) and Utah (1996).
Kinneberg led the USA Baseball Collegiate Team to a silver medal at the 2010 FISU World University Championships in Japan. He also went 25-12 with the 2007 U.S. National Team as its pitching coach, as the team finished with a 1.93 ERA.
Prior to joining the Utah staff, Kinneberg worked for the Chicago White Sox organization as a minor league pitching coach. From 1996-2001, Kinneberg was the associate head coach at Arizona. He served an assistant baseball coach at Arizona State from 1992-94. In his last two seasons, Kinneberg helped lead the Sun Devils to back-to-back appearances in the College World Series.
Kinneberg and his wife Janet have two sons, Joe (18) and David (16).
Gary Henderson, who has over 30 years of coaching experience at Florida, Oregon State, Kentucky and Mississippi State, is in his second year as Utah's associate head coach.
A seasoned veteran and one of the top pitching minds in the country, Henderson was the interim head coach for Mississippi State in 2018 and led the program to the College World Series. He was the Bulldogs' pitching coach from 2016-17.
Henderson worked at Kentucky as an assistant from 2003-08 and head coach from 2009-16. The Wildcats won at least 30 games in five-straight seasons and rose to No. 1 in the nation for the first time in school history in 2012. He was voted the 2012 SEC Coach of the Year. In 2006, the program won its first SEC Championship in baseball under the guidance of Henderson and John Cohen.
Henderson reached 200 wins faster than any head coach in Kentucky history. In his tenure with the Wildcats, 72 players were picked in the MLB Draft or signed as free agents. Eight of Henderson's pitching protégés have reached the Majors since 2012.
Prior to Kentucky, Henderson spent five seasons as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Oregon State. The Beavers notched the school's first College World Series titles in 2006 and 2007. Henderson coached eight Beaver pitchers who were drafted by major league teams, five of whom were selected in the top eight rounds. Two of Henderson's OSU recruiting classes were ranked among the top 30 nationally.
Henderson served as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the Florida Gators from 1995-98. In that time, he helped the Gators to the SEC Championship and the College World Series in both 1996 and 1998. Collegiate Baseball awarded national rankings to all four of Henderson's recruiting classes at Florida, including a No. 4 spot in 1996. The 1996 season also saw Collegiate Baseball tab Henderson as the National Assistant Coach of the Year.
Henderson earned a bachelor's degree in English from San Diego State and a master's degree in sports psychology from SDSU. He and his wife, Vicki, have two sons, Alex and Ty.
Former four-time all-conference Utah infielder Jay Brossman is in his 10th season on the baseball staff. He is in his fifth year as a full-time assistant coach with the Utes, serving as hitting coach and running the offense.
Under Brossman, Dallas Carroll (2017), DaShawn Keirsey Jr. (2018) and Oliver Dunn (2019) were selected in the MLB Draft. Carroll earned All-America honors from the ABCA in 2017 and was a two-time All-Pac-12 player. Keirsey was a three-time All-Pac-12 and All-Defensive Team selection (2016-18). Dunn was a Collegiate Baseball All-American and All-Pac-12 selection (2019). All three were among the top hitters in the league during their time at Utah.
Utah had one of its best offensive seasons in 2017. Utah's .287 batting average in 2017 was its highest since the Utes joined the Pac-12 in 2012. The Utes also had Pac-12 era highs in slugging percentage (.399), on-base percentage (.375), RBI (280), hits (514) and runs scored (311). Utah ranked fourth in the league in batting average, third in on-base percentage and fourth in runs scored and RBI that season.
Brossman worked two seasons (2015-16) as the volunteer assistant coach for the Utes. He also served two years as the director of operations and one year as a student assistant coach. During his Ute playing career from 2004-07, he hit .359 and set school records for hits, doubles and total bases.
Brossman was selected in the 36th round of the 2007 MLB Draft and spent five years in the Los Angeles Angels minor league system. He was a Pioneer League All-Star in 2007. Jay and his wife Jenny have two sons, Colten and Caleb.
Parker Guinn is in his third season as a volunteer assistant coach at Utah. Guinn joined the Utes from Washington, where he was a student manager in 2017.
Guinn played three seasons at catcher for Washington (2012-14) before transferring to SIUE (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville) for his senior season in 2015.
Guinn was the volunteer assistant coach at SIUE in 2016. He served as the head coach for the U16 team of the Narrows Baseball Club from 2016-17.
Guinn is originally from Las Vegas, Nev., and attended high school in Gig Harbor, Wash. He earned a degree in mass communications with a minor in business administration from SIUE in 2015.
Henry Ruggiero is in his second year at Utah. He previously spent three seasons as director of physical performance at Real Salt Lake, where he oversaw the athletic development of every team under the RSL banner, including the Major League Soccer team.
Ruggiero worked five seasons (2012-17) as the director of strength and conditioning for Olympic sports and previously spent three years (2009-12) as an assistant strength coach at Washington. As director, Ruggiero managed the development of 400 student-athletes across 21 sports and supervised six assistant coaches. He has a bachelor’s degree in applied exercise science and is a certified NSCA Strength and Conditioning Specialist.
Logan Nehls is familiar with Utah serving as an equipment intern for a year and a half with baseball as one of his sports.
Nehls earned his degree from Arizona and worked as an equipment operations intern for three years. He was responsible for the inventory of all athletic gear of Olympic sports.
In the summer of 2018, Nehls was a training camp intern for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his time in Tampa, he assisted with the daily operations in the equipment room while also helping with on-field duties during practice for the quarterbacks and tight ends.
The Utes were crowned the 2016 Pac-12 Conference champions, winning the title in one of the nation's top-rated baseball leagues that boasts a record 28 NCAA championships. Utah then made it back-to-back Pac-12 upper division finishes after tying for fifth in 2017.
Utah has advanced to NCAA Regionals twice in recent years. The Utes made their first NCAA appearance since 1960 in 2009 after winning the MWC Tournament. The Utes went 2-2 to finish as the runner-up in the Fullerton Regional. Utah went 1-2 in the Oxford Regional in 2016, getting a 10-inning win over No. 7-ranked Ole Miss in the tournament opener.
In his first stint as Utah's head coach, Bill Kinneberg led Utah a then school-record 30 wins in 1996. The team he assembled before leaving to become the associate head coach at Arizona won 36 games and captured the WAC North Division title in 1997. In Utah's final year in the Mountain West Conference, Kinneberg led Utah to 29 wins and a runner-up finish in the league.