Creighton baseball coach Ed Servais isn't prone to making rash statements.
So it's natural for one's ears to perk up when Servais says, without much prodding, that the Bluejays might field their best infield in his 14 seasons as head coach.
"This group has a chance, if it can come together offensively, to be just as strong as some of the other groups we've had,'' Servais said. "This one still has a ways to go, but our middle guys are capable of playing at a very high level. "This group is close to being as good as any we've had. It should be really fun to watch this year.''
The watching starts Friday, when the Bluejays open their season at Fresno State. Creighton is loaded with experience in the field and on the mound this season, but no place more than in the infield.
First baseman Reagan Fowler and second baseman Ryan Fitzgerald are three-year starters. Nick Lopez started at third as a freshman and then moved to shortstop last year. Harrison Crawford made the transition from junior college to start every game at third last season.
"We're ready, as an infield, to take the next step,'' Lopez said. "The four of us have really good chemistry, especially from the defensive side. If we can make a step offensively, we can take this thing as far as we want to.''
The last two seasons have ended with soul-crushing disappointment for the Bluejays. They lost in the final game of the Big East tournament each season.
"Offense is something that has let us down in the past, but I think this year it's going to be a big key for us,'' Fitzgerald said. "We know our pitching and defense is always going to be there, but offense is going to have to improve.''
Fitzgerald finished as Creighton's leader with four home runs last year and was second on the team with 35 RBIs. In spite of battling a sore back, Fowler hit a team high .319 and finished with 36 RBIs.
Lopez, who missed eight games with a knee injury, found himself locked in a season-long slump. He hit .246 but then had a productive summer in which he hit seven home runs.
"I somehow ran into seven pitches,'' he said, laughing.
Crawford, who hit .370 or more in his two junior-college seasons, had three homers and 20 RBIs to go with a .295 average last season.
"I want to see my batting average go up, but more important, I want to see my run production go up,'' Crawford said. "I think if there is one thing I'm looking to improve on this year is to be tougher in big situations.
"I felt like that was my weakest spot last year.''
Servais also would like to see Crawford cut down on his errors after he committed 10 in 131 chances. The rest of the infield is rock-solid: Fowler, Fitzgerald and Lopez committed just 16 errors in 1,032 fielding chances.
Few coaches value defensive excellence as much as Servais.
"I don't have any doubts about Fowler, Fitz and Nicky,'' Servais said. "Any one of them could be the next Gold Glove winner we have come down the pike.
"And Harrison has made some big strides with his defense. He if continues to play like he did in the fall and during the preseason, this group will be fun to watch.''