The University of Maine baseball team will need newcomers to step up and contribute immediately if it hopes to have a successful season in 2016.

The Black Bears finished 24-28 last year, 10-10 in America East play, and were bounced from the conference tournament in two straight games for the second year in a row.

Coach Steve Trimper’s ballclub, which was picked to finish fourth out of seven teams in the league preseason coaches poll, has many unknowns as it heads into a four-game weekend series that begins Friday at New Mexico State in Las Cruces.

The Black Bears, 1-2 after a season-opening series at Clemson, must replace two of their top four pitchers and four of their five best offensive players from last season.

Gone via graduation are right-handed pitchers Jacob Gosselin-Deschesnes (3-3, 3.53 earned run average) and lefty Scott Heath of Westbrook (6-4, 4.21), the latter of whom was an all-league choice after batting .308 with a team-best six home runs and 29 runs batted in a year ago.

UMaine also must replace all-conference third baseman Luke Morrill of South Thomaston, the team’s top hitter at .367 (two HR, 29 RBI, eight stolen bases), left fielder Sam Balzano of Portland (.308, 19 RBI, nine SB) and right fielder Brian Doran (.267, three HR, 29 RBI).

“The unknowns, No. 1 is our offense,” Trimper said. “We’re going to be hitting two, three — sometimes four — freshmen.”

Heading the veterans are senior Brett Chappell (.316, two HR, team-high 38 RBI), senior Shane Bussey (.250, 17 RBI, eight SB), senior first baseman Brenden Geary (.280, three HR, 20 RBI) and senior catcher Kevin Stypulkowski (.254, two HR, 26 RBI).

Among those four returning starters, Chappell and Bussey have moved to the outfield to make way for two promising freshmen.

Junior Tyler Schwanz, a transfer from Division II Saginaw (Michigan) Valley State, is expected to bolster the outfield.

A revamped infield will feature two freshmen and other underclassmen. Jeremy Pena of Providence, Rhode Island, the son of former major leaguer Jeronimo Pena, has taken over at shortstop, while Miami’s Danny Casals has locked up the third base spot.

“Jeremy Pena is a big upgrade at short and Danny Casals was the Dade County Player of the Year. They’re very good,” Trimper said.

The rotation at second base is expected to include sophomores Caleb Kerbs and Alex Cabrera, along with freshman Zach Quintal of Eliot.

“It’s as solid an infield as we’ve had since the 2011 and 2013 teams that won a lot of games,” Trimper said. “I think that’s a strength.”

Stypulkowski is expected to share time behind the plate with senior Jon Salcedo (.085), who threw out 28 percent of opponents trying to steal last year. Junior Pat Coughlin also is in the mix as Salcedo may see time as the backup closer on the mound.

UMaine has some roles to fill on a pitching staff that will feature righty Justin Courtney. The sophomore from Bangor went 5-6 with a 3.24 ERA on his way to AE All-Rookie recognition.

“He’s physically a different kid, he’s gained 15 pounds,” Trimper said. “He looks like a man. He’s ready to go.”

There are unproven players behind Courtney in the rotation. Redshirt freshman right-hander Chris Murphy is coming off 2014 Tommy John surgery, and junior righty Jeff Gelinas of Saco (3-1, 5.51) hopes to rebound after an inconsistent 2015.

Trimmed-down sophomore righty John Arel, freshman right-hander Nick Silva and sophomore Jonah Normandeau of Cumberland, who is two years out from Tommy John surgery, are other candidates.

“There’s a three-way dogfight for the No. 4 starter/long relief spot with those three guys,” Trimper said.

Normandeau pitched 5⅓ innings of one-hit, shutout ball in last Saturday’s 9-4 loss at Clemson.

The relief corps features two established seniors in setup man Charlie Butler (3-5, 4.80, four saves) and closer Logan Fullmer (1-1, 3.75, four saves), who combined to pitch 102⅔ innings last season.

Other candidates to contribute include sophomore left-hander Connor Johnson (0-1, 4.50), freshman lefty Eddie Emerson of Lewiston and junior righty Matt Coppens.

“I’m really excited to see how we pitch,” Trimper said. “We’ve got a lot of guys back with experience and some guys [coming] off of injury.

UMaine also has potential contributors in junior outfielders Jake Osborne (.385) and Lou Della Fera (.250, one RBI).

Sophomore infielder Christian Garabedian (.247, five RBI) is academically ineligible this season, and fellow Miami product Danny Diaz (.203, two HR, 12 RBI) transferred.

Ultimately, the Black Bears will need freshman starters and unproven returnees to be productive in prominent roles for the team to make a run at the America East title.

Upon its return from New Mexico, UMaine will make a 13-game, 17-day trip to Florida where it will face the likes of Miami and Stetson.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...