Baseball: KU (10-5) at #19 Texas (10-4)

  vs.    

Kansas Jayhawks (10-5) vs. Texas (10-4)

The next three baseball games will mean more to the KU Jayhawks than the first 15 combined.  KU opens its Big-12 season with a weekend series in Austin.  With the Big-12 conference basketball tournament raging this promises to be a busy weekend for KU and UT fans.

The Texas Longhorns were a consensus top-10 team this preseason.  I can't remember a single poll I read which did not predict them to win the Big-12.  I also cannot remember a single Big-12 write-up that did not predict the Jayhawks to finish either 9th or 10th.  However, all is not grim for Kansas this weekend.  The last two weeks the Jayhawks are made of win. They ride an eight game victory streak and are gaining confidence and execution with each game.  Texas, on the other hand, has not played up to expectations.  The Longhorns have built a 10-4 record, dropping games to Tennessee, Rice and two at home to Stanford.  Texas has dropped to #19 in the Baseball America poll and have the smell of vulnerability about them.

Hosting one of the least regarded conference teams, Texas will be thinking sweep.  Three quick Big-12 wins will restore some status to this team.  As important as this series is to Texas, it is much more so for Kansas.  If Kansas is going to make the NCAA tournament they will have to do so through their conference resume.  KU simply does not have enough meat left in its out of conference schedule to earn them an at-large bid.  Fifteen conference wins will put the Jayhawks in the tournament.  Ten will at allow them to compete in the Big-12 tournament and give them at least a slim degree of hope through the final week of the season.  To keep KU on track to achieve these goals the Jayhawks will be looking to win at least one game in Austin.

The gross statistics make KU and UT look pretty evenly matched coming into the game.  Texas is averaging 9.3 runs per game compared to the Jayhawks 7.4 while surrendering 4.8 runs per game compared to KU's 4.6.   Texas has played a more challenging schedule so far, but these numbers give KU reason for hope.  History does nothing to bolster Jayhawk hopes.  Texas leads the all-time series 31-10, including a 17-5 record in Austin.  Ritch Price has only won four of sixteen games vs. the Longhorns during his tenure at Kansas.

Probably Starting Pitchers
Friday 6PM - Wally Marciel (2-1, 2.55 ERA) vs. Austin Wood (2-1, 2.75 ERA)
Saturday 2PM - Nick Czyz (1-2, 6.32 ERA) vs. Kenn Kasparek (1-1, 5.11 ERA)
Sunday 1PM - Sam Freeman (2-0, 6.75 ERA) vs. Cole Green (1-1, 7.11 ERA)

KU starts Big-12 play with a rotation of Marciel, Czyz and Freeman.  Marciel has established himself as the team ace through a string of three strong starts to open the season.  Marciel will face Austin Wood.  Wood went 8-1 last year with a 3.15 ERA.  He is a good pitcher, but he is beatable.  Nick Czyz gets the Saturday start.  Czyz was roughed up in his first two starts but was brilliant last weekend vs. NDSU.  I was not sure Sam Freeman would get the Sunday start until I saw the preview release.  Freeman pitched effectively his first two times out but could not get through the second inning last weekend.  He will be facing a Texas freshman who has not yet impressed, so if Sam has his game on the Hawks will have a good shot in this game as well.  KU also brings what very well might be the best bullpen in the Big-12 to this series.  The Jayhawk pitching staff will give Kansas a fighting chance throughout the weekend.

Media Coverage
Tom Hedrick will be in Austin this weekend providing KU fans with a free play-by-play webcast.  To link to this feed just visit this site and click the "listen" button on the right.  It also appears that a free video broadcast of the games can be accessed through Texassports.tv.  I have never used this service so cross your fingers. [Update: Our good friends at the College Baseball Blog assure us that the video feed from Texas is good provided you are using a PC.]

Complete Texas statistics can be found here.
Complete statistics for KU are here.

Bkmhoxx does his usual bang-up job scouting the Longhorns.  Below are the Texas prospects the Jayhawks can look forward to facing this weekend:

Let me just start by saying the Longhorns are stacked with great players, most of which are Freshman and Sophomores with a few Juniors mixed in. With that said, their talent is somewhat young and this would be a great year, if there is one, to get a win or two in Austin BUT it will still be very difficult. The Texas defense is kinda shaky, their offense is potent but very inconsistent and their pitching has a ton of
promise but is a work in progress.

I will start with Junior RFer Kyle Russell. Russell is a 1st team All-American and has the rare combination of size, speed and power. Russell led all of D-1 college baseball last year with 28HR (also a UT record). He was drafted in the 4th round by St. Louis but turned down some good money to come back. Some have criticized Russell for this and
deemed it a very risky move. Russell strikes out a lot and can somewhat be described as an all-or-nothing type hitter and the critics are right so far this year as Russell's power hasn't surfaced. He is batting .273 with 1HR, 7RBI and 14K's. He still has a lot of time to recover and I'd expect him to put up at least 20HR this year and be drafted in the top
4 rounds again. (Russell is the single most impressive college baseball player I have ever seen in person.  He hit two no-doubt homeruns last year in one game in Lawrence.  In my estimation, this guy is an amazing player. - JQ)

Their best all-around player may be Junior CFer Jordan Danks. Danks is a 2nd team All-American. Danks was possibly 1st round talent out of High School but chose to be a Longhorn for a few years instead. Danks is a big and fast on-base machine with 70 rated speed. He has been compared in build to Dale Murphy. Danks has excellent range and is a good threat to steal (20 for 20 in steals in 07). Danks also has an excellent eye at the plate and walks a lot to go along with his good bat. Last year he batted .332 with 38RBI and so far this year, he is on fire, batting .352 with 2HR, 10RBI, 6 doubles and 1 triple.  His brother is a fine pitching prospect for the Chicago White Sox (John Danks). KU
pitching will want to do their best to slow down this on-base nuisance.

The Longhorns also have what might be the best catcher in all of college baseball in Junior Preston Clark. Clark plays great defense behind the plate (6 errors in 63 games in 07) and he also has a nice bat. He batted .278 last year with 8HR and 46RBI. This year he has been a little banged up and is primarily DHing at this point but is still batting .278 with 1HR and 9RBI. I would expect Clark to go in the 1st or 2nd round of the MLB draft this summer if he decides not to stay for his senior year.

Another kid that is tearing it up this year is Sophomore 1B Brandon Belt. Belt stands 6'5" and is batting .431 with 1HR, 22RBI, 9 2B and 2 3B. I have to think that if he can continue showing numbers even close to these, that he will be a big-time prospect. Especially if some of those doubles can translate into HR's. I'd say Belt can be a top 5 round draft pick by the time he is drafted.

Another nice player would be 3B Travis Tucker who has a good arm and a great glove and a nice bat but no power. He only had 8 errors in 63 games last year and batted .307 with 21 stolen bases. This year he is already 10-11 in steals. The KU catchers will not have fun if Tucker is on base much this weekend. I would expect Tucker to be drafted but how high will depend on where on the field he will play. He doesn't have near enough power to play pro ball at the hot corner so maybe a move to 2b or the OF will be in his future.

A couple others that show professional promise thus far is 3B/OF Freshman Tant Shepherd. He was a big recruit and is already 6-12 with 5RBI in limited action. Sophomore LFer Russell Moldenhauer is another strong bat. He batted .278 with 6HR and 32RBI last year as a freshman and so far this year he is at .281 with 9RBI.

The pitching staff is also very young but looks to be filling out quite nicely with their young starters and a deep bullpen.  Junior Austin Wood is the ace of the staff this year and will face KU on Friday night. He is a very consistent pitcher that went 8-1 last
year with a 3.15 ERA. This year he is 2-1 with a 2.75 ERA and has 15 K's in 19.2 innings. He will be a tough pitcher to beat and I would expect him to be drafted in the top 5 rounds when he makes himself eligible.

Junior Kenn Kasparek will be the Saturday pitcher against KU. Kasparek is 6'11" and throws a 94mph fastball. He is coming off of an injury last year but was a monster back in 05. He has had wild success when healthy but is struggling thus far on the young season. Kasparek has a 5.11 ERA having pitched 12.1 innings but with 16 K's. He is a strikeout pitcher and throws some gas so along with that comes control issues and giving up the HR ball. So if he can do some damage control, he will be extremely tough to win against. I would expect Kasparek to be a top 5 round draftee.

Freshman Cole Green will more than likely pitch against KU on Sunday. Green was the #1 HS prospect and he has great stuff. He has a lot of movement on his pitches and he isn't afraid to really go after hitters. Having said that, he is still very young and prone to mistakes. He has a 7.11 ERA so far this year working in 12.2 innings and striking out
11. He will be a tough one to predict because, as with most freshmen, you aren't sure which guy is going to show up. Will it be the #1 prospect with tons of movement on his pitches or will it be a kid that doesn't take charge on the mound and shows little confidence and consistency? I hope for the Jayhawks, they can get to him before he
gets things figured out. Green more than likely will end up a 1st or 2nd round pick by the time he is done at Texas.

Freshman Brandon Workman is another big recruit. He stands 6'5" tall and weighs 220lbs. He was drafted last year in the 3rd round by Philadelphia. He has a great fastball coming in at 95mph and the scary thing is that this kid still has a lot of growth and improvement left to do. He has a 2.63 ERA this year in 13.2 IP and has 16 K's. He could
prove to be one of their best pitchers by mid-season if not before and I would expect him to be an early pick in the 1st round when all is said and done.

In the bullpen, the talent continues Freshman Chance Ruffin is currently logging a few save situations and proves to be very very good. He has a very high leg kick and almost
hits himself in the chin. Thus far he has a 1.64 ERA in 11 IP with 11 K's and 2 saves. His father is the great Phillie closer, Bruce Ruffin. I would expect this kid to eventually be a 1st round pick.

Another Freshman, Stayton Thomas may also be used in several save situations. He has been compared in some ways to Huston Street who now closes for Oakland. Thomas has only pitched 8.1 innings and has 6 K's and a 0.00 ERA. He will be an top 10 round pick eventually.

Sophomore Casey Whitmer is another great young bullpen arm. He is sporting a 1.80 ERA with 10 innings pitched and 12 K's.

So Texas has reloaded and will continue to do this from year to year. IF there is a year to have a chance to win in Austin, I would say it is this year. My predictions are:
Friday night: Marciel vs Wood - 5-3 Texas
Saturday: Czyz vs Kasparek - 6-4 Kansas
Sunday: Freeman vs Green - 9-7 Texas

I have KU hanging strong in all 3 games and I could see KU winning 2 of these but my gut tells me to be happy just to get 1.  

(FUN FACT: Casey Larsen has 3 at bats against Texas and 2 of them are Home Runs)
Beak Em' Hawks!

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