Editors Note: Just wanted to make note that this story was emailed to me for posting and not my own work. Unfortunately I'm a bit of an amateur when it comes to baseball so I'll rely on others to carry the torch in that regard. Special thanks goes out to Aman Reaka (bkmhoxx) for putting this preview together. Aman is pretty well connected in the Kansas baseball world and hopefully he'll help pick up some of the baseball coverage around here for us all as 2010 looks to be a VERY promising year for Ritch Price and the Jayhawks.
Spring is in the air. It is time to watch the trees start to bud and the flowers start to pop up, to see the grass start to green, to drive around with the windows down, to enjoy a cool breeze blow over your skin while the warmth of the sun beats down on you, to hear the ping of the bats as you wander around campus, to sit at the "Hog" and watch a baseball team in their bright crimson and blue, that is not only competitive, but is exciting, well coached, has very good talent, and has built a foundation to compete on a national level year in and year out. Its been the worst winter that I personally can ever remember here in Kansas and having baseball arrive is my first sign that EVENTUALLY we will have a spring and all of those wonderful things I just mentioned. Please tell me it wont stay cold and snowy forever. Please!
JQ, as you all are used to writing your Kansas previews, is going to be "out of commission" as far as writing much baseball content this season. He is finishing his dissertation and job searching and as most of you know, that needs to be taken extremely serious. He may chime in on occasion and I am positive you will still catch him at several games this season, but I will do my best to live up to his potential as a writer and to give you your fill of Kansas baseball. I am an independent scout that provides information to numerous websites as well as having
my own scouting blog this year. I may post a link here and there for you all to check out if you are interested. It is more for the hard-core baseball junkie, MLB draft, and those that love minor league prospecting. That being said, I am not a writer by trade (actually a graphic designer) so I apologize if my content isn't the easiest read and doesn't flow properly. My main focus is to educate the fans and to provide quality information on Kansas baseball and that is what I will try to do.
Your Kansas Jayhawks have been picked by the Big 12 coaches to finish 2nd in the league this year and are nationally ranked in most polls between 23 and 35 ( I have even seen some national writers pick Kansas as a dark horse to end up in Omaha). I think that is very well within reach and an attainable goal for this team. The Big 12 is down this year with many rebuilding teams and Kansas is much stronger as Coach Price continues to recruit well and fill gaps left by the draft and graduations. Coach Price has slowly raised the recruiting bar each year he has been here and now, the MLB caliber players are flowing strong in his system. I will discuss next years recruits in a separate writeup but things continue to look strong as the talent pipeline is in full force for Kansas baseball. We may have a near opportunity to host a regional here in Lawrence. How amazing would that be?
Speaking of MLB and the draft, the Jayhawks took a huge blow with the news of Tony Thompson cracking his kneecap with a foul ball. He will miss 4-6 weeks and should be back sometime in mid March. Im going to bet Tony is a quick healer and tries his hardest to be back for the HUGE series at a baseball mecca (32 million dollars and seats 9200) that is Alex Box stadium at LSU. Thompson is a first team All-American at the hot corner and will be a high draft pick in this summers MLB draft. I currently have him as the second best college 3rd baseman in the country and being drafted somewhere in rounds 2-4. Get out there and get his autograph as he may be the best Jayhawk to ever step on the baseball field (so far).
I mentioned the LSU series already but this year Coach Price has assembled another extremely tough schedule. He is slowly building a team attitude that Kansas will play anybody, anywhere, anytime. With that comes a much stronger RPI and a team that now can compete in the post-season. KU will play Wichita State twice, Arkansas, LSU three times, Tulane twice, Missouri State twice and the usual Big 12 battles including a visit to #1 ranked Texas for a three game set. Arkansas, LSU and Texas are all big favorites to win a National Championship this year, the Shockers will be much improved, Missouri St. is always good and Tulane will be a tough road series.
Let me start with an overview of the main ingredients of our Kansas Jayhawks this year.
1b - Zac Elgie - SO Elgie really started to figure it all out at the end of last season and showed some really good power in fall ball as well. He hit over .300 with 3 HR and 27 RBI as a freshman and played in about half the games. I look for Elgie to really step up and be a star this year (a la Tony Thompson last year). I could easily see him put up
15-20 HR, with a .320 avg. and maybe 50-60 RBI. When Elgie is not at 1b, our home grown Brett Lisher will fill in and provide some excellent defense and a decent stick.
2b - Robby Price - SR Price is a sure handed fielder, makes all the plays, turns two like a machine and will be a very important bat in the lineup. Robby should top the .300 avg. as a senior, put up 5-10 HR and drive in 30-40 runs. Robby is excellent at getting on base and working the count. A true baseball rat that plays the game hard and he will be a team leader for the 2010 Jayhawks.
SS - Brandon Macias - JR Macias is a transfer from South Mountain CC in Phoenix. He is a slick fielding shortstop and is ultimately here for his defense. He is extremely quick with good speed and a good base runner but getting to first base may prove to be difficult. I liked his bat in fall ball so I can only assume that he struggles with plate discipline but let's hope he proves me wrong. His defense should be worth the price of admission however. Behind Macias will be Kevin Kuntz (son of former Twins, Tigers and current Royals 1b coach, Rusty Kuntz). Kevin may be
our long term option at SS and should see the field a fair amount as a freshman. He reminds me more of the solid fielding, slap hitting middle infielder that one would expect.
3b - Tony Thompson - JR Thompson is one of the top college players in the country. He will be back from his injury in mid-March and should put up nice numbers. He will be pitched around a lot this year and will need some protection in the batting lineup. He has a great bat, monster power, good plate discipline and the potential for some very good defense. He is exciting and special to watch. Dont let yourself miss seeing him in a Kansas uniform. While Tony is on the mend, we will see a few guys filling in at third. Jake Marasco is a big strong kid (redshirt
freshman) with some pop in his bat but a bit stiff at the hot corner. Jake could turn into a huge bat in due time but wont be the most intriguing option defensively. James Stanfield will be the best defensive option to fill in for Thompson but Stanfield is our best option at catcher for the time being and will be behind the plate most
often. Another option at third will be Jordan Dreiling. Dreiling is another redshirt freshman and is another home grown Lawrence product. Coach Price will play all three guys at the hot corner for the first month of the season until Thompson is back.
C - James Stanfield - SO Stanfield will be the best option at catcher to begin with. He also has a decent bat with some decent pop. Waiting in the wings is a very nice looking freshman, Alex DeLeon. DeLeon is a big thick kid already, has a nice looking swing and some real power. He has a lot of work to do before he is ready to catch however but I am anxious to see his growth. Another fill in behind the plate is sophomore Chris Manship. Manship is a stocky kid with slow hands but can get the job done defensively. His bat is pretty weak however. Another freshman that can catch and play a utility type role is freshman Nolan Mansfield. He really impressed me in fall ball with his long and tall body, good line drive swing and decent power.
LF - Casey Lytle - JR Lytle has good speed and really flashed some positives last season. His glove can be very good at times, his avg. should be near the .300 mark and he was showing a little more power this fall. Lytle will also be the main threat on the base paths this year (11 steals in '09). Another outfield option will be junior Jimmy Waters who should DH a lot as well. His bat will be a huge plus this season. He has fought injuries and lack of playing time in his first two seasons but has huge power and can really crush the ball. He has an odd stance and does occasionally hit to many pop ups but I expect good things.
CF - Jason Brunansky - SO "Bruno" had some big games last year as a freshman. He batted .280 and flashed some good power potential. He has plenty of speed and is due for a breakout season and some truly big time
plays. For those of you that live under a rock, yes he is Tom Brunansky's son. If you don't know who that is, Google his name sometime.
RF - Brian Heere - JR Heere is another home grown talent and will be a team leader this year. Heere is as solid as it gets. High batting avg., impossible to strike out, highlight plays on defense, can hit the ball anywhere on the field he wants, can steal bases and he never opens his mouth. Heere will be critical to fill in for the lack of Thompson in
this first month of the season. Jacob Dunnichay and Taylor Hart will be two other freshman outfield options. Both small kids, Dunnichay being very small and a slap hitter type and Hart showing me a little pop this past fall
Friday nights - TJ Walz - JR Walz will be another guy to likely get drafted this summer (likely in rounds 5-10). Walz has a 90-92 mph FB, a slider at about 84-85 and a good curve ball at about 80. None of these pitches are "wow" but he knows how to pitch and does a great job with his command. Walz does have the occasional bad inning if his command is not there because all 3 pitches are about average. I would expect Walz to show a lot of improvement this year, have an ERA near 4.00 and win 8-10 games. As the Friday night pitcher he will go up against several
top tier aces this year, many of which will be first round picks in the draft, so he has his work cut out for him.
Saturday games - Cameron Selik - SR Selik adjusted well last year as a transfer. He showed good command at times and his pitches offer good potential. As a senior, he will really need to settle in. His fast ball is 89-91 with a slider and a slow curve ball. He does get his fair share of strikeouts. Selik can be fun to watch pitch at times and we need a good season from him as the Saturday games are very important.
Sunday games - Brett Bollman SR / Lee Ridenhour SO Bollman is a small guy with some nasty stuff. Bollman is just a tough guy to square up his pitches as he has excellent command and makes batters swing at his pitch. Ridenhour had off-season ankle surgery and will be back shortly after the season starts and will likely start in the bullpen to shake off the rust. Ridenhour is likely our Saturday pitcher when he gets back to full health and can really be dominant. He could really have quite the sophomore season if things go right.
Midweek games - Tanner Poppe FR / Wally Marciel JR / Thomas Taylor FR Poppe was drafted out of high school in the 37th round by the Royals and chose to come to KU. He is a huge kid with a big arm and fast ball in the low to mid 90's. He is a big time recruit and could also work his way into a weekend spot if he progresses. Marciel is coming back from Tommy John surgery but could be a great asset if he can return to form. Taylor is another freshman injured in 2009 but has good stuff. Low 90's fast ball, mid 80's slider and a mid 70's curve.
Travis Blankenship - SR Blankenship was a critical addition to the team last year. He is a smooth lefty with a bulldog mentality and does a great job of getting out of jams. He will be a huge part of a deep bullpen this year.
Brett Bochy - JR Bochy will be the setup man this year. Look for him in the 8th inning to come in and mow 'em down. He has a closer mentality and thrives in tough situations. Bochy throws low 90's heat and has a lot of movement on his pitches. He is the son of SF Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
Colton Murray - SO Murray is the young closer and brings some filthy stuff to the mound. Murray has a blazing 91-94 straight fast ball, a very nice 86-89 slider and an off speed pitch at 81 mph that he rarely throws. Murray works really fast and his delivery is quick to the plate. At times he can be flat out nasty.
Other bullpen options include:
Kevin Burk - SO
Scott Heitshusen - JR
Matt Kohorst - JR
Thomas Marcin - SR
Jordan Jakubov - SO
the previously mentioned Poppe, Marciel and Taylor as well
This team is full of guys that are close or ready to break out. A lot of youth with high expectations. This could really be the start of something special that is about to happen on the diamond for Kansas.
This weekend's series against E. Michigan has been canceled due to snow and cold and two of the games will be made up Monday evening at the Metrodome in Minnesota at 5pm via Gametracker on the KU website. KU needs to win both of those games. They then rush home to play Wichita St. at Hoglund at 5pm on Tuesday evening. The forecast currently calls for 36 on Tuesday but sunny. If we get snow this weekend, Tuesday may be in jeopardy if the field hasn't dried out. WINTER, GO AWAY! THERE IS BASEBALL TO PLAY!