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Baseball Notes: 2009 commitments, NCAA drug testing.

In brief

  • KU signs 10 players to letters of intent for 2009.
  • Steroid and drug testing in KU athletics.

Full stories under the fold.

KU signs 10 to early letters of intent for 2009
It is probably best if I just pass on the KU press-release here as I have very little additional to offer on these players.  It looks like the Jayhawks have some very promising pitching help on the way.  The 2008 Hawks look to be the best team yet of the Ritch Price era, and, at least according to him, the 2009 recruiting class is his best to date.  Good times.

I like Zac Elgie a lot on paper.  Big lumber from the windswept wastelands of Minot, North Dakota.  This picture ran in the Bismark Tribune. The caption reads: "Zac Elgie of Minot receives high fives from his teammates after belting his second home run of the first game against Mandan. The ball sailed over the left field fence, across Third Street SE and hit the roof of a house."  Yeah, that'll work.

Closer to home Price also seems to be winning a lot of recruiting battles here in the Sunflower state.  Five of the ten players are Kansas products.

Here is the KU press release on all ten recruits.

LAWRENE, Kan. - University of Kansas head coach Ritch Price announced that he has signed ten student-athletes to letters of intent for the 2009 baseball season. Price's signing class includes six Kansas natives, including Travis Blankenship, who is currently enrolled at Johnson County Community College, but is a graduate of Free State High School in Lawrence.

Other signees include left-handed pitcher Kelson Boyer (Eudora, Kan.), outfielder Jason Brunansky (Poway, Calif.), right-handed pitcher Kevin Burk (Warrensburg, Mo.), first baseman Zac Elgie (Minot, N.D.), third baseman Jake Marasco (Maize, Kan.), right-handed pitcher Jared Meggison (Grimes, Iowa), pitcher/second baseman Colton Murray (Olathe, Kan.), pitcher/outfielder Lee Ridenhour (Lenexa, Kan.) and right-handed pitcher Thomas Taylor (Overland Park, Kan.).

"This recruiting class may be the finest in Kansas baseball history," head coach Ritch Price said. "I believe this group of players will help lead KU to multiple NCAA postseason berths and if they continue to work hard and develop their individual skills, several of these young men will play professional baseball upon graduating from the University of Kansas."

Blankenship, a 6-foot-2 left-handed pitcher, was selected first team all-state as well as first team All-Sunflower Conference in 2006 while leading Free State High to a state championship. In his first season at Johnson County Community College last year, he posted a 6-2 record with a 2.86 ERA in 69 innings on the mound. He also had three complete games in his 13 starts.

"Travis is the No. 1 starter at Johnson County, where he plays for former KU team captain, Kent Shelly," Price said. "He will provide depth to our staff and can be used as a starter or out of the bullpen."

Another Kansas native, Eudora's Kelson Boyer, is the most recent addition to the signing class. Boyer, a 2007 first team all-area selection by the Lawrence Journal World, went 9-0 last season with a 1.34 ERA and 59 strikeouts to just four walks. Boyer was also an All-Frontier League first team selection.

"Kelson has a live arm and tremendous upside," Price said. "As he continues to physically mature, he will be a quality guy for us."

Jason Brunansky, a 5-foot-9 outfielder from Poway, Calif., continues KU's trend of a connection to major league baseball under Price. Brunansky is the son of former Twins and Cardinals outfielder Tom Brunansky. Jason hit .371 in 34 games during his junior season. The Poway High School outfielder also collected 16 RBIs, 28 runs scored and eight stolen bases during the 2007 season.

"Jason has a great baseball background and plays in one of the nation's best high school programs," Price said. "He's an excellent outfielder, and a good base-runner with a plus arm. He will contend for a starting spot in center field early in his career at KU."

Kevin Burk, a 6-foot-2 right-handed pitcher from Warrensburg, Mo., helped lead his high school to three consecutive West Central Conference Championships and a district championship in 2006. Burk went 5-3 with a pair of saves with a 1.80 ERA and 48 strikeouts last season.

"Kevin is a strike-thrower with command of three pitches," Price said. "We expect him to contribute out of the bullpen as a freshman."

Zac Elgie, a 6-foot-2 first baseman/outfielder from Minot, N.D., set a Minot American Legion record last season, clubbing 34 home runs to finish with a team-record 61 for his three-year career. Elgie, who also holds career records for the Minot Vistas in runs, hits, RBIs and doubles, was the 2007 North Dakota State American Legion Tournament MVP.

"Zac is one of the top power hitting high school players in the country," Price said. "We expect him to hit in the middle of our order and be an impact player immediately."

Jake Marasco, a 6-foot-3 third baseman from Maize, Kan., is Price's second commitment from Maize in as many years. Marasco was named first team all-state in 2006. In his high school career, Marasco has a .435 batting average with three home runs, 44 RBIs and 12 stolen bases.  

"Jake is regarded as one of the top hitters in the state of Kansas," Price said. "He will remind KU fans of former Jayhawk great Ryan Baty."

Jared Meggison, a 6-foot-2 right-handed pitcher from Grimes, Iowa, was a first team All-Racoon River Conference in 2007 as well as a second team all-district selection. Meggison went 6-5 on the mound with a 1.77 ERA in 67.1 innings pitched. He struck out 90 in 15 games.  

"Jared is rated one of the top pitchers in the state of Iowa," Price said. "With his great size and good velocity, he has a chance to contend for a spot in the rotation as a freshman."

Colton Murray, a 6-foot-1 right-handed pitcher from Olathe, Kan., was the Sunflower League's pitcher of the year for Olathe East High School, going 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA while striking out 56 and allowing only 21 hits in 39 innings. He was also selected first-team 6A all-state.

"Colton will be a two-way player for us," Price said. "He is an outstanding athlete who will make an immediate impact at KU."

Lee Ridenhour, a 6-foot-3 outfielder from Lenexa, Kan., will also be looked at as a pitcher and an outfielder at KU. Along with being named first team all-state, he was selected first team All-Sun Country, first team All-Kansas City Metro and first team All-Johnson County in 2007. Ridenhour hit .493 last season with a pair of home runs and 11 stolen bases. He also posted a 5-0 record on the mound with a 1.40 ERA and five saves.

"Lee is a tremendous talent with the potential to contribute immediately at KU as a freshman both on the mound and in the outfield," Price said.

Thomas Taylor, a 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher from Overland Park, Kan., was listed on Perfect Game's National Pitching Prospect list for this season. During his junior year at Blue Valley West, he compiled a 4-2 record with a 3.11 ERA as well as 61 strike outs in 45.0 innings on the mound. He also led his team to a Kansas Class 6A state championship last season.

"Thomas has a great pitcher's body and throws three pitches for strikes," Price said. "He could be in our starting rotation as early as his freshman year."

Quick word of caution here.  Baseball early commits are not guaranteed to arrive on schedule.  These players can still change their minds and go elsewhere, fail to meet KU academic standards, or sign professional contracts after their senior year of high school.

Steroid and drug testing in KU athletics
Obviously the big story in sports this week is the Mitchell Report.  The report really did not contain any surprising news for anyone who has attempted to remain even minimally informed about the use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball.  This website has tracked evidence of usage among players for years.  Clemons, Pettitte and Tejada were identified several years ago.  Anyone who was surprised by these names just hadn't been paying attention.  This website is run by a medical researcher and has been tracking developing stories and adding commentary for years.  And this story is worth a peek.  It tracks Clemens usage and the benefits he may have received from taking PEDs.  The "evidence" is less than fully convincing, but the before and after pictures are much more damning in my eyes.  Objectively seen, there is little reason to believe that the use of PEDs in baseball is significantly lower today than it was in 2003.

Bringing this back to KU, the LJ World ran a story this week regarding drug testing at the university.  The story calls the testing policy "aggressive" in the headline, while the actual story describes a pretty week policy.  Student athletes at KU at to be tested twice during their four year careers, however this does not always happen.  Even when an athlete is called in for a test he or she is given a day notice and the labs do not always even look for PEDs.  The recommended penalties seem very weak to me; however, since they are almost never given out, that is really beside the point.  Here are a few of the numbers from the LJ World story:

KU stepped up its program in 2005 with a switch to the National Center for Drug Free Sports as its testing company. More than twice as many samples were taken in 2005 compared to 2004.
  • Between 2004 and February 2007, more than 800 samples were taken from KU student-athletes in university-sponsored testing. But a large majority, according to the documents obtained by the Tribune, were not tested for anabolic steroids. All of the tests for several anabolic steroids -- including stanozolol, testosterone, and boldenone -- came back negative.
  • Amphetamines -- stimulants which are common among both athletes and regular students -- were tested in almost every sample by KU. Only four of the 835 samples came back positive.
  • Most positive tests -- 33 total out of 835 samples -- were for marijuana.
Magee said that certain sports at KU were targeted for anabolic-steroid testing over others -- specifically baseball, football and certain track-and-field events.
Generally, an athlete gets a phone call during a random evening and is told to report the next morning to submit a urine test. If that test comes back positive, the level of punishment depends on what governing body conducts the test:
  • Positive tests through the NCAA results in a one-year suspension and loss of eligibility for any banned drug.
  • The Big 12 Conference hands down a one-year suspension for any positive test for anabolic steroids. Positive tests for street drugs, such as marijuana, are turned over to KU.
  • Kansas requires only counseling and increased testing for any athlete who tests positive for the first time for any banned drug. A second positive results in suspension for 10 percent of the current or upcoming season. The third test results in being dismissed from the program and taken off scholarship.

Me on a soapbox
I have fairly strong feelings on this issue.  ESPN Outside the Lines just aired a report today that claimed up to a million high school athletes are using performance enhancing drugs. That number more or less squares with other estimates I have seen.  The pressure put on college athletes to perform at a high level is several times more intense than that experienced by prep players.  Not only are the NCAA players performing on a much larger stage, but a successful college career can in many instances be parleyed into professional opportunities.  

Good NCAA baseball players, those who attract the attention of scouts but are not likely to hear their name called in the first ten or twelve rounds of the draft, these are the players likely to be most tempted by PEDs.  The truth of the matter is that in almost all cases they will never earn a living as a professional athlete.  And of the lucky few who beat the odds only a handful will find themselves drawing a living wage out of baseball a few years removed from school.  Regardless, they will have to deal with the life-long damage they have done to their bodies and minds by use of these dangerous and unregulated drugs.  

Also, keep in mind, buying these drugs puts the players on the wrong side of the law, takes desperately needed money out of their pockets and puts it into the hands of the organized crime and smuggling organizations who manufacture and distribute the drugs.  After the FBI followed the money trail of its last wave of busts they found the drugs were smuggled in from illegal Chinese labs and distributed by New York City organized crime syndicates.  The more you learn the angrier you become at people like Clemens and Bonds who implicitly make the use of these drugs attractive and seemingly acceptable.

KU has a team full of good intelligent hard working young adults.  I hope none have made the poor choice of using these drugs.  The whole mess makes me damn angry every time I see obvious users refusing to take personal responsibility, or when I hear anyone defend their usage based on legalize arguments and moral deflection.  This is a real problem and it demands our attention.  A lot of people are being hurt and if a few privileges millionaire need to swallow their pride and finally start acting like adults that is a small price to pay to help bring this problem under control.

Anyway, please keep the college and high school players in mind as you watch this whole story develop in the coming weeks.  They really are the heart of this story.