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KU Baseball: Notes from the exhibition game vs. Croatia.

It has been quite a while since I last wrote about the KU baseball team.  This was not so much due to lack of news, rather it was more a factor of my being very busy and out of the country most of the summer.  I will try to get on more of a regular schedule of posting updates between now and next February, when the 2008 season gets underway.  In the upcoming fall and winter updates you can look forward to:

  • updates regarding players who have joined or left the program
  • updates on Jayhawk alumni now in professional baseball
  • the growing debate in college baseball regarding scheduling and the use of metal bats
I actually have something timely to report on today, the Jayhawks exhibition game last night vs. the Croatian National team.  Yesterday was a perfect day for a baseball, sunny and warm, with a nice breeze.  I estimate about 250 fans came out.

I did not know what to expect from a European national baseball team.  The Croatian team is apparently one of the more competitive European teams playing for the championship and a slot in the upcoming Olympics.  They reached the semifinals in 2001 and qualified for the tournament in 2007.  They appear to have a pretty stable roster.  Eighteen of the 24 players who came to Lawrence had been with the club for at least a year.  I also noticed that several of the players were on the older side, three in their 30's, and only four members were younger than twenty.

All that said, the Croatians did not compete in the game.  KU used nine pitchers, each for one inning.  The Croatians only collected two hits the whole game.  Their pitching staff appeared to be made up of mostly low-speed junk ballers.  Quite a few pitches came in under 70 mph, and the strike zone was often missed badly.  The Europeans looked competent in the field.  Judging by what I saw yesterday I would place the Croatian team at about the same level as a decent NAIA team.  KU won the game 8-0, but the score could have been somewhat more unbalanced if the Jayhawks had continued to show patience at the plate in the later innings.  It seemed the KU batters were looking for strikes to swing at, and not interested in working pitch counts.  This is of course understandable in an exhibition game.

Coach Price used most of his roster in the game, subbing players into the game freely after the 3rd inning.  A few random notes about various KU performances.

  • Tony Thompson, an incoming freshman infielder from Reno, Nevada.  Big tall player, looked strong and comfortable at the plate.  Played at 3rd base and turned a tough ground ball into a 5-4 putout to end the 7th inning.
  • Greg Herbst, another incoming freshman, also looked good.  Six foot five inches.  He also made a heads-up play in the 7th.  With a bunt in play on the first-base side both the pitcher (Lane) and first baseman (Ellrich) broke for the ball.  This left first uncovered when Lane reached the ball.  Herbst broke from his position as the second baseman and was able to able to complete the putout by out sprinting the runner to first and cleaning catching Lane's toss.
  • Perhaps as a preview of the KU starting line-up in 2008 Matt Berner opened the game at 2B, Nick Faunce in CF and Ryne Price in RF.  KU must fill two OF slots vacated by the departures of Brock Simpson and Kyle Murphy to the pros.  Hopefully Faunce will step up and hit for a higher average than he did last year.  The shifting of Price to the outfield is not too surprising.  He struggled defensively at 2B last year (which was a bit surprising given how well he had fielded the position in 2005) but his bat is too powerful to not have it in the lineup most nights.
  • Outside of Paul Smyth and Andres Esquibel all the KU pitchers appeared to be on their game.  Both Smyth and Esquibel had some trouble locating their pitches.  Thomas Marcin in particular looked good to me.  He operated in the upper 80's.  It is possible that he has reworked his mechanics a bit in the off-season?  His delivery seemed more compact to me than it had last year.  Last year I believed Marcin looked like he had enormous potential to develop into a dominating pitcher, but he was so plagued by poor control that he was not able to solidify a role on the staff.  If he is able to pitch effectively this year he could be a key figure in the Jayhawk bullpen and maybe, just maybe, start to establish a claim to the closer role when Smyth departs.
  • Marciel, Czyz, and Garcia all looked damn good on the mound.  Andy Marks did not pitch.  A weekend rotation of Marks, Czyz and Marciel might give KU one of the better starting staffs in the Big-12 this year.  Esquibel and Garcia both give middle relief depth and should prove to be tougher than most team's weekday starters.  I am very optimistic about next year's pitching staff.