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Baseball: Jayhawks in the pros - Class of 2006

2006 was a banner year for KU baseball. The Jayhawks won the Big-12 tournament and returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1994. The team won 43 games which was the second highest total in school history (the 1993 College World Series team won 45). Don Czyz was named NCAA Stopper of the Year and 2nd team All-American. All these accomplishments were capped in June when six members of the team were drafted by MLB clubs, and two more former Jayhawsk signed professional contracts.

- Don Czyz - Drafted in 7th Round
- Sean Land - 9th Round
- Tyson Corley (former Jayhawk) - 13th Round
- Gus Milner - 14th Round
- Ritchie Price - 18th Round
- Jared Schweitzer - 30th Round
- Kodiak Quick - 33rd Round
- Ricky Fairchild - Signed by Indians as an undrafted free agent

So, how has this massive class of 2006 fare in the professional ranks?

Don Czyz
For background on Don Czyz' accomplishments as a Jayhawk, take a look at his interview with Rock Chalk Talk from last year. Don is a lock for the KU Baseball Hall of Fame when he reaches eligibility.

After some pre-draft conversations with the Cardinals Don was surprised to be selected by the Marlins first.

Don Czyz' Career

Year Team Record Innings ERA Hits/9 BB/9 K/9 HR/9
2003 KU - NCAA 2-4 40.1 5.58 12.27 4.46 8.93 .22
2004 KU - NCAA 2-1 45.1 3.77 12.31 3.38 7.94 .99
2005 Kansas - NCAA 3-4 62.1 3.47 7.22 3.75 8.66 .72
2006 KU - NCAA 6-0 63.1 1.56 6.96 2.13 8.53 .28
2006 Jamestown - Low A 3-1 22.0 4.91 8.18 4.50 8.18 .00
2007 Greensboro - A 3-5 66.1 4.61 10.04 2.04 9.77 .68

Following his phenomenal senior year at KU Czyz' first season and a half in professional ball has been a story of moderate success. He got off to a slow start at Jamestown but did well enough to earn a promotion to Greensboro in 2007. While his ERA at Greensboro was basically the same as it had been in Jamestown (4.61 vs. 4.91) his peripheral numbers were much more encouraging. His K/BB ratio improved dramatically from 1.82 to 4.80. Anything over 2.00 is considered very good. Czyz ground ball ratio (1.60) is also a positive peripheral static, indicating that he is keeping his slider low. While Czyz did not dominate in 2007 he clearly had a good year and should be in A+ Jupiter next year, if not all the way up to AA Carolina. Czyz made steady progress in 2007 and, with the Marlins well into another extreme youth movement, might see more opportunity in 2008.

Sean Land Even though Land did not enjoy great success at the NCAA level he still heard his name called early in his first year of college draft eligibility. At six foot five and 230 lbs Land had the physical makeup professional teams love in left handed pitchers. Land's biggest problem while at Kansas was control. His steady improvement in this area was partially offset by a parallel decline in his strike out rates.

Sean Land's Career

Year Team Record Innings ERA Hits/9 BB/9 K/9 HR/9
2004 KU - NCAA 4-2 45.1 5.76 7.35 7.15 5.36 .20
2005 KU - NCAA 5-5 74.0 4.62 11.31 4.14 8.76 .49
2006 Kansas - NCAA 5-7 87.1 5.56 9.17 3.61 5.67 .93
2006 Elizabethtown - Rk 3-5 60.2 4.45 8.60 4.01 8.46 1.04
2007 GCL Twins 0-0 2.0 9.00 9.00 4.50 0.00 .00
2007 Beloit - Low A 1-1 7.0 2.57 7.71 6.43 5.14 .00

Land broke into professional ball at the Rookie level which indicates the Twins wanted to work with his mechanics. He did fairly well in a half season and opened 2007 at low-A Beloit but an early injury derailed his season. He came back in July to pitch a few innings in the Gulf Coast League, but this has to be seen as a rehab assignment. Nothing about Land's performance in the pros should discourage the Twins from sticking with him, so it looks like his career now hangs on how well he recovers from his injury. If anyone else has more information about Land pleas pass it along.

Tyson Corley Corley came to KU in 2005 and was used as both a starter and reliever during his freshman year. His overall numbers (1-2, 8.55 ERA in 40 innings) do not tell the whole story. Corley pitched very well at times and, had he returned to KU, probably would have moved into the regular weekday rotation in 2006. Instead Corley transferred to a Juco and signed with the White Sox when drafted that year. His work in the minors has been a bit rough. In 35 games over two years he has an 0-7 record and an ERA of 5.37. Last year he was not able to get out of the Rookie League. Corley may have left for the pros too early. I remember him as a tall lanky pitcher (6'6, 195 lbs) who needed to fill out and pace himself on the mound a bit better. He is exactly the type of player who often benefits from a few years in the NCAA. I hope he showed enough for the White Sox to bring him back next year and he is able to put together a solid campaign. I also remember talking with his mother a few times in the stands and, for what this is worth, she was a good conversation buddy during some cold mid-week games at Hoglund.

Gus Milner
Milner transferred into KU after two years at a Juco and put together two very good years in Lawrence. Milner is a big guy, 6'5 and solid. He is a good athlete who played outfield and ran the bases well. Milner had a good eye and a big swing. I can't think of many times when Milner decided to swing at a pitch when he didn't commit all the way. He drew a lot of walks and also struck out too often. The biggest thing about Milner, he was a run producer. He collected RBIs like Angelina Jolie collects new babies. I felt completely comfortable with Milner at the plate in clutch situations. Kansas worked out well for Milner. He had been drafted in the 47th round by the Indians out of Juco but turned them down for KU. Two years later he went in the 14th round to the Phillies.

Gus Milner's Career

Year Team At Bats Batting
On Base
2005 KU - NCAA 225 .298 .380 .516 9 45 9/2 25 48
2006 KU - NCAA 265 .328 .395 .521 7 58 6/1 26 52
2007 Batavia - Low A 241 .261 .335 .390 3 39 4/3 20 55
2007 Lakewood -A 458 .286 .371 .428 10 66 19/9 63 102

Milner's first half season at Batavia was lack-luster. He continued to drive in runs but his averages took a tumble. 2007 went better and Milner rose his OPS from .725 to .799. Gus will benefit from his size and athleticism and continue to hold the Phillies attention. John Sickels gave Milner a C rating which indicates he sees him as a marginal prospect at this point. That sounds worse than it is. A "C" prospect is in the top quarter of all minor league players. Look for Milner to be pushed up to High-A Clearwater next year. If he can maintain his OPS in the .800 area and continue to hold his own in the outfield he should be in line for a cup of coffee with the Phillies by late 2009. Milner is a good package of physical potential backed-up by on-field results. He is one to keep your eye on.

Ritchie Price
Price is a good example of a great NCAA player who probably peeks at that level due to physical limitation, not due to any lack of motivation or hard work. Price pretty well owns the KU record book. He is number one for games played (255), at-bats (1,022), runs (204), hits (312), sacrifices (35) and hit by pitches (53). The Mets showed confidence in him by drafting him in the 18th round and Price did fine in his only year of professional play. He did not hit (.229/.358/.252) but was named the best fielder in the system. Price probably could have continued to play professionally for a few more years but, realistically, by 2006 he probably had no more to give than he had already left on the field. He was not a big guy. He had gotten to where he was by knowing the game well and working his butt off. This is the type of guy who can bring a college team a championship, but probably cannot climb above up the minor league ladder when competing with guys who just had more gifts given to them on their date of birth.

After one year of professional baseball Ritchie accepted a coaching job at South Dakota State. I wouldn't be one bit surprised to see him following in his father's footsteps and heading an NCAA program as head coach before too long.

Jared Schweitzer
Much of what I wrote above about Ritchie Price could be equally applied to Jared Schweitzer. Jared is one of the best natural hitters I have yet to see play college baseball. He was in complete control of the batters box, looking for pitches to drive and almost never swinging at a mistake. When he was on his game it seemed like he was smacking tennis balls with a racquet, so controlled and purposeful was his swing. During his senior season Schweitzer set the KU school record for longest hitting streak and capped his amazing college career by hitting for the cycle against #25 Hawaii in the NCAA tournament. The Big-12 honored Jared by naming him First Team all conference. Every bit of 2006 was magic for Schweitzer, who always remained clearly modest about his accomplishments, joking that his hitting streak was as much due to his good luck and his refusal to cut his shaggy hair down to size as it was to hard work and talent.

College stardom behind him, Schweitzer signed with the St. Louis Cardinals and started an even more challenging stage of his career. While at KU Jared did not display exceptional base running speed and did not stand out in the field at any position to the left of first base. How many 185 pound players lacking plus speed and/or plus fielding do you see playing in the major leagues? Like Ritchie Price, Schweitzer seemed to me to fit into that group of players who can be great at the NCAA level, but just not have what it takes to advance into the major leagues through no fault of their own. So far Jared is doing everything he can to prove my impressions wrong. After putting up rather pedestrian numbers in his first half season of professional ball Jared put together a very solid campaign last year in A ball.

Jared Schweitzer's Career

Year Team At Bats Batting
On Base
2004 KU - NCAA 164 .305 .380 .457 5 15 0/0 13 27
2005 KU- NCAA 142 ..366 ..466 ..585 7 32 2/2 21 11
2006 KU - NCAA 241 .369 .445 .573 11 41 1/0 34 33
2006 State College - Low A 159 .252 .326 .296 0 15 0/3 17 27
2007 Quad Cities -A 262 .290 .364 .450 10 38 2/1 24 45

The Cardinals seemed to warm to Jared as 2007 went on. His playing time increased each month from April through July. He played primarily at 2B, a position he fielded at KU when Ryne Price was injured in 2006. I do not know if Jared has improved his glove work, but while at KU he was fundamentally sound without showing as much range as would be expected from an everyday middle infielder. I don't know how much weight to place in this award but the St. Louis writer for named Jared the Quad City "Position Player of the Year" and wrote this about him:

I'm nominating Jared Schweitzer for the position player of the year. Once again, I'm giving my vote to one of the quieter players on the team. Jared didn't hit a lot of home runs, but he got a lot of hits. He didn't make many brilliant plays on the field, but he made plays game after game. An injury in mid-August shortened his season which could be part of the reason the team skidded into the playoffs and made an early exit in the post season.

Schweitzer did what he needed to stick with the organization and presumably will be playing next year in Palm Beach. The Florida State League is a significant jump from the Midwest League and once more Jared will be challenged. Given his size and relatively advanced age for a player in the low-minors (Jared is 24) he does not have much margin for error but he has been beating the odds for years now and who am I to say he won't do so again next season. Jared is one of the most popular players to come through KU in recent years so I know he will have a lot of fans pulling for him. Should things go well for Schweitzer next year he has a chance of playing at the AA level in Springfield, MO. That would be a road trip I would make to watch him play again.

Kodiak Quick
Kodiak ends a run of three players on this list who all fit into that same broad category. Great NCAA players with suspect professional prospects. Quick was a truly dominating starting pitcher at KU. In two years he rewrote much of the school record book. In 2005, his first year in Lawrence, Quick tied the school record by recording ten wins. The following year he set a new all-time standard by notching eleven wins. His two annual totals for innings pitched in a season rank 1st and 7th all time. Even though he only was a Jayhawk for two years Quick left the school ranked sixth in career wins (21) and ninth in innings pitched (233.1). Quick was named to the All Big-12 team both years and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers following his senior season.

Unlike most college seniors who hear their name called on draft day Kodiak instead walked away from the game in favor of pursuing a degree in engineering. I do not have more to pass on about Kodiak and hope someone can supply a more complete update. As I have been looking over the 2008 pitching staff I think, from top to bottom, it is the most solid I have yet seen at KU. But I did find myself wishing there was one established dominate stopper like Kodiak Quick. There are a lot of names on the roster who I am sure will win big games for the Jayhawks this year, but no one yet instills quite the same level of confidence I felt when I would go to the park knowing Quick was on the mound that day.

Ricky Fairchild
Ricky Fairchild transferred into KU from Tulane for his senior season. Fairchild never found a good groove while at KU, finishing the year at 6-6 with a 5.95 ERA, but showed enough raw talent to still draw some interest from the pros. He was signed by the Indians as a non-drafted player and pitched for Burlington of the Rookie league. His work at Burlington was similar to his KU performance (4-3, 5.74 ERA) and he was not brought back in 2007. If anyone can supply a more detailed update on Ricky please pass it along.

This has been a massive entry, but it was necessary in order to do justice to this impressive class of Jayhawk alumni. To have eight KU players enter professional baseball in one year is a testament to the high level of recruiting and coaching found in Lawrence. High school prospects notice things like this, and success builds on success.

I will have to shift my attention (and free time) to the season preview articles but will try to make time to post updates on the class of 2005 as well as the four Jayhawks playing professional baseball from earlier classes.