This is the first in a series of preview articles leading up to the 2008 baseball season. KU opens on Feb. 22nd in Hawaii.
The backstop position is one of the more settled coming into the 2008 season. Buck Afenir will start. Afenir will be a junior and is coming off a very productive offensive year. He added 120 points to his OPS, finishing last year at .858. This gives him one of the more potent bats in the KU line-up and makes him a dark horse candidate for All Big-12 honors. Last year Aefnir started two games at DH. If he is able to keep his OPS over .800 next year Price will continue to look for ways to get him into the lineup on days when he is resting his knees.
|2006||KU - NCAA||108||.278||.331||.407||4||16||0/0||7||26|
|2007||KU - NCAA||154||.286||.339||.519||8||38||0/0||12||41|
The weaker part of Afenir's game is defense. Last year Price frequently replaced Afenir late in games with the stronger fielding Dylan Parzyk. Buck has yet to demonstrate he can consistently control opponent's running games. In 2006 he threw out 15% (7 of 48) of runners. That number actually declined to 10% last year (7 of 70). During those same two years his errors grew from two to six. On the plus side Afenir dramatically cut down his number of passed balls last year. He let 13 get by him his freshman year, and only two last year. Evaluating player's defensive performance based on numbers is much harder than evaluating their offensive performance, but given the numbers I have to work with Afenir did not improve as a catcher during his second year at KU. Setting aside the numbers and just going on my own observations, Afenir looked more confident behind the plate late last year and did a much better job in the second half of the season taming opposing baserunners.
Dylan Paryzk graduated last year leaving the team without a defensive specialist at catcher. Aefnir handled roughly 60% of the innings last year at catcher, a number that probably will grow in 2008, but not by a great deal. Just counting doubleheaders and day games following night games KU will need to start someone other than Buck at least 15 times next season. Ryne Price enters the season as the #2 catcher. Price started four games at catcher two years ago, and I remember him entering at least a couple of mid-week games last year as a replacement. I have not seen enough of his work behind the plate to make any judgment on his fielding ability, but without a doubt he will bring a plus bat to the position. Joe Southers and Eric Snowden also will get work at catcher. Last year both picked up a few innings as the position but neither started a game there. Southers spent the summer playing in the North West League. He played in 54 games, mostly as a catcher, and hit .211/.315/.297.
Bottom line, Aefnir is one of the conference's best offensive catchers and showed some signs in the second half of 2007 that he might be developing better defensive skills. Behind Aefnir lies a collection of back-ups who can hit (Ryne Price OPS .956, Snowden OPS 1.042 and Southers at .641) but whose defensive skills I cannot evaluate.