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Baseball: 2008 Preview - Outfielders

Of the three starting outfielders from last year's team only John Allman returns. Brock Simpson and Kyle Murphy both signed professional contracts. This leaves the outfield the most unsettled part of the KU roster. Coach Price will attempt to restock by shifting Ryne Price from 2B to RF, and hopes that Nick Faunce will be able to step up his game and hold down CF. John Allman will serve as the cornerstone to the 2008 outfield.

Allman comes into 2008 as one of the team's senior leaders. John is a smart and patent hitter, a steady fielder with wide range, and good baserunning skills. In all ways he is simply an excellent college baseball player and a clear professional prospect.

John Allman
Breaking down Allman's numbers is a pleasure for any stat-head baseball fan. He hits for high average. His raw batting average has remained between .333 and .350 for three straight years. Allman complements this average with a good eye and patience in the batter's box. He has always drawn a good number of walks. Last year his base on balls total actually exceeded his strikeout total - 26 to 24. Consequently, Allman puts up great on base percentage numbers. The only part of Allman's batting package which falls below the highest level are his power numbers, and even in that area Allman is certainly not sub-par. His slugging percentage has grown each year, .437, .485 and .505. There is good reason to hope that Allman will break out in this final area in 2008 for two reasons. One is that he spent perhaps half of 2007 battling a lingering hand injury caused when he was struck by a pitched ball. This injury prevented Allman from driving balls with authority for several weeks, and resulted in his batting average and power numbers slipping significantly. At about the season's mid-point last year (after 29 games) Allman was hitting .408/.520/.541. If he can remain injury free, it is not out of the question that he can end 2008 with similar totals. Coach Price also mentioned earlier that Allman has been working on driving the ball this off-season and he expects to see more power numbers out of his left fielder this campaign.

John Allman

Year Team At Bats Batting
Average
On Base
%
Slugging
%
HR RBI SB/CS BB K
2005 KU - NCAA 103 .350 .477 .437 1 15 3/0 16 26
2006 KU - NCAA 237 .333 .420 .485 6 52 7/0 24 47
2007 KU - NCAA 198 .333 .449 .505 4 44 3/2 26 24
Career 538 .336 .442 .483 11 111 13/2 66 97

Allman played briefly (4 games) for the Duluth Huskies this summer in the Northwood's Leauge, which is probably the second most competitive of the summer wood bat leagues. The Huskies could have changed their name for the 2007 season to Jayhwaks-North as Justin Ellrich, Nick Czyz, Andy Marks and Robby Price were also on the roster. I do not know why Allman only played in those few games - was he hurt? Allman's father, John Sr., played one season for the St. Louis Cardinals football team as a defensive back. I've had a chance to talk with John Sr. and his wife Tania in the stands and found them very supportive parents. They travel to many KU games accompanied by two huge dogs who need to be walked around the outfield fence a few times a game. John was the only Jayhawk named to the Brooks Wallace watch list this off-season. The Brooks Wallace award is given each year to the single most outstanding college baseball player. Left field is in good hands.

Ryne Price
Ryne will move from second base to RF this season, which is not too surprising given his unexpected defensive struggles in the infield last year. Ryne has a strong arm and is a good athlete so physically he should fit into his new positions, (RF and back-up catcher) well. Ryne has one of the more potent bats on the KU roster so he will play, the only question is where he is best placed as a fielder.

Ryne hits for great power (.265 Isolated Power in 2007). His 24 homeruns already place him #6 all-time at KU, a record that both he and SS Erik Morrison will be attempting to break throughout this season. Current Texas Ranger 3B Travis Metcalf holds the record with 29. Ryne also does a good job drawing walks and is not afraid to "take one for the team," (38 career HBP.) Thus, even though his raw batting average is unimpressive, he has maintained an impressive OPS by maintaining good Slugging and On Base percentages. He does have one hole in his offensive game, his high strike-out percentage. Throughout his KU career he has struck out 22% of his plate appearances, an area in which he apparently is not making progress. Last year Ryne struck out in more than a third of his official at-bats. Ideally you look for players to convert more than 10% of their plate appearances into walks and return to the dugout bat-in-hand less than 15% of the time. Ryne career numbers (14 and 22) indicate that he has a good eye and identifies balls and strikes well but, for whatever reason, he swings and misses too often. My guess, and I really don't have any expertise in this area, is that Ryne has left holes in his swing by taking full and wide cuts. He is one of those guys who never gets cheated at the plate. Personally, I am not someone who abhors strikeouts and praises productive outs. I like the big inning approach to game strategy and so have no issue with a player who frequently comes up empty as long as he also keeps his OBP over .350. I'd rather have Adam Dunn than Sean Casey in my line-up. That said, from watching Ryne play over the last few years I do think he is taking this philosophy further than his body can carry it. At 5'11, 190 he might find longer term success with a more conservative two-strike approach.

Regardless as to K-rate, Ryne Price is a damn good college player and his career .897 OPS adds a lot of punch to the Hawk line-up. Ryne is also a gamer. I am sure if he was ever faced with choosing between a broken nose and a win he would ask for the ice-bag without a second thought - and you gotta love watching guys like that play.

Ryne Price

Year Team At Bats Batting
Average
On Base
%
Slugging
%
HR RBI SB/CS BB K
2005 KU - NCAA 196 .256 .409 .405 5 40 7/0 41 51
2006 KU - NCAA 86 .256 .377 .581 9 24 1/2 11 16
2007 KU - NCAA 185 .270 .421 .535 10 31 8/1 32 62
Career 466 .262 .408 .489 24 95 16/3 84 129

Nick Faunce
Faunce is a very difficult player to analyze. He is entering his third year at KU but only started one game as a Jayhawk during his first two years. Faunce has primarily been used as a pinch runner and late inning defensive replacement. He has actually appeared in 50 games already. I expect the bulk of his at-bats have come vs. NAIA and less competitive mid-week opponents. None the less, Nick is penciled in as the team's starting center fielder for 2008. Can he rise to the challenge as Kyle Murphy did last year?

Nick Faunce

Year Team At Bats Batting
Average
On Base
%
Slugging
%
HR RBI SB/CS BB K
2006 KU - NCAA 13 .154 .154 .154 0 3 0/0 0 5
2007 KU - NCAA 24 .333 .407 .458 0 5 1/1 3 3
Career 37 .270 .325 .351 0 8 1/1 3 8

Maybe a good way to develop a picture of Faunce's skill set is to look at his work this summer in the New York College Baseball League. Given that he was using a wood bat in this league and I can offer no judgment on the level of competition he was facing, I am not sure how closely these numbers will translate to what we can expect from him this year at KU, but at least they give us a statistically significant sample base.

In the NYCBL Nick hit .233/.329/.429 in 133 at bats. Oddly, most of his hits went for extra bases! He collected 12 singles, 14 doubles, 3 triples and two homeruns. Are all those doubles and triples a hint that Nick is using his speed to stretch for extra bases? Or does he drive the ball better than we have yet seen at KU? Faunce also stole ten bases in thirteen attempts.
Faunce in action this summer

Faunce is the single biggest question mark going into 2008. He seems to be a plus fielder. Price has shown a lot of faith in him as a base runner, although the actual results achieved so far have not been great. Can Nick hit well enough to hold down the job? Even if he is as strong a fielder and base runner as Kyle Murphy was last year (no small feat there) he will still need to maintain an OBP at least in the neighborhood of .300 to avoid being a sinkhole in the line-up. At this point last year I had very similar questions about Murphy and then Kyle simple went out and crushed the ball all year long. Hopefully lightening will strike twice. Probably no one has a better read on what Faunce is capable of than Coach Price so it is probably best to trust in his judgment. If Price did not have faith in Faunce he could have shifted Allman into center and given up defense in order to keep three live bats in the outfield.

Reserves
The Jayhawks can easily go five deep on their outfield depth chart. Casey Larsen has played all outfield positions in the past and does fine in the field. Coach Price mentioned that Jimmy Waters, an incoming freshman, might see some innings in LF. In addition three other Freshmen will be available, Brian Heere, Phil Parrish and Blake Slagle. Casey Lytle may redshirt this year.

Larsen, the most experienced of the backups, is the KU version of Ryan Freel. A senior, Casey played OF, DH and 1B last year and I understand that if called upon he could fill in at 3B. He seemed to do fairly well in the outfield, although I haven't seen enough of him in any one slot to really give a more definitive opinion. Last year Larsen started twenty games, fifteen at DH, two in CF and one each at RF, LF and 1B. In 74 at bats he hit a very respectable .284/.421/.459. Even though perhaps a few dozen of these at-bats were against low-grade opponents Larsen clearly can hold his own at the plate. In the most high-pressure of all situations, pinch hitting, Casey went 5-9 last year. Like Ryne Price Larsen is a high-K/high-BB batter. I assume Larsen will be the primary outfield reserve, providing the team with a good insurance policy in case injury or ineffectiveness visits any of the starting three. Larsen probably will see at least as much playing time in 2008 as he saw last year given that Ryne Price will catch a game or two a week. Larsen also played in the NYCBL this summer, hitting .260/.395/.410 in 100 at bats. He was the team's starting CF (20 games) but also was given starts at DH (6), LF (3) and RF (1).

Of the four freshmen who might see time in the outfield this year Jimmy Waters figures to play the largest role. According to Coach Price Waters has too strong a bat to keep him on the bench so he will see spot starts at CF, LF and DH. Waters is out of Council Bluffs, Iowa where he was all-state in both baseball and football as well as being named a USA Wrestling All-American. Waters was in fact named the #1 wrestling recruit in Iowa last year, a state well known in the sport, but he decided to come to KU to focus on baseball. So, good athlete. Six feet, 200 lbs.
Waters is one of the most impressive KU baseball recruits.

Brian Heere is a hometown product out of Lawrence high school. Heere took a red shirt last year. Brian was second team all-state his senior year. He bats left and is also coming off a fairly good year in the NYCBL where he was on the same team as Nick Faunce. Heere hit .294/.429/.352 in 68 at bats and stole 6 of 10 bases. Heere seems to have split his time pretty evenly between all three outfield positions.

Phil Parrish looks great on paper. Big guy, 6'1, 190 lbs. Parrish owned Montana high school pitchers. His senior year in Great Falls he hit .383 with 14 homeruns and drove in 51 runs. These are amazing prep numbers. Phil also must have good speed as he stole 25 bases that year and played on the basketball team. Price called Parrish "a good option" but thought he might red shirt this year. Parrish hits left.

Blake Slagle joins the team after red shirting last year. Slagle is out of St. Louis where he was named Missouri first team all state in 2005 and 2006. Blake shook off the rust with several other teammates in the NYCBL but, unlike most of his fellow Hawks, he struggled. His final line was .189/.321/.233 in 90 at bats. Slagle received a lot of attention in high school, including being named to the Louisville Slugger Pre-season All-American watch list. Has he been injured? He will be seeing his first action as a Jayhawk this season as an outfield back-up.

Next week - a look at the infielders.