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Baseball: 2008 Preview - Infield

Big thanks to bkmhoxx for writing this preview of the KU infielders. Earlier I posted previews of the Outfielders, and Catchers. Still to come will be stories on the starting pitchers and bullpen.

The Kansas infield has a chance to really carry this team this year, but there are a few question marks along with some new blood to add to the mix. The infield will have veteran leadership with the likes of Morrison, Ryne Price, Buck Afenir and Preston Land. They will also mix in some youth with the likes of Robby Price, Jimmy Waters and Tony Thompson. There is also a wide mix of solid backups at each position, mixing veterans with youth on that front as well. With many solid bats and a very solid defense, the infield looks like a serious contender to set some records and reach some lofty goals.

Erik Morrison-SR - SS

Year Team At Bats Batting
On Base
2005 KU - NCAA 204 .221 .296 .319 3 36 1/0 11 48
2006 KU - NCAA 245 .290 .344 .522 14 52 7/0 17 49
2007 KU - NCAA 213 .296 .369 .474 7 44 6/0 14 30
Career 662 .270 .337 .444 24 132 14/0 42 127

I have to start the infield preview with the obvious senior leader and very talented shortstop that is Erik Morrison. Last year Morrison hit .296 with a team-high 17 doubles, seven home runs and 44 RBIs and scored 41 runs and stole six bases. He collected 14 multiple-hit games and 10 multiple-RBI contests ... Finished the season by hitting in nine straight games ... Erik Drove home the winning run in the 11th inning of KU's first conference win at No. 8 Texas A&M (3/17) ... Hit a game-winning home run in the ninth inning at No. 25 Missouri (3/30) and had a team-best .391 batting average in games at Hoglund Ballpark. Morrison will be a huge factor this year and should prove to have an impact bat. Last season his HR total took a hit but I expect the HR's to come back this season and I would expect him to end the season as the all-time HR leader in Kansas baseball history (him and Ryne Price are both 5 shy). Morrison is a great defender with a cannon for an arm. He should be a great vocal leader for the team and also great with new freshman 3b Tony Thompson. To put it simply, Erik Morrison will be KU's go-to guy and strongest leader. It should be a lot of fun watching him swing the bat and flash some leather this year. The shortstop position will be backed up by Robby Price, Zach Thoma or Matt Berner and possibly Ryne Price if needed.

Robby Price-SO - 2B
Robby will be the only infielder making a switch this season. He will be moving from 3b to 2b this year. His older brother Ryne has moved from 2b to RF. Robby and Morrison turning double plays is going to be a beautiful sight to see as they have plenty of history together. They both played several years of summer ball in California at these exact same positions so the comfort level will be much higher for these two guys. Robby was named 2007 All-Big 12 Honorable Mention ... Started 55 games at third base and two at shortstop as a freshman ... Hit .286 with eight doubles and 27 RBIs in 210 at-bats ... His 32 walks tied for first on the team with his brother Ryne ... Had a team-best 16-game hitting streak from 2/23 to 3/23. Needless to say, Robby is only a sophomore but plays like a senior. His bat will continue to improve and his comfort level at 2b should show quite nicely. Look for his average to rise and the fans at Hogland should be in for a treat with his sparkling plays alongside Erik Morrison. Back up at 2B will be Matt Berner and possibly Zach Thoma.

Preston Land - JR - 1B

Year Team At Bats Batting
On Base
2006 KU - NCAA 159 .314 .422 .572 9 33 0/0 27 55
2007 KU - NCAA 155 .206 .346 .355 4 27 0/1 31 53
Career 314 .261 .384 .465 13 60 0/1 58 108

Preston Land may be the player that is the most excited to get this season underway. Land went through a rough sophomore campaign after a very solid freshman season starting at 1B. Last season he hit .206 with four home runs, nine doubles and 27 RBIs ... Had seven multiple-RBI games and three multiple-hit games ... Had an eight-game hitting streak from 2/23 to 3/7 but all in all, Land really struggled last year. He took the summer off from playing competitively to get his feet back under him and I would bet he will come on strong as a junior. Land has a lot of power and he still has a lot of potential that is untapped. He could easily be a 15 HR guy this season if he can find his stroke and keep his confidence up. Land also can hit for a good average if on track, so lets hope Preston has "found it". Back up at 1B will be Justin Ellrich and Greg Herbst.

Buck Afenir-JR - C Click here for earlier write-up on Afenir along with his career statistics.
Last year Afenir Hit .286 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs ... His eight homers were second behind only Ryne Price (10) on the season. Committed only six errors in 282 chances behind the plate. Buck is a great catcher with some very good pop in his bat and has shown some great clutch hitting in tough situations. His on-base skills are very weak at this point but I would expect him to improve his inconsistencies at the plate this year and to be patient, wait for his pitch and to draw a few more walks. While he does have a very strong arm, he doesn't have a very good success rate in throwing out runners (7 out of 63). This can mainly be attributed to slow mechanics in getting his throwing arm into position with a quick release and also his accuracy suffered quite a bit last year. The Jayhawks will need Buck to improve in this area to take some heat off the pitching staff. Backing up at catcher this year will be Ryne Price, Jimmy Waters, Joe Southers, Eric Snowden and Tai Mitchell.

Tony Thompson-FR - 3B Thompson was a very important recruit for Coach Price to land. He is a very talented hitter. He hit .490 with 23 home runs and 83 RBIs in his first three high school seasons. He hit .750 with 22 home runs in summer league ball. Along with a strong bat including a lot of power potential, Thompson also plays good defense and has a very strong arm. His biggest challenge will be the struggles of stepping in and starting at a very demanding position in a major D-I conference. There will be some ups and downs for Thompson this year but overall, the expectations are very high. His backups at 3B would probably be Robby Price, Greg Herbst and maybe Matt Berner in a pinch.

Jimmy Waters-FR - C/UTIL/LF
Waters is another important recruit for the Jayhawks. He hit .415 with eight homers, 13 stolen bases and 51 RBIs during his junior season. Waters will DH a lot this year as his bat is one of his strengths. He has some power but at this stage of his career it is mainly gap power. For a leftie, this can be extremely helpful for the offense and I would assume Coach Price will try to get him as many at bats as possible. He is learning a new position in catcher, and I would expect to see him behind the plate on some occasions and also possibly in left field as well. Waters should be a very fun kid to watch swing the bat this year.

Justin Ellrich-SR - 1B
Ellrich is a 1B with a lot of power. He should find his way into the lineup fairly often as a DH or as a pinch hitter. He hit .253 with seven RBIs and eight runs scored in 75 at-bats last year and also is a good defender at first base.

Matt Berner-SR - 2B
Berner is an extremely hard working blue-collar infielder. He will be a very good backup and also carries a decent bat. I would expect to see Berner as a pinch hitter fairly often this year and he also will make some very nice defensive plays. He hit .167 with four RBIs and four runs scored in 24 at-bats last year.

Eric Snowden-SR - C
Snowden will be a back up catcher. He has some good power but has some issues with the strikeout. Id expect to see Eric pinch hit from time to time as he has shown some great success and be a reliable back up catcher. Last year he hit .387 with 10 RBIs and 19 total bases in 31 at-bats and Led the team with 22 at-bats as a pinch hitter.

Joe Southers-SR - C
Southers will back up at catcher again this season. He is a right handed hitter with some decent pop in his bat and should get quite a few DH opportunities this year as well. I have also been told his catching skills have improved quite a bit this off-season.

Tai Mitchell-JR - C
Mitchell will be another backup catcher this year.

Greg Herbst-FR - 1B/3B
Herbst will mainly back up Thompson at 3B. He has very good hands and a strong arm and he does have some good offensive potential but will need to get his feet wet as a freshman and build on this season. He batted .421 with four home runs, 28 RBIs and eight stolen bases during his senior year.

Zach Thoma-FR - IF
Thoma will mainly back up Morrison at SS. He plays very good defense. He hit .375 with eight stolen bases and 13 RBIs during his senior season.