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2009 KU Baseball Preview by Aman Reaka

Like myself, Aman Reaka has remained optimistic about the overall trajectory of the KU hardball program.  He reminds us of how transformed the program is now compared to five years ago.  Aman has been scouting college players for years now.  It seems to me that he has a particularly good eye for pitching talent.  Below he gives a quick preview of individual players.  If you want to get up to speed on the '09 Hawks this is about as good an introduction as you are likely to find.  Baseball season starts Friday afternoon! - JQ

   Team-logo-kan_medium    2009 KU Baseball Preview by Aman Reaka    Team-logo-kan_medium 

I know, I know. Kansas baseball preview. They will be at the bottom of the Big 12. Blah, blah, blah.  BUT.....

The landscape of college baseball is slowly changing in Lawrence Kansas.  Since Ritch Price arrived in Lawrence, Kansas has won the Big 12 tournament, played much more competitive baseball, put a much better team on the field, produced many more players that went on to the next level, and recently have begun to recruit a much higher caliber of talent, including players that are now drafted out of HS and turning down decent money to come play for the Jayhawks. It is taking awhile, but it’s slowly happening. Kansas also recently opened a new clubhouse facility that is very nice indeed, and will put them on par with a large chunk of the rest of the Big 12 teams. In Coach Price' tenor at Kansas, the average velocity of the pitching staff has gone from 84mph to 90mph. That is a huge improvement and with this year’s class of young arms, it looks even better. The last 2 years have quite possibly been the best 2 recruiting classes in Kansas baseball history and in due time, it should show. That said, let’s move on to the 2009 season.
This will be a rebuilding type season for the Jayhawks. They are very young and full of talented but unproven players. The Jayhawks lost a lot of leadership and experience to the draft and to graduation after this past season. They lost their 3/4/5 hitters (John Allman, Ryne Price, Erik Morrison) along with a couple of important bench bats, that altogether account for 30 hr, 181 rbi and 28 sb. That is a lot of production to take out of the heart of the order and expect to fill with young players. The Jayhawks also lost some decent pitchers to the draft and to graduation. They lost: 33 games started, 11 wins and 207 innings pitched from the main group of pitchers that are no longer with the team. That will also be no small task to replace. That said, there are a lot of bright spots on this team. A nice mix of talent and some experienced leadership. It should be a fun year to watch this team grow and hopefully improve enough to really show some serious progress for the coming years.
3b) SO. Tony Thompson, 6'5, 210 (.276, 5 hr, 18 rbi, 11 bb, 30 k, 10 errors)
Thompson is a very talented kid and after a rough start last year as a freshman, really started to hold his own in the 2nd half of Big 12 play. Tony should be a major factor this season. He has a pro body, he is very athletic and plays good defense at the hot corner. I expect Tony to hit near the .300 mark this year with double digit HR's and much more run production. This team will need Thompson to continue his progression to being a team leader and possible star in this league. He will be backed up by 6'5, 230lb Sophomore Greg Herbst who also has some decent talent.

Read about the rest of the players after the jump

SS) JR. David Narodowski, 5'10, 193 (.450, 18 doubles, 8 hr, 42 rbi with Vernon College) David is flat-out "show time" on defense. He has amazing lateral speed with a good arm and he runs through the ball when he fields it. I have seen this kid get to some balls that just aren't reachable by very many players. So he’s all defense right? Wrong. This kid can hit the ball. He hits to all fields and has a shocking amount of power for a guy his size. He was a great find for this coaching staff to get this kid to transfer to Kansas. I would expect him to really surprise the Big 12 this year. He will be backed up with Robby Price (who will be starting at 2b) as well as James Stanfield, a true freshman from the state of Oklahoma.
2B) JR. Robby Price, 5'11, 176 (.296, 1 hr, 25 rbi, 28 bb, 22 k, 7 errors) Robby is the equivalent to a "gym rat" in basketball. He lives the game and studies it very intently. He works extremely hard as well. He has great on-base skills and he hits to all fields and is a great contact hitter. Defensively, he has a great glove and is a plus defender. He can play 2b, SS or 3b. His main weaknesses are his arm and average to below average speed. Robby got All Big 12 Honorable Mention last year and I'd expect him to be a top player again this year. He will be a team leader this year and will need to set the table for some of the younger players. I expect Price to hit above the .300 mark this season and to really carry this team on his shoulders if times get tough. His backup at 2B will be Jordan Dreiling, a freshman from Lawrence, KS.

1B) SR, Preston Land, 6'3, 236 (.221, 5 hr, 31 rbi, 32 bb, 62 k, 5 errors) Land will get his last chance to do what everyone thinks he is capable of doing. He will truly need to start off the season strong as he will be pushed by a big time recruit in Zac Elgie. Scouts love Preston and want him to succeed as he did as a freshman. He packs so much raw power and has a great pro body. He also has decent speed and a good arm and plays good defense. He just needs to get out of that funk he has when the bat is in his hands. If he doesn't show any signs of change, then I would expect Elgie to begin stealing more and more starts away from Land as the season progresses.
1B) FR, Zac Elgie, 6'2, 205 Elgie may be the biggest recruit to ever play for the Jayhawks. Elgie was drafted by the A's in the 12th round of the 2008 draft but chose not to sign and instead become a Jayhawk. He was seen by many as a first day talent (top 6 rounds) but dropped to 12th because of signability concerns. Elgie has a ton of upside but will need to get used to college pitching and the velocities that he will see. He played against much lesser competition up in North Dakota and may need a bit of transition time. He will no doubt push Land for the starting job as the season progresses. Elgie may eventually be moved to catcher to really improve his future status at the next level although I wouldn't expect this to happen this year. This kid should be fun to watch develop as he could turn into something very special.
C) SR. Buck Afenir, 6'1, 205 (.253, 9 hr, 42 rbi, 16 bb, 38 k, 7 errors) Buck was All Big 12 Honorable Mention last year and should rack up stronger awards again this year. Afenir is a team leader, hard worker and a clutch hitter. He has a strong arm behind the plate but still needs to improve his accuracy and release quickness. With the bat, he needs to improve his pitch recognition and draw more walks. He does posses some decent power however and is a threat for opposing pitchers. I think Buck should be able to raise his average to the .270 range this year and really be a leader for this young Jayhawk team. His backup is sophomore Joe Lincoln from Maplewoods CC. Lincoln is good behind the plate and is also a leader and should take Afenir's spot in 2010. Lincoln was drafted by the Braves in the 48th round in 2007.

LF) FR. Jake Marasco, 6'3, 206 Marasco is a very physical athlete with a nice bat. He may remind some of graduated LF senior John Allman with his all-out style defense and grittiness. Jake will get thrown right into the heat of battle as a freshman. He will more than likely split time with Jimmy Waters as the season progresses.
LF) SO. Jimmy Waters, 6', 200 (.242, 3 hr, 9 rbi, 8 bb, 20 k) Waters went through labrum surgery this off-season, on his throwing shoulder. This means that he will start the season doing as little throwing as possible and will more than likely DH until his arm is ready to go. Waters and Marasco will then platoon after he gets back to full strength. Waters is a very strong hitter with power and good speed. He will be a very pleasant surprise once he gets things going.
CF) SR. Nick Faunce, 5'11, 196 (.326, 3 hr, 13 rbi, 15 bb, 32 k, 5 errors) Faunce will be another very strong team leader and one of the strongest offensive weapons returning. Faunce works very hard and plays very smart. On defense he will play all out and leave nothing on the field.  He will need to walk more and K less this season to set the table for the young guys. Faunce will bat lead off and be crucial for this team’s success. Faunce also can move to RF and play that position in order to get Jason Brunansky in the game in CF.
CF) FR. Jason Brunansky, 5'11, 185 Jason is the son of long-time major leaguer Tom Brunansky. This kid has great speed, a good arm and good power at the plate. He is also a good hitter and will push Faunce and Heere in the OF. This is another young talent that has the ability to really impress.

RF) SO. Brian Heere, 5'10, 170 (.238, 2 rbi, 4 bb, 4 k) Brian has the capability to make big plays in the OF. He is an extremely smart player that plays very hard but within himself. He will be an important on-base guy this year. Heere has a good bat and pretty good speed. This young team will need him to get on base any way he can. Heere will bat in the #2 hole to open the season and will have a chance to really secure his spot in this lineup. His backup is SO. Casey Lytle. Casey is a good athlete with a good bat and speed. He will need to show improvement on defense to steal much playing time.

This staff has really been bitten hard by the injury bug. The Jayhawks #1 and possibly #2 or #3 pitchers will be fighting to get healthy this year after surgeries and more surgeries. JR Andy Marks is still fighting labrum issues and might be available for late season bullpen help if at all. JR Wally Marciel will likely miss most of the season after TJ surgery and highly touted FR Jordan Jakubov will miss all of 2009 with a second TJ surgery. This staff will need to be much better than last season because the offense lost a lot of production. It will be filled with talent but very unproven and young talent. If they can get the ball into the hands of closer Paul Smyth, then things will be looking up for the Jayhawks.
LHP) JR. Schaeffer Hall, 6'2, 200 (5.13, 4-2, 59 ip, 73 hits, 21 bb, 46 k) Hall will be the Friday starter to begin the season. He is a control pitcher that throws 3 pitches for strikes. He has a good breaking pitch and a great change up. He has been drafted twice and definitely has the capability to fulfill this role as staff ace, but he will need to be very tough on Friday nights or someone else may push him for this spot.

RHP) SO. TJ Walz, 6', 175 (5.00, 4-1, 54 ip, 57 hits, 21 bb, 39 k) Walz was a huge surprise last season. He pitched very well against some tough opponents and in some very tough spots and looked very good doing it. No doubt an excellent freshman campaign. His fastball is in the 88-90 range, slider at 85-86 and a nice 73-75 curve ball. Walz will need to continue to show improvement this year and could continue to open eyes if he can do so.
RHP) JR. Cameron Selik, 6'4, 230 (3.83, 48 k, 44 ip at Grossmont CC) Selik will be a much needed newcomer on this injured staff. He has four legitimate pitches and experience to step in as a weekend starter. His fast ball sits at 86-88 with a slider, change and curve. He could be a very important piece to the puzzle this season.
RHP) FR. Lee Ridenhour, 6'3, 200 Ridenhour was another huge recruit for Coach Price this year. Lee was drafted in the 31st round by the Twins in the 08 draft. Lee is a very athletic kid with an 88-92 mph fastball and a good slider. He is working on his change up to include a quality third pitch. Ridenhour has some very high upside and will start the season as a mid-week starter with a legitimate chance to eventually become a Friday night ace in the Big 12. Ridenhour is yet another reason for Jayhawk fans to be excited.

LHP) JR. Travis Blankenship, 6'2, 190 Travis will come in as a mid-week starter after being very successful last year at Johnson County CC. His fastball velocity is in the 84-86 range and he also throws a decent curve ball for strikes. He is in development with his change up. Blankenship pounds the zone with strikes but will need to be very good at locating his pitches to be successful.

RHP) SR. Paul Smyth, 6', 215 (3.73, 5-5, 10 saves, 60 ip, 67 hits, 12 bb, 51 k) Smyth should be in line to get many accolades this season and be on many lists for many more. Smyth is a strike-thrower with a cutter in the 90-92 range. He also has a decent slider to go along with it. He has an odd arm angle that is difficult for most batters to hit. Smyth will have a chance to be one of the dominant pitchers in the league this year and if this young pitching staff can get the ball into his hands, I will expect great things from him.
RHP) JR. Brett Bollman, 5'9, 155 (5.83, 2-3, 1 save, 29 ip, 37 hits, 20 bb, 32 k) Bollman will be the primary setup man this year and if he can get control of his pitches, can also be very dominant. He will be a big key in getting the ball into Smyth's hands.
RHP) JR. Thomas Marcin, 6'3, 204 (4.38, 12 ip, 11 hits, 13 bb, 13 k) Marcin has been working very hard and is looking very strong thus far. He has some nice velocity in the 93-94 range and he has a very good slider. His issue has been with his command and if he can solve this issue, then I think he can push Bollman for that setup job and possibly move into a closing role next year.
RHP) FR. Colton Murray, 6'1, 202 Murray is another strong recruit for Coach Price. Murray throws in the 87-89 range right now and if he can improve his command will have the stuff to be a future closer for this team.

RHP) SO. Brett Bochy, 6'2, 190 (5.94, 16 ip, 17 hits, 9 bb, 18 k) Son of long time MLB manager Bruce Bochy (now with SF Giants). Brett is pitching very good right now and could prove to be a much needed asset out of the bullpen.
RHP) FR. Kevin Burk, 6'2, 195 Burk throws a lot of strikes. He doesn't have a ton of velocity (85-86mph) but he has a ton of movement on his pitches.

RHP) FR. Kelson Boyer, 6'4, 235 Another nice recruit, Boyer will be a long man this year. He throws hard (88-89mph) but is very inconsistent and needs to find his command.
RHP) FR. Jered Meggison, 6'3, 215 Meggison has a pulled lat muscle and will be ineffective until April

RHP) FR. Thomas Taylor, 6'4, 180 Taylor underwent TJ surgery.

The Jayhawks have a nice mix of experienced leaders and talented youth. It will be fun to see if they can all improve and compete this season. The Jayhawks will have a part of their schedule that will rival very few teams in the country when they take on Arizona State, San Diego State, Texas and then Texas A&M in a 2 week period. If the Jayhawks can improve as the season progresses and get past Kansas State and/or Texas Tech and play in the Big 12 tournament, then I would call this season a success. More updates to come!

Rock Chalk Jayhawk!