In the latest offseason position battle post we will look at the vacant Murray State University first base position:
The departed — All-American Wes Cunningham started 52 of the Breds’ 57 games at first base before being drafted by the Sand Diego Padres in the 17th round of the 2010 draft. Cunningham led Murray State in batting average (.408), on-base percentage (.476), slugging percentage (.824), hits (95), home runs (22), RBI (86), runs (77), triples (6) and total bases (192). Cunningham’s 86 RBI and 192 total bases ranked fifth in the country and his 22 home runs ranked 12th. Senior Bryan Propst also started the other five games at first base for Murray St.
Returning candidates — Rising sophomore Colton Moore is the only returning Bred who logged any time at first base in 2010. Moore played the last two innings of Murray St.’s May 28 Ohio Valley Conference tournament win over Eastern Illinois at first base. Moore started 19 games at third base and 24 at designated hitter so he could make the switch to first base in 2011 if he can handle the position defensively full-time. Redshirt freshman infielder Jordan Queen figures to earn some playing time in the infield and had a RBI singled during the fall World Series.
Newcomers to watch — Junior college transfer Tyler Beers is the only player listed as a first baseman on the roster, but will also likely pitch some for Murray St. During the final game of the fall World Series Beers tallied a RBI single. Beers batted .300 with five home runs and 25 RBI as a sophomore for Mineral Area College.
Wildcard — Murray State has five catchers listed on the roster, so head coach Rob McDonald could consider moving one to first base. At 6-1 junior college transfer Jacob Rhodes is the tallest of the group but will likely battle with Drew Pixley for the majority of the playing time at catcher. McDonald could also move one of the seven outfielders on the roster to first base.
With Ashland Native and former UK right-handed pitcher Brandon Webb signing with the Texas Rangers the Kentucky portion of MLB’s offseason appears to be winding down. Have no fear though, there are plenty of storylines to keep you occupied until pitchers and catchers report. Check out a quick rundown of what Kentucky news you can expect from the rest of the offseason:
Jon Rauch signing — Rauch is the final MLB free agent remaining from Kentucky’s original five-man free agent class. Recent rumors have had Rauch connected to the Orioles, Rays, Rockies and Yankees. Almost every team could use a veteran reliever with closing experience, so Rauch could still end up just about anywhere.
Joe Blanton trade — The Philadelphia Phillies pulled off the shocker of the offseason by signing Cliff Lee, but now are likely to trade former UK right-handed pitcher Joe Blanton to make room on the payroll for Lee’s massive contract. The Red Sox were rumored to be a landing spot for Blanton immediately after the Lee signing, but those rumors appear to have been silenced in the weeks since. Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe recently speculated the market for Blanton could heat up after free agent Carl Pavano signs with a new team. Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumorslists the Brewers, Nationals, Twins, Rangers, Yankees, Mariners, Orioles, Royals and Athletics as teams that might have interest in Blanton.
MiLB free agents — Kentuckians Matt Wilhite (Bowling Green) and Neil Wilson (Covington) are the state’s remaining unsigned minor-league free agents. Louisville native and former Bellarmine right-handed pitcher Todd Wellemeyer will likely need a minor-league deal if he is to continue his playing career after being released by the San Francisco Giants during the 2010 season.
Dan Uggla extension — The Atlanta Braves acquire second baseman Dan Uggla, who was born in Louisville, from the Florida Marlins this offseason and are reportedly talking about a long-term contract extension with the slugger. Cafardo recently reported extension talks had slowed as Uggla was seeking more money, but he speculated a deal could still be finished in the first week of January. Two weeks earlier Cafardo tweeted the two sides were close to a five-year extension worth between $60 an $61 million.
The offseason position battle series moves to Richmond today with a look at Eastern Kentucky University‘s vacant third base position:
The departed: Junior third baseman Jayson Langfels started ever game at third base for EKU in 2010 and batted .353 with 16 home runs, 52 RBI and 61 runs scored. Langfels has since moved on to professional baseball as the 16th round pick of the Colorado Rockies. Langfels’ 61 runs scored and .696 slugging percentage led the team and his 18 career triples are a Ohio Valley Conference record.
Returning candidates: Rising junior infielder Dustin Dunlop was the only other Colonel to appear in a game at third base in 2010 after pinch running for Langfels against the University of the Cumberlands. Dunlop spent most of his time at second base in 2010 but did play some third base as a freshman in 2009. Rising senior Bryce Labhart, rising sophomore Alex Hughes, rising junior Richie Rodriguez and rising sophomore Matt Phipps are the other returning infielders on the roster. Rodriguez and Phipps ended 2010 as the starting shortstop and second baseman respectively.
Newcomers to watch: Incoming freshmen infielders Bryan Solomon, Alex Arovits and Mitch Durbin each boasted strong performances during the EKU fall World Series. When Solomon signed with the Colonels head coach Jason Stein called him “a complete third baseman” who could hit for average and power while playing great defense with a “great arm.” Solomon may also pitch for the Colonels.
Wildcard: The candidates for EKU’s vacant infield positions appear to be fairly straight forward, so don’t look for any surprises. Head coach Jason Stein could conceivably move one of the team’s surplus outfielders to the infield or rearrange incumbents Rodriguez, Phipps and Dunlop.
In the latest position battle series post we will look at Western Kentucky University‘s vacant second base position:
The departed: Senior infielder Matt Payton began 2010 as the Hilltoppers primary second baseman and closed out the season at the same position afer briefly moving to shortstop during the middle of the season. Payton was second among WKU batters with a .354 batting average. He led the team with 63 runs scored, 10 triples and a .586 slugging percentage. Payton was the 27th round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies following his senior season.
The returning candidates: Rising junior Logan Robbins started six games at second base for WKU in 2010, but spent the majority of the season as the team’s starting shortstop. Rising sophomore Blake Crabtree played all over the diamond for the Hilltoppers in 2010, including 12 starts at second base. Crabtree started the final seven games of the 2010 season at third base.
Newcomers to watch: Junior-college transfer Ivan Hartle was named the Easton NJCAA Division I Baseball Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 while playing mostly second base for Iowa Western Community College. Head coach Chris Finwood noted freshmen infielders Scott Wilcox and Jordan Cessna as newcomers who had stood out during fall practice.
Wildcard: Rising sophomore Andrew Zimmerman appeared in just three games as a freshman for the Hilltoppers with all three appearances coming on the mound, but the right-handed pitcher was a standout infielder for Riverview High School in Florida. Zimmerman batted .404 with three home runs and 20 RBI as a senior in 2009.
Former UK right-handed pitcher and Ashland native Brandon Webb has signed a one-year contract with the Texas Rangers pending a physical, Jason Stark of ESPN.com reports. Webb hasn’t pitched since Opening Day 2009 after repeated shoulder problems. Webb has spent each of his first seven MLB seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
In seven seasons Webb is 87-62 with a 3.27 ERA and 1065 strikeouts in 1319.2 innings pitched. Webb won the 2008 Cy Young award and finished second in the voting for the award two other times. Before his shoulder injury Webb had pitched at least 200 innings in five consecutive seasons. The Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals and an unidentified mystery team in the National League Central were also interested in Webb. Reports early Tuesday pointed to Webb’s hometown Cincinnati Reds as the possible mystery team. (Read more)
UPDATE 12/28: Webb has requested to wear No. 33 in Texas to honor his former UK teammate Jon Hooker, who died in the flight 5191 crash in Lexington in August 2006. Hooker, who was Webb’s roommate at UK and was traveling on the flight to his honeymoon in California, died in the crash along with the 46 other passengers and three crew members. Hooker and his wife, Scarlett, were married the day before the crash. (Read more)
In the next offseason position battle post we’ll look at the University of Louisville‘s vacant first base position:
The departed: Senior Andrew Clark and junior Phil Wunderlich started all but seven games for UofL at first base in 2010. Both players are now in organizational ball meaning the Cards have a significant void at a key defensive position and in the middle of the lineup.
The returning contenders: Four of the six starts at first base that didn’t go to Clark or Wunderlich in 2010 went to rising sophomore Cade Stallings, and the other three went to rising sophomore Zak Wasserman. Head coach Dan McDonnell appears ready to give one of those players the job in 2011 as each started in all five games of the fall scrimmage series for UofL. Neither player grabbed the job during the fall as Stallings was just 2-19 in the five-game series, while Wasserman was 3-18.
Newcomers to watch: Freshman Brian Hedden is the only newcomer listed as a first baseman on the UofL roster, but he also could be featured as a left-handed pitcher. As a senior for Roxbury High School in Succasunna, N. J., Hedden batted .425 with five home runs and eight doubles.
Wildcard: Rising sophomore Kyle Grieshaber appeared in 53 games for UofL as a freshman, mostly in the outfield. During the fall Grieshaber started each of the five games of the Pizza Bowl at third base, but might be able to move to first if neither Wasserman or Stallings steps up and takes the job.
Christmas may be over, but one MLB team appears poised to pick up a late gift in the form of Ashland native Brandon Webb:
Jason Stark of ESPN.com reports Webb is nearing a decision “closing in” on a decision as to which team he will sign with.
Stark reports the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals are no longer in the running for Webb’s services. He lists the Texas Rangers and a still-unidentified mystery NL Central team as the leaders for Webb. Stark speculates the Cardinals or Pirates may be the mystery team.
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com reports the Cincinnati Reds are the principal challenger to the Rangers.
Stark tweets that the Rangers are still the favorites, but other teams support the rumor that the Reds are not out of the running.
The start of the 2011 college baseball season is less than two months away, so it’s time to start looking at what Kentucky players need to step up for their respective schools. In the coming weeks we’ll look at an almost-daily series that examines offseason position battles at each of the state’s five division one baseball programs. We’ll begin the series with a look at the University of Kentucky‘s first base slot.
The departed: Senior Gunner Glad and junior Lance Ray were UK’s primary first baseman during the 2010 season. Rising junior Braden Kapteyn is the only returning Cat with significant playing time at first base, but head coach Gary Henderson would probably prefer to keep him at designated hitter for the added flexibility not fielding provides in bringing Kapteyn in on the mound. With Ray and Glad moving on to the professional ranks, finding a new first baseman will be among the most important tasks for Henderson and his staff this Spring.
The returning candidates: In addition to Kapteyn catchers T. J. Daugherty, Luke Maile, Michael Thomas and Michael Williams could each conceivably spend some time at first base, though the group will probably see most of its playing time come behind the plate. Rising sophomore Tyler Townsend is the only returning infielder on the roster with the height one usually relates to a first baseman.
Newcomers to watch: Reports out of UK’s fall camp had freshmen infielders Dallen Reber, Matt Reida, Paul McConkey, and J. T. Riddle pushing for early playing time. Reida and Riddle figure to be primarily middle infielders leaving Reber as probably the leading newcomer candidate at both the vacant corner infield positions. Reber blasted a three-run home run in game two of UK’s fall World Series while playing first base but did have a fielding error in the game.
Wildcard: Matt May of The Cat’s Pause recently reported redshirt freshman football quarterback Ryan Mossakowski would suit up for the Bat Cats this spring. At 6-4 Mossakowski looks the part of a first baseman but will probably need significant time adjusting to SEC baseball after sitting out two years following shoulder surgery as a senior in high school. Mossakowski was named All-District in baseball for his Texas high school twice before the injury.
Latest links from around Kentucky baseball including a potential big addition for the UK baseball team:
Matt May of The Cat’s Pause reports University of Kentucky quarterback Ryan Mossakowski will play baseball this spring. Mossakowski was a highly touted prep baseball player in Texas before having shoulder surgery as a senior.
Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reports the Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals and a mystery team continue to pursue former UK right-handed pitcher Brandon Webb. Crasnick notes the Cubs have slowed in their pursuit of Webb.
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com reports the Phillies may wait to trade former UK right-handed pitcher Joe Blanton until free agent Carl Pavano signs with a new team.
Todd Zolecki of MLB.com reports the Phillies should have no problem trading Blanton in a thin pitching market.
The Lexington Legends have announced one person could win season tickets if they correctly guess the new name of the team’s ballpark.
Former UofL and Male High School right-handed pitcher Sean Green signed a one-year, $875,000 contract with the Milwaukee Brewers Wednesday. Like most one-year deals the contract is non-guaranteed, Adam McCalvy of MLB.com reports. Green missed most of the 2010 season with a rib cage injury but was 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA in 11 games for the New York Mets. In five MLB seasons Green is 10-11 with a 4.36 ERA and 196 strikeouts in 258 innings pitched for the Mets and Seattle Mariners.
The Colorado Rockies selected Green in the 12th round of the 2000 amateur draft out of UofL. Green was traded by the Rockies to the Mariners on Dec. 20, 2004, for Aaron Taylor. The Mets acquired Green on Dec. 11, 2008, in a three-team deal that also sent J. J. Putz and Jeremy Reed to New York. Green was non-tendered by the Mets on Dec. 2, 2010. (Read more)