Offseason position battle: UofL closer

College Baseball

In the final post in the “offseason position battle” series we will look at the vacant University of Louisville closer position.

The departed — Right-handed pitcher Neil Holland, a 2010 junior and Washington Nationals draftee, was 8-1 with a 2.08 ERA and 17 saves last season. The first-team all-Big East Conference reliever struck out 59 batters and walked 16 in 56 and one-third innings. Holland led Kentucky collegians in saves and was tied for third in appearances (29). The Nationals selected Holland with their pick in the 11th round of the 2010 draft. Holland was 2-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 19 games during his professional debut.

Returning candidates — Junior right-handed pitcher Tony Zych all but has the closer position wrapped up and is considered to be the top reliever draft prospect in college baseball. Zych was 5-2 with a 5.13 ERA in 2010, but was much more effective after head coach Dan McDonnell removed him from the starting rotation. As a freshman Zych saved two games for the Cards. This summer he was named a Cape Cod League all-star and received the postseason Cape awards for top draft prospect and top reliever…Senior right-handed pitcher Gabriel Shaw saved three games for UofL in 2010 and was 5-2 with a 3.88 ERA in 28 games, including three starts. Shaw may move into the starting rotation for the Cards in 2011, but if he remains in the bullpen he could serve as a valuable insurance option to Zych. He struck out 41 batters and walked just eight in 46 and one-third innings last season. Shaw also saved three games for UofL as a sophomore in 2009.

Newcomers to watch — Freshman right-handed pitcher Dace Kime is the highest drafted player to attend a Kentucky college this season after turning down the Pittsburgh Pirates contract offer as the team’s eight-round pick. Kime could be a potent weekend reliever if he doesn’t break the starting rotation to begin the season…Freshman right-handed pitcher Chad Green was the 37th round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010. He struck out 107 batters as a senior in high school and should provide another strong arm in the Cards’ bullpen.

Wildcard — McDonnell has a plethora of starting pitcher candidates in redshirt sophomore Justin Amlung, junior Derek Self, redshirt sophomore Mike Nastold, sophomore Matt Koch, Kime, Green and Shaw. The loser of the battle between Amlung, Self, Nastold and Koch for the weekend rotation spots would present another valuable reliever for the Cards. Self was 5-2 with a 3.88 ERA in 2010 when 19 of his 27 appearances came out of the bullpen.

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Freidrich, three Bats among top 50 prospects; Dominguez’s power, infield arm rated best in Giants’ system

College Baseball, Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball

Aroldis Chapman; Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Latest links from around Kentucky baseball:

  • Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com ranks former EKU left-handed pitcher Christian Friedrich the No. 50 prospect in MiLB. He ranks 2010 Louisville Bats left-handed pitcher Aroldis Chapman No. 6, catcher Devin Mesoraco No. 45 and first baseman Yonder Alonso No. 49. Former Bowling Green Hot Rods left-handed pitcher Matt Moore checked in at No. 27, and Mayo ranked 2009 Lexington Legends right-handed pitcher Jordan Lyles No. 31.
  • Andy Baggarly of Baseball America rates former UofL third baseman Chris Dominguez as having the best power and best infield arm in the San Francisco Giants’ system.
  • Baggarly also answered a couple of Dominguez questions in the online chat accompanying the prospect rankings. Baggarly speculates the Giants might try Dominguez on the mound if he were to fail as a third baseman. (Subscription required)
  • Ashland native and former UK right-handed pitcher Brandon Webb talks to ESPN Dallas about his decision to sign with the Rangers.
  • Aaron Fitt of BA reports the NCAA denied former University of Kentucky third baseman Andy Burns‘ request for a waiver allowing him to play immediately at Arizona. Burns will have to sit out the 2011 season as a transfer.
  • Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reports the Cincinnati Reds’ caravan will stop in Bowling Green, Ashland and Lexington this weekend.

Top 2011 Ky. Collegians: No. 19 Dave Middendorf

College Baseball

Inspired by College Baseball Daily’s list of the top 100 college baseball players, BluGrass Baseball is counting down the top 25 returning Kentucky collegians in advance of the 2011 season. We continue the list today with No. 19, a rare example of a returning Division II draftee.

No. 19 — LHP Dave Middendorf — Northern Kentucky University

Dave Middendorf; NKU photo

Senior left-handed pitcher Dave Middendorf returns to NKU after being selected in the 44th round of the 2010 draft by the New York Yankees. Middendorf was 8-2 with a 2.64 ERA and 81 strikeouts to go with 12 walks in 11 starts for NKU in 2010. The Cincinnati native was named first-team all-Great Lakes Valley Conference and all-Midwest Region as a junior. Middendorf returns as NKU’s ace in 2011.

The southpaw held opposing batters to a .246 batting average last season and surrendered just 18 earned runs in 61 and one-third innings.  Middendorf was also named third-team all-GLVC as a sophomore and second-team all-GLVC as a freshman. In his three-season NKU career Middendorf is 16-9 with a 2.97 ERA and 222 strikeouts. Middendorf was was 1-1 with a 1.29 ERA in four games, including three starts, for the Lexington Hustlers during the summer. He struck out 13 and walked just three in 14 summer innings.

Offseason position battle: UK closer

College Baseball

Braden Kapteyn; Photo: UK Athletics

In the next-to-last post in the “offseason position battle” series we will look at the vacant University of Kentucky closer position.

The departed — Right-handed pitcher Matt Little posted a strong season as UK’s closer in 2010 during his only season with the Cats. Little, who was a junior-college transfer, was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 31st round of the 2010 draft. The Virginia native was 2-2 with a 4.93 ERA and seven saves in 2010. Little struck out 52 batters and walked 24 in 42 innings. He led the Cats with 24 appearances in 2010…Left-handed pitcher Logan Darnell, a 2010 junior and Minnesota Twins draftee, was UK’s primary closer in 2009 but served as a starter for most of the 2010 season. After returning to the bullpen late in conference play last season, Darnell saved one game in three relief appearances.

Returning candidates — The 2011 closer job is likely junior right-handed pitcher and first baseman Braden Kapteyn‘s job to lose after serving as one of UK’s top relievers last season. Kapteyn was 2-0 with a 4.09 ERA and 22 strikeouts to go with 15 walks in 22 innings last season. He saved two games last season. The slugger will also likely serve as UK’s primary designated hitter, giving him the flexibility to warm up in the bullpen during the late innings. During the summer 2010 Kapteyn was 3-1 with a 0.69 ERA in 15 relief appearances for the Harwich Mariners en route to being named a Cape Cod League all-star…Redshirt senior right-handed pitcher Nick Kennedy has struggled to stay healthy during his UK career but offers the Cats a deceptive submarine look out of the pen. In his UK career Kennedy is 4-1 with a 4.21 ERA and two saves. He has struck out 42 and walked just 15 in 40 career innings.

Newcomers to watch — Freshman left-handed pitcher Corey Littrell, freshman right-handed pitcher Trevor Gott and freshman infielder and right-handed pitcher J. T. Riddle were all named first-team all-state by the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association as seniors in high school and could serve as valuable relievers for UK in 2011…Freshman right-handed pitcher Jonathan Paquet was the 22nd round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010 and was highlighted by Gary Henderson in a recent interview with College Baseball Daily as a freshman who could be an earlier contributor for the Cats…Junior left-handed pitcher Alex Phillips struck out 83 and walked just seven batters in 71 innings for Lower Columbia College in 2010.

Wildcard — Returning middle relievers Walter Wijas and Mike Kaczmarek were both valuable weapons out of the UK bullpen in 2010. Wijas, a sophomore right-handed pitcher, was 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA in 14 games, including one start, last season. Kaczmarek, a senior left-handed pitcher, was 1-0 with a 5.32 ERA last season. Kaczmarek will likely see some time in the outfield for UK in 2011, but will be a left-handed specialist out of the pen. Either Wijas or Kaczmarek could work their way into a more pressurized role in 2011.

Wellemeyer signs minor-league deal with Cubs

Major League Baseball

Todd Wellemeyer; Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Louisville native and former Bellarmine right-handed pitcher Todd Wellemeyer is going back to the team that drafted him out of college. Wellemeyer has signed a minor-league contract with the Chicago Cubs, Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago reports. The contract is worth $800,000 if he makes the team, and Wellemeyer could earn another $400,000 in incentives. The Cubs selected Wellemeyer in the fourth round of the 2000 draft. In an email to BluGrass Baseball Wellemeyer’s representation at Meister Sports Management said the contract contained both a major- and minor-league component.

The Eastern High School alum spent most of the 2010 season with the San Francisco Giants but was released on Aug. 17, 2010. Wellemeyer was 3-5 with a 5.68 ERA in 13 games, including 11 starts, for the Giants in 2010. In an eight-season MLB career Wellemeyer is 32-34 with a 4.83 ERA and 459 strikeouts in 614 and two-third innings pitched. His best season came in 2008 when he was 13-9 with a 3.71 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals. Levine reports the Cubs envision Wellemeyer as a possible swing-man that could start or relieve, but he will face a crowded competition to make the team. The Cubs return five starting pitchers and boast a plethora of relievers competing for the final spots on the team. Wellemeyer is represented by Meister Sports Management, which employees former UK pitcher Ben Shaffar.

Top 2011 Ky. Collegians: No. 20 Rich Witten

College Baseball

Inspired by College Baseball Daily’s list of the top 100 college baseball players, BluGrass Baseball is counting down the top 25 returning Kentucky collegians in advance of the 2011 season. We continue the list today with No. 20, a player who posted one of the most memorable Kentucky high school seasons in recent years.

No. 20 — 1B Rich Witten — Coastal Carolina (Danville HS)

Rich Witten

Rich Witten; Coastal Carolina picture

First baseman Rich Witten slugged 25 home runs as a senior at Danville High School, the second most in one season in Kentucky High School history. During his first three seasons at Coastal Carolina, Witten has experience moderate success. Witten earned a medical redshirt as a freshman even after appearing in 11 games. As a redshirt sophomore in 2010 Witten batted .312 with four home runs, 22 RBI and 22 runs scored in 39 games, including 15 starts. The Danville slugger spent the last month of 2010 as the Coastal Carolina primary first baseman and enters 2011 in that role.

During the summer 2010 Witten batted .288 with six home runs, 25 RBI and 25 runs scored in 32 games for the Outer Banks Daredevils of the Coastal Plains League. Witten was named to the all-tournament team of the Myrtle Beach Regional during the 2010 NCAA tournament, batting .278 with a home run, double and six RBI. In the regional championship game versus College of Charleston, Witten slugged a grand slam and scored the eventual winning run.

Offseason position battle: Murray St. closer

College Baseball

We are closing out the “offseason position battle” series with a look at the three vacant Kentucky closer positions, starting today with Murray State University.

The departed — Left-handed pitcher Matt McGaha, a 2010 senior, was Murray State’s top reliever last season, finishing the season at 5-3 with a 3.90 ERA. McGaha pitched enough innings out of the Breds’ bullpen to qualify for the ERA title and recorded three saves on the season. The right-handed pitcher struck out 52 batters and walked 13 in 67 innings pitched on the season…Right-handed pitcher Dan Huff, a 2010 senior, led Murray St. with four saves in 2010. Huff was 1-4 with an 8.35 ERA in 18 games, including six starts.

Returning candidates — No returning Murray St. reliever recorded a save in 2010, but sophomore right-handed pitcher Joe Major had the most success out of the pen of any Breds returner. Major did not record a decision and posted a 3.60 ERA in four appearances, including one start. Major struck out four batters and walked nine in 10 innings pitched…Sophomore right-handed pitcher Ben Lady is the returning reliever with the most innings pitched at 20 and one-third innings, but struggled to the tune of a 7.97 ERA in 2010…No returning Murray St. reliever other than Major posted an ERA below 6.35 in 2010.

Newcomers to watch — Junior college transfer Bryan Babin had moderate success as a reliever for Mississippi Gulf Coast College in 2010, going 5-1 with a 3.46 ERA in 39 innings pitched. Babin struck out 23 batters and walked 11 in 13 appearances…Junior college transfer Luke Shuemaker proved able to miss bats with 40 strikeouts in 50 and two-third innings pitched for Rend Lake College in 2010…Junior college transfer Mark Roberts posted a save and five wins for Lincoln Trail College in 2010 while striking out 35 batters and walking 25 in 55 innings pitched…Freshman left-handed pitcher Kyle Cornett was named first-team all state by the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association as a senior at Eastern High School and could serve as a valuable reliever if he does not start for the Breds…Freshman right-handed pitcher Tyler Saltsman was named second-team all-state by KHSBCA as a senior at Grayson County High School.

Wildcard — Freshman two-way player Brock Downey may be called on to pitch and play outfield for the Breds in 2011. As a senior left-handed pitcher at Murray High School Downey posted a 2.18 ERA and 102 strikeouts. KHSBCA named him first-team all-state and the Region 1 player of the year as a senior. Downey batted .550 and stole 52 bases as a senior at the plate. Considering no Murray St. reliever posted more than four saves in 2010 there is a good chance head coach Rob McDonald may use a revolving set of pitchers in the late innings all season.

Yahoo! Sports picks UofL 2nd in Big East; Coastal Carolina to count on Witten; Philly writers differ on Blanton’s future

College Baseball, Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball

Joe Blanton; Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Latest links from around Kentucky baseball:

  • Kendall Rogers of Yahoo Sports! and Rivals.com picks the University of Louisville to finish second in the Big East in his conference preview. Rogers named UofL second baseman Ryan Wright, outfielder Stewart Ijames and right-handed reliever Tony Zych to his preseason all-Big East team. Rogers reports right-handed pitcher Mike Nastold will fill one of the weekend starter slots.
  • Rogers also breaks down his No. 19 college team in his preseason poll: Coastal Carolina. Among the key contributors for the Chaticleers in 2011 will be Danville native Rich Witten, Rogers reports.
  • Jim Callis of Baseball America runs down the prospect scouting reports that were pushed out of the magazine’s “Prospect Handbook” due to new acquisitions including former Morehead St. infielder Drew Lee. BA calls Lee a “smart hitter with surprising pop for his size,” and notes the White Sox could have found a bargain in Lee if he continues to hit at higher levels.
  • Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer lays out the case for the Phillies trading former UK right-handed pitcher Joe Blanton.
  • Todd Zolecki of MLB.com thinks it makes sense for the Phillies to keep Blanton according to his latest mailbag and reports it’s unlikely the team would ask Blanton to defer some of his 2011 salary to later years.
  • Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun reports the Oriole have shown little interest in Blanton despite their need for a starting pitcher.

Top 2011 Ky. Collegians: No. 21 Justin Riddell

College Baseball

Justin Riddell; Cincinnati photo

Inspired by College Baseball Daily’s list of the top 100 college baseball players, BluGrass Baseball is counting down the top 25 returning Kentucky collegians in advance of the 2011 season. We continue the list today with a look at our first Kentucky native attending an out-of-state college on the list.

No. 21 — OF Justin Riddell — Cincinnati (Lexington Catholic HS)

Cincinnati senior outfielder Justin Riddell batted .313 with eight home runs, 29 RBI, 26 runs scored and 10 doubles during the 2010 season. His .313 batting average led the Bearcats. Riddell appeared in 53 games for Cincinnati last season, including 45 starts. During the summer 2010 Riddell excelled for the Lexington Hustlers, being named a Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League All-Star. Riddell batted .385 with five home runs, 28 RBI and 28 runs scored during the summer.

His 17 doubles and 89 total bases led the summer league. Baseball America ranked Riddell the No. 9 draft prospect in the league following the summer season. Tyler Jett wrote of the Lexington native: “Riddell doesn’t have a great profile but should be a solid senior draft because he can hit.”

Offseason position battle: UK midweek starting pitcher

College Baseball

In the sixth University of Kentucky post in the “offseason position battle” series we will look at the vacant midweek starting pitcher positions:

The departed — UK returns each of its three weekend starting pitchers, but head coach Gary Henderson needs to fix a problem from the last two seasons by finding a suitable starting pitcher for midweek matchups to provide much-needed depth. Left-handed pitcher Logan Darnell, a 2010 senior, made 11 weekend starts for UK in 2010 before moving to the bullpen at the end of the season…Right-handed pitcher Sean Bouthilette, a 2010 sophomore, started seven games for the Cats in two years before transferring to Campbellsville University…Right-handed pitcher Jordan Cooper was UK’s primary midweek starter early in the 2010 but cemented himself as the Cats’ Saturday starting pitcher during conference play and will reprise that role in 2011…Right-handed pitcher Joe Devine started three midweek games for UK in 2010 but transferred to Georgetown College prior to this season.

Returning candidates — Sophomore right-handed pitcher and outfielder Sam Kidd started five games for UK last season and finished the year 1-2 with an 8.89 ERA in 12 total appearances. Kidd didn’t last longer than four innings in any of his 12 appearances…Sophomore right-handed pitcher Walter Wijas excelled in a bullpen role for UK in 2010 but also pitched well in his one start on the season, earning a no decision after surrendering one run in three and one-third innings against Florida. Wijas also pitched four and one-third scoreless innings of relief in a UK win against LSU.

Newcomers to watch — Freshman left-handed pitcher Corey Littrell was the 43rd round pick by the Washington Nationals in the 2010 MLB draft and a first-team all-state selection by the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association as a senior at Trinity High School. Littrell was considered the top high school draft prospect in Kentucky and was the Louisville Slugger Kentucky High School Player of the Year. As a senior at Trinity, Littrell was 8-3 with a 1.90 ERA…Freshman right-handed pitcher Jonathan Paquet was the 36th round selection of the New York Yankees in the 2010 draft, even though his high school did not field a baseball team. Paquet made two starts for Quebec during the Baseball Canada Cup…Junior college transfer Alex Phillips started 12 games for Lower Columbia College in 2010, finishing the season 9-1 with a 1.52 ERA in 71 innings pitched.

Wildcard — Freshman infielder and right-handed pitcher J. T. Riddle, 2010 Mr. Kentucky Baseball, will likely push for early playing time on offense but could also serve a valuable role as a midweek starter or reliever. Riddle was 8-0 with a 1.26 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 60 innings as a senior at Western Hill High School en route to a first-team all-state selection by the KHSBCA. Riddle walked just 12 batters as senior in high school.