In the third Western Kentucky University post in the “offseason position battle” series we will look at the Hilltoppers’ vacant first-base position:
The departed — Infielder Jake Wells, a 2010 senior, started all but the first six WKU games of 2010 at first base. Wells was one of just four Hilltoppers to start all 58 games in 2010. He batted .312 with two home runs and 41 RBI on the season. Wells scored 42 runs and boasted an .802 OPS. The first baseman committed six errors on the season and finished 2010 with a .988 fielding percentage.
The returning candidates — Junior infielder Casey Dykes was the only other Hilltopper to record a start at first base in 2010, earning the nod in the first six games of the season. Dykes is listed as a “C/UTL” on the WKU roster and made 45 starts at third base in 2010, so head coach Chris Finwood may look elsewhere for his infield cornerstone. Sophomore Blake Crabtree made the final seven games of the 2010 season at third so Dykes could make a position change…Sophomore catcher/infielder Ryan Huck didn’t appear at first base in 2010, but Finwood suggested during the fall world series most of his playing time would come there this season. Huck batted .287 with seven home runs, 30 RBI and 24 runs scored in 2010 as a freshman, so WKU needs to get his bat in the lineup if at all possible. He is blocked behind the plate by All-Sun Belt Conference catcher Matt Rice.
Newcomers to watch — Incoming freshman infielder Jordan Cessna excelled during WKU’s fall practice according to the school’s media relations department. At 6-1 he could conceivably fill in when Huck catches or serves as the designate hitter…In a news release recapping the fall World Series WKU also highlighted Canadian freshman infielder Scott Wilcox as a standout in fall practice. At 6-0 Wilcox could also fill in at first base…Freshman right-handed pitcher and infielder Brian Doering was listed as a corner infielder when he signed with WKU in 2009. Doering was named first-team all-state by the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association after his senior season at Dupont Manual High School.
Wildcard — WKU boasts a plethora of outfielders with 11 players listed on the roster who can play the position. If Huck gets most of the playing time at first base, head coach Chris Finwood could try one of his surplus outfielders at first base when Huck catches. Junior college transfer Ryan Hutchison is 6-4 and could fit at first base. Sophomore outfielders Matt Borgschulte and Monte Ketchum each appeared in at least 41 games for WKU in 2010, so Finwood could be looking for a way to get them into the Hilltoppers’ lineup. If Finwood wanted to give Rice some time off from catching at 6-3 he might profile well as a first baseman as well.
In our Western Kentucky University post in the “offseason position battle” series we will look at the vacant weekend starting pitcher positions:
The departed — Sun Belt Conference pitcher of the year Matt Ridings left WKU with one of the most prestigious careers in school history. Ridings finished 2010 at 9-1 with a 3.01 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 92.2 innings pitched. The right-handed pitcher made 14 starts for WKU before suffering an injury in his final collegiate start that required Tommy John surgery. Despite the injury Ridings still was selected in the 41st round of the 2010 draft by the Kansas City Royals. WKU was 11-3 in games started by Ridings and just 24-20 in other games…Senior right-handed pitcher Shane Cameron also made 15 starts for WKU in 2010 and finished the season as the only Hilltopper pitcher other than Ridings to qualify for the ERA title.
Returning candidates — Sophomore left-handed pitcher Tanner Perkins spent most of 2010 in the WKU weekend rotation, finishing the season with 12 starts for the Hilltoppers. Perkins was 3-4 with a 5.27 ERA in 16 total appearances for WKU last season. The southpaw was 1-0 with a 4.97 ERA in six games, including four starts, for the Lexington Hustlers this summer…Redshirt senior right-handed pitcher Brian Edelen served as WKU’s midweek starter for most of 2010 but did start in three weekend series for the Hilltoppers last season. Edelen finished the year 4-2 with a 3.78 ERA and likely has an inside track at one of the weekend starting spots…Sophomore right-handed pitcher Taylor Haydel made four starts for WKU in 2010 and finished the year 3-4 with a 6.94 ERA in 21 games
Newcomers to watch — Hopkinsville native Justin Hageman comes to WKU as one of the top prep pitchers in Kentucky. Hageman, a right-handed pitcher, was the 32nd round pick of the Kansas City Royals in 2010 out of Hopkinsville High School and was named first team all-state as a senior by the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association…Freshman right-handed pitcher Brian Doering was also named to the all-state team by KHSBCA as a senior at Dupont Manual High School in Louisville. Doering finished his high school career with a 2.00 ERA.
Wildcard — Redshirt junior Rye Davis was almost unhittable as the WKU closer in 2010, going 3-4 with a 2.72 ERA and nine saves and was selected in the 36th round of the 2010 draft by the Cleveland Indians. Davis appeared in 33 games for WKU and struck out 63 batters in 49.2 innings. After losing Ridings to injury, WKU head coach Chris Finwood turned to Davis for the start in the first game of the Sun Belt Conference tournament. Davis took a no decision after surrendering five runs in four and one-third innings in WKU’s 9-8, 13 inning loss to Florida Atlantic. While Davis excelled as a closer, Finwood could opt to return the right-handed pitcher to his freshman role as a starting pitcher. Davis missed all of the 2009 season after being struck in the face by a line drive during fall practice.
Earlier today we linked Perfect Game USA‘s underclassmen high school All-American teams. Perfect Game partnered with Rawlings Sporting Goods to release the senior All-American team a few weeks ago, but several Kentucky high schoolers and in-state college signees were honored, so the list is still worth passing along. I’ve included those players with school and college commitment below, but you can see the full team here.
3rd Team All-American
LHP Corey Littrell — Trinity — University of Kentucky
C Jake DePew — Granite City (Ill.) — University of Louisville
RHP Kim Dace — Defiance (Ohio) — UofL
High Honorable Mention
RHP Patrick Maronde — Lexington Catholic — Coastal Carolina
LHP Joel Bender — Oak Hills (Ohio) — UofL
INF Alex Chittenden — Lawrence Central (Ind.) — UofL
RHP Chad Green — Effingham (Ill.) — UofL
P Jeffrey Thompson — Floyd Centrall (Ind.) — UofL
RHP Trevor Gott — Tates Creek — UK
OF Gavin Patton — IMG Academies (Fla.) — UK
RHP Blake Perry — Danville, IMG Academies (Fla.) — UK
SS Matt Reida — Russiaville (Ind.) — UK
OF G. J. Strauss — Chesterfield (Mo.) — Western Kentucky University
Hit the jump for players honored on regional teams