UofL duo named to Golden Spikes Award watch list; Rangers taking it easy with Brandon Webb; NCAA tourney projections

College Baseball, Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball

Latest links around Kentucky baseball:

  • University of Louisville junior infielder Ryan Wright and junior closer Tony Zych have been named to the Golden Spikes Award watch list by USA Baseball. The award goes to the nation’s top college player each season.
  • Richard Skinner of the Cincinnati Enquirer previews Northern Kentucky University‘s season, noting the school is still waiting for word on star slugger Jason Crisper‘s eligibility.
  • Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle profiles former UofL right-handed pitcher Trystan Magnuson, who the Oakland Athletics acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in November.
  • Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com reports the Texas Rangers are taking it easy with former UK right-handed pitcher and Ashland native Brandon Webb, having him throw off a mound every three days instead of every two.
  • Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game USA has UofL as a No. 2 seed in the Charlottesville regional in his preseason NCAA tournament projection and the University of Kentucky just missing the field.
  • Aaron Fitt of Baseball America has UofL as a No. 3 seed in the Nashville regional in his preseason NCAA tournament projections and also has UK among the teams just missing the field.

BA names Matt Rice preseason Sun-Belt player of the year; UofL players among Big East top draft prospects

College Baseball, Minor League Baseball

Matt Rice bats for WKU: BluGrass Baseball photo

Latest links from around Kentucky baseball:

  • Baseball America has released its South region NCAA baseball preview, which includes the Southeastern, Ohio Valley and Sun Belt conferences. The magazine named Western Kentucky University senior catcher Matt Rice its preseason Sun Belt player of the year and selected University of Kentucky junior right-handed pitcher Alex Meyer to its preseason All-SEC team. Morehead State University junior catcher Taylor Davis and Eastern Kentucky University senior outfielder Ryan Faidley were named to the All-OVC team. BA ranked WKU outfielder Kes Carter as the best prospect in the Sun Belt and projected UK, WKU, EKU, Morehead St. and Murray State University to each miss the postseason. (Subscription required)
  • Detroit Tigers farmhand Wade Gaynor recently returned to his alma mater for an interview with the WKU media relations department.
  • The University of Louisville will host the red-gray scrimmage Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.
  • In a revised Big East Conference preview from Kendall Rogers, Allan Simpson of Perfect Game USA ranks UofL junior right-handed pitcher Tony Zych the No. 3 2011 draft prospect in the conference. Other UofL players included on the 2011 draft prospect rankings were second baseman Ryan Wright (No. 6), right-handed pitcher Mike Nastold (No. 8), outfielder Stewart Ijames (No. 11), right-handed pitcher Derek Self (No. 15) and right-handed pitcher Gabriel Shaw (No. 20). Simpson ranked UofL sophomore right-handed pitcher Matt Koch, sophomore first baseman Zak Wasserman, freshman right-handed pitcher Chad Green and sophomore outfielder Jared Clarkson among the Big East’s top 2012 draft prospects.

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.

Baseball America ranks six Bats among top 10 Reds prospects and six Ky. collegians in top 100 draft prospects

College Baseball, Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball

Aroldis Chapman; Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Latest links from around Kentucky baseball:

  • J. J. Cooper of Baseball America has published the magazine’s top 10 prospects list for the Cincinnati Reds with several 2010 Louisville Bats included on the list. Cooper ranked left-handed pitcher Aroldis Chapman No. 1, catcher Devin Mesoraco No. 3, first baseman Yonder Alonso No. 4, third baseman Juan Francisco No. 7, shortstop Zack Cozart No. 8 and utility man Todd Frazier No. 9.
  • Cooper touched on a number of other Bats’ prospects in the accompanying online chat. (subscription required)
  • BA has also released its first rankings for the top 100 college 2011 draft prospects with several Kentucky collegians making the cut. The article is behind the website’s paywall so I won’t give away all the rankings but will note University of Kentucky junior right-handed pitcher Alex Meyer led Kentuckians at No. 21. University of Louisville junior right-handed pitcher Tony Zych, UofL junior infielder Ryan Wright, Lexington Catholic alum and Florida left-handed pitcher Nick Maronde, former UK third baseman Andy Burns and Western Kentucky University outfielder Kes Carter were included in the top 100.
  • Jordan Bastian of MLB.com reports Cleveland Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore may not be ready for Opening Day, which could mean more playing time early for Lexington native Austin Kearns.
  • Kendall Rogers of Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com breaks down the reasons for optimism and reasons for worry for each of the Southeastern Conference baseball teams, noting UK needs more consistency and big seasons from talented and so-far underachieving pitchers.

UofL unsatisfied with NCAA regional finish; Mosby signs with Orioles; Cox named first-team All American

College Baseball

Zack Cox; University of Arkansas photo

Links from around the Kentucky college baseball:

  • C. L. Brown of the Courier-Journal reports the University of Louisville baseball team says making a NCAA regional is no longer good enough.
  • Western Kentucky University signee and Hawesville native Mike Mosby has will sign with the Baltimore Orioles as the team’s 14th round selection instead of attending WKU, Nick Baumgardner of the Bowling Green Daily News reports.
  • Pleasure Ridge Park alum  and Arkansas third baseman Zack Cox was named a first-team All American by Kendall Rogers of Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com.

Making the case for UK’s at-large NCAA hopes

College Baseball

UK Athletics Wallpaper

If you’ve been paying attention in recent weeks, you would have noticed I’m down on the University of Kentucky‘s hopes for a NCAA tournament at-large bid. After giving an interview to my friend James Pennington of Kentucky Sports Radio earlier this week, where I expressed those sentiments, I was provided with some information making the case for UK’s tourney hopes. While I’m still not sold, and the conference tournaments haven’t gone as well as UK could have hoped, here’s the case for including the Cats in the tournament:

  • UK ended the regular season with the No. 29 RBI. Only three teams with an RPI less than 30 have been left out of the NCAA tournament since 2007.
  • One of those teams was fellow Southeastern Conference school Auburn in 2009 (No. 28), but the Tigers were the 10th ranked team in the SEC.
  • UK played the seventh toughest schedule in the country.
  • The Cats have 9 wins over the RPI top 15.
  • Kentucky has 16 wins over the RPI top 50, which was eighth most in the country at the end of the regular season.
  • The ninth-place SEC team has received an at-large bid in two of the last four seasons.

Points against UK:

  • No matter how you spin it, losing two-of-three to last-place Georgia in the final series of the season when the Cats had a chance to control their own destiny is just ugly.
  • While the Cats have faced a plethora of injuries in their starting rotation, which is fully healthy now, it’s not like those pitchers have performed very well when healthy.
  • UK will get no bonus points for losing 2009 first-round pick James Paxton. Paxton never played for this team and certainly won’t suit up in the NCAA tournament, so UK without Paxton is what it is.
  • Southern Mississippi won the Conference USA tournament, taking away one at-large bid. Unfavorable outcomes in the Missouri Valley, Southland and the Atlantic Sun tournaments could take away other at-large positions. If St. Johns wins the Big East tournament today over UCONN, that’s one more bid off the board.

Kendall Rogers of Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com had UK in his last NCAA projection before the conference tournaments, but he picked the Cats as the third-to-last team in the field. The conference tournaments simply haven’t gone as well as UK hoped, so selection Monday will be anything but comfortable for coach Gary Henderson and his team. The good news is unlike some conference tournament teams, UK hasn’t done anything this week to hurt its chances.

Nidiffer, Bazzani, Ridings honored; UofL falls in rankings

College Baseball

Marcus Nidiffer; BluGrass Baseball photo

Weekly roundup of conference honors and top 25 rankings:

  • University of Kentucky senior catcher Marcus Nidiffer was named Southeastern Conference player of the week after hitting a go-ahead grand slam in his last home at-bat to send UK to a sweep against LSU.
  • Western Kentucky University senior right-handed pitcher Matt Ridings was named the Sun Belt Conference pitcher of the week for his performance against Louisiana-Lafayette.
  • Eastern Kentucky University freshman right-handed pitcher Anthony Bazzani was named Ohio Valley Conference pitcher of the week after his complete-game victory against Jacksonville State.
  • The University of Louisville fell to No. 11 in the latest Baseball America top 25 rankings.
  • UofL also dropped to No. 10 in the latest Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports top 25.

Stretch Drive Breakdown: Ohio Valley Conference

College Baseball

In the first three stretch drive posts we looked at individual Kentucky schools with chances at an at large bid. The state’s three Ohio Valley Conference schools don’t have that luxury as each will need to win the OVC tournament to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Murray State University has the inside track at the bid as it sits in first place in the regular season standings. The Breds are tied with Tennessee Tech in the loss column, but have two more wins, giving them a one game lead for the regular season championship.

Only the top six regular season OVC teams qualify for the postseason conference tournament, and Eastern Kentucky University and Morehead State University are battling with UT Martin and Eastern Illinois for the final two tournament berths. EKU sits in the sixth and final spot, while Morehead is seventh in the standings and would miss the tournament if the season ended today. The Eagles actually have the fifth fewest losses in the league but have played three fewer conference games after losing an entire series to weather.

Murray St. and Morehead face off this weekend. A series win by the Breds would likely knock the Eagles out of contention for a tournament berth, but would place Murray St. in the driver’s seat for the regular season title. EKU hosts fourth-place Jacksonville State this weekend and last-place SIU Edwardsville in the final series of the season. Two series wins would likely put the Colonels in the OVC tournament. Morehead State hosts Jacksonville St. next week, and Murray St. will go head-to-head with second-place Tennessee Tech for the regular season title in the season’s final series. Tech faces eighth-place UT Martin this weekend.

(You can see the Rivals.com field of 64 projection here and the Baseball America stock report here.)

Stretch Drive Breakdown: UK

College Baseball

UK Athletics Wallpaper

In the third stretch drive breakdown post we’ll look at the University of Kentucky. The Cats’ postseason chances appeared to be running on fumes before a series victory against No. 8 South Carolina last weekend put UK back on the tournament bubble. Midweek losses to Indiana and Lipscomb took away some of the Cats’ momentum, but UK still has a shot with a strong finish to the conference slate. UK is 10th in the Southeastern Conference, one game behind Alabama for ninth and two back of Tennessee for the eighth and the final SEC tournament berth.

The good news is UK welcomes seventh-place LSU to town this weekend. The Tigers are three games ahead of UK, and a Cats’ series sweep would put them squarely back in the SEC tournament picture.  A series victory would also keep the Cats at least in the tournament race. UK travels to last-place Georgia in the final series of the season. If the Cats drop that series they can kiss their postseason hopes goodbye.

The SEC is likely to get at least eight bids to the NCAA tournament. With its No. 29 RPI, UK would likely earn an at-large bid if it reaches the SEC tournament. Some national pundits have projected the SEC could get nine bids, but UK would probably need series sweeps in each of the last two weeks to get that ninth spot if it doesn’t qualify for the conference tournament.

(You can see the Rivals.com field of 64 projection here and the Baseball Americastock report here.)

Stretch Drive Breakdown: WKU

College Baseball

In the second of out stretch drive breakdown posts we’ll look at Western Kentucky University. The Hilltoppers looked certain to gain at at-large NCAA tournament bid from the Sun Belt Conference a few weeks ago, but WKU has dropped three of  its last four series to land squarely on the bubble. Both Rivals.com and Baseball America currently have WKU out of the NCAA tournament as the sixth-place Sun Belt team simply doesn’t deserve a bid.

At this point WKU needs series wins against Sun Belt second-place Louisiana Lafayette and fourth place Middle Tennessee over the final two weeks to have a shot at the NCAA tournament. Despite being in sixth place, WKU is only three games back of Sun Belt leader Florida Atlantic in the loss column and is No. 46 in the RPI so anything is possible. The guess here is the Hilltoppers need to finish in the top three of the Sun Belt to make the NCAA tournament.

(You can see the Rivals.com field of 64 projection here and the Baseball America stock report here.)