The Chicago White Sox today traded Lexington native and former UK outfielder John Shelby Jr. to the Tampa Bay Rays for future considerations, Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribunereports via Twitter. Shelby batted .249 with 11 home runs, 43 RBI and 63 runs scored in 111 games for AA Birmingham in 2010. He stole 15 bases on the season. The White Sox selected Shelby in the fifth round of the 2006 MLB draft.
Meanwhile, former UK catcher Marcus Nidiffer was released by the Houston Astros and signed a minor league contract with the Los Angeles Angels, according to Brent Ingram of the UK media relations department. Nidiffer, who spend most of his time at first base during his professional debut, signed with the Astros as a non-drafted free agent following his senior season at UK in 2010. He batted .286 with 14 home runs, 36 RBI and 40 runs scored in 69 games between rookie-level Greeneville and short-season Tri-City. Nidiffer was poised to become the first UK alum to play for the Lexington Legends before his release.
The University of Kentucky hosted its annual baseball media day this afternoon. There was not any major breaking news at the event, but it was the first chance to talk with juniors Alex Meyer, Chad Wright and Braden Kapteyn and senior Taylor Black as well as head coach Gary Henderson this season. I’ve included 10 notes from the event below:
Henderson said the second base job is wide open but later admitted he would lean toward playing the strongest defensive player. While outlining the second base candidates, he made a point to emphasize freshman Matt Reida‘s defensive ability, so that probably offers a little glimpse at Henderson’s current thinking.
Senior shortstop Taylor Black said he seriously considered signing with the St. Louis Cardinals after being drafted in 2010. “In the end I though it was best for me to come back to the Cliff for my degree and another year,” he told BluGrass Baseball. Black is the only 2010 Cat who was drafted that elected to return to school.
Henderson said if the season started today junior everything man Braden Kapteyn would be the starting first baseman, but noted “somebody has to be able to play there when he’s pitching.” For now it looks like either Luke Maile or Michael Williams will be the backup first baseman when the other is catching.
While Reida may have a leg up in the second base battle, Henderson said freshman infielder J. T. Riddle was “kind of forcing our hand offensively.” Henderson noted Riddle keeps hitting line drives in the intrasquad games and eventually they will need to find a spot for him in the lineup if he keeps performing. Henderson even suggested Riddle might get a look at first base.
There was lots of talk about the new NCAA mandated bats. Each of the four players suggested that bats might even out some of the major losses on the UK offense. Henderson said he thought the complaining some other SEC coaches had done about the bats was overblown.
Alex Meyer confirmed a recent media report that he’s been working on a changeup this offseason. Henderson said the changeup would be especially useful the third time through the lineup when batters began to adapt to Meyer’s other two pitches.
Each of the three juniors spoke on the need for their class to step into the leadership roles vacated by the numerous upperclassmen who moved on to professional ball from the 2010 team. “I feel like we have a lot of experience,” outfielder Chad Wright said of the junior class. “Coming in almost all of us have played quite a bit. With the experience we’ll be able to contribute a lot to the team.”
I asked Meyer about his adjustment to throwing to new catchers after mainstay Marcus Nidiffer‘s graduation, and he said Nidiffer would be missed but was confident he would quickly adjust to Maile and Williams.
Henderson said freshman Corey Littrell and junior Alex Phillips would be the midweek starting pitchers to begin the season. If either of them falters or an injury necessitates a change, freshmen Trevor Gott and Jonathan Paquet would be next in line for starts.
I asked each of the four players what this team needed to accomplish to consider the season a success. They each agreed on what that goal was, but Wright was most direct in his answer: “I definitely feel like it [the season] is not a success unless we make the postseason.”
Jordan Bastian of MLB.com examines the Cleveland Indians outfield, including Lexington native Austin Kearns. Bastian reports Kearns will “provide an experienced right-handed bat to help offset the fact that the trio of regulars all bat from the left side.”
Stephen Wilder of the Northerner, the student newspaper of Northern Kentucky University, previews the 2011 Norse and reports 2010 GLVC player of the year Jason Crisper is appealing to the NCAA for a medical hardship that would grant him an extra year of eligibility.
Mark Maloney of the Lexington Herald-Leader profiles former UK catcher Marcus Nidiffer, who has transitioned to a first baseman as a professional and may be the first former Cat to play for the Lexington Legends.
Jason Frakes of the Courier-Journalprofiles new Ballard High School coach David Trager, a 25-year-old Ballard alum who played four years at Indiana.
Brian Foley of College Baseball Daily reports University of Louisville sophomore left-handed pitcher Keith Landers is out until midseason after undergoing a second surgery on his throwing arm during the fall.
The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association has released its preseason poll with UofL at No. 22.
The Lexington Legendsannual caravan will begin Wednesday in Danville. The Caravan will also make stops in Cynthiana, Lexington, Somerset, Columbia and Jackson. Kentucky minor leaguers Marcus Nidiffer, Ben Revere, Chaz Roe, Jeremy Shelby and John Shelby III will attend the Lexington event on Thursday. Former Kentucky major leaguers Willie Blair, Andy Green, John Shelby Jr., Jeff Parrett and Josh Anderson will also appear at one of the caravan stops.
Larry Stone of The Seattle Times catches up with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik about his negotiations with former UK left-handed pitcher James Paxton. In summary, Zduriencik doesn’t sound very optimistic about Paxton signing before Spring Training.
T. R. Sullivan of MLB.com recaps the Texas Rangers’ offseason, pointing to the team’s acquisition of Ashland native and former UK right-handed pitcher Brandon Webb as one of the moves that will define the success of the offseason.
In examining the Atlanta Braves’ offseason Steven Henson of Yahoo! Sports concludes second baseman Dan Uggla, who was born in Louisville, is the new face of the team.
As noted by the Legends, Andy Green has retired and will serve as the hitting coach for the rookie-level Missoula Osprey in 2011.
We’ve removed the Morehead State University lineup projection post after learning several of the choices were inaccurate. It appears Cody Gibson and Garrick Whittle are competing for a weekend rotation spot with Matthew Robertson being a midweek starting pitcher for the Eagles. Junior Matt Cartwright will likely replace Gibson as the Eagles closer. Senior Jeff Arnold may miss some time with an injury. Sophomore Austin Haney is the leading candidate to replace All-OVC shortstop Drew Lee, and freshman outfielder Duran Elmore appears unlikely to see early playing time. (I’ve decided to try the series again but remember the projections are just speculation on my part)
In the fifth University of Kentucky post in the “offseason position battle” series we will look at the vacant catcher position.
The departed — Catcher Marcus Nidiffer, a 2010 senior, started 43 of UK’s 56 games in 2010, batting .320 with 10 home runs, 35 RBI, 32 runs scored and a .571 slugging percentage. In his final home at-bat Nidiffer launched a grand slam to send UK to a must-have victory over LSU. Nidiffer committed just two errors on the season, though opposing base runners were successful in 79.5 percent of stolen base attempts when he was catching. Nidiffer signed a free-agent contract with the Houston Astros after not being selected in the 2010 draft and was named an Astros organizational all-star after slugging 14 home runs in his first 69 professional games. Nidiffer will likely begin 2011 with the Lexington Legends.
Returning candidates — Sophomore Luke Maile looks to take Nidiffer’s spot not only as UK’s primary catcher but also as the team’s vocal leader. In 26 games as a freshman Maile was 7-35 with three home runs, six RBI and six runs scored. He threw out just two of the ten base runners who tried to steal against him last season. Maile was the 43rd round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2009…Junior catcher Michael Williams will likely split time with Maile at catcher and first base after batting .241 with four doubles, six RBI and three runs scored in 2010. Williams was named an all-star in the New England Collegiate Baseball League this summer and was ranked the No. 4 prospect in the league by Baseball America…Redshirt junior catcher T. J. Daugherty appeared in three games for UK in 2010.
Newcomers to watch — Maile and Williams all but have the top two catching positions on the UK depth chart locked up, but the Cats did add two new catchers to the roster this season. Freshman Steven Hoagland will likely serve as a bullpen catcher for the Cats, while freshman Thomas Bernal will be used primarily as an infielder. Bernal is listed as an infielder/catcher on the roster, giving UK head coach Gary Henderson some useful late-inning flexibility.
Wildcard — Freshman catcher Micheal Thomas redshirted during the 2010 season but started 21 games for the Lexington Hustlers this summer. Thomas struggled with the bat during his time with the Hustlers, going just 14-76, so his primary role for UK in 2011 will likely be a bullpen catcher and possible defensive replacement.
We are a couple of days late with our look back at Kentucky baseball in 2010, but hopefully you can spare one more retrospective with this look at the year’s best highlight from each level of baseball in the Bluegrass State.
MLB Highlight: Corey Hart completes breakout season
Bowling Green native and Greenwood High School alum Corey Hart batted .283 with 31 home runs, 102 RBI, 91 runs scored and 158 hits in 2010 for the Milwaukee Brewers. Along the way Hart started for the National League in the MLB All-Star Game, signed a three-year contract extension and participated in the home run derby. Hart recorded career highs in home runs, RBI and runs scored in 2010 and finished the year in the running for Kentucky’s best MLB hitter.
One-time Louisville Bats Josh Hamilton and Joey Votto named MLB MVPs.
MiLB Highlight: Kipnis caps season with AAA playoff cycle
One-time UK outfielder turned second baseman Jason Kipnis ended an impressive 2010 season by hitting for the cycle for the Columbus Clippers after being promoted to AAA for the team’s playoff run. Kipnis batted .307 with 16 home runs, 74 RBI and 96 runs scored across two levels during the regular season. Kipnis finished his college career as an all-American after transferring to Arizona State and has certainly followed through on the promise that led Cleveland to select him in the second round of the 2009 draft. Kipnis enters 2011 with a chance to make the Indians’ MLB roster out of Spring Training.
Non-drafted free agents Richie Rowland, Marcus Nidiffer and Tyler Gatrell excel in professional debuts.
College Highlight: UofL wins second consecutive Big East title
The University of Louisville clinched its second straight Big East Conference championship with a double-header sweep of Notre Dame on May 23. The Cards were eliminated from the NCAA tournament one win shy of the super regional, but were on cloud nine after outscoring the Fighting Irish 23-6 in the championship-clinching series. UofL sophomore second baseman Ryan Wright put together an All-American season, and the Cards boasted a state-high 10 MLB draftees.
Murray St. first baseman Wes Cunningham completes All-American season.
High School Highlight: Harrison County wins fourth title
Freshman starting pitcher Jordan Martin led Harrison County High School to its fourth KHSAA baseball championship with a complete-game championship-clinching win. The champions defeated Butler County High School 2-1 to win the title and ended the season on a 24-game winning streak. Harrison County placed two players on the KHSBCA all-state teams and three players on the KHSAA All-Tournament team during the state playoffs. Junior outfielder Eric Sanders was named the MVP of the state tournament.
Honorable Mention: Western Hills shortstop J. T. Riddle wins “Mr. Baseball.”
Latest links and highlights from around Kentucky baseball:
Ashley Marshall, writing for MLB.com, named former WKU third baseman Wade Gaynor to the Detroit Tigers organizational all-star team.
Josh Jackson, writing for MLB.com, named former UK catcher Marcus Nidiffer and 2010 Lexington Legends infielder Jose Altuve, outfielders J. D. Martinez and Jacob Goebbert, designated hitter Kody Hinze and starting pitcher Jose Cisnero to the Houston Astros organizational all-star team.
The University of Kentucky‘s Thursday scrimmage was highlighted by a three-run home run from freshman infielder Dallen Reber.
Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review lists Louisville native and former Bellarmine right-handed pitcher Todd Wellemeyer as a possible free-agent acquisition for the Pirates.
Former NKU right-handed pitcher Josh Lueke struck out two in a scoreless inning for the Peoria Javelinas of the Arizona Fall League.
Earlier this week BluGrass Baseball unveiled its 2010 minor league hitter, pitcher and rookie of the year awards. Jake Shaffer, Nathan Adcock and Marcus Nidiffer weren’t the only Kentucky minor leaguers to excel in 2010, and with that in mind here are the standout Kentucky performers at each position:
Catcher: Richie Rowland (Missoula Osprey)
Former Campbellsville catcher and 2010 Diamondbacks NDFA Richie Rowland spent a lot of time at designated hitter for rookie-level Missoula, but Rowland stands out among players who caught this season. Rowland batted .291 with five home runs, 34 RBI and 19 runs scored in 67 games.
First baseman: Marcus Nidiffer (Tri-City Valley Cats)
Former UK catcher and 2010 Astros NDFA Marcus Nidiffer moved from behind the plate to first base as a professional and let his bat do the talking. Nidiffer slugged 14 home runs and batted .286 in 69 games en route to being named BluGrass Baseball rookie of the year. Nidiffer should open 2011 with the Lexington Legends.
Second baseman: Jason Kipnis (Akron Aeros)
One-time UK outfielder Jason Kipnis transferred to Arizona State, where he became a NCAA all-American, and has done nothing but hit since being drafted by the Indians. Kipnis, who moved to second base as a professional, batted .307 with 16 home runs, 74 RBI and 96 runs scored for AA Akron in 2010.
Third baseman: Chris Dominguez (Augusta GreenJackets)
Former UofL infielder and Giants prospect Chris Dominguez led all Kentucky minor leaguers with 21 home runs and 101 RBI in 2010. Dominguez batted .272 with 85 runs scored for low A Augusta and added 14 stolen bases for good measure.
Shortstop: Drew Lee (Bristol White Sox)
Former Morehead St. shortstop and 2010 White Sox draftee Drew Lee played primarily at second base during his first professional season, but shortstop remains the weakest position for Kentucky minor leaguers so he slots in here on the All MiLB team. Lee batted .282 with five home runs, 39 RBI and 32 runs scored in 62 games for rookie-level Bristol.
Outfielder: Jake Shaffer (High Desert Mavericks)
Former NKU outfielder and 2010 BluGrass Baseball hitter of the year Jake Shaffer led all Kentucky minor leaguers with a .336 batting average in 2010. Shaffer also slugged nine home runs and tallied 78 RBI. Shaffer also led Kentuckians in on-base and slugging percentage.
Outfielder: Ben Revere (New Britain Rock Cats)
Lexington Catholic alum and Twins farmhand Ben Revere battled through adversity in 2010 to post another solid season. Revere batted .305 with 44 runs scored and 36 stolen bases for AA New Britain. His season appeared to end early after being hit in the face by a pitch in August, but Revere returned to New Britain in late September and earned a surprise call-up to Minnesota.
Outfielder: Collin Cowgill (Mobile BayBears)
Former UK outfielder Collin Cowgill was among the top five Kentucky minor leaguers in almost every major offensive category. Cowgill batted .285 with 16 home runs, 83 RBI and 89 runs scored for AA Mobile. Cowgill also stole 25 bases on the season.
Designated hitter: Wade Gaynor (West Michigan Whitecaps)
If not for Chris Dominguez’s power surge, former WKU infielder Wade Gaynor would be the third baseman on this team but instead he slots in as the designated hitter. Gaynor batted .286 with 10 home runs, 80 RBI and 91 runs scored for low A West Michigan and is in the running for Detroit Tigers MiLB player of the year.
North Hardin alum and BluGrass Baseball pitcher of the year Nathan Adcock stood out among Kentucky pitchers with an 11-7 record and 3.38 ERA in 2010. Adcock struck out 113 batters and walked just 28 in 141.1 innings pitched for high A Bradenton.
Relief pitcher: Josh Lueke (Tacoma Rainiers)
Former NKU right-handed pitcher Josh Lueke was traded to the Seattle Mariners organization midseason in the Cliff Lee trade and has elicited controversy in Seattle since due to his past legal trouble, but there is no denying his success on the mound in 2010. Lueke finished the season 5-1 with a 1.86 ERA and 17 saves in 50 games between four different teams. He struck out 94 batters and walked just 15 in 63 innings pitched.
MiLB playoff highlights and latest links from around Kentucky baseball:
John Manuel of Baseball America reports former UofL right-handed pitcher Trystan Magnuson was selected to the Team Canada roster for the 2010 Pan Am Qualifier in San Juan. Former Lexington Legend first baseman Jimmy Van Ostrand was also selected to the roster.
Former UK catcher Marcus Nidiffer was 0-3, but Tri-City clinched the New York-Penn League championship with a 5-1 win over Brooklyn.
Over the weekend, LCA alum Robbie Ross took the loss after surrendering seven runs in three innings for AA Frisco as the team was eliminated from the Texas League playoffs.
Larry Stone of The Seattle Times reports former Mariners director of pro scouting Carmen Fusco was fire at least in part for his role in the controversial acquisition of former NKU right-handed pitcher Josh Lueke. The Mariners’ upper management claim they didn’t know of Lueke’s past legal trouble before acquiring the reliever.
The Houston Astros acquiredLouisville Bats right-handed pitcher Enerio Del Rosario from the Cincinnati Reds for cash. Del Rosario was designated for assignment by the Reds Monday.