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.

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Kentucky Rookie MiLB Leaderboard

Minor League Baseball

Yesterday we looked at the hitting and pitching leaderboards for full-season Kentucky minor leaguers in advance of the BluGrass Baseball MiLB awards post. If you saw that post you already know former UK catcher Marcus Nidiffer was named the rookie of the year, but looking at the statistical leaders among players that made their professional debuts in 2010 is still helpful.

Batting Average (2.7 PA/team game)

  • Phil Wunderlich (SS Hudson Valley) – .330
  • Andrew Clark (SS Spokane) – .295
  • Richie Rowland (R Missoula) – .291
  • Wes Cunningham (SS Eugene) – .290
  • Lance Ray (Low A Beloit) – .289

On-base Percentage

  • Wes Cunningham (SS Eugene) – .415
  • Andrew Clark (SS Spokane) – .401
  • Lance Ray (Low A Beloit) – .372
  • Marcus Nidiffer (SS Tri-City) – .372
  • Phil Wunderlich (SS Hudson Valley) – .372

Slugging Percentage

  • Marcus Nidiffer (SS Tri-City) – .535
  • Phil Wunderlich (SS Hudson Valley) — .478
  • Wes Cunningham (SS Eugene) – .449
  • Drew Lee (R Bristol) – .435
  • Lance Ray (Low A Beloit) – .417

Runs

  • Marcus Nidiffer (SS Tri-City) – 40
  • Wes Cunningham (SS Eugene) – 34
  • Andrew Clark (SS Spokane) – 32
  • Drew Lee (R Bristol) – 32
  • Phil Wunderlich (SS Hudson Valley) – 31

HR

  • Marcus Nidiffer (SS Tri-City) – 14
  • Drew Lee (R Bristol) – 5
  • Richie Rowland (R Missoula) – 5
  • Adam Duvall (SS Salem-Keizer) – 4
  • Phil Wunderlich (SS Hudson Valley) – 4
  • Jayson Langfels (SS Tri-City) – 4

RBI

  • Andrew Clark (SS Spokane) – 41
  • Drew Lee (R Bristol) – 39
  • Marcus Nidiffer (SS Tri-City) – 36
  • Phil Wunderlich (SS Hudson Valley) – 36
  • Richie Rowland (R Missoula) – 34

Stolen Bases

  • Cameron Conner (R Idaho Falls) – 15
  • Marcus Nidiffer (SS Tri-City) – 9
  • Matt Payton (R GCL Phillies) – 9
  • Wes Cunningham (SS Eugene) – 7
  • Chris Bisson (SS Eugene) – 5
  • Drew Lee (R Bristol) – 5

Hit the jump to see the pitching leaders.

MiLB Roundup: Bats win; Legends lose; Adcock, Little, Popham get wins; Duvall homers; Roe loses again

Minor League Baseball

Nathan Adcock; Photo by mwlguide via Flickr

Late highlights from Tuesday Kentucky MiLB action:

  • The Louisville Bats opened their three-game series with Syracuse with an 8-5 win. First baseman Yonder Alonso was 3-5 with three RBI and two runs scored.
  • Lexington Legends right-handed pitcher Tanner Bushue surrendered two runs in five innings but still took the loss in the Legends’ 5-0 loss to Greenville. Bushue struck out five and walked three.
  • The Bowling Green Hot Rods were off.
  • Central Hardin alum Nathan Adcock improved to 10-7 on the season after surrendering one run in seven innings for high A Bradenton.
  • Former UK right-handed pitcher and 2010 Tigers draftee Matt Little was promoted to high A Lakeland where he earned the win in his debut.
  • Former UK outfielder and 2010 Braves NDFA Keenan Wiley was 3-4 with a RBI and run scored for rookie-level Danville.
  • Former UofL infielder and 2010 Giants draftee Adam Duvall slugged his fifth home run of the season and drove in three runs for short-season Salem-Keizer.
  • Former Union College right-handed pitcher Marty Popham improved to 6-6 on the season after surrendering three runs in five innings in a start for high A Kinston.
  • Lafayette High School alum Chaz Roe took a loss for AAA Colorado Springs after surrendering five runs in six innings.

Draft Wrap-up: Winners and Losers

College Baseball

The 2010 draft is in the books for the most part, with only former UK left-handed pitcher James Paxton‘s status up in the air, so now is as good a time as any to look at some of the Kentucky winners and losers from the last two-plus months of draft news:

Winners

  • Blake Perry — Each of the Kentucky players who signed a professional contract could be listed among the winners, but we’ll single out Perry for his monumental rise over the last year. When BluGrass Baseball broke Perry’s commitment to UK  just over a year ago he was a little known former Boyle County High School pitcher who was spending his senior season playing baseball in Florida. Turn the clock a year ahead and Perry not only improved his stock enough to be drafted in the sixth round but also negotiated a signing bonus worth more than three times the recommended slot amount for players drafted after the fifth round without the help of an adviser.
  • Northern Kentucky University — The draft is a double-edged sword for college teams. Schools want their players selected for the notoriety and recruiting help such news brings but also face losing valuable underclassmen and high school signees the better they do. NKU earned some rare publicity for a DII school with two draftees, and while rising senior left-handed pitcher Dave Middendorf appeared likely to sign with the Yankees after being selected, he didn’t sign before the deadline and could offer the Norse a rare returning draftee in 2011.
  • Western Kentucky University — The Hilltoppers had about as good a draft as a Sun Belt Conference team could hope for with three prominent 2010 seniors being selected and signed to professional teams while both underclassmen and one signee selected chose to return to school for 2011. WKU did lose signee Michael Mosby to the Orioles, but rising senior catcher Matt Rice, rising redshirt junior right-handed pitcher Rye Davis and incoming freshman right-handed pitcher Justin Hageman should help the team build on its early 2010 success.

Losers

  • James Paxton — Paxton still hasn’t signed a professional contract with the Mariners, and since his attempt to return to school after being picked in the first-supplemental round in 2009 failed last season he has no college eligibility left. As such he has until a week before the 2011 draft to sign with the Mariners. After dropping to the fourth round in the 2010 draft he stands to lose a substantial amount of money whenever he signs compared to what he would have received if he had signed in 2009. Paxton appears unlikely to suit up in affiliated ball this season unless he signs in the next few days, so he could begin 2011 with just a handful of indy ball innings under his belt over the last two years. Paxton has had some tough breaks since the 2009 draft, but at some point he likely needs to cut his losses, sign a contract and just start pitching again.
  • University of Kentucky — The Cats make the loser list only because they had the most to lose from the draft with 11 underclassmen and signees selected. UK probably expected to lose juniors Chris Bisson and Logan Darnell, but the signings of juniors Matt Little and Lance Ray deal a blow to a depleted bullpen and infield. Ray could have been the center of UK’s 2011 offense, but instead the Cats only really got half a season of production from him before he left for professional ball. The loss of signees Tyler Oliver and Perry only complicates matters. The good news is at least five drafted newcomers will arrive on campus this fall.
  • University of Louisville — The Cards have experienced great success under Dan McDonnell, but he faces his biggest rebuilding job yet in 2011 after losing nine players and one signee to the draft. Four of those loses were seniors, but McDonnell will need to find replacements for key 2010 underclassmen contributors in closer Neil Holland, ace Thomas Royse, slugger Phil Wunderlich, outfielder Josh Richmond and valuable left-handed pitcher Dean Kiekhefer. Rising redshirt junior draftee Stewart Ijames will be back as will two drafted signees, including eighth-round pick Dace Kime.

MiLB Roundup: Louisville high school alums no match for Bats; Legends win; Hot Rods lose; Lee, Revere streaking

Minor League Baseball

Ben Revere; Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Highlights from Saturday Kentucky MiLB action with a few Friday highlights thrown in as well:

  • The Louisville Bats pounded out 17 hits en route to a 10-2 win over Columbus. First baseman Yonder Alonso was 3-5 with a home run, two doubles, four RBI and two run scored.
  • Louisville Butler High School alum Marty Popham, who was promoted to Columbus before the game, took the loss after surrendering six runs in four innings. Ballard High School alum Jeremy Sowers surrendered one run in three innings for Columbus in the game.
  • The Lexington Legends were outhit 12-10 but defeated Delmarva 7-6 Saturday. Left fielder Jacob Goebbert and first baseman Kody Hinze each homered for Lexington.
  • The Bowling Green Hot Rods tallied nine hits but still lost 11-5 to Lansing. Third baseman Julio Cedeno was 2-3 with two runs scored for the Hot Rods.
  • Former Morehead St. shortstop and 2010 White Sox draftee Drew Lee homered and extended his hitting streak to 13 games for rookie-level Bristol.
  • Former UK right-handed pitcher and 2010 Tigers draftee Matt Little picked up his first professional win after striking out four in two scoreless innings for low A West Michigan.
  • Former UofL first baseman and 2010 Rangers draftee Andrew Clark was 3-4 with a walk and four RBI for short-season Spokane.
  • Former UofL left-handed pitcher Justin Marks was promoted to high A Stockton where he took the loss after surrendering seven runs in four runs in his debut.
  • Former EKU left-handed pitcher Christian Friedrich was activated from the disabled list by AA Tulsa but lasted only two and one-third innings in his return.
  • Former NKU right-handed pitcher Josh Lueke was promoted to AAA Tacoma where he pitched two scoreless innings in his debut.
  • Lexington Catholic alum Ben Revere is 6-9 with three runs scored in two games and has an eight-game hitting streak.

MiLB Roundup: Hot Rods win; Bats, Legends fall; Rowland’s streak at 7 games; Lee, Roof homer; Little promoted

Minor League Baseball

Richie Rowland; Photo: Campbellsville University

Highlights from Wednesday Kentucky Minor League action:

  • The Louisville Bats lost a heart-breaker 5-4 to the Durham Bulls on a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the tenth inning. Bats first baseman Yonder Alonso was 3-5 in the game.
  • The Bowling Green Hot Rods recorded their second 2-0 shutout in 10 games with a win over the Lansing Lugnuts. Right-handed pitcher Alexander Colome held the Lugnuts scoreless through six and two-third innings while striking out six batters, and third baseman Julio Cedeno was 2-3 with a run scored, RBI and stolen base.
  • Lexington Legends ace and Houston Astros 2009 second-round pick  Tanner Bushue recorded his wort start to-date in a 7-4 loss to the Hickory Crawdads. Bushue surrendered seven runs in just four and one-third innings.
  • Former Campbellsville University catcher Richie Rowland extended his hitting streak to seven games and with a 2-4, two-run-scored performance for the rookie-level Missoula Osprey. In eight professional games, Rowland is batting .538 with five RBI and five runs scored.
  • Former UK outfielder Lance Ray was 2-4 with two doubles and one run scored for the rookie-level Elizabethon Twins and is 5-11 over the last two games.
  • Former UK closer Matt Little has been promoted to the low A West Michigan Whitecaps where he pitched one and one-third scoreless innings with one strikeout in his debut.
  • Former WKU third baseman Wade Gaynor was 2-5 with two RBI and two runs scored in that same game for the Whitecaps.
  • Former NKU outfielder Jake Shaffer posted his third consecutive three-hit performance for the high A High Desert Mavericks and is 9-12 with four runs scored over that span.
  • Former NKU left-handed pitcher and 2010 draftee Jarrett Casey picked up his second save in three appearances for the rookie-level Bristol White Sox with three scoreless innings.
  • In that same game former Morehead St. shortstop Drew Lee was 2-5 with his first professional home run, four RBI and one run scored for the White Sox.
  • Paducah native Daniel Webb took the loss for the short-season Auburn Doubledays after surrendering three runs in five and two-third innings. He struck out four and walked one.
  • Paducah native Eric Roof was 2-5 with a home run, two RBI and two runs scored for the short-season Connecticut Tigers.
  • In that same game Danville native Patrick Cooper made his professional debut with a scoreless inning pitched for the Tigers. He struck out two.

2010 Draftees Minor League Debuts

Minor League Baseball

Marcus Nidiffer; BluGrass Baseball photo

Most of the 2010 draftees who have already signed professional contracts have a few Minor League games under their belt by now so I thought I’d update you on their early performances. Check out the list below, organized by draft position, with Minor League team listed and Kentucky connection in parentheses:

  • RHP Thomas Royse (UofL) — Great Falls Voyagers — 0-0, 1 GS, 4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 SO
  • 2B Chris Bisson (UK) — Eugene Emeralds — Has not played
  • OF Lance Ray (UK) — Elizabethton Twins — 5-23 (.217), 2 RBI, 2 R
  • SS Jonathan Roof (Paducah) — AZL Rangers — Has not played
  • RHP Neil Holland (UofL) — Vermont Lake Monsters — 0-0, 2 G, 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 SO
  • 2B Adam Duvall (UofL) — Salem-Keizer Volcanoes — 2-11 (.182), 3 R
  • SS Drew Lee (Morehead St.) — Bristol White Sox — 8-23 (.348), 5 RBI, 3 R
  • 1B Andrew Clark (UofL) — Spokane Indians — 11-28 (.393), 2 RBI, 3 R
  • 3B Michael Mosby (Hawesville) — Bluefield Orioles — 4-10 (.400), 1 RBI, 3 R
  • RHP Patrick Cooper (Danville) — Not assigned to a team
  • 3B Jayson Langfels (EKU) — Tri-City Dust Devils — 2-15 (.133), 1 RBI
  • 1B Wes Cunningham (Murray St.) — Eugene Emeralds — 1-14 (.071), 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R
  • OF Cameron Conner (Frankfort) — AZL Royals — 3-18 (.167), 1 RBI
  • C Jeff Arnold (UofL) — Salem-Keizer Volcanoes — 4-14 (.286), 2 R
  • 2B Matt Payton (WKU) — GCL Phillies — 2-19 (.105)
  • RHP Matt Little (UK) — Connecticut Tigers — 0-0, 4 G, 1 SV, 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 SO
  • LHP Jarrett Casey (NKU) — Bristol White Sox — 0-1, 2 G, 1 SV, 2.2 IP, 4 H, 7 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 SO
  • 1B Tyler Oliver (Lexington) — 7-18 (.389), 5 RBI, 2 R
  • RHP Stephen Shackleford (Louisville) — 0-1, 2 G, 3 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO
  • LHP Dean Kiekhefer (UofL) — 0-1, 1 G, 2.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO
  • OF Jeremy Shelby (Lexington) — Bluefield Orioles — 1-8 (.125), 2 R, 1 SB
  • LHP Bart Carter (WKU) — Fort Myers Miracle — 3 G, 4 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO
  • RHP Matt Ridings (WKU) — Out for season after Tommy John Surgery
  • 2B Patrick Brady (Bellarmine) — AZL Mariners — 0-4, 1 R
  • LHP Bob Revesz (UofL) — Johnson City Cardinals — 0-0, 1 G, 2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO
  • C Marcus Nidiffer (UK) — Greenville Astros — 7-16  (.438), 2 RBI, 2 R
  • 3B Gunner Glad (UK) — Elizabethton Twins — 5-20 (.200), 3 R
  • RHP Tyler Gatrell (Boyd Co.) — AZL Royals — 0-0, 2 G, 3.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 SO
  • OF J. D. Ashbrook (Morehead St.) — 2-11 (.182), 1 R
  • C Richie Rowland (Campbellsville) — 9-17 (.529), 3 RBI, 3 R

Minor league assignments for 2010 draftees

Minor League Baseball

Chris Bisson; Photo: UK Athletics

Minor League Baseball short-season league play began over the weekend, and rookie leagues are set to start this week so most of the 2010 Kentucky draftees have been given their first professional assignments. You can always access these assignments for all Kentucky minor leaguers on the “Ky. in the Minors” page, but here’s a rundown of the players making their professional debuts listed in draft order:

  • Thomas Royse — University of Louisville — Rookie Great Falls Voyagers
  • Chris Bisson — University of Kentucky — Short-Season Eugene Emeralds
  • Jonathan Roof — Paducah, Ky., Michigan St. — Rookie AZL Rangers
  • Neil Holland — University of Louisville — Short-Season Vermont Lake Monsters
  • Adam Duvall — University of Louisville — Short-Season Salem-Keizer Volcanoes
  • Drew Lee — Morehead State University — Rookie Bristol White Sox
  • Andrew Clark — University of Louisville — Short-Season Spokane Indians
  • Jayson Langfels — Eastern Kentucky University — Short-Season Tri-City Dust Devils
  • Wes Cunningham — Murray State University — Short-Season Eugene Emeralds
  • Jeff Arnold — University of Louisville — Short-Season Salem-Keizer Volcanoes
  • Matt Little — University of Kentucky — Short-Season  Connecticut Tigers
  • Jarrett Casey — Northern Kentucky University — Rookie Bristol White Sox
  • Dean Kiekhefer — University of Louisville — Rookie Johnson City Cardinals
  • Patrick Brady — Bellarmine University — Rookie AZL Mariners
  • Bob Revesz — University of Louisville — Rookie Johnson City Cardinals
  • Marcus Nidiffer — University of Kentucky — Rookie Greenville Astros
  • Daniel Webb — Paducah, Ky., (2009 Draftee) — Short-Season Auburn DoubleDays

There are nine other confirmed Kentucky signees from the 2010 draft that have yet to be assigned a team so look for an update later this week when Rookie level rosters are finalized.

Roof, Lee, Cunningham, Payton, Little, Casey sign pro deals

College Baseball, Major League Baseball

Wes Cunningham: BluGrass Baseball photo

Draft pick signings are coming in fast and furious now as team’s look to fill their short-season rosters in time for the start of league play Friday. Here are the latest Kentucky signings I’ve seen:

  • Paducah native and Michigan State junior shortstop Jonathan Roof has signed a professional contract with the Texas Rangers as the team’s eighth round pick.
  • Morehead State University All-Ohio Valley Conference senior shortstop Drew Lee has signed with the Chicago White Sox as the team’s 12th round pick.
  • BluGrass Baseball player of the year and Murray State University senior first baseman Wes Cunningham has signed with the San Diego Padres as the team’s 17th round pick.
  • Western Kentucky University senior second baseman Matt Payton has signed with the Philadelphia Phillies as the team’s 27th round pick.
  • University of Kentucky junior right-handed closer Matt Little has signed with the Detroit Tigers as the teams 31st round pick.
  • Northern Kentucky University senior left-handed pitcher Jarrett Casey has signed with the White Sox as the team’s 32nd round pick.

MLB Draft Day Three Breakdown

College Baseball, High School Baseball, Major League Baseball

Matt Rice bats for WKU: BluGrass Baseball photo

Kentucky selections from the third and final day of the MLB amateur player’s draft:

  • 31st Round (943) — RHP Matt Little — UK — Tigers
  • 32nd Round (959) — RHP Justin Hageman — Hopkinsville High School — Royals
  • 32nd Round (968) — LHP Jarrett Casey — NKU — White Sox
  • 35th Round (1046) — 1B Tyler Oliver — Wabash Valley JC (LCA, UK verbal) — Nationals
  • 35th Round (1068) — RHP Stephen Shackleford — Savannah College of Art & Design (Trinity HS) — Giants
  • 35th Round (1073) — SS J.T. Riddle — Western Hills High School (UK signee) — Red Sox
  • 36th Round (1080) — RHP Rye Davis — WKU — Indians
  • 36th Round (1099) — LHP Dean Kiekhefer — UofL — Cardinals
  • 37th Round (1116) — RHP Chad Green — Effingham, Ill. (UofL signee) — Blue Jays
  • 38th Round (1138) — CF Jeremy Shelby — Grambling St. (Lexington) — Orioles
  • 38th Round (1162) — OF Lucas Witt — Lexington Christian Academy (UK signee) — Dodgers
  • 39th Round (1180) — RHP Casey Lucchese — College of Charleston (Paul Laurence Dubar) — Cubs
  • 39th Round (1185) — LHP Bart Carter — WKU — Twins
  • 41st Round (1229) — RHP Matt Ridings — WKU — Royals
  • 42nd Round (1286) — LHP Corey Littrell — Trinity High School (UK signee) — Nationals
  • 44th Round (1345) — LHP David Middendorf — NKU — Yankees
  • 45th Round (1358) — OF Ronald Cotton — Boone County HS — White Sox
  • 47th Round (1418) — 2B Matt Reida — Indiana (UK signee) — White Sox
  • 48th Round (1452) — INF Patrick Brady — Bellarmine — Mariners
  • 49th Round (1489) — LHP Bob Revesz — UofL — Cardinals
  • 50th Round (1525) — C Matt Rice — WKU — Yankees