UK picked to finish fourth in SEC East; OVC coaches talk opening weekend; Rauch in 4-way battle for Blue Jays’ closer

College Baseball, Major League Baseball

Latest links from around Kentucky baseball:

  • The Southeastern Conference coaches have picked the University of Kentucky to finish fourth in the SEC East.
  • The Ohio Valley Conference announced Tuesday that beginning in 2012 teams, including Eastern Kentucky University, Morehead State University and Murray State University, will play Friday, Saturday, Sunday series in conference play.
  • The OVC has also posted the audio from its preseason teleconference with 10-minute segments from EKU head coach Jason Stein, Morehead St. head coach Jay Sorg and Murray St. head coach Rob McDonald. The three Ky. OVC coaches said little in the way of breaking news, but Stein did confirm freshmen Byran Soloman and Sean Hagen would start for the Colonels. Sorg also noted the senior Trey Smith, redshirt junior Josh Schneider and sophomore Cody Gibson are the favorites to begin the season in the weekend rotation.
  • Troy E. Renck profiles on right-handed pitcher Aaron Cook, who was born in Fort Campbell, and his improved mechanics.
  • Seth Livingston of USA Today profiles former UK right-handed pitcher Joe Blanton, who he call’s the “forgotten man” in the Phillies’ all-star rotation.
  • Seth Stohs of the The Star-Tribune lists Lexington Catholic alum Ben Revere among the 2011 impact prospects for the Twins, noting Revere could step into center field and the leadoff spot if Denard Span goes is injured.
  • Ken Fidlin of the Toronto Sun breaks down the four-way battle for the Blue Jays closer, which includes former Morehead St. right-handed pitcher Jon Rauch.

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.

Offseason position battle: Murray St. starting pitchers

College Baseball

In the fifth Murray State University post of the “offseason position battle series we will look at the vacant weekend starting pitching slots.

The departed — Right-handed pitcher Chris Craycraft, a 2010 senior, served as the Murray State ace for each of the last two seasons, being named second-team all-Ohio Valley Conference following the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Craycraft was 6-4 with a 5.05 ERA in 16 games, including 15 starts, for the Breds in 2010. The Lexington native struck out 72 batters and walked 35 in 92 and two-third innings pitched…Right-handed pitcher Alex Love, a 2010 senior, was 8-1 with a 5.63 ERA in 19 games, including eight starts, for the Breds last season. Love struck out 35 batters and walked 23 in 70 and one-third innings pitched…Right-handed pitchers Marc Harmon and Dan Huff, both 2010 seniors, combined to make 13 starts for Murray St. last season but neither finished the year with an ERA below 8.35.

Returning candidates — Senior left-handed pitcher Jake Donze made 16 starts for Murray St. in 2010 and finished the season at 6-6 with a 6.02 ERA. Donze struck out 71 batters and walked 56 in 83.2 innings pitched and enters 2011 as the Breds de facto ace…Sophomore right-handed pitchers Joe Major, Will Handlin, and Ben Lady each made one start for Murray St. in 2010. Major was the only returning Murray St. pitcher to finish 2010 with a sub-4.00 ERA, but he logged just 10 innings pitched on the season.

Newcomers to watch — Junior college transfer Bryan Babin pitched four shutout innings in the decisive game of the Murray St. Fall World Series. Babin, a junior left-handed pitcher, was 5-1 with a 3.46 ERA in 39 innings pitched as a sophomore at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College…Junior college transfer Luke Shuemaker, a junior left-handed pitcher, was 4-2 with a 5.15 ERA in 50 and two-third innings pitched for Rend Lake College in 2010…Junior college transfer Mark Roberts, a junior left-handed pitcher, was 5-3 with a 4.42 ERA in 55 innings pitched for Lincoln Trail College in 2010…Freshman left-handed pitchers Kyle Cornett and Brock Downey were both named first-team all-state as a seniors by the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association…Freshman right-handed pitcher Cameron Finch was named first-team all state as a senior in Collierville, Tenn., and pitched eight complete games and two no-hitters in 2010.

Wildcard — The Breds have no shortage of starting pitcher candidates as head coach Rob McDonald brought in nine new pitchers to the 2011 pitching staff. Junior Tyler Beers, a junior college transfer, may be needed to man the vacant first base position for the Breds, but he also logged experience as a right-handed pitcher at Mineral Area college. Beers was 2-7 with a 6.12 ERA as a sophomore, but proved to be an innings eater after striking out 55 in 64 and two-third innings pitched.

Offseason position battle: Murray St. outfielder

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Zach Noonan; BluGrass Baseball photo

In the fourth Murray State University post in the “offseason position battle” series we will look at the vacant outfield position.

The departed — Outfielder Daniel Hill, a 2010 senior, started 33 games in right field and six as the designated hitter for the Breds in 2010. On the season he batted .284 with five home runs, 37 RBI and 33 runs scored. As a junior Hill batted .344 with a then school-record 16 home runs…Utility man Bryan Propst started 26 games in left field, five games in right field, five games at first base and 15 as the Breds’ designated hitter in 2010. Propst was second on the team in batting (.366), home runs (14), runs scored (57), hits (75), RBI (56) and total bases (140). He tied for the team lead with 19 doubles.

Returning candidates — The Breds return their every day center fielder in senior Elliot Frey, who started 51 games in the outfield in 2010, and corner outfielder senior Zach Noonan, who started 50 games in the outfield last season… The race for the third outfield spot is wide open as Murray state returns just one player who started a game in the outfield in 2010, and that player, senior catcher Drew Pixley, started just one game…Freshman outfielder Brandon Eggenschwiler and Ty Stetson both redshirted during the 2010 season.

Newcomers to watch — Murray St. head coach Rob McDonald added two junior college transfers to the outfield mix for the 2011 Breds. Redshirt sophomore Paul Ritzheimer comes to Murray from Kaskaskia Community College where he batted .405 with three home runs and 20 RBI as a freshman…Junior outfielder Cody Larson batted .263 with three home runs, 16 RBI and 16 runs scored as a sophomore at Skyline Junior College…Freshman left-handed pitcher and outfielder Brock Downey was named first-team all state by the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association as a senior at Murray High School. Downey batted .550 with 52 stolen bases as a senior.

Wildcard — The wildcard in the Murray State outfield race may be the only returning reserve who started a game in the outfield in 2010: senior catcher Drew Pixley. The Breds boast five catchers on the roster with Pixley and junior college transfer Jacob Rhodes leading the race for playing time. If McDonnell wants to get both players in the lineup, he could try Pixley in the outfield once again.

Offseason position battle: Murray St. second baseman

College Baseball

In our third Murray State University post in the “offseason position battle” series we will look at the vacant second base position.

The departed — Murray St. split its 57 starts at second base between three players in 2010: seniors Kyle Tiernan and Cory Hodskins and sophomore Jonathan Craycraft. The Breds lost Tiernan, who started 32 games at second base, and Hodskins, who started one game at second, to graduation. Craycraft, who started 24 games at the position, is not listed on the 2011 roster. Tiernan batted .300 with three home runs, 37 RBI and 30 runs scored in 2010, while Craycraft batted .262 with two home runs, 13 RBI and 23 runs scored. Craycraft started 46 games at second base as a freshman, batting .337.

Returning candidates — Murray St. lists just two returning infielders on its 2011 roster: sophomores Brandon Elliott and Colton Moore. Elliott returns to the Breds as the primary shortstop after starting 43 games there in 2010. Moore started 19 games at third base and 24 games as a designated hitter in 2010 and will likely be the primary third baseman in 2011.

Newcomers to watch — Junior college transfer Travis Isaak joins the Breds after batting .420 with 19 doubles, eight home runs and 55 RBI as a sophomore at Lincoln Trail Community College. Isaak batted .365 with 25 doubles, five home runs and 38 RBI as a freshman at LTCC…Freshman infielder Wes Warren comes to Murray St. from Goodlettsville, Tenn., where he batted .419 with seven triples and 32 RBI as a senior at Hendersonville High School.

Wildcard — With just four infielders listed on the 2011 roster there appear to be few surprises in the second base competition. Head coach Rob McDonald could conceivably move incumbent infielders Elliott and Moore to the position, though that appears unlikely as neither logged any time at second base during 2011. If a position change from another player was in order, the Breds boast a surplus at catcher with five players and outfield with six players on the roster.

Offseason position battle: Murray State catcher

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Jason Laws; BluGrass Baseball photo

In our second Murray State University post in the “offseason position battle” series we will look at the Breds’ vacant catching position.

The departed — Senior Jason Laws batted .314 with four home runs, 36 RBI, 41 runs scored and 14 doubles in 52 games for Murray St. in 2010. Laws started 45 games behind the plate for Murray State last season and five games at designated hitter when he wasn’t catching. Laws was one of just three Breds to appear in over 50 games in 2010. The catcher made 13 errors on the season and finished 2010 with a .951 fielding percentage. Laws also was credited with 11 passed balls. Opposing runners were successful 86.4 percent of the time in 57 stolen base attempts against Laws.

Returning candidates — Senior catcher Drew Pixley made all 12 starts behind the plate in 2010 that didn’t go to Laws for Murray State. Pixley batted .309 with no home runs, six RBI and 14 runs scored in 2010. The left-handed pitcher appeared in 22 total games for Murray State in 2010. Opposing runners were successful 75 percent of the time in 18 stolen base attempts against Pixley in 2010…Senior catcher Bo Akers has appeared in seven games over two seasons with Murray St…Freshman catcher Nick Paradossi redshirted during the 2010 season but batted .443 as a senior at Bosse High School in Evansville, Ind.

Newcomers to watch — Junior college transfer Jacob Rhodes figures to earn significant playing time after coming to Murray St. from Wabash Valley Junior College. Rhodes earned honorable mention JUCO All-American honors as a sophomore at Wabash after batting .391 with eight home runs and 76 RBI. Rhodes scored 72 runs in 56 games for Wabash…Freshman Clay Fuson is the other new catcher on the roster. Fuson comes to Murray St. from Lipscomb High School in Nashville, Tenn., where he batted .389 as a senior.

Wildcard — It appears the only surprise in the Breds’ catching battle would be if Pixley or Rhodes didn’t get the majority of the playing time behind the plate. The real wildcard in this battle will be if head coach Rob McDonald tries to get both players in the lineup at the same time by playing one at DH, first base or some other position on the diamond.

Offseason position battle: Murray St. first baseman

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Wes Cunningham: BluGrass Baseball photo

In the latest offseason position battle post we will look at the vacant Murray State University first base position:

The departed — All-American Wes Cunningham started 52 of the Breds’ 57 games at first base before being drafted by the Sand Diego Padres in the 17th round of the 2010 draft. Cunningham led Murray State in batting average (.408), on-base percentage (.476), slugging percentage (.824), hits (95), home runs (22), RBI (86), runs (77), triples (6) and total bases (192). Cunningham’s 86 RBI and 192 total bases ranked fifth in the country and his 22 home runs ranked 12th. Senior Bryan Propst also started the other five games at first base for Murray St.

Returning candidates — Rising sophomore Colton Moore is the only returning Bred who logged any time at first base in 2010. Moore played the last two innings of Murray St.’s May 28 Ohio Valley Conference tournament win over Eastern Illinois at first base. Moore started 19 games at third base and 24 at designated hitter so he could make the switch to first base in 2011 if he can handle the position defensively full-time. Redshirt freshman infielder Jordan Queen figures to earn some playing time in the infield and had a RBI singled during the fall World Series.

Newcomers to watch — Junior college transfer Tyler Beers is the only player listed as a first baseman on the roster, but will also likely pitch some for Murray St. During the final game of the fall World Series Beers tallied a RBI single. Beers batted .300 with five home runs and 25 RBI as a sophomore for Mineral Area College.

Wildcard — Murray State has five catchers listed on the roster, so head coach Rob McDonald could consider moving one to first base. At 6-1 junior college transfer Jacob Rhodes is the tallest of the group but will likely battle with Drew Pixley for the majority of the playing time at catcher. McDonald could also move one of the seven outfielders on the roster to first base.

Murray St. signs 3 Kentuckians in 8-man early period class

College Baseball, High School Baseball

As you try to recover from your post-Thanksgiving Day binge eating we’ll move on in the early signing period breakdown series with Murray State University. The Breds signed eight players during the early period including three Kentuckians. Check out some 2010 statistics and honors below with each player and a news-release quote from each player’s high school or junior college coach:

INF Corey Bays — Henry Clay High School

  • 2010 Stats: .455 BA, 15 2Bs, 21 RBI, 37 R, 15 SB
  • Jordan Terrence: “Corey is one of the best hitters I have ever coached and he will be a great addition to Murray State He has the ability to play multiple positions at the college level, but his bat is what will stand out.  He is one of the best hitters in Lexington and I look for him to lead our team in nearly every offensive category this season.”

INF Luke Daugherty — Apollo High School

  • 2010 Stats: .353 BA, 3 HR, 27 RBI, 9 2Bs
  • Bob Mantooth: “Luke has been an outstanding player for us here at Apollo.  He was our designated hitter as a freshman and has played third base and hit in the middle of the lineup ever since.  His leadership ability has been as important to us as his talent and skill.”

RHP Scott Spears — Cleveland St. CC (Somerset, Ky)

  • 2010 Stats: 5-0, 3.64 ERA, 31 SO, 22.1 IP
  • Mike Policastro: “We are happy that Scott will have the opportunity to pitch at Murray State next season.  He is a very hard worker who is capable of pitching in any role.  Scott is an aggressive pitcher who competes every time he takes the mound.  He won five games for us out of the bullpen last season and we expect him to anchor our rotation this spring.”

RHP Alex Gordon — Wabash Valley JC

  • 2010 Stats: 8-2, 3.41 ERA, 74.1 IP
  • Rob Fournier: “Alex is the heart and soul of our pitching staff. He dominates the strike zone, and will be relied on to lead our staff  again.  He is a pleasure to coach.”

C Rick Linton — Muncie, Ind.

  • 2010 Stats: .415 BA, 9 2Bs, 2 HR, 17 RBI
  • Rob Fisher: “He is a great kid who has invested a lot of time and hard work to get to this point. It is not unusual to see him by himself in the batting tunnel doing tee work on any given evening.  I am proud of him and the effort he has made to become a better player, but I am more proud of the fact that he is a very good student and a kid I never had to worry about as far as making wrong choices.”

OF Taylor Matthews — Memphis, Tenn.

  • 2010 Stats: .312 BA, 8 2Bs, 36 RBI, 17 SB
  • Buster Kelso: “Taylor has developed into one of our most dependable players. He is solid in all areas defensively and, offensively, he is unselfish and hits the ball well to all fields.  He is an excellent student, as well as a fine citizen.”

RHP Daniel Robinson — Sterling, Ill.

  • 2010 Stats: 3-4, 2.71 ERA, 1 Sv, 41.1 IP
  • Ben Diggle: “I have no doubt Dan’s best years on the mound are in front of him.  He is just beginning the transition from two-way player at the high school level to a true pitcher.  I have no doubt that Dan will continue to work hard and that, combined with  the coaching he will receive at MSU, will help him develop into a very good college pitcher.”

INF Noah Zipko — Wabash Valley JC

  • 2010 Stats: .359 BA, 2 2Bs, 13 RBI (Formerly played at Campbellsville University)
  • Rob Fournier: “Noah will be counted on as a leader of our team. He is a great all-around player and our team feeds off his energy.  We are looking for big production from him this season.  He is the type of player that a coach wishes he had for the next four years.”

You can read the full Murray St. news release here.