We continue the preseason BluGrass Baseball awards with the preseason pitcher of the year.
Pitcher of the year: Matt Koch — University of Louisville
Matt Koch; UofL photo
UofL sophomore right-handed pitcher Matt Koch arrived on campus last year with lots of hype after being selected in the 37th round of the 2009 draft by the Boston Red Sox. Despite his reputation, Koch was missing in action for most of the first half of the 2010 season. Koch didn’t make his collegiate debut until April 1, but by the end of the season was a valuable pitcher in the UofL weekend rotation. Koch allowed just one run on three hits in six innings to earn a win versus Vanderbilt in the NCAA regional.
He finished the season at 3-0 with a 3.27 ERA in 11 games, including six starts. Koch tallied 31 strikeouts in 41 innings of work. While the right-handed pitcher did not qualify for the ERA title last season, his 3.24 ERA is far below any other returning Kentucky starting pitcher this season. Koch will open the season as UofL’s Friday night starter and will be looked at to replace the hole left in the Cards’ rotation by the departure of 2010 Big East pitcher of the year Thomas Royse.
In the opinion of this baseball writer there is not a more important annual publication that Baseball America‘s “Prospect Handbook.” The 2011 edition of the Handbook was mailed this week with mine arriving on Thursday. I cannot recommend the book highly enough if you are a baseball fan, especially one interested in identifying the next MLB stars before your friends. You can purchase the book from BA here. I’m going to list some basic Kentucky info from the book below but won’t give away the rankings or scouting reports in order to encourage you to buy a copy of the book yourself.
Four Kentucky school alumni were included in the already released top 10 prospect rankings for their respective organizations: Zack Cox, Jason Kipnis, Christian Friedrich and Ben Revere. PRP alum Cox was ranked the No. 2 prospect in the Cardinals organization, one-time UK outfielder Kipnis was ranked the No. 3 prospect in the Indians’ system, former EKU left-handed pitcher Friedrich was ranked the No. 4 prospect in the Rockies’ organization and Lexington Catholic alum Revere was ranked the No. 5 prospect in the Twins’ system.
Eleven other Kentucky school alumni were included in the 11-30 rankings for their respective organizations: former NKU right-handed pitcher Josh Lueke, former UK first baseman Ryan Strieby, former UofL third baseman Chris Dominguez, former UofL right-handed pitcher Thomas Royse, former UK outfielder Collin Cowgill, former LCA left-handed pitcher Robbie Ross, former NKU right-handed pitcher Nathan Jones, former UofL right-handed pitcher Trystan Magnuson, former WKU third baseman Wade Gaynor, former UofL outfielder Josh Richmond and former Ballard left-handed pitcher Richard Sullivan.
Three organizations had two Kentucky alumni in the top 30 lists: the White Sox, Rangers and Tigers.
The Cardinals, Indians, Rockies, Twins, Mariners, Giants, Diamondbacks, Athletics and Braves also had Kentucky alumni included in their respective top 30 rankings.
The University of Louisville had four alumni ranked on top 20 lists, the University of Kentucky had three alumni listed and Northern Kentucky University boasted former two players in the handbook.
Two players drafted straight out of Kentucky high schools were ranked on organization top 30s: Revere and Ross.
Inspired by College Baseball Daily’s list of the top 100 college baseball players, BluGrass Baseball is counting down the top 25 returning Kentucky collegians in advance of the 2011 season. We continue the list today with a returning draftee who will likely close for one of the top teams in the country this season.
No. 19 — RHP Casey Lucchese — College of Charleston (Paul Laurence Dunbar HS)
Casey Lucchese; College of Charleston photo
Senior right-handed pitcher Casey Lucchese returns to college after being selected in the 39th round of the 2010 draft by the Chicago Cubs. Lucchese was 4-0 with a 3.18 ERA in 21 relief appearances in 2010. The Paul Laurence Dunbar High School alum struck out 52 batters and walked 16 in 39 and two-third innings. He held opponents to a .222 batting average last season. Lucchese appeared in one game for the Lexington Hustlers during the summer.
College of Charleston enters the 2011 season ranked No. 20 team in the country as ranked by Baseball America. Aaron Fitt of BA projects Lucchese as the team’s primary 2011 closer writing Lucchese “was the team’s most reliable reliever last year, and he should do fine as the closer thanks to an 88-92 fastball and a swing-and-miss curve.” The Lexington Herald-Leader included Lucchese on its 2007 all-city team, which also included minor leaguers Ben Revere, Robbie Ross, Jayson Langfels, Tyler Oliver and Thomas Royse and current college standouts Nick Maronde, Cameron Flynn, Justin Riddell and Travis Redmon.
In the second University of Louisville post in the “Offseason position battle” series we will look at the two vacant weekend starting pitcher slots:
The departed: Big East pitcher of the year Thomas Royse has moved on to professional ball after going 9-1 with a 2.85 ERA in 16 starts for the Cards in 2010. Royse, who was the third-supplemental round pick of the Chicago White Sox, struck out 99 batters and walked just 26 in 104.1 innings pitched last season. Left-handed pitcher Dean Kiekhefer made 10 starts for UofL in 2010 before moving to professional ball as the 36th round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Matt Koch finished the 2010 season as a weekend starter and is likely to begin 2011 in the same position. UofL returns several mid-week starters from 2010 and welcomes a plethora of talented freshman so there is no shortage of candidates for the vacant weekend starting slot.
Returning candidates: Redshirt sophomore Justin Amlung is the only returning Card who made at least 10 starts last season and is likely a favorite to slide into one of weekend starting slots. Amlung was 5-2 with a 4.27 ERA in 2010…Senior right-handed pitcher Gabriel Shaw pitched mostly out of the bullpen for UofL in 2011, but held his own in three starts. On the season Shaw was 5-2 with a 3.88 ERA but was 1-1 in three starts, highlighted by a seven-inning, one-run performance against West Virginia…Junior Derek Self was 7-0 with a 4.52 ERA in 27 games including eight starts for UofL in 2010. This summer he was named a Cape Cod League All-Star after going 3-0 with a 2.36 ERA for the Chatham Anglers…Koch, Shaw, Amlung and junior right-handed pitcher Travis Tingle each received at least one start during the fall Pizza Bowl series…After missing all of 2010 with an injury redshirt sophomore Mike Nastold made two starts during the Pizza Bowl. Nastold made six starts as a freshman in 2009.
Newcomers to watch: Freshman right-handed pitcher Dace Kime was the eighth round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010 an arrives at UofL after receiving All-American honors as a senior at Defiance High School in Ohio. As a senior Kime was 7-1 with a 1.31 ERA and 108 strikeouts…Freshman right-handed pitcher Chad Green was the 37th round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2010 draft after going 9-2 with a 1.65 ERA and 107 strikeouts as a senior at Effingham High School in Illinois…Freshman right-handed pitcher Jeff Thompson pitched four and two-third scoreless innings in a Pizza Bowl start during fall practice…Freshman left-handed pitcher Cody Edge boasted a miniscule 0.97 ERA as a senior at Cherokee Washington High School in Iowa and allowed one run in three and two-third innings during the Pizza Bowl.
Wildcard: Junior right-handed pitcher Tony Zych was recently rated the No. 25 college draft prospect by Baseball America. Zych has enjoyed most of his college success as a reliever but did make five starts for UofL to begin the 2010 season. That experiment was an unmitigated failure but head coach Dan McDonnell may not be able to resist trying such a talent in the rotation again. Zych was named a Cape Cod League All-Star last summer and received the league’s postseason best pro prospect and best relief pitcher awards.
League playoffs from across Minor League Baseball are set to begin this week. Last week we looked at the Kentucky alumni participating in rookie league playoffs, so I thought I’d do the same for the other minor leagues:
Pacific Coast League (AAA)
Tacoma Rainers — Josh Lueke
International League (AAA)
Louisville Bats — Matt Klinker
Columbus Clippers — Jeremy Sowers (DL)
Texas League (AA)
Springfield Cardinals — Antone DeJesus
Eastern League (AA)
New Hampshire Fisher Cats — Trystan Magnuson
Harrisburg Senators — Zach Dials
Southern League (AA)
Tennessee Smokies — Chris Rusin (DL)
Jacksonville Suns — Graham Taylor (DL)
Mobile BayBears — Collin Cowgill, Sean Coughlin, Josh Ellis
California League (High A)
Stockton Ports — Justin Marks
High Desert Mavericks — Jake Shaffer
Ranch Cucamonga Quakes — Jon Townsend
Florida State League (High A)
Dunedin Blue Jays — Justin McClanahan
Bradenton Marauders — Jordan Newton, Nathan Adcock
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:
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.
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.
We’ll start the July awards series by looking at the best performances from alumni of Kentucky schools across Minor League Baseball:
Hitter of the month: OF Collin Cowgill (AA Mobile)
Lexington native and former UK outfielder Collin Cowgill batted .327 with five home runs, 16 RBI and 16 runs scored in July. While Cowgill didn’t led Kentucky alumni with a .945 OPS in July and ranked second in home runs and third in runs scored. Cowgill’s .571 slugging percentage led Kentucky alumni for the month.
Honorable Mention: Jake Shaffer, Wes Cunningham, Drew Lee, Tyler Kuhn, Marcus Nidiffer, Adam Duvall, Andrew Clark, Phil Wunderlich, Wade Gaynor
Pitcher of the month: LHP Robbie Ross (High A Bakersfield)
LCA alum made his high A debut in July and finished the month 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA in four starts for Bakersfield. Ross struck out 21 and walked eight in 23 and one-third innings. His three wins led all Kentucky alumni for the month.
Honorable Mention: Tyler Gatrell, Thomas Royse, Nathan Jones, Daniel Calhoun, Chris Rusin, Neil Holland, Justin Marks
The Louisville Bats recorded a 3-2 win over Gwinnet behind right-handed pitcher Matt Maloney, who surrendered just two runs in six and two-third innings. First baseman Todd Frazier was 2-3 with a run scored.
The Lexington Legends scored three runs in the bottom of the tenth inning to earn a come-from-behind 9-8 win over Savannah. Second baseman Jose Altuve was 4-5 with a run scored, and left fielder Jacob Goebbert drove home the winning run with a single.
The Bowling Green Hot Rods held off a late Cedar Rapids rally to earn a 5-3 win. Third baseman Bennett Davis was 2-3 with a run scored and two RBI.
Former UofL infielder Chris Dominguez was 3-4 with a home run, five RBI and two runs scored for low A Augusta.
Former UofL right-handed pitcher and 2010 White Sox drafteeThomas Royse took a no decision despite surrendering just one run on two hits in six innings for rookie-level Great Falls. Royse struck out six and walked none.
Former UK outfielder Collin Cowgill was 2-4 with his eleventh home run of the season, one RBI and one run scored for AA Mobile.
Former UK outfielder and 2010 Twins draftee Lance Ray slugged his second home run of the season for low A Beloit.
Former UofL infielder and 2010 Rays draftee Phil Wunderlich slugged his third professional home run for short-season Hudson Valley.
Former WKU catcher Jordan Newton slugged his first home run of the season since returning to affiliated ball with high A Bradenton.
Former Campbellsville catcher and 2010 Diamondbacks NDFA Richie Rowland was 3-4 with a double, walk and two RBI for rookie-level Missoula.
Frankfort native and 2010 Royals draftee Cameron Conner slugged his first professional home run for the rookie-level AZL Royals.
Danville native and 2010 Tigers draftee Patrick Cooper took a no decision after surrendering four runs in six innings for short-season Connecticut.
Right-handed pitcher Matt Maloney surrendered just one unearned run in six innings to lead the Louisville Bats to an 11-2 blowout win over Charlotte. Shortstop Zach Cozart,third baseman Juan Francisco, outfielder Wladimir Balentein and catcher Wilkin Castillo each homered in the game for Louisville.
The Bowling Green Hot Rods scored three runs in the eighth inning to earn a 7-5 come-from-behind win over Peoria. Designated hitter Cody Rogers homered and right fielder Brett Nommensen was 3-4.
The Lexington Legends were off Monday.
Former UK infielder and 2010 Padres draftee Chris Bisson was 3-4 for short-season Eugene.
Former UK outfielder/first baseman and 2010 Twins draftee Lance Ray slugged his first professional home run for low A Beloit.
Former UofL outfielder and 2010 Rangers draftee Joshua Richmond reached base five times via four walks and a single for short-season Spokane. He scored twice and drove in one run. In four professional games, Richmond is 5-13 (.385) with five RBI and four runs scored.
Former UofL right-handed pitcher and 2010 White Sox draftee Thomas Royse took a no decision for rookie-level Great Falls after surrendering four runs in six innings. Royse struck out seven and walked none.
Boyd County native and 2010 Royals NDFA Tyler Gatrell picked up his sixth save of the season for the rookie-level AZL Royals and still hasn’t surrendered an earned run in his professional career over 10 appearances.