2013 Season Outlook: Catchers

Feb. 5, 2013

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Signing Day Graphic
Returning Letterwinners
Name 2012 Stats
Alex DeLeon(Sr.) .261, 4 HR, 23 RBIs
Ka’iana Eldredge (Jr.) .185, 3 2B, 16 RBIs
Tom Hougland (Jr.) 5 GP, .250 OBP
Name Notes
Jay Nessler (Fr.) Hit .476 in 2012
Nick Sweatt (Fr.) Hit .422 in 2011
Departed Letterwinners
Name 2012 Stats
Nate Arnold .250, .400 OBP
James Stanfield .289, 7 2B, 17 RBIs

LAWRENCE, Kan. – With the start of the 2013 baseball season a week away, KUAthletics.com is previewing the Jayhawks position-by-position. This edition takes a look at the KU catchers, who could determine how far the Jayhawks can go.

One of the biggest wild cards going into the season for the Kansas baseball team is its catching unit. The Jayhawks return three veterans to the position, which looks nice on paper, however, only senior Alex DeLeon has started more than five games behind the plate in his collegiate career.

KU’s coaching staff plans to move junior Ka’iana Eldredge, who started 43 games at second base last season, behind the plate and use him as the No. 1 catcher. Eldredge possesses a lethal throwing arm, which head coach Ritch Price hopes can slow down opponents on the base paths. However, he has only caught a handful of games since high school and had his struggles during the fall and the trip to the Dominican Republic.

DeLeon figures to split time between first base and behind the dish, backing up Eldredge. The senior has been more offensive-minded than Eldredge during his career. Price is hoping he can return to the form of his sophomore year, when he batted .320 with six homers and 23 RBIs.

Junior Tom Hougland is short on game experience, but has made tremendous strides defensively the past two seasons. Should DeLeon or Eldredge struggle, the junior could see some starts as the catcher.

Freshmen Jay Nessler and Nick Sweatt will look for playing time behind the plate and as designated hitters. Both young catchers put up impressive offensive numbers in high school and will look for their shot at the college level.

Head Coach Ritch Price

On KU’s catching situation:
“I think without question, catching is the biggest question mark on our team going into the spring. We have lost James Stanfield, who had been a two-year starter for us behind the plate. He had his best year as a senior. Going into the season, this is the only inexperienced position we have on the field with all the guys that are back.”

On junior Ka’iana Eldredge:
“I like the skill set that Ka’iana Eldredge brings to the team. He was drafted out of high school as a senior even though he didn’t catch until his senior year (of high school). We caught him on Tuesday nights occasionally during his freshman year. He brings athleticism to the table; he has one of the best throwing arms in all of college baseball. That’s certainly the plus-tool that he brings. With his experience behind the plate, he is still a work-in-progress when it comes to blocking and receiving. We’re hopeful that he will continue to develop into a complete catcher as he gains game experience and we get deeper into our season. He has the ability to completely shut down the running game and in our conference, that’s crucial with the team speed that everyone has.”

On senior Alex DeLeon:
“We’re fortunate to have Alex DeLeon – a part-time starter behind the plate for us the last two seasons. He’s going to play first base for us this spring so we can get his bat in the lineup every day. You will also see him behind the plate; he’ll be the No. 2 guy. He doesn’t throw as well as Eldredge does, but he has more game experience at the Division I level.”

On the catchers behind Eldredge and DeLeon:
“The No. 3 guy will be Tom Hougland, who continues to improve each and every day. He made outstanding progress defensively over the last two seasons and continues to do so as he moves into his junior year. We have two freshmen, Jay Nessler and Nick Sweatt, who we will continue to work hard and see if they can’t get into the mix for playing time.”

Up Next:
Kansas will open the 2013 season in Mesa, Ariz., with four games against Nevada at Hohokam Park. The Jayhawks and Wolf Pack will open their four-game set on Friday, Feb. 15 at 2 p.m.

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