2013 Season Outlook: Infielders

Feb. 6, 2013

Signing Day Graphic
Returning Letterwinners
Name 2012 Stats
Alex DeLeon (Sr./1B) .261, 4 HR, 23 RBIs
Jordan Dreiling (Sr./3B) .301, 5 2B, .453 OBP
Kevin Kuntz (Sr./SS) .251, 10 SB, .343 OBP
Justin Protacio (So./2B) .172, 2 SB, .333 OBP
Name Notes
Jacob Boylan (Fr./1B) Two-time all-state in HS
Tommy Mirabelli (Fr./2B-SS) Three-time all-state in HS
Marcus Wheeler (Fr./3B-1B) 2012 Preseason HS All-American
Colby Wright (Fr./2B) 2012 HS all-region honorable mention
Departed Letterwinners
Name 2012 Stats
Zac Elgie (3B) .252, 5 HR, 28 RBIs
Chris Manship (1B) .273, 4 3B, .403 SLG
Jake Marasco (1B) .232, 7 2B, 21 R

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With the start of the 2013 baseball season a little more than one week away, KUAthletics.com is previewing the Jayhawks position-by-position. This edition takes a closer look at the Kansas infield, which returns several veteran players despite the graduation of three seniors a year ago.

The Jayhawks have three seniors and a sophomore, who figure to make up the starting infield, while four talented freshmen will push their counterparts for playing time. Last season, KU’s infield defense was a key to the team’s success. As a group, the Jayhawks recorded a .977 fielding percentage, which was the second-highest in the Big 12 Conference and ranked 16th in the country.

Senior Alex DeLeon will open the year as the team’s starting first baseman. The veteran right-handed hitter will likely catch a handful of games and head coach Ritch Price is hopeful that he can keep DeLeon’s bat in the lineup every day as he is one of the few home run threats. The Jayhawks are hopeful he can regain the form of his sophomore year, when he batted .320 and hit six round-trippers.

Sophomore Justin Protacio will man second base to start the season. Protacio saw playing time at both second base and third base as a freshman and showed flashes at different times in 2012. The coaching staff loves his toughness and his ability to get on base.

Senior Kevin Kuntz started every game at shortstop a season ago and played sparkling defense, helping KU turn 44 double plays. The senior will open the year as the team’s leadoff hitter and look to bounce back from a slump at the end of last season. Kuntz seemed to wear down at the end of last season, batting just .213 over the team’s final 20 games, but is hopeful taking the summer off will help him recharge.

Senior Jordan Dreiling has started games in four different positions in his KU career, but will primarily play third base this season. The team is hopeful that he can solidify things defensively by focusing on just one position this year. Price loves what Dreiling brings to the team offensively near the top of the batting order. Over the past two seasons, he has drawn 44 walks and struck out just 19 times.

Freshmen Jacob Boylan, Tommy Mirabelli, Marcus Wheeler and Colby Wright will push for playing time in KU’s infield immediately.

Boylan batted over .400 in his final two high school seasons at Raymore-Peculiar and was named all-state both years. Mirabelli also had an outstanding high school career in Rocky River, Ohio. A draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates last summer, Mirabelli will likely backup both shortstop and second base.

Wheeler also brings offensive punch to the team, earning Under Armor Preseason All-America honors prior to his senior season at Thunderbird High School in Phoenix, Ariz. Wheeler can play either of the corner infield positions, but will likely focus on third base. Meanwhile, Wright is an athletic freshman that will split time between second base and third base. Price thinks that Wright could provide some much-needed power off the bench.

Head Coach Ritch Price

On having a lot of veterans in the infield, despite losing three seniors:
“I think the reality is, you look at Jordan Dreiling ended up starting most of the season in the infield for us a year ago, Kuntz played every inning of every game and Alex DeLeon played every day too, between catcher and the DH. You could actually make the case that the only position where we’re breaking somebody in is at second base.”

On freshman Jacob Boylan:
“Jacob Boylan is going to play over (at first base); we really like his bat. He had the most productive fall offensively of any of the freshmen that are on our roster. We need left-handed hitters to balance our lineup. He’s still a little bit of a work-in-progress defensively, but I think that he will continue to improve throughout the course of the year. I believe by the time he’s done, he’s going to be a plus defender over at first base, but right now he’s behind defensively. He has the skillset, but he needs the game experience.”

On senior Jordan Dreiling:
“We’re trying to get Jordan in the lineup every day. He’s not your prototypical third baseman, because normally you see your big, physical guy that hits in the middle of your lineup over there. He’s one of the best players on our roster and we’re going to see if he can play at a high level defensively on a consistent basis for us. I really like what he brings to the table offensively. He works counts; he has a high on-base percentage because of his ability to draw walks; he’s a good base runner; he puts the ball in play. He is literally our smartest player.”

On the other players who will play third base:
“Behind Dreiling are freshmen Marcus Wheeler and Colby Wright. Both of them are strong, physical right-handed hitters that are more prototypical third basemen. Both young men have a chance to be very good Division I players as they continue to improve their skillset. They both struggled in the fall offensively, but they both have talent. Marcus will also play some first base, while Colby will play some second base for us.”

On senior shortstop Kevin Kuntz:
“Kevin Kuntz had a phenomenal year for us last year. When we went to the Big 12 Championship last year, he had only made nine errors in 54 games and he had played every inning of every game. Kevin is a good, solid Division I defender. He’s also a guy, like Jordan Dreiling, that works counts. He draws a lot of walks and handles the bat very well and as a result, his on-base percentage is usually very good. I was thrilled with the way he played a year ago. Every shortstop that has played for me in the 10 years that I’ve been at Kansas has signed a pro contract and we hope that Kevin can continue that tradition of excellence.”

On the top of the Kansas lineup:
“Both Jordan Dreiling and Kevin Kuntz are similar offensive players in what they can do with the bat. They can be really productive for us in the leadoff spot and the two-hole if they stay within themselves and do the things that they’re capable of doing. They’re not going to hit a lot of home runs, but they can do the little things and get on base, which is something you need in a complete lineup.”

On sophomore Justin Protacio:
“Justin Protacio is going to open the season at second base; he played really well defensively there in the fall. He’s also going to backup Kuntz at shortstop. The question mark for him is will he hit enough to stay in the lineup? That’s the key for him. He’s a guy that plays hard and hustles and is an incredible teammate; he backed up three different positions last year and now he has the chance to be in the lineup opening day as a starter, but he’s going to get pushed.”

On freshman Tommy Mirabelli:

“Tommy Mirabelli is a very athletic young man. He can really run and is left-handed hitter. He struggled in the fall offensively, so he needs to improve there too. I think between Protacio and Mirabelli, we can develop second base into being a really solid position for us.”

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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