Jayhawks Open Season at Service Academy Classic

Feb. 17, 2009

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Kansas at the Service Academy Classic

Fresh off its fifth 30-win season in six years, the Kansas baseball team opens the 2009 season at the Service Academy Classic Feb. 20-22. The Jayhawks will play four games at the tournament in Millington, Tenn. KU will face Air Force (1 p.m.) and Memphis (4 p.m.) to open the weekend on Friday, Feb. 20, and then play Bradley on Feb. 21-22.

Audio from all four games at the Classic will be available via the internet at www.kuathletics.com. Veteran play-by-play announcer Tom Hedrick will call the action from USA Stadium.

Series Histories

Kansas has not previously met Air Force or Memphis on the baseball field.

The Jayhawks did face Bradley in a two-game series in May of 2006, with KU winning both games. Former KU outfielder Gus Milner led the offense, collecting six hits in eight at bats, while senior Preston Land went 4-for-7 against the Braves with a double, triple and home run.

About the Jayhawks

Kansas enters the season with a good mix of youth and experience. The Jayhawks return six starters from a year ago, as well as a pair of starting pitchers and its closer from a team that went 30-27. The Jayhawks also brought in 17 talented newcomers, including 13 freshmen, this offseason.

KU’s top returning hitter is senior center fielder Nick Faunce, who hit .326 last year with three homers. Senior relief pitcher Paul Smyth led the team with five wins and 10 saves last season.

Head coach Ritch Price is in his seventh year at Kansas and has 203 victories with the Jayhawks.

Scouting the Falcons

Air Force enters the 2009 season expecting big things, returning eight starters and two weekend starting pitchers from last year’s squad. The Falcons finished last season with an 18-33 record, but picked up non-conference wins at Mississippi State and Ohio State.

Sophomore utility player Nathan Carter led the offense last season with a .312 batting average and a team-high 10 triples with 19 stolen bases. Junior first baseman Matt Alexander was Air Force’s top power source with seven round-trippers and a .529 slugging percentage. As a team, the Falcons hit 32 triples and had 84 stolen bases.

On the mound, junior Alex Truesdale and senior Jake Petro were the Falcons’ top two starters last season. Truesdale was 3-6 with a 7.80 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 12 starts, while Petro was 1-8 in 13 starts. Relief pitcher Michael Ruvolo led the team with five wins and four saves.

Air Force was picked to finish seventh in the Mountain West Conference by Rivals.com.

Scouting the Tigers

Memphis, the host for the Service Academy Classic, enters the 2009 season looking to move up in the Conference USA standings. The Tigers fielded the youngest team in the league a year ago, which resulted in a 17-38 record, including 12 one-run losses.

Junior first baseman Trey Wiedman leads the eight returning starters with a .302 batting average, eight homers and 39 RBIs. Senior infielder Brett Bowen led the team with 15 doubles a year ago, and batted .266 with eight stolen bases.

Junior left-handed pitcher Brach Davis is the team’s most experienced starting pitcher, tossing 52 innings in 2008. Davis went 2-4 last season with a 6.40 ERA, while fellow junior lefty Brennon Martin was 4-4 as the midweek starter.

Memphis was picked to finish in the bottom half of Conference USA in the league’s coaches poll. C-USA does not release the order that the bottom four teams are predicted to finish in.

Scouting the Braves

Bradley enters the 2009 season with high hopes after going 26-28 last year. The Braves return seven starting position players from a year ago, as well as six pitchers.

Senior outfielder Colby Luttrell is expected to lead the Braves’ offense. Luttrell was a pre-season all-conference selection after batting .363 with six homers and a team-high 48 RBIs. Fellow senior Grant Escue hit .314 last year with a team-high 17 doubles.

Senior relief pitcher Kori Jensen, a Wichita, Kan. native, was also a pre-season All-Missouri Valley Conference pick. Jensen went 5-0 with seven saves and a 5.36 ERA in 22 relief appearances last year. Junior righty Rob Scahill is the team’s top returning starter, going 4-6 with a 5.49 ERA in 14 starts last year.

The Braves were picked to finish fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference by the league’s coaches.

Scouting the KU Catchers

Senior Buck Afenir returns as the incumbent starter behind the plate, but he will be pushed by three newcomers for playing time.

Afenir’s batting average dipped to .253 last season after batting .286 over his first two years.

The senior catcher showed some pop with nine home runs, and has 21 over his three years at KU.

Freshman Zac Elgie turned down an offer from the Oakland Athletics after being taken in the 12th round in last year’s MLB Amateur Draft.

Elgie is a physical presence at the plate that hit 34 home runs during his summer season in 2007. He will likely catch as well as play first base.

Sophomore Joe Lincoln is also a physical player at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds that will see time behind the plate.

Lincoln, who transferred to KU after his freshman season at Maple Woods Community College, had a tremendous fall with the Jayhawks after batting .302 with four homers and 48 RBIs last spring.

Freshman Chris Manship is another catcher that will be an offensive threat for the Jayhawks in the years to come.

Manship hit .486 with 13 homers and 49 RBIs during his senior season at Cactus Shadow High School. Head coach Ritch Price says he has “a very promising future.”

Scouting the KU Corner Infielders

The Jayhawks return starters Preston Land (first base) and Tony Thompson (third base) with talented players Greg Herbst and Brett Lisher waiting in the wings.

Land started last year strong, batting .290 in the team’s first 15 games, but struggled down the stretch. Included in Land’s surge was a four-hit game against Xavier where he blasted two home runs and also doubled twice.

One thing the Jayhawks have been able to rely on is Land’s defense at first base. The senior has a .990 fielding percentage over the past two years and has shown good range for a 6-foot-3, 255-pound athlete.

Thompson was nearly the polar opposite of Land, batting .350 after April 15. The 6-foot-4 sophomore also seemed to be more familiar with third base by season’s end.

Herbst played in just seven games last season, but will likely see more playing time as a sophomore.

Price was extremely impressed with the San Antonio native’s development over the fall season.

Lisher is another big presence in the Kansas lineup that will likely see some time at first base behind Land.

The Lawrence native transferred to KU from Allen County Community College, where he batted .344 in 58 games last season.

Scouting the KU Middle Infielders

Junior Robby Price returns as the incumbent second baseman, while junior transfer David Narodowski is expected to be the team’s everyday shortstop.

Price, the youngest of Ritch Price’s three sons, overcame a hand injury in the early part of the 2008 season to bat .296 and lead the country in sacrifice bunting.

He will take on a different role this season as Coach Price would like to see him drive in runs from the No. 3 spot in the order, rather than move runners over.

Narodowski impressed Price so much this fall that he has billed him as “the next in a line of great shortstops at KU”. Filling the shoes of former shortstops Ritchie Price and Erik Morrison may be difficult, but Price believes the 5-foot-9 junior has the tools to do it.

The Vancouver native hit .450 last season at Vernon College with eight homers and 42 RBIs.

– Jordan Dreiling is a local product who will get his feet wet this year behind Robby Price. Like Price, Dreiling is an excellent defender that can also handle the bat.

Price was so impressed with James Stanfield’s athleticism that he’s toying with the idea of working him in behind the plate as well as at shortstop. Stanfield was a two-time all-conference selection at Owasso High School in Oklahoma.

Scouting the KU Outfielders

No position was hit harder by graduation than the outfield where four-year starters John Allman and Ryne Priceboth departed for pro ball following their senior seasons.

Senior Nick Faunce is the lone returning starter, but is an integral part to the team’s success. Faunce hit .326 in his first full year as a regular and played superb defense.

Freshman Jason Brunansky figures to compete with Faunce for playing time, but could also see time elsewhere if he produces early. Price says that the team has “big time aspirations” for Brunansky, who is very gifted athletically.

In right field, sophomore Brian Heere has earned the benefit of the doubt with a strong fall campaign. Heere played in just 21 games, but has shown good defensive instincts and the ability to get on base.

– Heere will likely bat No. 2 in the batting order.

– Sophomore Casey Lytle could possibly platoon with Heere against left-handed pitching. The second-year player was used sparingly in 2008, but made the most of his opportunities, collecting three hits and four runs in just seven at bats.

– Sophomore Jimmy Waters will look to continue his strong finish with some playing time in left field as well as at DH. Waters hit .350 over the last month of the season.

– Freshman Jake Marasco could also set up a platoon situation in left field. The first-year player is big and physical with the bat, batting .448 as a high school senior.

Scouting the KU Starting Pitchers

Injuries took their toll on the Jayhawk pitching staff last season, especially in the starting rotation. Price is hopeful junior lefties Wally Marciel and Andy Marks can contribute after missing large portions of last year.

Junior Shaeffer Hall will likely open the year as the staff ace. He showed promise as a weekday starter last season, pitching seven scoreless innings against No. 14 Missouri in KU’s 3-0 win over the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium.

Hall is a lefty that knows how to work the strike zone and showed improved velocity during the fall season.

Sophomore T.J. Walz is also hoping to take the next step this year. Like Hall, Walz showed promise with a handful of quality starts down the stretch – including a 7 1/3 inning gem to beat No. 9 Nebraska in Lincoln. Price thinks Walz has “dominating stuff.”

Freshman Lee Ridenhour will likely open the season as the No. 3 starter after a brilliant career at Shawnee Mission West High School. Ridenhour has a lanky 6-foot-3 frame and a fastball that sits between 88-92 mph.

Junior Cameron Selik is also coming off an injury-plagued season, but throws four pitches for strikes and could fight for time in the weekend rotation. He went 3-3 with an 3.83 ERA in 2007 at Grossmont College.

Scouting the KU Relief Pitchers

Closer Paul Smyth anchors a deep bullpen that includes three juniors, a sophomore and three freshmen.

Smyth was a work-horse again last season, making 34 appearances. Since the beginning of his sophomore year Smyth has eight wins, 17 saves and a 2.76 ERA in over 100 innings pitched.

– Brett Bochy, Brett Bollman and Thomas Marcin will all see time as right-handed set up men in the later innings.

Price would like to use Bollman in shorter roles this season, feeling that he was stretched too far several times last year. He has a “plus fastball” and a “plus breaking ball”, according to Price.

Bochy and Marcin both have lively arms and could see an increase in their workload this season.

Freshman Travis Blankenship is the lone southpaw in the bullpen that could also see time as a starter in different situations. Price sees him filling the role Andres Esquibel occupied last year as a long reliever. Blankenship went 11-3 with a 2.69 ERA last season at Johnson County Community College.

Three freshmen righties, Kelson Boyer, Kevin Burk and Colton Murray will fill out the bullpen. All three will be looking to gain valuable experience and could pitch their way into regular work.

Price would like to develop Murray into a closer that can take over Smyth’s role next season.

Freshman Jordan Jakubov, Jared Meggison and Thomas Taylor all begin the year with injuries, but hope to recover in time to play in 2009.

KU to Face K-State on FSN

The May 17 showdown between Kansas and in-state rival Kansas State will be one of six Big 12 games televised nationally by Fox Sports Net.

The television appearance marks the third straight year that a national television audience will be welcomed to Hoglund Ballpark, and the fourth time in five years. In 2005, ESPNU broadcast games between Texas and Kansas, while FSN has made appearances in Lawrence during both the 2007 (vs. Kansas State) and 2008 (vs. Texas Tech) seasons.

Afenir Named Preseason All-Big 12

Senior catcher Buck Afenir has been named pre-season All-Big 12 Second Team by the Lubbock Avalanche Journal. Afenir, a senior from Escondido, Calif., hit .253 last season with nine homers with a career-high 42 RBIs and a .482 slugging percentage. The team was selected by the staff of the LAJ. It marks the first time a Jayhawk has been selected to a pre-season all-conference team since Preston Land earned the honor in 2007.

Smyth Selected to Pre-Season Watch List

Kansas senior relief pitcher Paul Smyth has been named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List by the College Baseball Foundation. The Wallace Award is presented to the nation’s top collegiate baseball player in conjunction with the College Baseball Hall of Fame’s annual induction festivities.

Smyth, a 6-foot right-handed pitcher from Atascadero, Calif., was selected All-Big 12 Honorable Mention as well as academic all-conference last season. He posted a 5-5 record with 10 saves and a 3.73 ERA in 60 1/3 innings pitched. He struck out 51 and walked just 12. Smyth is currently second in career saves at Kansas with 18 in three seasons in the Crimson and Blue.

Smyth is one of 16 baseball players from the Big 12 named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List.

AD’s Honor Roll Recognizes 13 Jayhawks

The Kansas baseball team placed 13 student-athletes on the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll for the 2008 fall semester, including sophomore outfielder Casey Lytle, who earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average.

Other players on the Honor Roll included: seniors Nick Faunce and Paul Smyth; juniors Travis Blankenship, Max Ellenbecker, Shaeffer Hall, Brett Lisher and Wally Marciel; sophomores Greg Herbst and T.J. Walz and freshmen Jordan Dreiling, Jake Marasco, and Colton Murray.

The Athletic Director’s Honor Roll is comprised of student-athletes who were or are eligible for competition in their sport’s current season and who made at least a 3.0 GPA during the fall semester.

Kansas Baseball Moves Into New Home

The Kansas baseball team officially moved into its brand new facility, the McCarthy Family Clubhouse, on Wednesday. With construction nearly complete on the building, the Jayhawks were able to utilize the locker room and state-of-the-art players’ lounge.

The clubhouse, which sits behind the dugout on the first base side of Hoglund Ballpark, contains a players’ and coaches’ locker room, a training room, a players’ lounge as well as an academic area and a cardio room for the student-athletes.

The Jayhawks initially broke ground during the early months of the 2008 baseball season.

Kansas Staff Speaks at ABCA Convention

Kansas head baseball coach Ritch Price along with Jayhawk assistants Ryan Graves and John Szefc were guest speakers at the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA)’s 2009 Convention in San Diego, Calif. on Jan. 2-4.

The trio of Kansas coaches spoke Jan. 3 at the convention. Price addressed defensive drills, while Graves spoke on pitching. Szefc talked to the group about short-game offense and baserunning.

Over 5,000 coaches from the high school and collegiate levels attended the conference, which is held each year at the San Diego Marriott.

Jayhawks Announce Season Ticket Plan

A new Flex Plan option highlights the 2009 University of Kansas Baseball season ticket package. The Kansas Baseball Flex Pack allows fans the flexibility to choose any five games to attend for only $30. Other season-ticket packages include Box Seats ($150), General Admission ($70), KU faculty and staff ($56) and the Kansas Baseball Family Plan ($199), which includes two adult and two youth general admission tickets.

Up Next

KU continues its road trip with a pair of midweek games at No. 22 Arkansas on Feb. 24-25. Both games will begin at 3 p.m. at Baum Stadium and be available on webcast via kuathletics.com.