Kansas opens 2018 at home with Murray State
LAWRENCE, Kan. – For the first time in the 126-year history of the Kansas baseball program, the Jayhawks will open up the 2018 season with a three-game series at Hoglund Ballpark when they host Murray State Feb. 16-18.
No other team dating back to the inception of the program in 1880 has played a three-game series in consecutive days to begin a campaign, while Friday’s opening day marks the first time Kansas has played its first contest at home since the 2002 season (W, 10-6 vs. Ottawa).
The Jayhawks and Racers have met twice before Friday’s contest with a two-game midweek series split in 2016. KU lost the first game, 14-9, before taking the 14-8 win the following day.
All three games of the series can be seen on ESPN3, available at WatchESPN.com or streaming live on multiple devices via the ESPN app. In addition to a video broadcast, the trio of contests can also be heard on the Jayhawk Radio Network via KUAthletics.com/Radio.
- Kansas’ all-time record: 1,885-1,812-18 (.507)
- Head coach Ritch Price’s record in Division I: 682-658-4 (.509)
- Price’s record at Kansas: 465-430-3 (.518)
- KU opens up the season at Hoglund Ballpark for the first time since 2002 when the team began that campaign against Ottawa (W, 10-6).
- The three-game series against Murray State to start the 2018 season is the first trio of contests played in consecutive days at home to kick off a campaign in the history of the program – dating back 1880.
- No other team in the 126-year history of the Kansas baseball program opened the season with more consecutive home games than the 2018 squad will do (11).
- The Jayhawks will play 33 home games – the most since 1991 when the same number was reached.
- Thirty-one of KU’s 56 games slated for 2018 will be against 2017 NCAA Tournament teams, including five games against opponents that advanced to the College World Series a year ago.
- The Jayhawks are 75-50-3 all-time in season openers and 9-6 under the direction of Price.
- Kansas returns its entire starting rotation and nine of its 10 position starters from the 2017 squad that finished seventh in the Big 12 Conference with an overall record of 30-28.
PRICE NAMES 2018 CAPTAINS
Head coach Ritch Price announced that seniors Tanner Gragg and Owen Taylor, and redshirt-sophomore Brendt Citta will handle captains’ duties for the 2018 season. The trio is each holding the honor of captain for the first time in their careers and represents what the Kansas baseball program is all about.
“We have a lot of quality men in our program,” Price said. “When we sit down and make these kinds of decisions, we want to pick young men who are great representatives in our program in every aspect of a student-athletes’ life. We look for young men who are invested in the program and have given back, and are great teammates. These three exemplify those traits and care more about the success of the team than they do about their own individual accomplishments.”
STARS AND STRIPES
The Kansas baseball team will represent the United States at the International University Sports Federation’s (FISU) Sixth World University Baseball Championships (WCB) July 6-15, 2018, in Chiayi, Taiwan. The Jayhawks were selected by the United States International University Sports Federation (US-IUSF) to represent the United States. They are the first collegiate team to wear the red, white and blue in the WCB and are the third team overall to represent the country as a collegiate national team, joining Cal State Fullerton (2015) and Iowa (2017) who played in the World University Games.
Sophomore second baseman James Cosentino was named to the 2017 Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-America team following a rookie campaign that featured a .271 batting average, with 11 doubles, four home runs, 31 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. He returns to the lineup as the Jayhawks’ leading offensive performer from a year ago. He was the sixth player in Kansas history to be recognized as a Freshman All-American and the second Jayhawk in as many years to be honored, as outfielder Devin Foyle earned a spot on the 2016 Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America team.
GATORADE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Freshman lefty/first baseman Conner VanCleave was named the 2017 Gatorade Kansas Baseball Player of the Year after he led his team to the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) Class 4A DII State Baseball Championship. During his senior campaign, VanCleave compiled an 8-1 mark on the mound with a 0.29 ERA in 48 and 2/3 innings pitched. He struck out 101 of the 186 batters he faced, including 15 K’s in the state semifinal contest. As a hitter, VanCleave finished the season with 43 hits in 56 at bats for a .768 batting average. He hit 18 singles, 14 doubles, six triples and five home runs. He drove in 53 RBIs and scored 25 runs while maintaining a 1.500 slugging percentage and an .831 on-base percentage.
HE’S GOT TENURE
Kansas head coach Ritch Price is the most tenured skipper in the Big 12 Conference as he has coached in 381 league games – 23 more than any other current coach. He starts his 16th season in the league, one more than Kansas State’s Brad Hill and 10 more than the majority of the conference’s head coaches.
1. 381 – Ritch Price, Kansas (16th season)
2. 358 –Brad Hill, K-State (15th season)
3. 120 – Tim Tadlock, Texas Tech (Sixth season)
4. 117 – Jim Schlossnagle, TCU (Sixth season)
5. 116 – Randy Mazey, West Virginia (Sixth season)
THE ALL-TIME WINNER
Head coach Ritch Price became KU’s all-time winningest coach at 439 wins after an 11-7 win over Northwestern State (March 4), 2017, surpassing legendary skipper Floyd Temple (438). Price’s current 465 win total accounts for 25 percent of the program’s 1,885 victories spanning 125 seasons played. In addition, Price is 18 wins away from eclipsing the 700-win mark at the Division I level, a feat only 15 other active Power Five coaches have achieved.
THREE DRAFTED IN 2017
Three Jayhawks were selected in the 2017 MLB Draft with lefty Blake Weiman (8th, Pittsburgh Pirates) and closer Stephen Villines (10th, New York Mets) picked inside the top-10 rounds. The duo became the 27th and 28th players in Kansas history to be drafted in the top-10 rounds. In addition, shortstop Matt McLaughlin heard his name called in the 12th round, when the Colorado Rockies selected him with the 356th pick.
Kansas continues its unprecedented homestand to open up the season, when the Jayhawks host Arkansas-Pine Bluff for a two-game midweek set, Feb. 20-21.
QUOTES FROM MEDIA DAY
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: I had to ask Tom (Keegan, Lawrence Journal-World) about an update on my good friend and idol, Tommy Lasorda, who had some health issues this summer. I appreciate Tom filling me in. I actually wear No. 2 because of Tommy Lasorda.
First off, I want to thank you guys for being here. I also want to let you know that I’m inside on the warmest day we’ve had to practice since we started our season January 15. We’re looking forward to getting back outside.
D.J. (Haurin, baseball communications contact) asked me to give you an update on some of the injuries that we have, so I’ll start with that, and then be happy to answer any questions you’ve got.
First off, my center fielder, Rudy Karre, who is sitting over here to my left, he broke his finger about our first week in scrimmages, after he hit a double into the corner and sliding into the bag. He’s been out six weeks. I think he’s been down about four now. So he’ll be out the first couple weeks, (but) we hope he’ll return for the Florida State series.
Update on some of the pitchers we had. Eli Davis, who is the Oklahoma High School Pitcher of the Year as a junior, his team was 40-0 last year and won the Mythical USA National Championship. He had Tommy John in the summer, so obviously he’s rehabbing, and out for the season. But we expect him to make a complete and full recovery. When you see that little guy pitch, he might be one of the best guys we’ve ever had on campus.
Brandon Johnson, the senior from Las Vegas, tore the ligament in his elbow during fall practices. He is not having a second Tommy John (surgery). He’ll be graduating and going to law school in the fall. So he’ll be out for the season. You will see him helping us as a student coach in the spring and he’s one of the best teammates we have.
Ryan Ralston, the senior pitcher from Overland Park and Blue Valley West High School, also had Tommy John surgery on Thursday of last week. He had the new technique, where they’re using the artificial ligament, so recovery time for him is six months or so. He’s going to graduate in June. He’s also an honor roll student. And he’s hopeful to get to spring training as an invite next spring with somebody.
And then finally, Ty Denzer, the junior outfielder from Minnesota, broke his hand in the summer league team, rehabbed for about six months. And literally in two weeks of practices he rebroke his hand again. He has surgery today.
Those gentlemen will be out for the season and hopefully we’ll get Rudy back here shortly.
Obviously, like every team in the country, we’re really excited to get going. One of my great friends told me this week the greatest thing about opening day is everybody loves their team, and nobody has any losses yet. So it’s a really good time to be a baseball coach.
(We’re) Excited about the year that we had a year ago. Obviously, we won the series with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas, Kansas State; Missouri State was in the top-20 and we beat them twice. We had a very impressive résumé playing the 14th-best schedule in the country. Our entire weekend rotation is back. That’s the first time we’ve had that happen since I’ve been here. We did lose all-conference first-team relief pitcher, Stephen Villines, who was a 10th-round draft pick. We lost Blake Weiman, a 6th-round draft pick, who was really good for us a year ago. Those two young men will not be with us, but the rest of the bullpen is back intact.
I told (Associate Head) Coach (Ryan) Graves yesterday after our scrimmage, one thing that’s really exciting about our team right now, normally we go on the road and we open at Stanford for a reason. And people ask me, “Why do you always go to Stanford?” You see plus velocity, when you walk in and play a perennial top-10 team, you don’t see a guy throwing 90 miles an hour. You see 93, 94. And we get a little better on time Saturday, a little better on Sunday. When we leave there, we’re ready for the start of conference (play) and we’re going to Texas or TCU or wherever we’re going to play the national power in our conference. But for the first time we’re running seven, eight or nine guys in intrasquad games who are throwing 90, 94. Our guys are on time and we’re swinging the bats really good, it’s really helped our hitters’ preparation. At the same time, it’s obvious — we (could) get as many as five to seven pitchers drafted when the year is over.
We’re excited about the pitching depth we have. (We’re) Excited about the returners, the only starting position player we lost is shortstop Matt McLaughlin, who signed with the Rockies. Everybody else is back.
With that being said, I’ll open it up to any questions that you’ve got.
Q. Who would be the candidate or candidates for closer?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: I think right now it’s Zack Leban. He’s had a really good fall. He emerged at the end of the last year. He started throwing a slider better for a strike. He’s 90 to 94 (mph). His change up improved, his breaking ball improved. A couple of guys on my coaching staff think he’ll pitch in the big leagues one day. He’s got a special arm. He’s a great story. (He) Came here as a walk-on. His dad has a KU engineering degree from Seattle, Washington. And (he’s) an engineering major. (He) Grew up in Lawrence until about 6th grade or so. But he’s really developed nicely.
And there are special other good arms, as well. I’ll use Brandon Ponticelli, the junior college transfer out of the bullpen. He’ll start on Wednesday next week. (We’ll) Use Ryan Cyr this week out of bullpen, he’ll start on Tuesday; he’s the Mississippi State transfer. Ryan is from Blue Valley High School in Leawood, so we’re excited having him joining our program.
And some of the young guys have made really good progress. Blake Goldsberry is now throwing 91, 92, has improved his slider as he heads into his junior year.
And then, obviously, there’s the big left-handed guy who we’re hopeful to get healthy and on the mound, Chase Kaplan. (He) Had a phenomenal summer, was one of the MVP’s of their all-star game in the Northwest League, was throwing 92, 94 at the end of the summer with the Corvallis Knights. He had a hot spot on his elbow at the end of the summer. We shut him down for six months; (there was) no tear, but a “hot spot” they call it. He threw his first live hitters yesterday, as a matter of fact. We’re going to bring him along slowly. But he has the chance to give us power out of the bullpen, as well.
Q. A lot of times you see power arms make a big step from their freshman to sophomore year. Is Ryan Zeferjahn on a nice growth curve?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: I hope so. The guy sitting to my right, Jackson Goddard, made a phenomenal jump from his freshman to sophomore year. Now, as a junior, he’s projected as the first-round draft pick. And he may be as good as anybody in America, the kid that’s sitting right there.
Zeferjahn has a tremendous arm. Obviously, he had a disappointing freshman year, other than two or three starts. He had a good summer in the Cape (Cod League). His mechanics are finally better; I’m not embarrassed when I watch him pitch. It’s nice to see him improve his mechanics. He’s improved his breaking ball. (Kanas men’s basketball head) Coach (Bill) Self gave our staff a great talk today about toughness and grit. And if we could get him to be those two things, it would go a long way in his development, as well. He’s almost too nice (of) a kid. (He’s) One of those 3.8 small-town Kansas boys, as nice as anybody you’ve met. I’d like him to be more of a bulldog. He’s had a good fall. I think you’ll be impressed when you see him.
Q. You mentioned most of the line up is back except for shortstop. Who do you think is going to fill in at that stop?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: Right now we’ll start out with Benjamin Sems playing there. And he got quite a few reps at third base a year ago. He’s an athletic young man. He comes from a really small high school in St. Louis and a small prep school that’s really good academically. He’s got a really good skill set. We’re going to have to be patient going through some of those growing pains that he’s going to have playing in our league at such a key position. But he’s a talented young man.
Q. Do you have a chance to have as good of a pitching staff as you have ever had?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: If they pitch up to their ability, it will be the best pitching staff I’ve had. We’ve been fortunate, obviously, to have really good closers who have gone on and pitched in the big leagues. And Kodiak Quick set the school record for wins in one season. We’ve had some really outstanding guys.
This is the deepest we’ve ever been, by far. And we really like the fact that we can play Tuesday, Wednesday and we’re not trying to staff the Tuesday game, which is what you’re doing when you’re a guy short. We’re going to run a starter out there that has a chance to go six or seven innings and pitch like a legitimate Division I guy.
Q. What do you think the offense is going to look like?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: I think two things: we have a good blend of speed and power. Last year we weren’t as physical as I would have liked. We’ve made progress in that area. As you look at some of these guys they’ve done a really good job in the weight room. Luke Bradford, our strength coach, has worked really hard with them.
So I think some of them have grown and they’re more physical as they’ve gone into their junior and senior years. I look at Rudy Karre and Devin Foyle, who started since their freshman years; now they’re juniors, now you expect to see double production from those guys and see them start being more physical with the bat. And Brendt Citta, the transfer from San Jose State, he’s a man in the middle of that lineup. He gives us a legitimate four-hole pop guy.
Q. When you get hit by a baseball that’s going 90 miles an hour, it really hurts. But some guys just don’t seem to mind. What does that say about someone who can get hit by a pitch like that?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: One of the things we have is a chart in our indoor hitting facility. And we actually try to take the inside part of the plate away from the pitcher by — they have all that gear on that you and I never had when we were playing. They’ve got the guards on the elbow and on the knees. You didn’t feel it when you get hit with that stuff on. But we do track those things. If you can take the inside part of the plate away from the pitcher, then you have a chance to get extended and be a lot better hitter.
Rudy Karre is a living example of that. He’s got a ton of hit-by-pitching in his career here. There’s a technique to turning and wearing it properly to keep it off a bone. But you want to be tough enough to wear it, too, and that’s part of the growing process is having tough kids in your program.
Q. What does it do for you, as a coach, when you have this much experience across the board? W+hat does it allow you to do?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: I slept a lot better last summer, after the year, there’s no doubt about that. I think it’s really exciting to be able to walk on the field and have a high baseball IQ. That was one of the challenges when I first got here was to instill that in our program. You want kids who know how to play the game the right way. It sounds simple, but it’s really hard to do. I’ll give you an example: Eli Davis is DH’g Sunday. He’s got two strikes on him right out of the gate, runner on second base, nobody out. And he puts the ball in play and hits a ground ball to second base and moves the guy to third base. If you’re sitting in the stands, he hits a 26 hopper to second base, and you’re thinking, what an awful at bat. Even his mom is upset with him.
He gets that runner to third and the next guy hits a sac (sacrifice) fly to center field and you score a run; where if he gets punched out, you don’t score. Those are the little things that guys know how to play the game the right way, who have experience, they know how to execute that type of situational hitting. It’s the difference between hitting and losing one- run games.
Q. You have a ton of home games on the schedule, especially on the front end. Do you like that and what kind of benefits does that give you?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: We did that for two reasons, one is we tracked the number of home dates on our schedule over the past few years to see if we could have played at home or on the road. I think it’s the first time we’ve ever opened at home. But the last five years, shockingly, we could have played the opening weekend in Lawrence. Part of it worked out where St. John’s needed to travel this year, so that’s the reason that they’re on the schedule. And then we go there next year. They were a top-20 RPI team a year ago. With an experienced team, I wanted these guys to stay at home. I wanted to play in the cold weather. (To) Be prepared for the start of the Big 12 (Conference play). And I wanted us to get off to a really good start. So that’s the purpose of the home games. If I had a young team, I’d want to take them on the road. I think with an experienced team, I’d like them to have a comfort zone, get off to a good start. We’re looking forward to going to Florida State, playing one of the top-five teams in the country, and that will get us ready for the Big 12.
Q. With all the pitching coming back, do you anticipate the pitching to be ahead on the hitting? Is this the kind of team you expect to win those 3-2, 4-3 kind of games down the stretch?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: I certainly hope so. I think it’s the strength of our team right now, not only starting-wise, but bullpen-wise, we can go to the bullpen and there’s not a drop off in the arm that walks out there and they’re experienced. I think those are huge, to have those two intangibles for you. I really like our team offensively. We’ve done a really good job swinging the bats against guys who are really good. These guys are juniors and seniors now, they’re not freshmen and sophomores anymore.
Q. What about the landscape of the Big 12 Conference, how high could your guys climb in such a competitive league?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: Well, one of the great things about our program, we do a pretty good job of overachieving. Every year they’re going to have those preseason ballots, and it’s going to be KU and K-State in last place, no matter what (or who) you’ve got coming back. The Texas guys all vote for the Texas guys, and the Oklahoma guys.
I like this team a lot. This team has a chance to finish in the top four, I think, if we pitch at the level we’re capable of, that’s an attainable goal. I expect to play in June. This team — the three or four teams we had in the top-25, this team is good enough to do that. That’s our expectation. (We will) Play with some stagger, win close games. Play with some toughness, and we’ll get it done. We’ll grind every day.
Q. Did you try getting Ryan Cyr out of high school?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: We did, actually, yeah. He picked Mississippi State. As cold as the last two months have been, you can’t blame any kid to leave Kansas to escape the cold weather. We’re really glad to have him back. He’s got a really good arm and also has some toughness to him, which is good for our pitching staff.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports
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