Wednesday, February 16, 2011

2011 MU Baseball Preview: Position Players

In Part 3 of our 2011 season preview, we'll take a look at the position players. Note: This preview is being posted prior to the final cuts are made to the roster. About 40 players began winter practice, and the playing season roster limit is 35.

After a 2010 freshman class that featured an abundance of position players, the Tigers have enough returning players to fill every starting job on the squad. That doesn't mean, though, that the veterans will just get the jobs handed to them. There are some new players eager to compete for playing time as well.

On KFRU's The Closers last week, Tim Jamieson said about the lineup, "you may not see anybody new", because there were so many freshmen who got significant playing time in 2010.

MU lost its two leading home run hitters and RBI producers (Senne and Nicholas). The returning players accounted for a total of 24 homers, led by Jonah Schmidt with 7 and Eric Garcia (6). Schmidt (33) and Garcia (31) are joined by Dane Opel (30) as the returning RBI leaders.

But that's pretty much true every year. The 2010 team had lost its HR leader (Folgia) and its RBI leaders.

The returning players are just going to do what the veterans on any college team are expected to do each year - step it up a notch and become the new leaders.

CATCHER

Senior Ryan Ampleman will almost certainly be given the opportunity to be the starting catcher at the beginning of the season. As one of four seniors among the position players, he will be a team leader, as he was in 2010, regardless of whether he nails down the starting job, if only because of his bulldog determination.

Consistent hitting will be the determining factor on whether Amp plays the bulk of the games behind the plate or whether he ends up sharing those duties with others. Standing in the wings, eager to prove their capabilities are junior Ben Turner, sophomores Andreas Plackis and Scott Sommerfeld, and freshman Drew Carlile. Turner is likely to get the most playing opportunities to compete for the job. Plackis will likely see his name on the roster again this year as DH on plenty of days (along with senior Jonah Schmidt). Sommerfeld is the lesser known returning player in the mix. He and Carlile (who batted .451 as a HS senior) will have to take any opportunity they are given offensively to force their way into serious consideration.

First Base

1B is a tossup in 2011, the position having been vacated by the departure of Aaron Senne. Sophomore Eric Anderson - normally a pitcher - saw some playing time at 1B in the Fall. If he has not fully recovered from his off-season surgery to be put into the regular pitching rotation at the start of the season, he may see several games at 1B.

Also recovering from injury is sophomore OF Dane Opel, who could also see some starts at 1B while his arm works back up to outfield strength.

Also in the running is junior Garrison McLagan, who has shown flashes of power in his limited at-bats over the past two seasons. If he can show consistency offensively, he could earn the regular first baseman job for the Tigers. And sophomore Scott Sommerfeld could also force his way into consideration. On any team, at any level, the first baseman is expected to handle the defensive chores adequately, but is counted on to produce at the plate.

2B/3B/ SS

Sophomore Eric Garcia appears to be the heir apparent at the shortstop position. His slick fielding skills, combined with a more matured and consistent approach at the plate, promise to make him one of the Tiger team leaders in 2011.

Junior Conner Mach had a good summer and a good fall, earning himself a regular spot as a starter going into this season. With Garcia a likely fixture at SS, Mach looks to be slated for the 2B spot.

Senior Jesse Santo has the glove to compete for all three positions, but will likely compete with senior Andrew Thigpen for the starting job at 3B. Santo will also be a likely late-inning sub at SS whenever Garcia comes in as a closer.

If any of those four veterans struggle offensively or defensively, there will be pressure from freshmen Dillon Everett and CJ Jarvis (both high school shortstops), plus freshman pitcher Myles Smith, who played SS in high school when he wasn't on the mound.

Whoever has the best bat-and-glove combo will be hard to keep out of the lineup.

Outfield

There's not a single candidate for the 2011 MU outfield that doesn't have a question mark riding on his shoulder going into this season.

2011 should be Junior Ryan Gebhart's year. He's been on the scouts' radar for years. A can't-miss prospect. Unfortunately, injuries have limited his playing time during his first two years at Mizzou. He came on strong when he finally got to play in 2010. In 2011, Gebhart is at the front of a long line of candidates for the starting outfield positions, and he'll finally have the opportunity to show what he can do.

Sophomore Dane Opel is a "sure bet" as well - if and when he recovers from his off-season surgery.

Sophomore Blake Brown began 2010 pegged as a serious candidate for a starting position, but inconsistent offense limited his playing time. Sophomore Brannon Champagne was another high prospect, but he suffered through an injury-limited season and is still working his way back to full strength. Junior Russell LaFleur was also limited by inconsistent offense. Each of these players has what it takes to fulfill their potential, but they will have to prove themselves on the field.

Senior Jonah Schmidt is always fun to watch because he plays the game with such joy. His defensive abilities, though, have always been a little suspect, and his impressive power at the plate has not always been accompanied by discipline at the plate. If he fails to be more consistent in those areas, he'll likely still see his name frequently on the lineup card as the DH. Word is Jonah is also recovering from injury.

Sophomore Jeff Lusardi was with the team last year, but was forced to ride the pine the entire year, due to NCAA transfer rules (he spent a year at Arizona State, getting nowhere, and decided it was worth the year on the bench to have a shot at getting playing time back at Mizzou). Because no one has had a chance to see him play at the college level in the two years since he left Blue Springs South HS, the jury is still out on whether Lusardi has the chops to grab a spot in a crowded outfield. He is also listed as an infielder, so he may also compete there.

Freshman Sal Belfonte, a recruited walk-on from KC, showed some flashes of impressive skills in fall ball. After a glut of freshman outfielders last year, Sal has that distinction all to his own in 2011, and will likely be on the lookout for any opportunity to prove he belongs.

Play Ball!

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