Sunday, October 7, 2012

SEC Fan's Guide to Mizzou Baseball: Mizzou in the Majors

Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
Mizzou coach proud of Kinsler, Scherzer (, 10/8/11)
Tim Jamieson's feelings won't match the internal tug-of-war Yvonne and Manny Upton were in position for this offseason -- that parental confusion that BJ and Justin Upton's mother and father were in store for if both their children had made the World Series.

But for Jamieson, to see two of his former players compete for a chance to play on baseball's biggest stage, one at the plate and the other on the mound, the emotion can't be too disparate.

Jamieson, the long-time head coach at the University of Missouri, was there when Max Scherzer's fastball first transformed into the upper-90s weapon that allowed him to once-upon-a-time out-pitch a collegiate Joba Chamberlain, the fastball that's helped carry him and the Tigers to the American League Championship Series. He was there, too, when the Rangers' Ian Kinsler launched a mammoth home run over the Left Field Lounge -- a tailgate area that sits beyond the fence at Mississippi State -- proof positive for the critics that Kinsler didn't lack for power, even if his frame lacked in size.
Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers
Ian Kinsler: baseball's best second baseman (Fox Sports Southwest, 5/2/2012)
Kinsler may be the best fusion of power, patience, contact and speed in the game today. Of the top 10 players in baseball according to the WAR rankings, he's the only one who has struck out in less than 10 percent of his plate appearances.

Kinsler has one of the calmest batting stances in baseball — knees bent slightly, steady hands ready to pounce, high socks hiked to the knee. He takes almost no stride: right foot rocks up, right foot rocks back, bat whips through the zone.

The swing is as simple and instantaneous as light switch. And it's a blur to everyone — except Kinsler, whose strikeout rate has fallen considerably over the past two years.

"The more experience you get, the game slows down for you," he said. "It's not something you think about. It's something that develops. It's not like I go into spring training, saying I need to get better at strike-zone discipline. It's a matter of playing games. I was always an aggressive hitter coming up. I've been able to pull back the reins a little bit and be more patient."
Aaron Crow, Kansas City Royals

Three former Mizzou pitchers excel as pros (Fox Sports Midwest, 4/3/11)
At Missouri, Scherzer, Crow and Gibson learned to grab a challenge by the neck and choke it. They were taught a first-pitch strike is critical. Never give in to a batter. Be ruthless.

Crow admired Scherzer. Crow entered the program when Scherzer was a junior. He watched the way Scherzer stalked hitters from the mound. He saw how Scherzer threw with sizzling speed.

"I want to do just as well or better than him," Crow recalled thinking at the time.

Crow pulled for Scherzer to throw well. But Crow, deep down, wanted his own stuff to burn. He wanted fans and coaches to watch him and think, "He is the next great Missouri pitcher."

"I wanted to do better than he did," Crow said, "because that's the competitive nature I have."

Gibson was drawn to Crow. Gibson studied tape of Scherzer, but Scherzer had left Columbia before Gibson joined the program. Gibson watched Crow's bulldog-like command on the mound. Gibson wanted his arm to carry the same bite.

Gibson's hunger was born of instinct. Since he was a boy, he had sacrificed for the game he loved. He wanted to realize his potential. Crow's fire fueled his own.

"That's something that keeps me going — just remembering all the stuff that I sacrificed to be where I am today," Gibson said. "If I don't go out and give it my all, I'm doing myself a disservice."

Scherzer, Crow and Gibson each left legacies. Scherzer struck out 226 batters and had a 2.30 ERA in his Missouri career. Crow went 43 consecutive innings without giving up a run in his final collegiate season in 2008; he finished his time in Columbia with 277 strikeouts, ranking third all-time in the program. Gibson had 28 wins and 304 strikeouts in his Missouri career, both ranking second all-time in the program.

All major college baseball programs have talent. Not all talent develops into first-round draft material. Scherzer inspired Crow. Crow and Gibson inspired each other. Inspiration led to action.

♦ Top 5 Mizzou Major League Prospects currently in the Minors
  1. Kyle Gibson is without a doubt the most likely former Tiger to make it to the Show.  On his way back after recovery from Tommy John surgery, he was the Minnesota Twins' top prospect before his injury.  He's playing in the Arizona Fall League now and should be in the Twin Cities by sometime in 2013.
  2. Brock Bond, after a year-long recovery from a concussion, was back with the AAA Fresno Grizzlies in 2012.  He's an atypical major league prospect because of his size and lack of power, but he could find his way onto a major league roster.
  3. Nick Tepesch made it up to the AA Frisco Rough Riders in 2012, where he had a good year.  It's not hard to picture him with competing for a spot on the Rangers' roster in 2013.
  4. Matt Stites is barely getting started; he was with the High-A Fort Wayne Tin Caps this season.  But his numbers were impressive and he will certainly have the attention of the Padres' organization as he continues to move up the ladder.  He was named the 2012 Low-A All Star Relief Pitcher by Baseball America.
  5. Ryan Lollis was a teammate of Brock Bond on the Fresno Grizzlies through much of 2012.  He has a bit more power than Bond, and is an outstanding defensive outfielder.  He will likely spend the better part of 2013 at Triple-A, but could make his move up if he compiles another year of great numbers at Fresno.
Check out the full list of other Mizzou alums working their way up (or down) the ladder HERE.

♦ Notable Past Mizzou Major Leaguers
  1. Phil Bradley was a star outfielder and a star quarterback at Mizzou from 1979-1981.  He had a good career in the majors, mostly with Seattle, and was an All-Star once.  HE now works with the Major League Players Association, and is a volunteer coach for Mizzou Softball.  
  2. Hub Pruett played at MU just one year, in 1921.  In the major leagues his favorite pitch was a screwball, which used to gain fame because of his mastery over one Babe Ruth.  Pruett struck out Ruth 10 of the first 13 times he faced him. In all, he faced Ruth 30 times. The "Babe" got only 4 hits in those at-bats (including one home run off a curve ball), struck out 15 times, walked eight times, sacrificed once, and grounded out twice.
  3. Dave Silvestri was an All American shortstop for the Tigers from 1986-88, and went on to a journeyman career in the major leagues, mostly with the Yankees.
  4. Dave Otto pitched for MU from 1983-85 and went on to a major league career with the Athletics, Indians and Pirates from 1988-92.  He currently works on the broadcast side with the Cubs.
  5. Mike Shannon's career with the Missouri Tigers was a mere cup of coffee (1958), but he went on to a long career with the St. Louis Cardinals that still has him as the voice of the Cardinals.
  6. Sonny Siebert was a teammate of Shannon's at Mizzou.  He went on to a pretty successful career as a pitcher, mostly with the Indians and Red Sox.
  7. Tim Laudner was a Mizzou catcher in the late 70's, and went on to a pro career with the Minnesota Twins, including the 1987 World Series and the 1988 All-Star Game. 

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