Zack Cozart concluded his Rebel career after manning the shortstop position since 2005. The Cincinnati Reds' draft pick hit .311 and started all 65 games in 2007. Cozart was phenomenal defensively, taking away many base hits with his range and instincts. Also, Cozart was one of the best nationally at starting and turning double plays. Justin Henry handled second base duties until moving to the outfield several weeks into the season thanks to the emergence of Zach Miller. Miller became a viable candidate during his breakout weekend at the Dairy Queen Classic in Minneapolis, Minn., and held on to the spot for the rest of the year. Henry led the team with a .381 average, while Miller slightly trailed at .368, on his way to Freshman All-America honors. Miller's defense was normally steady but not incredible, and his contact numbers were a struggle as he struck out 42 times in 144 at-bats. Henry was drafted in the ninth round by the Detroit Tigers.
Sean Stuyverson enters his first year in Oxford after a season playing for both Florida State University and Okaloosa-Walton Community College. The well-traveled infielder has pushed for the starting shortstop position since arriving, but his consistency hasn't been overwhelming to this point. A perfect opportunity was presented last weekend when Evan Button missed three scrimmages with an injured ankle, but Stuyverson sputtered offensively and committed a couple errors over the course of the three games. Stuyverson can make the great play but needs to sure up his throwing on the routine chances. While he appears to be trailing for the shortstop nod, Stuyverson could see time at second base as well. His above average range and ability to put together quality at-bats could land him an opportunity if second base becomes a question mark. Either way, Stuyverson is capable of successfully filling numerous roles and speaks to the depth accumulated on this year's team.
Tim Ferguson came in as one of the more heralded signees for this season and has the tools to be a force before his career is done. Ferguson is the middle infield version of Cliff Vaughn, where he could play now and be productive, but in a perfect world, a redshirt season would do wonders. His 6-1 frame can add some weight and increase his strength, considering he has the potential to be a power hitting infielder. His arm strength is relatively unimpressive when matched against Stuyverson and Button, but he is two years behind them in college training programs. Ferguson has shown why he was named a high school all-America selection, but he may be a year away from breaking through. However, as the year progresses, he could be the 2008 version of Miller.
Yogi Gunther is a wildcard as to whether or not he will redshirt. The versatile infielder, and brother of former Rebel catcher Barry Gunther, is solid in the field and seems to be coming around at the plate. However, my guess would be that he won't be called upon unless injuries or severe slumps infect the middle infield. Gunther can be impressive at times, but a year in the system is never a bad thing.
Button has been waiting for his chance at shortstop for two seasons, and the time appears to finally be here. Barring being hampered unexpectedly by his freak ankle injury, Button has established himself as the clear favorite to replace Cozart. Button has seen game action at six different positions in his career and is embracing the idea of focusing on just one. He was also named team captain and warrants a great deal of respect from his teammates because of his commitment to the program. Button has handled the adversity of being a solid player but not playing everyday, so it is difficult not to root for him in the middle infield. He now features more power with his bat and can run effectively on the bases. The fall and spring have shown that Button can also move to the baseball defensively. He has an opportunity to be one of the top shortstops in the conference.
Miller struggled during the fall and hasn't been amazing in the spring, but he is still the leader at second base. Experience should elevate his game after getting his feet wet in a number of situations last year, and he does everything pretty well without clear weaknesses in any area. Miller should again hit for a high average and only improve defensively as time passes. I continue to harp on it, but the lack of contact at times is the only think keeping the sophomore from being a mainstay in the infield and perhaps the two-hole of the batting lineup. It would seem that Stuyverson is Miller's main competition when the games begin.
Button is on his way to cementing his name in the shortstop slot, but Stuyverson could challenge Miller at second base as well if he loses out on his primary position as expected. Miller is the incumbent and favorite but shouldn't breathe easy just yet. Ferguson and Gunther are talented freshmen, but they each seem to be behind the others. At least one and maybe both are redshirt possibilities.
Position Preview: Middle Infield
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