Baseball Opens Fall Practice

Stanford Baseball is back in action. The 2005 edition opened their fall practice season this weekend with a pair of intrasquad games and we've got a detailed report. Read on for some freshmen hitters already making noise, a variety of returning pitchers starting strong, plus other news and notes surrounding the Cardinal baseball team that you won't find anywhere else.

Before I get to the two intrasquad games from yesterday and earlier today, here are a few quick notes on defensive alignments and batting practice:

* Before each intrasquad game, the team participated in their standard infield/outfield drill.  The first thing you notice is all the new faces out in the outfield.  Stanford's top four outfielders from last season's team (Sam Fuld, Danny Putnam, Brian Hall, and Chris Carter) have all moved on to professional baseball which obviously leaves three positions up for grabs.  This is how they lined up:

LF - Cameron Matthews, Zachary Gianos
CF - Jim Rapoport
RF - Michael Taylor, Brendan Domaracki

One noticeable player missing is sophomore Ryan Seawell.  Seawell is having some arm problems right now and is taking it easy in terms of throwing for the time being.  However, he's still very active in the intrasquad games with the bat and his legs.  He even plays some left field during the games, but will not put much any throw back into the infield. 

Sophomore Jim Rapoport is the heavy favorite right now to take over for Fuld in center field.  Rapoport's game will remind many of Fuld.  A player who bats and throws left handed and someone who boasts tremendous speed.  Rapoport will track down his fair share of balls out in center and when he gets there he also has one of the better arms on the team. 

Out in right, it was a pair of freshmen in Taylor and Domaracki.  Taylor is as big as advertised (6'5", 240 lbs.) and is quite a presence out on the field which is a stark contrast from the smaller frames of Fuld, Putnam, and Hall from last year.  But Taylor's big body does not slow him down as the Florida native can definitely run and has an above-average arm.  These factors make him the logical choice to see time out in right field this year.  If he shows he can hit, Taylor will be in the starting lineup very early in the season.  Meanwhile, Domaracki looks to have a game similar to Rapoport.  Average size at 6'1", 175 lbs. who can run well and it would appear can handle playing center field if it's needed.

* On the infield, the Cardinal lined up this way:

C - John Hester, Josh Corn, Brian Juhl, Jeff Boes
1B - John Mayberry, Jr., Ben Summerhays, Darren Gemoll
2B - Jed Lowrie, Chris Lewis
3B - Randy Molina
SS - Chris Minaker, Joe Ayers

The one player missing here is sophomore Adam Sorgi.  Like Seawell, Sorgi is still very active in the intrasquad games with the bat.  However, he's not playing in the field at all during games, in addition to this drill, and thus it would appear that he's giving his arm a rest right now.

No surprises with this defensive alignment.  It's certainly interesting that the only player seeing time at third base is the freshman Molina.  A big guy at 6'3", 210 lbs., Molina will remind Cardinal fans of Josh Hochgesang over at third base.  Hochgesang was Stanford's starting third baseman from 1996 to 1999 and had a very similar body type to Molina.  Hochgesang and Molina also each sport the uniform #33.

From watching Molina, who reportedly was a shortstop in high school, it's clear he has a good arm.  Certainly one capable of playing college third base.  The verdict is still out on what kind of range he can display, but to be quite honest, last year's third baseman (Jonny Ash) didn't have much range and one thing Molina easily has on Ash is height.  I'll continue to monitor his progress over at third base - which right now looks like the only open position on the infield.  It should be interesting to see which other players see time over at the hot corner.  Molina sees the bulk of the time over at third during intrasquad games with junior Chris Lewis playing over there when Molina is hitting.  Sorgi is a natural middle infielder, but he also has the ability to play at third.

As for the catching position, it's really no contest both with the bat (more on this later) and with the glove.  John Hester has had to wait in the wings the last two seasons sitting behind Ryan Garko and then Donny Lucy.  But Hester, who checks in at 6'4", 220 lbs., will finally get his chance to show what he's got as a full-time player.  And I can almost assure you, Stanford fans, you will not be disappointed.


* Jed Lowrie, in my opinion, remains Stanford's strongest defensive infielder.  The junior has extremely soft hands and he complements it with an above-average arm.  And his turns at second base on double plays are lightning-quick.

* There's no questioning Jim Rapoport's speed.  He has all the tools to be a successful leadoff hitter this season, however one aspect of his game that people may not know about is his power.  After watching him take batting practice, it's quite evident that Rapoport has plenty of pop in his bat to knock a few out of the yard this year.  Although again with his speed, there's absolutely nothing wrong with hitting the ball on the ground and letting his legs do the work. 

* Michael Taylor's batting practice sessions have been impressive.  A very strong young man who almost effortlessly hits balls over the fence and is an imposing presence in the right handed batters box.  He is, however, a bit jumpy when loading up and getting ready to make contact.  Some movement that really may be unnecessary and something that may have to corrected (although you walk a fine-line here as  you don't want to mess too much with someone's swing).  Taylor and Mayberry, Jr. hit in the same batting practice group, so it's fun to compare the two.  Both are "leaving the building" with great regularity, but Mayberry is certainly a lot smoother with his swing in the batters box.

* Players in batting practice who are hitting home runs with regularity: John Mayberry, Jr., John Hester, and Michael Taylor from the right side.  Ben Summerhays from the left side.  And Jed Lowrie from both sides.


As for the intrasquad games ... the team played a game on both Friday and Saturday.  The 19 hitters were broken up into three separate groups with seven pitchers seeing time on the hill (three on Friday and four on Saturday).  In an attempt to limit pitches, each batter started with a 1-and-1 count while the pitchers weren't allowed to throw over 15 pitches in an inning.  This is normal protocol for the first set of intrasquad games each fall.

Here are the three hitting teams in their correct batting order with the position(s) they played in parenthesis ...
Red Team:
1. Brendan Domaracki (LF, RF)
2. Chris Lewis (2B, 3B)
3. Jed Lowrie (2B)
4. Adam Sorgi
5. Cameron Matthews (LF, CF)
6. Josh Corn (C)

Very little offense from this hitting group over the two days with Lowrie the only player recording more than one hit.  In the two games, Lowrie went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles and two RBI.  On Saturday, Lowrie came up with the bases loaded and none out and on the first pitch of the at-bat, he lined a ball off the fence in left field.  It was hit so hard and with the runners apparently making sure it wasn't going to be caught that Jed was only able to get a single out of it.  This slugging second baseman, who won Pac-10 Player of the Year honors last year, doesn't appear to be going anywhere this season.

White Team:
1. Jim Rapoport (CF)
2. Chris Minaker (SS)
3. Ryan Seawell (LF)
4. Ben Summerhays (1B)
5. Darren Gemoll (1B)
6. Jeff Boes (C)

Not a lot of offense from the group, but still more than the Red Team.  Rapoport is doing an excellent job as the leadoff man reaching base in four out of his seven plate appearances over the two days (two doubles and two walks).  Seawell was a combined 2-for-5 with an RBI.  The sophomore outfielder appears to be one of the front-runners to earn a starting spot this season (most likely in left field).  Gemoll had a couple of nice at-bats as he finished 2-for-5 with a pair of singles.  Gemoll is a bit undersized at first base at 6'0" (probably a bit generous), but he can switch hit.  And finally, Summerhays had a ringing double off the wall in right field today.  There's no denying Summerhays' outstanding power, but it remains to be seen whether he can translate it into game situations as he tries to become more consistent.  With Mayberry a lock to start at first base, Summerhays' only real option for a starting spot is DH.

Blue Team:
1. Michael Taylor (RF)
2. Randy Molina (3B)
3. John Mayberry, Jr. (1B)
4. John Hester (C)
5. Joe Ayers (SS, 2B)
6. Brian Juhl (C)
7. Zachary Gianos

Easily the top hitting group on both days.  How about the two freshmen batting 1-2 in the lineup?  That's a pretty good indicator the coaching staff is high on both of these young men.  Taylor finished the two games with a 3-for-6 mark that included a double and two RBI.  He also stole a base.  Molina recorded one hit over the two days, but he hit some balls hard and chipped in an RBI.  Mayberry, Jr. hasn't gotten much of a chance to swing the bat (lots of walks), but did rip a triple off the wall in center field on Friday.  It was one of those line drives that looked like it might actually go through the fence near the 400 foot sign.  And watching Mayberry run the bases once he gets those big legs churning is a sight to see.  Hester was the top hitter over the two days for any team going 4-for-5 with an RBI.  The slugging catcher peppered the ball to all fields with a sweet line drive stroke.  And finally, the freshman Juhl supplied the only home run of these first two games when he lined a ball over the fence in right on Friday for a three-run shot.  Juhl looks like he has tremendous potential as the guy can switch-hit (the home run came batting left handed) and while Hester has a firm grip on the starting catching position, Juhl will push hard for that #2 spot on the depth chart.


Here is a rundown on the pitching from the first two days of intrasquad games:
* Jeff Gilmore - the junior right hander tossed four quality innings on Friday allowing just one run on five hits.  Gilmore walked only one batter which is a major accomplishment when you consider the each batter starts the AB with one ball.  He struck out three and was sitting in the 85-to-88 MPH range on his fastball.  Gilmore puts a ton of movement on everything he throws with his 3/4 release point.  He cuts his fastball and can mix in a good change-up and curve ball.  On one occasion, Gilmore threw a curve ball to Mayberry that bounced in the dirt, but he still got the slugging first baseman to go after it for a swinging strike three. 

* Blake Holler - the sophomore lefty fired three effective innings on Friday surrendering one run on four hits.  Holler had some control issues at times as he walked four, but he also was dominant at times with six punchouts (you should keep in mind that the walk and strike out totals for every pitcher are a bit inflated this weekend because of the 1-1 rule).  Holler was sitting in the 87-88 MPH range on his fastball and like Gilmore can dazzle with his offspeed pitches.  In one inning, Holler worked himself into a bases loaded jam with Randy Molina at the plate.  Molina laid off some tough pitches to work the count full but then Holler went above the zone with a high fastball and Molina had no chance as he swung through it for strike three.  John Hester was up next and again Holler went full before firing a fastball knee-high that froze Hester for strike three which ended the inning (and was actually the only time Hester was retired all weekend).

* Pete Duda - the final pitcher to throw on Friday, Duda was up-and-down as he allowed five runs on four hits in 2 2/3 innings.  Duda started strong with his blazing 90-93 MPH fastball, but was touched for four of those runs in his last inning of work.  The big blow was Juhl's three-run home run.  Duda is definitely one of the harder throwers on the team, but needs to improve his breaking stuff if he wants to be more than a one-inning guy out of the bullpen.

* Mark Romanczuk - Romanczuk is the fourth pitcher in the first pitching group, but he did not throw in the game on Friday.  However don't worry, he's not injured.  The junior threw a bullpen session before the game and everything looked normal.  The coaching staff is giving Romanczuk a little extra time off although the southpaw is hoping to get a chance to pitch in an intrasquad game this upcoming week.

* Matt Manship - Manship threw the ball well, but was a victim of poor control late in his outing on Saturday.  Manship easily worked through a pair of scoreless innings, before walking four and hitting a batter in his third and final inning (four runs came home to score).  Manship was often not missing by much but Associate Head Coach Dean Stotz, who was calling balls and strikes from behind the pitcher's mound, looked to clearly tighten the strike zone.  A frustrated Manship had trouble pitching through it and once he reached the 15-pitch limit for the inning, he was done.  Overall, Manship was at 87-90 MPH with his fastball and he continues to throw one of the better sliders on the team.  His change was also good, but the confidence level and frustration over the strike zone really may have tainted the final result of his outing on Saturday.

* Greg Reynolds - Another pitcher who started strong, but ran into trouble with his control/Stotz late in his outing.  Reynolds was the toughest pitcher to hit over both days as the towering right hander allowed only one single in his three innings.  But one bad inning where he walked three and hit a batter (three of those runners eventually scored) likely left Reynolds frustrated with his overall performance today.  He did strike out four and outside of the one inning, was excellent with his location keeping his 88-91 MPH fastball low in the zone.

* Jeff Stimpson - the sophomore right hander threw the ball very well on Saturday as he tossed 4 1/3 scoreless innings allowing four hits.  Stimpson walked two and struck out four as he continues to show a lively fastball that made him tough to hit.  Stimpson was one of Stanford's top relievers last year as a freshman and his role on the team looks like it will only increase this season.

* Erik Davis - the final pitcher to throw on Saturday, Davis went four full innings yielding two runs on three hits.  The freshman right hander has a very easy motion with excellent mechanics and then comes from a 3/4 release point.  Unfortunately, there were no radar guns out when he was throwing so I was unable to get a read on exactly how hard his fastball was (looked similar to the other three pitchers of the afternoon though).  Davis wasn't quite as overpowering as Manship, Reynolds, or Stimpson as he struck out just two (compared to four each from the previous three hurlers).  He was greeted rudely too as Davis was inserted into the game for the first time with the bases loaded and no outs with the All-American Lowrie at the plate.  And on Davis' first pitch, Lowrie ripped the aforementioned single off the wall in left.  Welcome to college baseball, Mr. Davis.  That said, I liked what I saw from Davis, but he's really going to have to push hard to earn significant innings this year with all of the other talent on this pitching staff.


Up next for the baseball team is the alumni game on Sunday.  An old-timers game is scheduled for 12:00pm at Sunken Diamond with the main event (2005 team versus recent alumni) scheduled for 1:30pm.  The next set of intrasquad games will begin either on Tuesday or Wednesday.

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