Fall Ball: 10/11 Notes

Fall practice continued Tuesday with another intrasquad game at Sunken Diamond. Strong pitching was the story of the afternoon with a handful of returning hurlers impressing on the mound. Meanwhile, a freshman middle infielder continues to produce at the plate while a quartet of first-year players try to make it as both hitters and pitchers.

There are a lot of new faces out at Sunken Diamond this fall.  In fact, a total of 14 players are taking part in their first official workouts as freshmen in the Stanford Baseball program.  Six of the 14 newcomers are pitchers with a mixture of catchers, infielders, and outfielders holding down the other spots.  Optimism is high that this current class will be able to provide many years of superlative play on the baseball field - much like every other recent freshman class that has come through Stanford.  But what is making this class potentially different is the amazing versatility that is being put on display from these players on the baseball field.

Four different freshman players are currently both hitting and pitching : Jeremy Bleich, Grant Escue, Sean Ratliff, and Austin Yount.  Bleich, Escue, and Ratliff are among (now) five freshman left-handed pitchers (joining Blake Hancock and Tom Stilson) to form quite possibly the deepest southpaw class of pitchers in Stanford baseball history.  Ratliff, a premium recruit last season, features a power bat that appears to be garnering a serious look from the coaching staff for immediate playing time.  Bleich (pronounced "Blishe") is much more well known as a pitcher, but is been given an opportunity this fall to show what he can do at the plate.  A member of the US Junior National Team last summer (along with Ratliff), Bleich possesses tremendous potential on the mound and could figure into the pitching plans for the Cardinal as early as this February. 

Escue came to Stanford as a first baseman and is seeing most of his playing time at the position.  But you apparently can never enough pitching - especially left-handed pitching - so the Illinois native is getting an opportunity to see meaningful time on the mound.  Yount had a very impressive initial performance on the mound this fall on Monday as he strives to earn meaningful innings from day one of his freshman campaign.  Yount also has more then held his own at the plate and in the field and gives the Cardinal yet another talented two-way option. 

It remains to be seen how many of these players can continue to both pitch and hit at this high level of college baseball, but the bottom line is that we're witnessing something very different out at Sunken Diamond this fall.

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While on the topic of freshman, it was written in the last practice report about the banner game from catcher/first baseman Brent Milleville on Monday.  On Tuesday, it was another freshman leading the offensive charge during the intrasquad contest.  Shortstop J.J. Jelmini, a Fresno product, finished the afternoon with an impressive 3-for-4 output (three singles and an RBI).  Jelmini is batting leadoff for his hitting group. 

What made the hits even more impressive on Tuesday was not only were they of solid contact, but they came off of three of the more experienced hurlers on the Cardinal pitching staff: Matt Manship, Nolan Gallagher, and Jeff Stimpson.  Jelmini has now hit safely in all three intrasquad games thus far during the fall season.

A slick fielding shortstop, Jelmini has a bright future in the Stanford baseball program.  Similar to Adam Sorgi (except that he bats right-handed), Jelmini's not an imposing presence at the plate, but looks as if he can handle the bat well and has a nice line drive stroke.  If the first week of fall ball is an indication of what he can do over the long haul of a season, you can count on J.J. Jelmini pushing for immediate playing time at an infield position this season.  Now we see if we can maintain this strong level of play as pitchers begin to adjust to him.

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Overall, it was a strong afternoon for the pitchers on Tuesday.  Headlining the list was junior Greg Reynolds.  With nearly half of Major League Baseball represented in scouts at the ballpark for the practice game, Reynolds did not disappoint.  Featuring a high 80's fastball that had no problems reaching 89 M.P.H., Reynolds dazzled to the tune of just two hits allowed over three innings.  The Bay Area native showed off impressive control (remember the hitters still begin each at-bat with a 1-1 count) issuing just one walk during his stint on the mound.  He complemented the fastball with a devastating curve ball and a change-up.  The curve had a hard downward break on it while Reynolds showed off excellent arm action on his change.  All in all, he was throwing three pitches for strikes and could have used any option to punch out a hitter.

Nearing his pitch count limit for the day, Reynolds appeared to put his foot on the accelerator during his third and final inning of work.  After a leadoff single to Ryan Seawell, Reynolds quickly dispatched of the next three batters - Brian Juhl, Randy Molina, and Escue - striking out all three with ease to end his afternoon.  All total, Reynolds struck out five batters to match the high for any Cardinal hurler thus far in the fall season.

Manship wasn't quite as dominant, but still just as effective.  The only senior on the pitching staff, Manship scattered five hits over three innings (only one unearned run allowed).  He walked only one and struck out three.  Throwing hard with a fastball the checked in at 87-89 M.P.H., Manship did a nice job of working out of trouble when it arose during this afternoon. 

Gallagher had some control issues, but like Reynolds, proved to be very difficult to hit.  With a fastball in the high 80's (tops: 88 M.P.H.), Gallagher surrendered just two hits during his three innings although you can put an asterisk next to that figure.  The only real trouble Gallagher got himself into came in his second inning when with a runner on at first base and one out, Brendan Domaracki grounded a ball foul down the left field line and into the corner.  On plays such as this, the catcher is supposed to make the fair or foul call, but Juhl (who was catching at the time) was not vocal enough with his decision and Domaracki never stopped running advancing all the way into third base before the ball was returned to the infield.  With essentially no call made, Coach Marquess sent a message to Juhl (or so it would seem) to make a more vocal ruling on plays such as these during the intrasquad games.  The play stood and Domaracki was credited with an RBI triple.  He scored when the next batter grounded out harmlessly to second base.

Returning to Gallagher, the final pitching line won't catch your eye because of those "phantom" runs scored, but it was impressive to see the sophomore have his way with the opposition despite not having his best stuff.  The rust may have been showing for Gallagher after taking the summer off.  He walked four and struck out two.

Stimpson threw pretty well during his stint on Tuesday afternoon.  The junior right-hander had good stuff with a fastball in the 88-89 M.P.H. range and it helped him to five strike outs (tied with Reynolds for the team-lead) in three innings.  But like Gallagher, control plagued Stimpson as he issued three walks.  The only run surrendered by Stimpson on this day was on a Jelmini single to score Chris Lewis who had led off the inning by drawing a free pass.  Stimpson will certainly be a pitcher to watch as the fall season progresses as he attempts to regain a key role out of the bullpen after appearing in just six games all of last year.

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Other Notes --
* The only run Reynolds allowed came off a ringing RBI double to deep center field off the bat of Jason Castro.  A freshman catcher, Castro speaks to the depth of the class as he's impressed early especially with this hardest hit of the game against one of the top hurlers on the club.

* Seawell's hit off of Reynolds was a rocket line drive to center field - one of a number of hard hit balls of his the junior's bat early this fall season.  Meanwhile, Jim Rapoport had one of the better at-bats of the day when he launched a Manship offering off of the fence in deep right field for a leadoff double.  Manship though would settle down to strand Rapoport on the base paths with a fly out of Milleville, a strike out of Jeff Whitlow, and then a pop-up off the bat of Michael Taylor.

* Domaracki, despite the "triple," also had a nice afternoon connecting for a hard hit opposite field single against Manship in the second inning.  The sophomore is seeing most his time in left field defensively and already looks improved at the plate after a freshman year that saw him hit .208 over 101 at-bats.

* It's a deep freshman class with a staggering number of left-handed hurlers.  However, the Cardinal will be playing one man short this fall as first-year lefty Tom Stilson has a wrist injury to his throwing arm that has put him in a cast.

* The team will resume intrasquad games on Friday afternoon at Sunken Diamond.  An official player roster is expected to be posted on The Bootleg shortly.

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