Fall Ball: 10/15 Notes

Fall Ball continued this weekend for the Cardinal with an intrasquad game on Saturday afternoon. It was a day for the freshmen with numerous stars both at the plate and on the mound. Read on for all of the latest including notes on a first-year hitter who continues to torch opposing pitching.

While the central question of whether this year's Stanford team will hit for any power remains, the early intrasquad games from fall ball do appear to be telling one very encouraging aspect of this season's Cardinal baseball squad.  In terms of offense, there is much more depth than what we saw from a year ago.  Lets face it, the Stanford offense wasn't what we were accostemed to seeing over recent years when Pac-10 championships and berths in the College World Series were the norm.  For the overwhelming majority of the season, Stanford seemed to be playing with only eight starters on offense.  The revolving door that was the designated hitter spot in the lineup was never really filled by anyone.  The handful of players who saw playing time in that ninth spot in the lineup hit under .200 (combined) for most of the year.  And the fact was, there just weren't any other viable options for the coaching staff.

But that could be changing as we head toward the 2006 season.  And the main reason why is because of a deep and talented freshman class.

On Saturday, five players had multi-hit games at the plate during the intrasquad contest.  All five players were freshmen.  And as was the case for two of them, a strong fall ball game offensively was not out of the norm.

Catcher/first baseman Brent Milleville had another banner afternoon at the plate finishing 3-for-3 with a whopping three doubles and an RBI.  And these were not cheap hits.  Facing Blake Holler, Milleville sharply lined a ball over the head of the center fielder and up against the fence.  A rocket that never seemed to get very far off the ground, Milleville showed off his impressive raw power and strength with that swing of the bat.

His second time to the plate, this time facing classmate Austin Yount, Milleville crushed a two-bagger into the left center field power alley and to the fence.  It may have been the only well-struck ball hit off of Yount all afternoon (more on that later).  Meanwhile, in his third final trip up to bat, Milleville scalded a Jeremy Bleich offering down the left field line for yet another double.  It's early, in fact still very early, but the initial signs point toward Brent Milleville not only seeing immediate playing time this year, but potentially becoming a key component to the Cardinal offensive attack.

The other noteworthy freshman hitting performance on Saturday came from outfielder Jeff Whitlow.  From just outside of Detroit, Whitlow is the shortest player on the team - listed at 5'11".  He can run though and has shown off a nice line drive stroke at the plate.  On this day, Whitlow went 2-for-3 with two hard-hit RBI singles.  One at-bat was particularly impressive facing Holler early in the contest.  Milleville stood on second after his double with nobody out in the inning.  The situation calls for Whitlow to hit a ground ball to the right side to move the runner over to third base.  Whitlow would fall behind in the count with a couple of strikes, but yet still managed to line a clutch single into right field to not only move Milleville over to third, but it in fact scored him.  The at-bat drew tremendous praise from the coaching staff.

Whitlow also had a strong game on Friday rapping out two more line drive singles in three at-bats.  Like Milleville, Whitlow is showing early on that he may be ready to contribute from day one this season.

The other multi-hit games on Saturday came from Cord Phelps (3-for-4), Stephen Brown (2-for-3, 2 RBI), and Grant Escue (2-for-3, 2B).  Phelps and Brown are both recruited walk-on middle infielders.  Phelps especially has shown he can handle the bat at this level as he chipped in three hits on Friday as well.  Escue saw time on the mound during Friday's practice game, but returned to the plate on Saturday and delivered the two hits including a key leadoff double to deep right center field off of Bleich.  These three freshmen will really have to continue playing at a very high level to earn any meaningful time this year, but the fact remains, the bench (barring major injuries) should be much deeper for the Cardinal this season as opposed to last.


The big afternoon for the freshmen also held true for one pitcher, in particular.  Yount had a solid performance a few days ago in his first outing of the fall and continued that strong momentum on Saturday.  The right-hander worked a total of 3 2/3 innings with just one run allowed on four hits.  He didn't walk anyone and struck out two.  Yount doesn't have an overpowering fastball, but he's a polished hurler - especially impressive for a freshman playing in his first fall ball.  He featured a good slow curve ball that he wasn't afraid to use against left-handed hitters.  His change-up also was impressive.

After allowing his only run of the day, Yount could have easily run himself into more trouble with runners on second and third with just one out.  The situation called for a strike out and while Yount may not have the overpowering strike out stuff at this level right now, he clearly knows how to pitch for one.  Facing Joey August, Yount threw a beautiful 2-2 change-up that fooled the outfielder for the K.  Then for good measure, Yount blew away Randy Molina for another punchout to end the inning (the only two K's of the afternoon for the Arizona native). 

Bleich was more up-and-down on Saturday, but showed signs that he could be a key member of the pitching staff this season.  Like a lot of freshman in their first fall ball, Bleich lacks consistency.  But the stuff is there and with the proper coaching and further experience in these games, he could become a star pitcher eventually at this level.  Case in point, Bleich started his day by allowing a bloop single to Brian Juhl and hard-hit double from Ryan Seawell to put runners on second and third with none out.  Bleich though would respond as he promptly struck out the next three hitters in a row to keep the opposition off the scoreboard - doing so in style.

All total, Bleich struck out four batters in his three innings with no walks.  He did surrender three runs - two of which came in his final inning when Escue and Brown came through with key hits.

Fellow freshman Sean Ratliff, after hitting on Friday, threw a couple of innings on Saturday.  Hr struggled with his control on this afternoon falling behind multiple hitters that ultimately resulted in three walks and two runs scored against.  He does have good stuff though including a nasty curve ball that's certainly a legitimate strike out pitch. 

Max Fearnow, yet another freshman who excelled on Saturday, did not allow a run over his 3 2/3 innings.  Fearnow, an Omaha product, was roughed up a bit in his first appearance of the fall, but rebounded nicely this time out.  He was particularly impressive in one inning with a pair of runners on and one out when he struck out John Hester and Michael Taylor consecutively to retire the side.  It could be a crowded bullpen this year (especially with all of the new faces), but Fearnow helped his cause with his performance on Saturday.

Finally, veteran Blake Holler saw action on the hill.  The only significant problems Holler worked himself into during his three-inning stint came when Jim Rapoport led off with an infield single.  A Milleville double and the Whitlow single produced two runs, but the lefty recovered nicely with a strike out of Adam Sorgi and a routine double play ground ball off the bat of Chris Minaker ending the threat.  Holler continues to throw hard (fastball routinely at 88-89 M.P.H.) and should remain a key member of the Cardinal pitching staff.  He struck out four with just one walk on Saturday afternoon.


Other Notes:
* Among the returnees, it's been a nice early fall season for the junior Seawell.  A player who appeared to really settle in at the plate over the last couple of weeks a year ago, Seawell thrived during the summer in the Jayhawk League.  He's carried that over to the fall with a lot of solid contact proving that he may be ready to take on a full-time job somewhere in the field.  Seawell continues to see most of his time at first base and has already shown some nice improvement.  On Saturday, Seawell made the defensive play of the game with a diving catch moving to his right on a J.J. Jelmini line drive.  There's been plenty of early offense from the primary first basemen early this fall (Seawell and Milleville).  And what has to make the coaching staff even more happy with the situation is that both players can easily move over to other positions if needed (Seawell - all three outfield spots, Milleville - catcher).

* Other impressive hits on Saturday were a Hester one-hop, line drive double off of the fence in left against Ratliff.  Fellow catcher Jason Castro also supplied a notable extra base hit with a triple to left - also facing Ratliff.

* During Friday's game, Sorgi (2-for-3) and Minaker (2-for-3, 2B, RBI) had strong days at the plate.  Brendan Domaracki also came through with a ringing RBI double to right field late in the game.

* Yount, in addition to excelling on the mound, continues to hold his own at the plate.  It's been nothing spectacular (like some of his classmates), but he keeps plugging along with a 2-for-5 effort - both singles - over the last two days.  Of all the freshmen two-way players, Yount has thus far been the most impressive at balancing both hitting and pitching.

* Friday's pitching star was sophomore David Stringer.  A Palo Alto native, Stringer did not see any game action last year, but is showing nice improvement to the point where he may see some time this season.  Not a hard thrower, but with excellent control, Stringer did not allow a run over four innings on Friday.  In fact, Stringer used a couple of double plays to allow him to face the minimum 12 batters over his four innings (the caveat with his performance was that ten of his 12 hitters faced were first-year players).

* Sunday at Sunken Diamond will feature the pitching group of Matt Manship, Greg Reynolds, Jeff Stimpson, and Nolan Gallagher on the mound.

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