Freshmen To Make Impact

It has become a common theme out at Sunken Diamond this preseason: numerous freshmen making an impact. This deep class of newcomers continues to make impressive strides both offensively and on the mound. Read on to see which frosh look ready to make an immediate contribution this season plus all of the latest from the practice field.

The Cardinal continue preparations for the 2006 season this week with three intrasquad games.  The coaching staff elected to split the hitters into two separate groups pitting the veterans versus the freshmen.  I've written many times about how deep and talented this freshman class is and the rookies continue to impress with two wins in this matchup on Monday and Tuesday.  The third game will be played on Wednesday afternoon.

Here are the lineups with notes included:
1. Jim Rapoport, CF
2. Chris Lewis, 2B
3. Michael Taylor, RF
4. John Hester, C
5. Chris Minaker, SS
6. Ryan Seawell, 1B
7. Brendan Domaracki, LF
8. Randy Molina, 3B
9. Matt Cano, DH

* On Monday, Minaker hit second with Lewis batting fifth.  Coach Marquess then decided to switch the players in the batting order for Tuesday's intrasquad game.  Lewis has had a very impressive preseason with the bat and that continued with his move up in the lineup this afternoon.  The senior second baseman blasted an opposite field solo home run to right field against Jeff Stimpson in the first inning.  He later added a pair of hard hit singles as part of a 3-for-5 effort at the plate.  Lewis' two homers this preseason leads the team.  We saw in 2004 a significant bump in production from the likes of Jonny Ash and Brian Hall during their senior campaigns and a similar output could be on the way for Lewis (not to mention Minaker and Hester).

Ash in first three years: .314, 2 HR, 328 AB
Senior year: .372, 5 HR, 183 AB

Hall in first three years: .284, 11 HR, 531 AB
Senior year: .356, 9 HR, 236 AB

Lewis in first three years: .241, 13 HR, 324 AB
Minaker in first three years: .279, 7 HR, 437 AB
Hester in first three years: .274, 6 HR, 274 AB

* On Tuesday, Domaracki was the other player to record a multi-hit game.  The sophomore left-fielder finished 2-for-5 with a home run to right.  After an impressive Fall Ball, Domaracki has started slow this preseason.  That was until this week as he looks to be catching fire in a continued push for regular playing time in left.

* Junior third baseman Adam Sorgi did not play in either game.  Sorgi is certainly a strong candidate to bat leadoff this season (along with Rapoport).

* Multi-hit games on Monday came from Minaker (2-for-3, 2B, RBI) and Molina (2-for-4, 2 RBI).  After a very difficult Fall Ball offensively, Molina has put forth a very solid preseason.  The sophomore infielder (who is seeing time at both third base and first base) has cut his strikeouts down and has already surpassed his hit total from October.  This is a good sign for Molina - a player who had a very nice summer in the Northwoods League, but was unable to continue that strong momentum back to Stanford during the fall.  Molina will probably see some at-bats as a pinch-hitter early this year and will need to impress the coaching staff in those opportunities to earn any sort of regular playing time.

1. Cord Phelps, SS/2B
2. Austin Yount, 3B/2B
3. Jason Castro, 1B/C
4. Brent Milleville, DH
5. Joey August, OF
6. Brian Juhl, C
7. Sean Ratliff, OF
8. J.J. Jelmini, 2B/SS/3B
9. Jeff Whitlow, OF
10. Grant Escue, DH/1B
11. Stephen Brown, 3B

* The freshmen posted 9-7 and 7-4 victories on Monday and Tuesday respectively.  Juhl is the lone non-freshman on the team as the coaching staff needed a catcher to share some of the duties on this side.

* With the score tied 7-7 in the top of the ninth inning, Yount stepped to the plate on Monday and promptly blasted a towering two-run home run to right field sending the freshmen to victory.  What made the homer even more impressive was that it came against Greg Reynolds.  It was part of a 3-for-5 (2B, HR, 3 RBI) afternoon at the plate for the two-way player.  Then after pitching early in the game on Tuesday (more on that later), Yount went 1-for-2 with a single and an RBI to help his classmates to yet another win. 

* Castro and Ratliff were also major contributors on both days for the freshmen.  Castro continues to show he's ready for immediate playing time by going 4-for-5 with a double and three RBI on Monday.  He followed that up with a 2-for-5 performance this afternoon.  The freshman is splitting time at first base and catcher during games this week.  Meanwhile, Ratliff is really settling in offensively this preseason.  After struggling to find his footing at the plate during Fall Ball (despite throwing well on the mound), the reigning Colorado High School Player of the Year has turned it up a notch with the bat this month.  On Monday, it was a 3-for-4 effort that included an RBI before two more hits (including a double) in five at-bats on Tuesday.

* Milleville returned to the lineup on Monday after a hamstring injury bothered the slugger at the end of last week.  He's still taking it easy in all other aspects of the game (is not playing the field or running - although he is doing some catching work in the bullpen), but it was a welcome sight to see him back at the plate.  Over the two games, Milleville went 1-for-8 with a single and a pair of RBI.

* The three frosh outfielders continue to show their versatility defensively this week.  All three - August, Ratliff, and Whitlow - are playing all three outfield positions during the games.

Austin Yount's standout performance at the plate has already been mentioned, but the freshman right-hander continues to impress on the mound as well.  On Tuesday, Yount fired 4 2/3 effective innings yielding two runs on five hits.  He did not walk a batter while striking out two.  The first thing that comes to mind when watching Yount is play is that he's just an excellent "baseball player."  He does everything well.  There doesn't seem to be any problem hitting and pitching for the youngster and I firmly believe it's going to stick for Yount as his collegiate career progresses. 

On the mound, Yount is always in complete control.  He's very poised for a freshman and despite not being a particularly hard thrower (fastball in the mid-to-upper 80's), Yount is quite polished with above-average off-speed pitches and excellent control.  It's not hard seeing Yount becoming a key member of the Cardinal bullpen this season.

Meanwhile, he also has been swinging a hot bat throughout all of Fall Ball and the preseason.  In fact, his average is the highest among any of the freshman infielders (in addition to having the lowest freshman ERA).  His short, compact stroke leads to very few strike outs.  And despite his small stature, Yount has surprising power.  He's hit two home runs over Fall Ball and the preseason - both off Reynolds.  Again, he's just a solid baseball player who at the end of the day has always seem to have made some sort of solid contribution to the team.  I guess that shouldn't be a major surprise when your uncle is one of the greatest hitters all-time in Major League Baseball.

Looking forward, it's going to very interesting to see how Coach Marquess handles Yount.  His positions on the field are second and third base - two spots that are locked down by veterans right now.  This could lead to little playing time offensively as a freshman.  But what happens next year will be very noteworthy as Yount, based on my observations, will unquestionably be in the running for a starting spot.  And I would expect he'll already be a key member of the pitching staff by then as well.

Standout performances on the mound the last two days came from both Matt Manship (4 1/3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 SO) and Erik Davis (4 1/3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 3 SO).  It was another effective outing for the lone senior on the pitching staff.  Meanwhile, Davis bounced back from a rocky performance last week to post impressive numbers on Tuesday.

Jeff Stimpson struggled a bit with his control on Tuesday with a couple of hit batters and three wild pitches, but the end result was still a good one.  The junior righty fired five quality innings with only two runs and four hits allowed.  He walked one and struck out one.  The main concern with Stimpson pitching in late-inning situations could be his control (see eight walks in his eight innings pitched last year).  He has, however, kept the walk total down throughout Fall Ball and this month.  Some control problems today though were quite noticeable.

Nolan Gallagher (4 1/3 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 1 SO) and Matt Leva (3 2/3 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SO) also each threw well over the last two days.  Reynolds had an interesting outing on Monday over his five innings.  In his first, second, and fifth frames the junior right-hander did not allow a single hit with just one ball leaving the infield.  He was not quite as effective in his other two innings.

In one frame, Reynolds walked a couple and allowed two hits eventually leading to a pair of runs.  Then the key inning came when Phelps led off with a single which was immediately followed by the Yount home run.  To Reynolds' credit, he quickly set down the next three batters after the crushing blow (and then set down the side without allowing a hit in his final inning).

David Stringer allowed three runs on four hits in his first inning of work on Tuesday, before settling down over his final three frames (one run, no walks).  Blake Holler and Jeremy Bleich both pitched with mixed results on Monday.

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