Fall Ball Update

The Cardinal baseball squad is currently in the midst of their three-week "Fall Ball" season. With a number of returning position player starters, impressive offensive showings have been a theme of intrasquad games. Read on to see which hitters are on fire, notes on a dominant freshman pitcher, and all of the other latest news from Sunken Diamond.

A definite theme throughout this year's Fall Ball has been impressive offensive numbers across the board.  This is a carry-over from the end of the 2006 season that saw the Cardinal breakout at the plate after struggling throughout much of the first three months of the campaign.  And with eight of last year's 12 regulars returning, an improved offensive output is certainly expected in 2007.

Monday's intrasquad game continued the theme of strong offense with a final score (7 1/2 innings) registering at 14-8.  Three much-improved sophomore hitters starred on the winning club. 

Big things are expected of Brent Milleville in '07 and if the fall is any indication, it should be a breakout year at the plate for the slugging sophomore.  A power bat from the right side of the plate, Milleville entered Stanford last year as one of the top prep catching recruits in the country.  Milleville received a healthy total of 106 at-bats as a rookie on the Farm, but managed just a .198 batting average, two home runs, and 12 RBI. 

Things though started to turn in the summer as the rising sophomore was tested in the high-profile Alaska League.  Milleville came through with an impressive .280 batting average (32-for-143), five doubles, two triples, one home run, and 19 RBI.  Putting up those kind of numbers with a wood bat certainly is a good sign looking forward to 2007 for the Kansas native.

During Monday's intrasquad game, Milleville started the scoring for his team with a line drive double into the left center field gap scoring a pair of runs.  Then in the next inning, Milleville led off with a towering home run down the left field line.  All total, he finished 2-for-4 with four RBI and a walk.  Junior Brian Juhl looks as if he'll be taking over the catching duties this year while Jason Castro is seeing the bulk of the time at first base in practice games, so where Milleville fits into the lineup is a question.  The sophomore has been seeing some action in left field during practice games this fall, but the most likely scenario appears to be playing time at DH while filling in at catcher (or first base) if needed.  The bottom line is that Milleville's bat should garner him regular playing time in 2007 and don't be surprised if you see his name in one of the run-producing spots in the lineup.

The two other emerging sophomore hitters who shined on Monday were Austin Yount and Sean Ratliff.  Yount has had a torrid fall season at the plate and is seeing a substantial amount of playing time at second base during intrasquads.  Yount hit just .214 in Alaska last summer, but he came on strong during the final couple of weeks raising his average from the low .100's to that final total above the Mendoza Line.  Plus, the Arizona product blasted a pair of home runs with the wood bat showing off some impressive power.

During Sunday's game, Yount rapped out three hits in five at-bats.  Then on Monday (after pitching during the first half of the contest), Yount collected two hits in three at-bats while contributing an RBI.  Multi-hit games have been a theme for Yount this fall and despite a small stature, the left-handed batter has impressive power to right field. 

Meanwhile, Ratliff has come on at the plate during fall intrasquads after receiving just 14 at-bats (no hits) as a freshman.  An outfielder, Ratliff went 2-for-5 on Sunday with a double, a home run, and three RBI.  Then on Monday, the two-way player finished 2-for-5 with a double and another RBI.  It's a crowded outfield picture this year, but Ratliff is clearly putting himself into a position to get a look at some regular playing time.  He can play all three outfield positions and, of course, has plenty of experience on the mound (19 relief appearances in 2006; 2-0, 6.75 ERA, 28 IP, 30 SO).

This is a deep and talented sophomore class across the board.  A class that certainly went through some growing pains last year, but received valuable experience and features numerous players ready to breakout in 2007.  Perhaps the two at the top of the list are first baseman Jason Castro and pitcher Jeremy Bleich.  Castro made 40 starts last year hitting a very respectable .283 with five doubles, three homers, and 19 RBI.  He followed that up with a fantastic summer in Alaska (.286, 34-for-119, 2 HR, 11 RBI).

Bleich immediately made a name for himself in the Pac-10 last year with seven saves as the team's closer before stepping into the starting rotation for the second half of the season.  The southpaw compiled a 4.05 ERA and a 4-4 record in 24 appearances (seven starts) as a freshman.  He then sizzled in the Cape over the summer with an eye-opening 2.09 ERA in 43 innings as a starter.  Bleich then concluded his summer with two postseason starts that saw him surrender just one earned run over 13 innings.

Look for both of these players to take a step forward to becoming stars this upcoming season.  Castro's beautiful swing from the left side will likely place him in the #3 or #4 spot in the order this year.  On Monday, the first baseman went 2-for-4 with a double.  Last week in the Alumni Game, Castro hit fourth in the lineup (behind Michael Taylor and ahead of Milleville).  Meanwhile, Bleich is a front-runner to take over for the drafted Greg Reynolds as the Friday night starting pitcher.  His numbers in the Cape as a first-year player are an encouraging sign for a huge year from Bleich in 2007.  During Sunday's intrasquad game, Bleich fired three quality innings with one run allowed and five strikeouts.  Statistically speaking, he has outpitched the other returning starter, Nolan Gallagher, in both the summer (4.08 ERA, 39 innings in the Cape) and thus far in Fall intrasquads.

Getting back to Monday's practice game, another encouraging sign at the plate came from redshirt junior Adam Sorgi.  Sorgi missed the entire 2006 season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right, throwing shoulder.  At the time of the surgery (early-February), it was expected for Sorgi to experience a 10-to-12 month time frame for a complete recovery.  He didn't participate in any summer league action, but the infielder is swinging a bat in intrasquad games this fall. 

On Monday, Sorgi went 2-for-3 with a pair of solid singles and three RBI.  The club's leading hitter in '05 (.322 AVG, 5 HR, 41 RBI), Sorgi's return to 100% is perhaps the biggest key to the team's offensive and defensive success in 2007.  Sorgi is not yet playing the field in practice games, but his presence in the batters box is an encouraging first step. 

The star of Monday's game on the mound was freshman right-hander Jeff Inman.  A native of Bakersfield, California, Inman was drafted in the 19th round last June by Kansas City only to turn down the Royals and attend Stanford.  Monday was my first opportunity to see Inman during a live practice game and he certainly put on quite a show.

The 6'2" right-hander fired three scoreless innings (quite a feat considering there were 22 runs scored in the game) with two hits allowed, one walk, and three strikeouts.  What I saw was a polished pitcher with command of a couple of off-speed pitches and an explosive fastball.  That fastball regularly sat in the low 90's with a high reading of 95 M.P.H.  Inman is the hardest thrower on the team and joins what appears to be just Gallagher and classmate Brandt Walker as the only pitchers on the staff with a fastball that can regularly reside in the low 90's. 

It was just one outing, but Inman displayed impressive command of that fastball and flat-out overmatched his teammates with the pitch.  I would expect to see plenty of Jeff Inman on the mound this year and the young right-hander has all of the makings of becoming a successful starting pitcher on the Farm (possibly as early as this season).

Fellow freshman Brandt Walker also has a lively fastball as his sat in the 88-to-91 M.P.H. range on Monday afternoon.  Like Inman, Walker was drafted last June (23rd round), but elected instead to attend Stanford.  Inman was the more impressive pitcher on Monday in terms of velocity, control, and overall results, but Walker also appears to have the tools necessary to see substantial time on the mound as a freshman.  In his three innings on Monday, Walker allowed three earned runs on four hits with two walks and two strikeouts.  But he featured impressive stuff across the board and along with Inman, appears to possess what is needed to contribute immediately at Stanford.

Other hurlers in the second pitching group that threw on Monday included Yount, Jeff Stimpson, Erik Davis, and Kyle Thompson.  Yount possesses only a fastball in the mid 80's, but continues to produce by mixing speeds and keeping the hitters off balance.   On Monday, Yount worked three scoreless innings with three hits allowed, no walks, and two strikeouts. 

Last year, Yount compiled a 2.84 ERA in 16 relief appearances and then racked up a solid 3.12 ERA in 17 innings over the summer in Alaska.  His bat looks much-improved the fall and the arm is still there for the two-way player.  How the coaching staff handles Yount this year will be very interesting to watch as the sophomore is clearly pushing for time at second base in addition to deserving regular innings on the mound.

Davis (86-89 M.P.H.) threw three innings as well on Monday.  The junior appears to have recovered fully from his brutal injury last summer in the Cape when he was struck in the face by a line drive.  He surrendered two hits and two earned runs in Monday's game to go along with three walks and two strikeouts.  Bleich and Gallagher figure to be the pitchers with the best chance to front-line the starting rotation, but the experienced Davis could also be given an opportunity to try his luck as a weekend starter.

Stimpson (seven runs) and the frosh Thompson (eight runs) both struggled mightily in their two-inning stints on Monday.  Meanwhile, sophomore Tom Stilson came in at the very end of Monday's game and worked 1 2/3 scoreless innings with a walk and a strikeout.  A highly regarded pitcher upon his arrival to Stanford, Stilson suffered through an injury-plagued 2006 that prevented him from seeing the field.  His progress in January will be very interesting to watch as he tries to crack the regular rotation of pitchers.

Strong offense has been a theme of fall intrasquads and leading the way has been junior outfielder Michael Taylor (.325 AVG, 5 HR, 39 RBI in '05).  Taylor has hit a number of home runs during practice games including longballs last Friday and Sunday.  Taylor hit four home runs in the Cape last summer and appears to be finding his power stroke at the collegiate level.  The 6'6" slugger has also been hitting for a high average this fall and by all accounts, the Florida native is ready to take the reigns as the go-to player in the starting lineup on this club. 

The final three intrasquad games of Fall Ball are scheduled for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Sunken Diamond.  The top pitching group (which includes Bleich and Gallagher) will throw on Friday afternoon.

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