Aggie Baseball Fall Review

Coming off a College World Series appearance and the return of two all-American pitchers, the Texas Aggie baseball is poised for a big 2012 season but must find replacements up the middle at shortstop and catcher. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop provides the latest scoop from fall practices and discusses who is turning heads on the diamond.

The Fall Series starts Tuesday at 3:00 PM, which is the culmination of fall workouts for the Aggie baseball team. Coming off a College World Series appearance for the first time since 1999, the Aggies have their two all-American pitchers returning - Michael Wacha and Ross Stripling. The rest of the staff is up in the air and Coach Childress is hoping to find answers here in the fall.

According to sources, the staff is generally pleased with what they've seen so far in terms of finding a Sunday and Tuesday starter along with a closer and a couple of consistent set-up men/middle relief guys. Aside from Wacha and Stripling, the coaches have been most impressed with returning redshirt Rafael Pineda who missed all of last season after undergoing arm surgery last fall.

He'll push for the Sunday/Tuesday starting spot along with two true freshmen Gandy Stubblefield and Corey Ray. THe lanky 6-foot-3 Stubblefield from Lufkin was drafted by the Astros and widely considered the best prospect in the Aggies' 2011 class. Ray is another in a long line of tall, lanky pitchers that Childress loves to recruit. He is 6-foot-4 with four pitches and played for Coach Barry Smith (Adam's father) in one of the toughest districts in the state at Klein. These two will likely be A&M's veteran weekend starters in 2013.

Childress finally has his designated closer back in place after being forced to move John Stilson to the starting rotation early in 2010. JUCO transfer Jason Jester has shown enough with his fastball and his bulldog mentality in the fall to project as the team's closer in 2012. He is described as having a "big-time arm". Estevan Uriegas has apparently put on several MPH's on his velocity and he's knocking on the door to be more than a light-throwing situational left-hander. Kyle Martin has performed about as expected and will be a back-end of the bullpen type of guy.

I've also heard some very promising reviews about Brenham left-handed freshman Ty Schlottman. That's about eight quality arms that the staff feels pretty good about heading into the offseason, and that's not including veterans like Ross Hales, Denny Clement, Derrick Hadley, and highly-rated two-way star Daniel Mengden who are still fighting for spots and returning from injury. Even if these three don't have a major impact on the mound, A&M is still going to be deeper on the hill than they were a year ago.

But really, the storyline for the fall on the mound is the emergence of redshirt PIneda to go along with the closer Jester and the two highly-rated freshmen starters Gandy Stubblefield and Corey Ray to fill the critical two open starting spots and the closer's spot. It sounds like the staff feels they have enough quality arms to make a deep run in the Big 12 and another good shot at Omaha.

In the field and at the plate, the staff is raving about senior first baseman Jacob House. He's primed to have a big senior season. The staff feels they are loaded in the outfield with the return of centerfielder Krey Bratsen and junior all-American Tyler Naquin. At the left field spot, it will be a dogfight between veterans Brandon Wood, Jace Statum, and Brenham freshman sensation Chance Bolcerak. I've heard all three are turning heads, especially Statum and the freshman Bolcerak who comes to A&M highly-touted out of high school while Wood has been one of the team's offensive leaders so far.

The question marks will be up the middle starting at catcher and the two middle infielder spots. The staff is leaning toward sophomore Troy Stein as the number one guy at catcher, but they are loaded with high ceiling freshman talent in Mitchell Nau and Cole Lankford. This one isn't decided, which is also the case with the middle infield positions. Kenny Jackson graduated and the staff brought in JUCO shortstop Mikey Reynolds who is a smaller speed/defense guy which is not the typical Childress big shortstop type he's played in recent years. The staff feels he's had a very good fall so he's a leading candidate for the job. Freshmen Nik Castilleja and Blake Allemand are pushing Charlie Curl pretty hard at second base.

Overall, the coaches feel the biggest surprise (pleasant) in the fall is the emergence of Rafael Pineda on the hill, and the improvement of Jace Statum at the plate. This is looking like a very fast team from top-to-bottom, with the potential of five big-time base stealers in the lineup.

It sounds like the coaches believe the pitching and bullpen depth will be much better this year than last, but they are giving up a lot of experience up the middle on defense with a new catcher and likely two new middle infielders.


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