Marbut sees lots of Cougs going in MLB draft

WASHINGTON STATE baseball coach Donnie Marbut proudly points out that three of the team's seniors graduated this spring, and the other three are on track to graduate soon. As for junior Adam Conley, Marbut said WSU's top pitcher will graduate next week... to professional baseball.

"Adam Conley 's not coming back," Donnie Marbut said firmly Tuesday. "Adam needs to start his professional career. If Adam does what we think he can do, 10 months from now, 12 months from now, he might be in the big leagues."

Marbut said "there's no way" Conley, a hard-throwing southpaw from Olympia, will be drafted lower than the second round. The major league draft is set for next Monday through Wednesday.

Conley posted a 6-7 record and 3.50 earned run average, with 83 strikeouts (eighth in the Pac-10) in 108 innings pitched (fourth). Conley led WSU in all major pitching statistics.

"I see him as a set-up man (reliever)," Marbut said. "I see him pitching the seventh or eighth inning for about 15 years in the big leagues. Those left-handed specialists, they make a lot of money."

What went wrong?
The inability of Arnold, an all-conference pick in 2010, to successfully recover from elbow problems was a key factor in WSU's disappointing season.

Marbut and his players talked openly about making a run at the College World Series. Instead, their two-year run of NCAA regional appearances ended when they finished 26-28 overall and 10-17 (ninth) in the Pac-10.

"It's the most frustrating season I've ever been a part of, no question about it," Marbut said. "When you're coming back with high expectations – we had experience and talent returning – but we weren't a better team. I blame myself for that.

"I did a really, really poor job of creating a team here. We had individuals and we never had a team. We were never a united team."

When someone pointed out that a coach can't hit, field or throw the ball, the fiery Marbut replied, "Yeah, but my job is to make sure they do that."

Marbut said WSU's top recruits include Swannack, who attended Lindbergh High in Renton; infielders Jordan Copeland from Curtis in University Place and Ian Sagdahl from Eastmont in East Wenatchee; outfielder Ben Roberts from Missoula, Mont.; and pitcher Tanner Chleborad from Rapid City, S.D.

First baseman Taylor Ard, a redshirt sophomore, might be the Cougars' second-best prospect for the 2011 draft.

"If he swings the bat like he did the last four weeks for an entire season, you're looking at one of the best hitters in the country," Marbut said.

Marbut also expects junior right fielder Derek Jones to draw plenty of interest in the draft.

"When Derek Jones puts it all together, he's one of the best players in the country," Marbut said.

Ard was the only Cougar who enjoyed a prime-time season. The junior college transfer led WSU and ranks high in the Pac-10 with a .337 batting average (seventh), 10 home runs (first), 55 RBIs (first), 113 total bases (tied for first), a .577 slugging percentage (second), 17 doubles (tied for second) and 40 runs (eighth).

Ard and Jones were the only Cougars who played in and started all 54 games. Marbut said he's not certain either player will turn pro or return. Jones hit .275 with eight home runs (second in the Pac-10) and 33 RBIs.

Marbut said he expects all of WSU's seniors except undersized, oft-injured catcher Jay Ponciano to be drafted.

WSU's seniors were shortstop-second baseman Cody Bartlett (.283, one home run, 25 RBIs), third baseman Matt Argyropoulos (.283-5-28), Ponciano (.222-0-5), starting pitchers James Wise (5-6, 4.15) and Chad Arnold (2-4, 6.75) and closer Paris Shewey (1-1, 5.29). Shewey is tied for first in the Pac-10 with 10 saves.

Obviously, replacing the entire starting rotation is the primary task facing the Cougars next year. Marbut said leading candidates are hard-throwing freshmen J.D. Leckenby (0-0, 2.28 in relief) and Scott Simon (redshirted) and junior college transfer Kyle Swannack. Swannack starred for Bellevue College (formerly Bellevue Community College).

The Cougars return live arms in the bullpen with freshmen Kellen Camus (3-1, 5.47), Brandon Williams (0-0, 7.00) and Taylor Williams (0-1, 12.19).

"It was one of the most immature groups (of freshmen pitchers) we've had, but the most talented as well," Marbut said.

Marbut is high on freshmen outfielders Jason Monda (.291-2-20) and Nate Blackham. The latter started and batted leadoff late in the season and wound up hitting .400 (26-for-65). Another freshman, Trace Tam Sing (.254-0-8), is penciled in at shortstop.

Marbut is counting on senior-to-be Patrick Claussen (.261-1-16) to start at third base after summer back surgery. Marbut said Claussen, who struggled with back problems all season, is the only Cougar that will not play summer ball this year.

"He's going to be a great one for us," Marbut predicted.

Freshman Collin Slaybaugh (.308-0-13) thrived as the starting catcher late in the season after Ponciano went down. Redshirt freshman Adam Nelubowich (.234-1-12) displayed versatility in the field and a knack for hitting in the clutch.

"He's one of those guys who might lead the league in doubles some day," Marbut said.

Marbut said he expects left fielder-designated hitter Brett Jacobs (.244-2-19), who led the Cougars in hitting at .340 as a freshman, to bounce back from a poor sophomore season. Tommy Richards (.256-2-14) started most of the year at second base. Speedy center fielder Kyle Johnson (.177-0-3) is a defensive whiz who has yet to prove he can hit in the Pac-10.

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