Marbut glad Lagreid found his stroke late

PULLMAN -- Washington State catcher Greg Lagreid waited until his senior year to develop into a .300 hitter. For that, coach Donnie Marbut is eternally grateful. "He's made a jump every single year," Marbut pointed out. "He went up 50 points for three straight years, and this year he decided to do a 100-point jump.

"You know, if he'd done a 100-point jump every year, he wouldn't be here; he'd be a first-round draft pick."

Lagreid won't be a first-round draft pick next month, but it won't be for lack of trying. Lagreid has seen his batting average improve from .183 to .233 to .282 to .380 during his four years as WSU's starting catcher.

Lagreid ranked third in the Pac-10 in hitting through Monday, but you get the distinct impression that most people are even more impressed with Lagreid's defense than his hitting.

"He calls and catches a better game than anyone I've seen in the country," Marbut said.

"He's always been an exceptional catcher," senior right fielder-pitcher Jared Prince said.

It was primarily Lagreid's defense that drew recruiters from throughout the country when he starred at O'Dea High School in Seattle. Lagreid said he only hit "about .333 as a senior, which isn't very good for high school."

Still, Lagreid was a first-team All-Metro League catcher all three years he started at O'Dea, and he helped the Fighting Irish win the State 3A title as a senior. The Edmonds native wound up picking the Cougars over the Huskies when it came time to make his college choice, and he's never been happier about his decision than this year.

Lagreid has posted career highs for batting average, slugging percentage (.525), on-base percentage (.431), hits (60), doubles (10) and RBIs (36). The Cougars, at 14-7 in the Pac-10 with six conference games left, are in sole possession of second place in the league and positioning themselves to advance to the NCAA regionals for the first time in 19 years.

"It's been a blast," Lagreid said.

It hasn't hurt that Lagreid has been blasting away at the plate like never before. The 6-foot, 190-pound Lagreid agrees with Marbut that his improved hitting is largely the result of three factors: Tons of experience from starting so much in college and summer wood-bat leagues; being more selective at the plate; and putting to use the knowledge gained from learning how to set up opposing hitters as a catcher.

"I try to put myself in the position of, what pitch would I be calling if I was catching," Lagreid said.

"Call it educated guessing," Jewett said. "He's a real cerebral baseball player. He's very knowledgeable."

Combine Lagreid's brains with his experience, and you begin to understand why Marbut is letting Lagreid call all the pitches this season. That's all but unheard of in college.

"Behind the plate, you can see little idiosyncrasies," Lagreid said. "You can adjust to how the umpire is calling pitches."

Lagreid was born to squat, in a manner of speaking. Father Art was a catcher at Seattle University, and brother Tom was headed to WSU before he signed a pro contract with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after catching at O'Dea immediately prior to Greg.

Greg says Tom had some of the same "good field, no hit" reputation as Greg coming out of high school. Tom often struggled at the plate before being let go by the Devils Ray after three seasons in the low minors, but Greg says he can't wait to fulfill his childhood dream of playing pro ball.

An outstanding senior season certainly hasn't hurt Lagreid's confidence. He also received a huge boost in that department two summers ago when he hit .402 with 11 home runs (four fewer than he's hit in four years at WSU) in the Jayhawk League.

"That was crazy," Lagreid said. "It seemed like everything was falling in for a hit."

The Jayhawk League has produced such major league stars as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Albert Pujols. Baseball America magazine named Lagreid the No. 2 major league prospect in the league in 2007, and now he looks like one of the better prospects in the Pac-10 for this year's draft.

Lagreid lacks big power (five home runs this season) and speed (zero stolen bases), but there's always a need for good catchers. Lagreid should be back behind the plate any day now after being limited to DH duties since injuring his right shoulder April 19.

Prince said Lagreid is "having a great year," and Prince is glad there's no debate about it. Prince says Lagreid, who carries a lofty 3.5 grade point average despite the heavy demands of his sport and his major (finance), is every bit as smart off the field as on.

"Greg's a funny guy," Prince said. "He's pretty witty.

"He always has something smart to say. You never try to question anything about him because he's always got something better ‘around the corner' that makes you feel like an idiot."

You get the feeling there's more than a few "idiots" out there who never thought Lagreid would develop into a great hitter.

NOTABLE:

* In yesterday's 10-5 Cougar win over Portland yesterday, Lagreid hit a three-run homer in the fourth inning. The Cougs are now 26-20 overall on the season. The win was WSU's fourth in a row following a three-game sweep of Oregon. Freshman Adam Conley (1-1) gave up three runs in five innings and struck out three to earn his first-collegiate win.

* The Cougars wrap up the two-game home series with Portland today and then head to Corvallis for three games with OSU over the weekend. They'll then be in Spokane to play Gonzaga on May 19 before closing out the Pac-10 season against Washington with three games in Pullman over the Memorial Day Weekend.

* All of the Cougars' games can be heard over the radio or followed via GameTracker. Head to wsucougars.cstv.com/multimedia/wast-multimedia.html to check it all out.

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