2009 Washington Baseball Season Preview
Feb. 9, 2009
While each season, the turnover of college baseball brings a new team with new expectations and goals, fans of the Washington baseball team will see a lot of familiar faces when they come to Husky Ballpark this spring.
On a given day, 17th-year head coach Ken Knutson can write up a lineup with veterans at every spot, as well as in a variety of roles on the mound.
Here's a position-by-position look at the 2009 Diamond Dawgs:
Washington's pitching staff is about as experienced as you'll find. Not only did the 10 returning veterans account for 36 starts and 332 innings pitched last year, they include four seniors, two juniors and two third-year sophomores among their ranks. If anything, the struggle for Knutson will be finding roles for all of his staff, especially with the addition of several talented freshmen.
'We think that if the returning players stay healthy, we're going to be very good on the mound,' Knutson said. 'They're talented. They're competitive. They've had a lot of success at this level.'
Two pitchers who have been regulars in the starting rotation should return to two of those starting slots again this year. Jorden Merry was an All-Pac-10 first-team performer last season, while Jason Erickson missed time with a hand injury, but still posted a 3.55 ERA over his 45 and two-thirds innings.
'It's unusual that you'd have two seniors back in Erickson and Merry, who have had the kind of success they've had but are still in college,' Knutson noted. 'A lot of times you lose those guys to professional baseball.'
After those two, there's a group of players who will likely have to fight for starts. It's a varied bunch that includes young and old, left- and right-handed.
'Geoff Brown really wants to start,' said Knutson. 'He had a great fall. With his breaking ball, he's really added a pitch and it's gotten much better.'
Gomez pitched for the Dawgs in 2006, but then left for a two-year church mission.
' When you watched Adrian this fall, you didn't even realize that he'd been gone for a couple of years,' Knutson explained. 'There didn't seem to be a drop-off. At the end of the fall, he was really throwing well. I think he'll compete for a really significant role on the staff, whether it be as a starter, or a silver bullet or helping on the back end.'
Junior righty Cam Nobles missed most of 2007 with an injury, but picked up six wins and posted a 3.74 ERA over 12 starts last year. However, after breaking his arm throwing a pitch in the fall, he is still on the mend and hopes to be back early in the season.
'From everything I've heard, he's going to probably miss the early portion of the season, but maybe a third of the way in, he'll be able to start contributing,' Knutson explained. 'He pitched so well last year. He was one of our best guys. He had some brilliant starts, so he's got some innings under his belt.'
Another potential starter is freshman righty Andrew Kittredge, an accomplished high school player who should push for significant innings right away.
'Andrew came in and threw really well,' Knutson said of the fall season. 'He's got a lot of moxie and poise for a freshman. He's certainly got the stuff. He profiles physically and emotionally to be a really good pitcher in our league.'
Along from whichever of those players might end up in the bullpen on a given day, Knutson has a large group at his disposal.
Heading into the season, the coach has settled on junior Brian Pearl as his closer. After spending much of the last two seasons playing third and short and pitching only part-time, Pearl is now primarily a pitcher.
'Pearl wants to be back there and close,' Knutson said of the hard-throwing righty. 'He pitched well last summer and during the fall. He's going to be our closer to start with.'
Five other experienced pitchers - three righties and two southpaws - round out the group of veterans. The lefties are senior Tyler Cheney and RS-sophomore Ben Guidos while the right-handers are senior Paul Dickey, RS-sophomore Jacob Clem and sophomore Forrest Snow.
'I see Cheney and Guidos both competing for major roles,' Knutson said. 'They both have experience. Tyler's had a lot of roles and success during his career. I think some things clicked for him in the fall too. Guidos is fully recovered now. He has his injury behind him and a year under his belt. I think he feels good and he's worked hard. He's got the great changeup that makes him a factor.'
Dickey appeared in 16 games last season, leading the team with five saves in his first year at the UW. Clem, who redshirted in 2007, saw only two and a third innings before a side injury shelved him for the season. Finally, Snow appeared in six games last year, notching a win and a 3.52 ERA.
'Dickey's really valuable because he's got a good fastball, and he has a very good changeup that makes him effective vs. left-handers,' Knutson said. 'I think the biggest improvement was his slider, which was really good in the fall.
'Clem's got a good chance to help us,' Knutson continued. 'He came back from an unusual injury. I've never really seen a guy injure his lat like that. Now he's back and throwing fine. He throws sidearm, so he gives a chance to show a different look.
'Forrest is going to push for innings somewhere. He's got very good stuff,' Knutson concluded 'He's a hard worker with a good arm and a good frame - all the things you look for in a pitcher.'
'Haehl, Kittredge and West all had a certain confidence and poise when they competed this fall,' Knutson said 'That's always my concern with freshmen -- how they'll react to Division I baseball.'
Three other true freshman pitchers - lefties Brandon Rohde and J.D. Awald and right-hander Matt Gorman - were limited in fall ball by injuries (or still coming back form prior injury), though all should be back in the swing in the spring.
One of the biggest losses among the position players, especially in terms of experience, is graduated senior Joey Dunn, who spent the better part of four years as the starter behind the dish.
The 2009 catching staff is relatively young, but there's more than a little reason for enthusiasm.
'The big thing is that we moved Rankin,' Knutson said. 'You can just see his athleticism behind the plate ... the throwing ability, the plays that he can make on balls in the air and on bunts. He's got a really good feel for the game. He's got a chance to be a really dynamic player back there. He's going to be good.'
Wilcox, a left-handed hitter, has played a lot in his two prior seasons at the UW.
'Wilcox can really hit and he's a high-quality backup at catcher,' Knutson said. 'His issue is coming back from an injury that he got late in the summer. He should be ready to go when the season starts.'
McGuire was limited by injury during much of the fall, but Knutson calls him a 'natural catcher' with all the skills. Ryckman is probably best known for his arm, but Knutson was impressed by his progress at the plate in the fall.
Even with the loss of three-year starting second baseman Bradley Boyer (Boyer had elbow surgery and should return for the 2010 season as a fifth-year senior), the Huskies still have a chance to start experienced players at every infield spot this season.
Sophomore Troy Scott, who started 49 of 55 games a year ago as a freshman, returns to his spot there.
'Troy should be one of the premium first basemen in our league,' Knutson said. 'The sky's the limit for him. We're counting on him to do big things. He had a very good freshman year and with that natural progression that you hope he has, he should post some big numbers.'
Freshman Kevin Komstadius backs up Scott and, thanks to a powerful left-handed bat, should also have a chance to make the lineup as the designated hitter.
'It's a tossup between Cherry and Pollard,' Knutson admitted. 'Pollard has really improved defensively. He'll also be considered at third base and left field. He's sort of a band-aid for a lot of things. Cherry has always performed well whenever he's been given the chance. There's no doubt he could get it done at second.'
At shortstop is sophomore David Bentrott, who emerged as the regular there as a freshman, starting a total of 41 games.
'Bentrott's our shortstop,' Knutson affirmed. 'If you compare his freshman year to a lot of shortstops in our program it was pretty good. He needs to get on base and be a catalyst. He needs to shoot for the leadoff spot in the order.'
Another middle infielder in the mix is freshman Andy Bethel.
'Bethel was one of the pleasant surprises of the fall,' said Knutson. 'He's more physical than I anticipated, meaning that we always knew his skill set was good, but his tools are really good too. He held his own at the plate. He'll be a contributor as a freshman and he can play all three infield spots.'
At third base is junior Aaron Russell, who made 25 starts last year and batted .351.
'Third base is Russell's job,' Knutson said. 'Everything about him grades out for him to be a really dynamic third baseman. He can throw, field and hit and he has good power.'
Freshman Justin Gunn, who played quarterback on the UW football team in the fall, is the primary backup at third.
'He's just a very good athlete,' Knutson said of Gunn. 'We're just trying to get him good by concentrating on one thing. We think his best tool is his bat, and he got hits in the fall. He's a big kid with a physical frame. He's just not as experienced as some guys because he played so many sports and so many positions in high school.'
Pearl, the Huskies' closer, also remains as a backup plan at short and third if necessary, thanks to his experience the last two years.
Knutson also has a veteran crew and numerous options in the outfield.
Despite being drafted in the 16th round last June, fourth-year junior Kyle Conley, an All-Pac-10 first-teamer who led the Huskies in nearly every offensive statistic a year ago, returns in 2009. He plays either of the corner spots.
'Conley is a preseason All-American and an All-Pac-10 player,' Knutson stated. 'He's a great power hitter. We're fortunate that we get him back. I think pro baseball sort of missed on him. He's a big, fast guy who has had a lot of success.'
Senior Jake Rife, a part-time starter in left field and at DH during his prior three seasons, also returns, and probably at the peak of health compared to the rest of his career.
'I just feel like Rife's a really good player,' Knutson says. 'He's had some bad luck with injuries over the years. He's worked really hard and, if he stays healthy, he's one of the fastest guys we've ever had in the program. He ran incredibly well in the fall. I think he could be a big catalyst for our team. He has a great work ethic. He spends as much time in the cage as anyone in the program.'
Sophomore Sean Meehan saw significant action in the Husky outfield as a freshman and can play all three spots, though he's recovering from an injury to his left (non-throwing shoulder) and may or may not be set to go from day one this spring.
'Meehan had a good freshman year,' Knutson said. 'He's got the power. He defends, he runs, he throws, he has great power. He can play any outfield spot.'
'G-Y is a leadoff-type of player,' Knutson said of Gardner-Young. 'He does everything right. He gets it. He likes to play. He plays hard and fast and smart.
'Brown has terrific instincts and natural defensive ability,' Knutson continued. 'He's a little bit inexperienced at the plate. He's like Gunn. He was probably more of a football player than a baseball player in high school, but you watch him play and you see that he's a natural. They're going to compete for center field. It'll be fun.'
Aside from Pollard, who could also play in the outfield if he's not at second or third base, the Huskies also have junior Ty Rasmussen in the outfield, though he's primarily a designated hitter, as he's been most of his two previous UW seasons. A foot injury will also delay the start of his season in 2009.
'Rasmussen is a big strong guy who can really hit,' Knutson said. 'His first year here he had a lot of success and put up some nice numbers for a redshirt freshman. Every time he goes up to the plate, I think he has a chance to hit it out.'
By any standards, the 2009 squad is a very experienced college baseball team. With the rigors of the Pac-10 and a run at the postseason, Knutson hopes that he has the horses to win the race.
'I like the team,' he said. 'I don't really see any weaknesses. The key thing for me is how the bullpen plays out. Pearl only has two saves in his career, but sometimes I think he's going to be an All-American this year and have 20 saves. Everyone else out there also has a chance to be really good. The bullpen is so important for me. I think our pitching staff is deep and talented.
'Defensively, we'll have experienced players at all positions. Behind the plate, we lost Dunn, but we have Wilcox there and Pierce played a lot as a freshman, though not at catcher. The position change isn't totally foreign to him. He's caught a little before.
'I think if guys just do what they're capable of doing, I think we'll have an awfully strong team.'
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