6. Ben Koenigsfeld, JR LF
The fact that a .342 hitter with 38 RBI’s, 7 HR’s, and 10 doubles is your number 6 hitter, shows just how hard it is to break into Coach Joe Sottolano’s batting lineup. Those are cleanup hitter numbers on many teams.
Ben was elected as one of the Captains of this years team, as a junior. He brings enthusiasm, leadership, and a calm, tough as nails presence to the dugout. Last year, while pitching, Ben dove from the infield across the first base line after a dropping pop foul. The base runner blasted into an airborne, fully outstretched Koenigsfeld, just as the ball reached Bens mitt. Without a trace of emotion, Ben shows the ball to the ump, that he caught it, and walks back to the mound dusting himself off, never letting anyone see the slightest effect from a train wreck collision.
As a fielder, BK’s greatest asset is that big arm of his. If runners test it, they lose. It’s strong, it’s fast and it’s deadly accurate. Teams generally only test it once. His speed is also an asset, both in the outfield an on the bases. Last year he was a perfect 11-11 in stolen bases.
7. Cody Murtle (p), SO RF
In many outfields, Murtle would have been good enough to start as a freshman. But with two seniors and Koenigsfeld to climb over, he was relegated to spot duty. Cody hit a respectable .297 in only 37 AB’s however. That number should climb quite nicely as Murtle is respected on the team as possessing a very good bat and regular reps at the dish should help him find a regular groove.
Murtle is also an excellent fielder in the outfield. He gets great jumps on the ball and is one of the fastest players on the team which will allow him to track down balls in the deep gap. His arm is sufficiently strong to keep runners from advancing on deep flies also.
That same speed will prove a great asset on the bases, as Sottolano likes to generate offense in the bottom of his order with aggressiveness. The college game is one of speed and nerves. Murtle is gifted with enough speed to fray opposing nerves and force errors.
8. David Darnell (p), JR CF
Darnell proved a nice surprise last year, filling in for Koenigsfeld when pitching or getting spot starts in center. He’s a player where the stats don’t tell the story. His .250 BA is not indicative of the contribution he made last year offensively. In only 64 AB’s he drew 8 walks, scored 19 runs, hit 3 doubles, 1 HR and was HBP 6 times. “DeDe” is another example of a player who will benefit greatly from regular trips to the plate.
In the tools category, Darnells got what it takes to be successful in the field and on the bases. Speed, instinct, hustle…it’s all there. Last year Andy Ernesto put up a decent .318 with 38 RBI and 15 doubles. Although no one expects that out of DeDe, it won’t surprise anyone if he comes close.
9. J.T. Watkins, SO C
If you see JT smile, take a picture, because it doesn’t happen often. Characterized as one of the harder workers on the team, he is all business, almost surly manner is reflective of his intense desire to win.
The son of a Boston Red Sox scout, Watkins knows the game. Some pitchers have intimated that they wouldn’t be surprised if the coaches start letting JT call the games from behind the plate sometime this year…something that didn’t happen with predecessor Chris Simmons until his senior year. Watkins feel for the game is outstanding. He knows when to slow things down and calm down his pitcher, and when to speed them up and move it along because his pitcher is in a groove.
Defensively he tied for the team lead in fielding % at .991 with only 3 errors all season. Although small for a catcher, he covers ground behind the plate and is an absolute wall with pitches in the dirt. You’ll never see a mental error on the kids part, he’s 100% in the game on every pitch.
Offensively he’s got good tools and huge upside. A shoulder injury to backup catcher Cody Shorter, left Coach Sottolano with no choice but to start the freshman Watkins at the beginning of the season in spite of a very bad hand from being hit in live hitting drills just days before the opener. Watkins looked awful at the plate and you wondered if the kid that hit all those home runs in high school had ever had a bat in his hand before.
Well, as the hand healed, so did JT’s approach at the plate. His offensive numbers are not reflective of what his true ability is because of that injury. As the season wore on, more and more of that bat handling expertise and power began to show itself. With a better start to the season, JT should show great strides this year towards reaching the potential we saw last season.
On the infield, we are in good shape, one player deep for sure. Any setback or day off needed would likely be covered well. In the middle infield expect Steve May to move from his third base position to cover those and Brandon Hines will be a more than capable backup at third. At first base, Joey Henshaw has proven he can patrol around the bag very well. At catcher, junior Cody Shorter will see some action on a more regular basis now that he has recovered from last years arm problems.
The outfield brings in the first of the freshman class as backups. With Koenigsfeld being a two way player, the first player into the game could well be Clayton Mosley. Much like Cody Murtle of last year, he shows great promise both in the field and with the bat.