Baseball has plethora of talented players
Upcoming exhibition games will assist with lineup decisions
Published: Friday, October 19, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 19, 2012 12:10
This past summer, while many students had already returned home, the Rice Owls baseball team was still hard at work trying to make it to the College World Series. With a Conference USA title under its belt once again, the team was rewarded one of the regional tournament host sites, where teams play to determine who will eventually play at the World Series in Omaha, Neb.
Sadly, the season ended early with an Owls loss to Sam Houston State University.
The Major League Baseball draft took place after the season and saw eight Owls drafted by major-league teams, the most since 11 were drafted in 2008.
Leading the list of Owls drafted this summer are J.T. Chargois and Tyler Duffey, who were both selected by the Minnesota Twins with the 72nd and 160th overall picks, respectively.
Now, with summer’s excitement finished, the Owls, led by Head Coach Wayne Graham, began their fall practices this Monday, Oct. 1. Despite the loss of some players due to the draft or graduation, the Owls have returned, bolstered by the addition of new talent, ready to begin preparation for the season.
“We have a little more speed than last year,” Graham said. “The guys are addressing hitting attitudes that are necessary and the hitting fundamentals, and the young people are just fine.”
There are still unfilled positions that need to be addressed, providing an opportunity for new players to potentially step up and fill the void left by departed team members.
“Well, we [have to] replace Michael Fuda in center field and another corner outfielder, but we [have] some really valid options because Michael Aquino led the Texas Collegiate League in hitting this summer and Keenan Cook had a great summer in the Valley League,” Graham said.“We [have to] find a first baseman, but we [have] a lot of options with Blake Fox and possibly Aquino and Skyler Ewing.”
To fill these spots, Graham said that he was open to the possibility of a younger player making enough of an impression to earn a starting position.
“Leon Byrd, is of course, a true quality recruit at shortstop,” Graham said. “He can play short and center field. Ford Stainback can play short, center field and second base.”
Along with these new additions, the key to any successful team is its pitching staff, and the Owls are no different. Despite the loss of Matthew Reckling and Andrew Benak, the starting rotation has the potential to be strong again this season.
The team has many pitching options, including returning starter Austin Kubitza. John Simms, Zech Lemond, Tyler Spurlin and freshmen Kevin McCanna and Chase McDowell also are all possible starters. McCanna, Byrd and McDowell were drafted after last season but elected to play for the Owls instead.
“McCanna certainly was the best high school pitcher in [Texas] that didn’t sign a pro contract, “ Graham said. “And there’s Spurlin, who’s looked very [good] in the fall. Spurlin is definitely an option.”
While there are many questions still remaining regarding the team’s lineup and rotation, there is plenty of time for them to be answered in the upcoming weeks.
For now, Coach Graham and the other Owls coaches will be able to test if their goals are being met to their expecations, as the team plays three exhibition games during the month of October, including a recent scrimmage against the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs on Oct. 14.
The Owls turned in a 16 inning performance with an 11-6 victory, but of course, more importantly, the coaches were able to analyze the team and players for the first time in a live setting. Two more exhibition games remain on the schedule this October against Lamar University and Sam Houston State University on Oct. 20 and 28, respectively.
While the season may not be till the spring, the Rice Men’s Baseball team is back to action, and ready to try to get back to the College World Series.
With the release of the season schedule on Oct. 15, the Owls games are no longer a secret. The team starts off the season running out of the gate with a three game series against the Stanford Cardinal, one of last season’s NCAA Super Regional Teams.