21 May 2013

Players to watch at the WAC baseball tournament

NMSU's Bobby Lecount led the WAC in OPS this year.
I'm on my way to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex today to call the 2013 WAC Baseball Championship at QuikTrip Park in Grand Prairie. The games - three per day until Sunday's championship game - can be seen on WACSports.tv.

Here are a few of the individuals who have caught my eye while preparing for the tournament, all well worth watching this week:

CSUB – LHP Jeff McKenzie was a struggling junior college outfielder two years ago when his team ran out of pitchers in the highly competitive California state tournament. Having thrown only five innings all year, McKenzie took the hill and threw a complete-game victory. CSU Bakersfield offered him a scholarship based on that performance, and he has repaid the favor with a 2.67 ERA last year and an amazing 12-2, 1.79 line in 2013. His streak of 11 consecutive wins was broken last Friday by San Jose State, who he could face in Wednesday’s opener.

UT-Arlington – DH Matt Shortall is from the Dallas area and transferred back to home from Tulane after the 2011 season. Think he’s important to his team’s offense? Consider that he has 21 more RBI (54) than the next closest teammate (33).

Texas State – RHP Austen Williams had a minor role in Texas State’s bullpen in the first month of the season, but he has been nearly untouchable since March 3, allowing just two earned runs in his last 22 innings (0.82 ERA), lowering his season ERA from 11.37 to 2.93. Williams, closer Hunter Lemke (1.42 ERA in his last 38 innings), and lefty Donnie Hart (2.21 ERA) make for the league’s top bullpen.

UTSA – C John Bormann has thrown out an amazing 29 of 49 runners trying to steal against him this year (59 percent!) and has picked 14 runners off first base. It's hard to find context for how impressive those numbers are. I can't find a list of NCAA leaders (they apparently don't deal with fielding stats), but UTSA informs me Bormann ranks 2nd in the country in throwing out runners and first in runners picked off. The best college arm I've ever seen, that of Rice catcher Justin Ruchti, threw out 60 percent of runners (23/38) in the 2003 national-championship season. An arm like that behind the plate really limits the options for opposing teams to move baserunners.

Sacramento State – 1B Chris Lewis was told by head coach Reggie Christiansen that he should go to junior college before trying to contribute at Sacramento State. Lewis said, ‘No thanks’ and enrolled, took a redshirt last year, and proceeded to light up the WAC this year to the tune of .396/.439/.545 in conference play. Lewis gets good lineup protection from 2012 WAC Player of the Year Andrew Ayers, and both will need to play big roles if the Hornets, who were 9th in the WAC in hitting, can perform better at the plate in the postseason.

New Mexico State – 3B Bobby Lecount is a Moneyball type of player who seems to personify New Mexico State’s hitting philosophy. He walks a lot, strikes out a lot, and hits for serious power. In WAC play, he ranked first in OPS (1256), slugging (.778), OBP (.478), and walks (21) and finished 2nd in home runs (9) while striking out once per game.

Dallas Baptist – 3B Duncan McAlpine erupted with a 10-for-16 series against Texas State last weekend that included 4 home runs, and 11 RBI to finish first in the WAC in conference home runs (12) and second in slugging (.697). He is one of several ringleaders of the Patriots’ grip-it-and-rip-it offense on a team with serious postseason experience.

San Jose State – RHP Kyle Hassna was the Spartans’ main weapon out of the bullpen for most of the year, but he stepped into the starting rotation near the end of the season and provided a very strong start against CSU Bakersfield. If he can pitch in the vicinity of his 2.50 ERA in the tournament, it gives the undermanned Spartans a fighting chance in an extra game.

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