As we’ve already dissected Cincinnati’s options in the middle infield, the next stop on our tour of the diamond is the corners, meaning third and first base for those uninitiated.
Generally this is where the power is found in the infield, but for the Bearcats, a team that hit only 32 home runs last season, there wasn’t a ton of power anywhere in the lineup. Still, their starting third baseman and first baseman accounted for roughly 30 percent of that power production, with Connor McVey handling the hot corner and supplying four homers while Ryan Noda manned first and launched six, tied with catcher Woody Wallace for the most on the team.
Even if Noda was the better power hitter, McVey was the better all around player. His .292 batting average was easily the best on the team and buoyed by a 20-game hitting streak, the longest by a Bearcat since 2001. He also slugged .420, adding 15 doubles to those four dingers. By getting on base plenty (.379 OBP) he moved around with ease, tallying a team-high 89 total bases while stealing 27 bases on 29 attempts. The Mason, Ohio native was a major reason that the Bearcats led the American Athletic Conference in steals (97). As for his work in the field, there wasn’t much to complain about, as his .980 fielding percentage matched second baseman Kyle Mottice for second among UC infielders.
Noda was not the same type of hitter as McVey, often throwing up 1-for-4 nights, but when he ran into a ball he was able to drive it with purpose. The Bearcat first baseman usually batted sixth or seventh in the lineup toward the end of the season as compared to McVey’s steady presence in the three-hole. He batted just .250 on the season but he led the squad in RBI (34), slugging percentage (.423) and walks, while he also snagged seven steals. Noda will likely move up in the order this season now that Wallace is gone, which should present him with even more RBI chances, especially if his power stroke remains. His defense still needs some work, however, as he tied for the most errors on the team in 2016.
McVey is workhorse, playing in all 57 games last season, so there isn’t really a big need for a backup at third, although some of the middle infielders could shift over if need be. Noda will be spelled at times or moved to DH which would open up playing time for Cole Murphy, Cam Alldred and maybe even freshman Luke Torino. Aldred produced a slash line of .241/.359/.287 with three extra base hits and four RBI in playing in 27 games, spending most of that time at DH, right field or first base. He also pitched to a 16.20 ERA in 3 1/3 innings of relief work. Murphy can also pitch some but he batted just .145 across 83 at-bats.
Depth obviously won’t be a strength at the corner spots for the Bearcats, but that is just fine with McVey and Noda getting the bulk of the playing time.