The Cincinnati Bearcats were seemingly well positioned at the corners entering this past baseball season. For all intents and purposes things worked out well enough, though maybe not as well as they could have.
We’ll start at third base, which was locked down by Connor McVey all year. McVey was an exceptional bat in 2016, slashing .292/.379/.420 with 19 extra-base hits and 27 stolen bases. Entering his junior year, McVey was poised to be the leader of this team, both statistically and figuratively.
Unfortunately, McVey had trouble early on in the year and that kept him from pulling off a repeat performance. Still, his .280/.382/.383 slash line was solid enough and he managed 17 extra-base hits, which was only a few off of the 19 he had in 2016. The dip in batting average was largely overcome by a late season surge and his on-base percentage remained high due to a very strong strikeout to walk ratio, as he took 29 free passes and struck out 30 times. In fact, McVey set a career-high in on-base percentage this past year.
What really played against McVey, at least on the surface, was his drop in steals. After snagging 27 in 2016, he only had 14 in 2017. He was thrown out four times, meaning he attempted nearly 10 fewer steals than he amassed during all of last season despite having more plate appearances.
Its difficult to argue against the season McVey finished up with, but for his senior year the Bearcats will need more consistent hitting and a return to the extreme danger he presented to opponents on the base paths.
While McVey had to build himself back up after a slow start, Ryan Noda turned into the power hitter we wanted, nay, deserved. He may not have reached the home run numbers of American Athletic Conference leader Jake Scheiner, but he still launched a career-high nine dingers, while also setting career marks in slugging percentage (.478), on-base percentage (.388), extra-base hits (21) and runs scored (43). All of that work came despite a .236 batting average. However, his pop and propensity for getting on base made him a key cog in the Bearcats lineup. That lineup was devoid of many other big boppers, as it slashed .251/.337/.371 as a team and ranked second to last in the conference in home runs (30). Just imagine if Noda had not been around. Things would have been much worse.
Noda took major steps forward in other areas as well, cleaning up his defensive play while becoming a bit better on the base paths. He stole nine bases in 11 attempts and has now increased his theft total in back-to-back seasons. In addition, he committed just one error in 447 chances after having seven in each of his first two years.
With one more year left, Noda may have reached his peak, so another season like this past one may be the heights of what can be expected. That would be just fine, but ff there are areas he can reasonably improve its hitting for a higher average, which would make him a much more dangerous bat than he already has been.