College baseball season starts this week. On Friday, the Cincinnati Bearcats will take the field for the first time this season, with Scott Googins making his debut as head coach. As we prepare for that big day (and celebrate UC basketball being ranked No. 5 in the country), it’s time for another installment in our position-by-position previews. Today we delve into arguably the most defensively intensive position in the game: shorstop.
Joining Connor McVey and Kyle Mottice (or Jace Mercer) as the clear starters in the infield is Manny Rodriguez, a senior from Brooklyn, New York who is coming off his best offensive season. Rodriguez has been a regular in the infield for the Bearcats the last three years, already having played 145 games (144 starts) and last year he finally started to be more than just a solid fielder.
His triple slash line (.242/.297/.331) obviously wasn’t all-conference worthy, but each mark in that reading was a career-high for Rodriguez, who actually played in only 38 games after getting into at least 51 in the previous two. He still managed to accrue eight extra-base hits in 124 at-bats and score 14 runs, which was only one fewer than he had in 2016.
As far as fielding goes, Rodriguez has had his fair share of bumps in the road, but last season he only had nine errors, after being guilty of 30 in his first two seasons combined.
Depth at shortstop, and the infield in general, is something UC is blessed to have. Eric Santiago has the skills to play at short and spell Rodriguez, which should help keep both players fresh.
How the Opposition Stacks Up
One of UConn’s best players is Anthony Prato, a 5’10” shortstop from Staten Island. He played in the Cape Cod Baseball League over the summer following a strong 2017 campaign. He slashed .304/.376/.388 with 14 extra-base hits and also stole 15 bases.
Cooper Coldiron (what an awesome name) missed time last year but was a starter during the last 15 contests. In that time he slashed .245/.355/.283, showing very little power but a strong eye. He could use a little work as a fielder (.929 fielding percentage).
The Knights are on the lookout for a replacement for Brennan Bozeman, who hit .277 during his two seasons with the team. Perhaps Jackson Webb, who hit .357 with Gulf Coast State College, Ole Miss transfer Ray Alejo or freshman Adams Torres will get the call.
With limited depth in the infield, it may be difficult for the Bulls to immediately replace the top-of-the-order presence that Kevin Merrell brought to the table. Merrell posted a ridiculous slash line of .384/.464/.569 last season.
Alec Trela was thrown right into the deep end as a freshman and he held his own. He batted .263 and also launched eight home runs while driving in 34. By producing 29 extra-base hits and a .461 slugging percentage, he clearly illustrated the power in his bat, but he can work the count as well, with a .342 on-base percentage to boot. However with 13 errors he has some work to do in the field.
On ECU’s athletic’s website, Turner Brown is described as an “all-conference candidate.” That is an accurate description as the 5’9” junior has slashed .272/.373/.355 in his two seasons at short. He is a fairly effective fielder as well, but the fact that he had more walks (28) than strikeouts (20) in 2017 speaks to his patience as a hitter. That is his most valuable asset.
The Green Wave employed a brand new starter at short last season in Sal Gozzo. The freshman only had six extra-base hits (all doubles) while he batted .211/.291/.252. The hope is the bat will develop.
As Trey Vickers gets ready for his senior season, he must also be prepared for a new conference. The odds indicate that he will adjust well. He boasts a career slash line of .289/.358/.356 following a career-high 13 extra-base hits in 2017.