With the Super Bowl in the books, football season is entirely over. Unless you are an NFL Draft junkie and then I guess it never is. That means basketball is what’s in vogue, but it also means that baseball is on its way. For the Cincinnati Bearcats, the season is coming very soon, as their first game is next Friday against the San Diego Toreros. With that in mind, its time to re-familiarize ourselves with the Bearcats and the rest of the American Athletic Conference. Call it your own personal spring training. We’ll get going with the catchers today.
In the first season under new head coach Scott Googins, the Bearcats have three catchers on the roster. The leader in the clubhouse is easily senior Joey Thomas. The right-handed Thomas is from Mason, Ohio and had a pretty strong season as he stepped in as the starter following the departure of Woody Wallace. Whereas Wallace had some pop and was a leader, Thomas isn’t a dinger-masher, but he works well with the rotation and has a cannon behind the plate. He threw out 27 would-be base stealers last season, which led the AAC.
On top of his defensive acumen, Thomas wasn’t a complete negative at the plate. He only drove in 19 runs and had 12 extra-base hits, but he slashed .258/.305/.326 in 178 at-bats. He needs to be a bit more patient in the box, as he walked very rarely, but he made enough contact to make up for it a little bit.
Junior Mason Deanna should serve as Thomas’ backup. Across 18 games last season he slashed .194/.242/.258 with a pair of doubles and four runs scored. A starter seven times, Deanna didn’t commit a single error, but still has a lot to prove, especially since he appears to be the heir apparent to the position.
As far as depth goes, the Bearcats have freshman Cael Baker from Columbus, Ohio on the squad. A 6’0”, 254-pound right-handed batter, Baker was recruited by Ty Neal and was an all-Ohio performer in 2016 and 2015.
How the Opposition Stacks Up
In a conference devoid of many standout backstops, Zac Susi is possibly the best. He is a pretty solid hitter who played for the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod Baseball League last summer. He slashed a career-high .286/.362/.376 last season, showing a real talent for getting on base and getting hits in big spots, with 40 RBI.
The only catcher for the Cougars with any real playing time under his belt is Nick Slaughter, who played in 24 games last year, including nine starts. He has some power, slugging .436 a year ago but struck out 10 times compared to a single walk. Junior transfer student Tucker Redden could push for time after hitting .337 at Angelina College in 2017.
The Knights are blessed with a number of options. Senior Logan Heiser is the best one. He has played in 114 career games, with 93 starts. In that time he’s hit .253/.336/.406, but he has never really lived up to his excellent 2015 campaign when he smashed six home runs and batted .295.
It may be a bit of a gamble, but the Pirates are rolling with only two catchers. Jake Washer is a redshirt sophomore and the elder statesman of the duo, but he only hit .133 in 15 at-bats a year ago. Freshman Seth Caddell will push for time after hitting .356 with 16 home runs in high school.
A disappointing and injury-shortened 2016 season dampened Levi Borders run with the Bulls but he is back in 2018 to right the ship. He hit .291 and smacked 25 extra-base hits in 2015, including nine home runs. Last year he only played in 16 games and batted .241, although he kept his slugging (.448) and on-base (.357) work up. Tyler Dietrich was a fine backup (.270/.346/.343) but he doesn’t have the power that Borders does.
Jason Santana became the primary catcher for the Tigers last season, starting in 52 games. He didn’t provide a ton with his bat (.227/.299/.276) so improving in that regard will be key. Santana is backed up by youngsters Josh Rooker (freshman) and Clayton Keller (sophomore).
The situation at catcher should be interesting for the Green Wave, which have a group of newcomers competing for the starting job. Junior college transfer Acy Owen is perhaps the best of the bunch, having hit .337 last season with Hinds Community College. Ty Johnson is another transfer student who played at Central Arizona after a stint with Washington State.
Both Noah Croft and Gunnar Troutwine can play, but Troutwine has the longer history of success. That was until last year when he played in a career-low 29 games while slashing .224/.333/.263. For a player who has hit .273/.374/.395 for his career, it was a down year for sure. He’ll be trying to get back into a groove with Croft (.248/.358/.357) ready to build on a solid redshirt freshman year.