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Shockers ready to begin fall practice

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Sep. 8, 2013, at 9:54 p.m.

Three things to watch this fall

1. First baseman Casey Gillaspie hit 11 home runs last season. No other Shocker hit more than four. Four Shockers reached double-figures in doubles and one (Johnny Coy) is gone. While the game tilts toward pitching and defense, the Shockers need more runners on and more extra-base pop to return to the 40-plus victory level.

2. Senior Cale Elam pitched well all season as the No. 1 starter. A.J. Ladwig and Kris Gardner shook off slumps late in the season and came up big in tournament play. And Garrett Brummett emerged late in his freshman season as a solid starter. Is there a challenger on the staff who can push for one of those spots in the rotation? Senior Drew Palmer threw effectively in starts against Arizona State and Kansas State before arm issues ended his season in late April. He is healthy and could move back into the rotation.

3. How will the infield shake out? WSU played excellent defense the past two seasons and all of those players are back. Throw in third baseman Chase Simpson, who redshirted last season, and shortstop Cody Bobbit, who started 20 games before a broken right hand abbreviated his season. The coaches have plenty of depth to look at with returning starters Erik Harbutz (3B/SS), Dayne Parker (SS/2B) and Tanner Dearman (2B) back. Tanner Kirk (3B) started 14 games as a freshman.

— Paul Suellentrop

Youngsters, don’t try to learn from Chain Simpson’s instructional videos on YouTube. He will teach you how use your bicep, flip your bat after hitting a bomb and play a little violin before fouling off a two-strike pitch.

“The one thing you can take out of it is, don’t think too much,” said Wichita State third baseman Chase Simpson, who plays Chain in the videos. “I’m spoofing the right way to play baseball, the right way to swing. It’s the goofy way to do it.”

Simpson and some teammates put his goofy side on display last year, a diversion while Simpson redshirted after transferring to WSU from Oklahoma. He wears a gray uniform top, black pants and a camouflage Shocker hat, speaking in an exaggerated Texas drawl.

“The first thing we’re going to talk about, which is the most important thing, is bombs,” he says in the Chain Simpson video on hitting bombs. “All you’re trying to do it hit bombs. Biceps are what hit bombs. That’s what they do.”

Wichita State starts fall practice on Monday and Simpson, a junior from Flower Mound, Texas, will keep it serious with new coach Todd Butler. He is coming off a good summer with the Mankato (Minn.) MoonDogs in the Northwoods League. He hit .269 with 10 home runs and 15 doubles in 62 games. In small-group practices this fall, Butler is impressed. He recruited Simpson while an assistant at Arkansas; Simpson went to Weatherford (Texas) College for one year before going to Okahoma.

“He seems to be very serious about his game, a very diligent worker,” Butler said. “There’s no clowning around with him when he gets to the field.”

Simpson credits his work last year with strength coach Kerry Rosenboom with boosting his power. He hits the ball harder and his throws across the diamond arrive with more zip. In 2012, he hit three home runs in 44 games for Mankato. As a sophomore at Oklahoma, he hit .229 in 28 games, 12 as a starter, with two doubles and two triples.

“The home runs went up, the RBIs went up and, hopefully, I can carry that over here,” he said. “Kerry Rosenboom worked our tails off. I put on about 20 pounds, and it all feels good, and it all translated into more pop.”

Butler, who spent the previous eight seasons as an assistant at Arkansas, has his practice plans organized for most of the fall. The Shockers will follow a similar script on Monday and Tuesday to hammer home the lessons before moving to other topics. WSU has 45 days to get in 28 practices this fall. He expects to scrimmage on Wednesday and again on the weekend.

“Practices are for coaches and games are for players,” he said. “Monday is the time it will really start, for me, with teamwork and understanding the tempo for practice. I want to try to outwork everyone in the time we have allotted by the NCAA.”

The Shockers will work on defense for 30 minutes Monday before an hour of batting practice. After a session on rundowns and pop-ups, base-running drills end the day.

“I’d rather practice than go into an intrasquad right out of the gate,” Butler said. “I want to know how to call for a pop-up, how to do a rundown and teach how we’re going to play before we jump into an intrasquad.”

With two weeks working in small groups, the Shockers are growing familiar with the teaching styles of the new coaching staff. They wear matching practice gear each day — a change from the causal look of the Gene Stephenson era. Butler and assistant coach Brian Walker often stand on opposite sides of the batting cage —Butler bent over, hands on knees — to watch and instruct. Behind the batting cage is a screen set up for a bunting station.

“They’re encouraging, they’re positive and they’re fun to be around,” first baseman Casey Gillaspie said. “They’ll definitely get the most out of guys.”

Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @paulsuellentrop.

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