Wichita State wrapped up its fall baseball series on Wednesday. Gold players will serve steak to Black players during the annual post-fall dinner. Winter field preparation used to be part of the losing burden. I’m not sure who much prep work remains with the new turf.
The biggest news of the fall concerns two pitchers who barely touched the mound this fall. Tyler Fleming had surgery to clean up scar tissue in his right shoulder on Monday. The labrum and rotator cuff look good. Pitching coach Brent Kemnitz says there is a chance Fleming could be 100 percent by December and on track to throw this spring. Grant Muncrief, who had Tommy John surgery in April, looks good throwing bullpens. He could be ready by late February. The coaches had largely written him off for this season. Apparently, aggressive rehab this summer in Wichita is putting Muncrief on the fast track. Recovery is usually 10-12 months after surgery and he will be at 10 months in February. Logan Hoch, who also missed last season with shoulder surgery, threw this fall and expects to be full strength this spring.
Any one of those three helps WSU’s bullpen. If two or three are back and effective, the bullpen is in great shape.“A lot hinges on the health of Logan Hoch, Grant Muncrief and Tyler Fleming,” Kemnitz said. “If you throw them in the mix, our depth is incredible. We’re hopeful. We think they’re going to be OK.”Some random thoughts and numbers:
Black won the series 4-3 by hitting .339 and – in what might be the best stat of fall – walking 33 times and striking out 25. Strikeouts killed the Shockers last season (423 to 220 walks), so any good sign is encouraging. Johnny Coy led Black with a .483 batting average. Mitch Caster (.714 slugging percentage) and Will Baez both homered twice. Caster also doubled three times. Coy struck out once in 29 at-bats.Three pitchers carried Black. Reliever Cobey Guy struck out 18 (six walks) in 11 innings and compiled a 1.64 ERA. T.J. McGreevy (2-0, 3.55 ERA) and Josh Smith (1-1, 3.75) did most of the starting work.
“What you saw last year (of Cobey Guy) was not what we recruited,” Kemnitz said. “He came in here hurt. He had no confidence. This fall guys have seen the guy we recruited. There’s no reason he can’t domino that into a great spring, because he has great stuff.”
Freshman pitcher Tobin Mateychick, a right-hander, endured an up and down fall. Kemnitz said he possesses the greatest upside of the new pitchers. Staying focused on every pitch remains a challenge.Coach Gene Stephenson saw hitters who did a better job of taking the ball up the middle, going the other way and battling with two strikes.
“We’re doing a much better job of being tougher outs,” he said.
Baez looked much more comfortable at second base. A converted catcher, he struggled with positioning and fundamentals last season. Those problems appear to in the past. “He has a lot better feel for what he’s supposed to do,” Stephenson said.Stephenson liked Kevin Hall’s work in center field and at the plate. WSU has a lot of outfielders to chose from. All of them did good things at times during the fall. Travis Bennett hits and realizes he needs to be better defensively. Freshman Garrett Bayliff looked good on defense and led Black with a .552 on-base percentage. Freshman Micah Green didn’t play much defense because of a shoulder injury. His hitting impressed Stephenson. Veterans Caster, Ryan Jones and Bret Bascue had their good moments.Freshman shortstop Erik Harbutz hit .259. He doubled four times and walked seven times. Stephenson believes he can handle third base if needed. “He’s a pretty tough out,” Stephenson said.Catcher Ryan Hege led Gold with a .444 batting average and .667 slugging percentage. Jones led Gold with 10 RBI. First baseman Clint McKeever hit .379.Stephenson expressed some concern for his defense. The teams combined for 23 errors (and some that didn’t show up in the scorebook) in seven games. There are a lot of DH candidates on this team, which is another way of saying some players need to work on their defense. The indoor practice facility should be ready later this fall, and Stephenson hopes working indoors will help smooth out defensive issues.