College Baseball Blog WAC correspondent and bleedCrimson.net editor Sam Wasson recently sat down with New Mexico State head baseball coach Rocky Ward. The Aggie baseball season begins February 20th and Coach Ward provided an update on the team as they ready for the 2009 season. The Aggies completed a successful fall practice season and we have Coach Ward’s thoughts on his team. In this interview he talks about his infielders.
Sam Wasson: Let’s talk about your infield players and who you’re looking at for the upcoming season.
Rocky Ward: At first base Chris Auten’s back. He’s the heir apparent there but a kid named Ben Hardy came in this fall and just absolutely lit it up. If you look at his fall statistics, of course fall stats you’ve always got to take with a little bit of a grain of salt because they’re against yourselves. Ben hit .460 in the fall with 15 home runs, nine doubles and 53 RBIs. That’s about as big a fall as I’ve had out of anybody. It’s a bigger fall than what Billy Becher did or Ryan Kinning, Mark Aranda, any of those guys. The last guy, and we don’t really keep stats for this but Adam Harvey as a junior hit 14 home runs one fall and that was just miraculous. He was the first guy to ever go into double figures in home runs [in the fall] and he turns around and hits eight that year or something. Those are the two guys at first base.
On the depth chart, [Leo] Aguirre who’s been there as a backup is still kind of there but we’ve moved him to the outfield. Jared Jordan is a catcher who’s really good around the bag at first and we’ll play him there as a defensive guy. Hardy and Auten are going to continue to compete through the early part of the spring but one of them is going to DH and one of them is going to play first base. We’ve actually looked at Chris Auten at third some, he was actually a third baseman before he injured his arm and he’s okay. His arm is really short, he’s never really recovered from the injury he had but he’s accurate.
2B: There are really two guys there Wade Reynoso and Max Taylor, Max had a really nice fall. He’s a real quality defender. We took him real late in the recruiting process and we weren’t necessarily looking for a 2B when we did that. We had Marquez returning and we knew that we were going to move Bryan to short and [Richard] Stout to center to look at it and basically when Max came in in the fall and lit it up he made that move easy. Max Taylor looks to project, along with Wade Reynoso who’s a really quality defensive player as well but is predominantly a third baseman, so we have some mix and matches when we’re dealing with this. But those are the two leading candidates for the job and you may see, in particular the first 21 or 22 games and we play 21 of the first 22 at home, you may see either one of those guys there trying to get guys in the lineup. Looking at Max’s numbers he hit .300, he’s a good runner. He’s the typical new guy in the program, he’ll come in and light it up and then we’ll mess with him and he’ll go down for eight or ten days. We believe in the concept that you have to be willing to regress before you can progress. Max didn’t have a whole bunch of power when he came in and we were able to generate a little more power. We’re not about giving up batting average to get power, we’re want both. That transition hurt his stats a little bit but overall he had a really nice fall.
Reynoso was one of those kids that at the end of the fall really lit it up. He had real similar numbers to Max until the last couple weeks. He led the ballclub in doubles with 17. In 100 at bats that’s a pretty aggressive pace. That equates to a 35 or 40 double guy in the regular season and puts you in the top 10 in the country. Whether or not they do it in the spring, you don’t know that but they’ve showed you what they can do.
SS: At shortstop Marquez has moved from second to short. He’s the legitimate number one there. We still have Stout sitting there as the backup because he’s played there for two years. He’s the Second Team All-Conference shortstop. But we’ve moved him to the outfield and Mike Sodderss looks to be a quality replacement. We’ll talk about him at third. He’s a transfer from Northeast Oklahoma JC. He’s really got great talent, good runner, 90 mph arm, skill wise he grades out real well. His consistency as a player has been questioned a bit but that’s probably he’s not playing pro ball. We’ve had plenty of guys who haven’t had consistency but that’s what we’ve been able to with them is gain that. But it looks like Bryan Marquez is the every day, day to day shortstop with a couple of guys who might be able to provide a backup for him, which includes Stout.
3B: At third base, Sodders and Reynoso are one and two and there’s a kid named Tyler Owens and all three of them we love as players. Sodders has the best physical tools, Reynoso has the best playability. He’s got beautiful hands, we don’t expect to make 35 errors a year from now at third base. And no disrespect to Marcus Quade, I’ve got to remind people that Marcus Quade was a first baseman and because of an injury to a player we had to move him to third and so he played out of position all year. He took some heat, people have a tendency to forget the reasons why.
[Mike] Sodders and [Wade] Reynoso can both play third, Sodders can play at short and Reynoso can play at second. Wade just doesn’t run well, he’s a below average runner, the arm is adequate but his hands and feet as a defender are just outstanding. He makes plays we haven’t had made there in a few years. Those guys are in the mix and [Tyler] Owens is a kid that kind of came in as a catcher/third baseman and he’s looking at number three there and when we get to catcher he’s looking at a number three or number four guy there. But Tyler is another guy who’s a lot like Wade, he can play a lot of different positions. He knows the game well, we’ve played him in all three infield positions, we’ve looked at him even at first base a little bit. You look at Tyler’s fall numbers, he hit .338 with seven home runs and 10 doubles, that’s pretty impressive. If you want to compare that to Sodders’ numbers, Sodders hit .354 with four home runs and seven doubles, Owens basically had a better fall offensively. And then you add Wade Reynoso who hit .390, all three of those guys’ numbers were solid. We feel like there’s an awful lot of depth with those positions.
Catcher: Jeff Farnham is a returning backup to [Joe] Leghorn. He showed us some glimpses of what he could do a year ago. He hit. 350 in limited at bats, five doubles no home runs. You look at what he did this fall, nine doubles, seven home runs, 20 walks, only 11 strike outs, 31 RBIs, 38 runs and nine stolen bases, this is a catcher that can steal bases. He hit .439.
We tried something kind of new this year. You always rank players as coaches, it’s constantly what you do. You can do it by position or you can do it overall but because of the 35 man roster thing that we’re having to deal with this year we decided to put together a 1 through whatever ranking and that’s based on a set of physical evaluations where we take their arm velocity, 60-yard dash speed and then bat velocity where we’ll have guys hit a ball off a tee into a radar gun and see how hard the ball comes off and that gives them an overall hand strength figure or bat speed figure. We take those and rank the guys and put them into categories and so each of those guys have a skill rank. Farnham’s overall skill rank is 1 because he’s got a 90 mph arm, he’s a 6.7 60 and he’s a 100 mph off the barrel.
Then we took another category of defensive skill which was subjective, 1 through 10, five being average, one being pro prospect and 10 being can’t play and we had the opportunity throughout the fall to change those numbers based on progress. I didn’t give anybody 1’s and obviously didn’t give anybody 10’s. I didn’t give anybody worse than six of the guys that are still with me. We had some guys who didn’t make it that got lower than that.
The last category is OPS which is On Base % + Slugging which is something most fans don’t understand. Everybody looks at batting average, but we’ve all known that there’s a guy who hits .350 that isn’t as good at .350 as a guy who hits .310. It’s about when, where, how. What this does is OPS is just a combination of how much power compared to how much they get on base. There are two things you have to do as a baseball player, you have to be able to drive runs in and you have to be able to score runs. Certain guys have certain capabilities. The faster guys are run scoring guys and the bigger, stronger guys are RBI guys. We want both. OPS gives you a combination. So throughout the fall scrimmages, we ranked guys based on what their OPS was and then came up with an overall player rank.
All this gets us around to the fact that Jeff Farnham is the number one ranked player on this club as the best overall player the entire fall. He’s a legitimate All-Conference catching candidate.
Then we have two other guys in Chuck Howard and Jared Jordan. Jared Jordan is a left hand hitting catcher. When you recruit, you have your starter, left or right-handed but you’d like to have your starter opposite of that. Standard catching setup in a four game series is that the starter will catch three and the backup will catch one and if you can give him an advantage by having him always face an off side pitcher then you’ve got him. And it’s easier with a left-handed hitter because there are more right-handed pitchers and so you have more game choices.
Chuck Howard who is the other guy really had a fabulous fall. He ended up ranked number three overall. I talked to him about mid-way through the fall and said, “We have Farnham, we brought Jared Jordan in to be the backup, you’re a right handed hitting catcher and we’re looking at maybe redshirting you this year.” He said, “Okay coach” and went off the next three weeks and took that off the board through his performance. He went from ranked about 15th on the player ranking to 3rd. So we feel like we may very well have the best catching corps. in the league between those three guys. We’ve done things with Chuck and with Farnham. Both of them are really good athletes. They’re not just slugging catchers where that’s all they can do. I played Farnham at short a couple days just to see how he’d react and he was fine. He’s not clean there but he hasn’t played there very much. He goes and catches the ball, the arm is skilled so he should be able to play there. So we feel good about the depth that develops.
The unique thing here is that Jared Jordan is a pretty darned pitcher and it’s really hard to go both ways pitching and catching. Because there’s so much arm use it’s really hard to keep the arm healthy. So you have a good problem, how am I going to get guys enough playing time across the board but we’ll figure it out as we go.