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 outfielders.
LF: We’ve moved [Leo] Aguirre from a 1B/DH role to left field. Leo’s not a real good runner, but he’s really really worked hard this fall. He’s cut his 60-yard dash speed by about 4/10ths of a seconds which is practically unheard of. He’s really worked hard, he played there a couple innings last year just to get him in the lineup because late in the year he was just hot. Almost a must have in the lineup guy. We project him going into the year to be the starting left fielder. He’s not going to go take balls off the wall but he’ll catch stuff that he gets to, he throws the ball accurately, breaks well. When you go back and look at his fall statistics he hit .468 with 11 doubles and six home runs, 32 RBIs in 94 at bats.
This is the best offensive fall team we’ve ever put together. Will it become the best offensive spring team in the school’s history? It very well might.
Kyle Decatur is a left-hand hitter who really is a fabulous hitter that kind of came in and did a lot of the same things Leo did. He came in, didn’t run the 60 real well, decreased his time by about 3/10ths. He’s a better runner than we originally thought. He’s really a good clean hitter. Bring on Tanner Scheppers [Fresno State] because he’ll hit him. He’ll hit the real good guys. We’re in the process of doing what we do with all our guys, teaching them how to hit the straight change, how to hit the breaking ball and do it with some power. He’s doing a pretty good job of it but he’s such a good fastball hitter that he has a hard time giving that up. But he has a lot of value with the ballclub in that regard.
Justin Lucero is returning but he may have found himself in the position of where he may be on the outside looking in. But I love the kid. He plays hard and he played a role for us a year ago that we had to have played when Scaperotta had the injury. We moved Scap to left and he [Lucero] played center for 25 to 30 games. I don’t forget those things. He’s had a lot more productive fall. He hit under .100 last year during the season, any of the fans out there remember he ended up hitting .294 this spring and he was better than that. But the real key is he hit 11 doubles. He had no power last year. He’s progressed and so he’ll have a shot out there as well.
CF: [Richard] Stout looks like the absolute number one. Moving him from shortstop to center was kind of a two reason move. One is because he went through the year last year, Second Team All-WAC shortstop and didn’t get drafted. I know he made a lot of error but the people in the league did reward him for the plays he made and for his offensive contribution and the fact that he led the league stolen bases. The first thing was I’ve gotta move Stouty out there because it’s his only chance to play pro ball. If they don’t think he can play short then I’ve got to take his plus speed and stolen base ability and switch-hitting into center field and allow him to try to prove to people he can be a center fielder. He’s done a good job with it. As an infielder he was always pretty good in the air, guys don’t think about that very much. There are some infielders that are terrible on pop ups and that guy is probably not likely going to be a guy you’re gonna have go catch fly balls in the outfield. But Stout was pretty good on those plays and I think he’ll get better and he’s a senior. Seniors sometimes have motivational problems in the fall, they’re already established players. He plays hard but his numbers were pretty good. He hit .400 and had a few stolen bases. But those numbers didn’t really come, he didn’t show us until we got into the last couple weeks when we really got competitive with the teams. Down to the guys, where he said, “okay, now it’s time to turn it up and let everybody know I’m the guy.”
As a backup there are a couple different guys. Perkins is a unique kid. He’s got real good skills. He didn’t have a real good fall. He hit .260 on a club that hit .355 as a team in the fall. I’m sure he’s feeling that a little bit. I had to tell him this story. The team I played on in 1988, Oklahoma State, we as a team hit about .365 and I hit .333 and I was like 15th on the team in hitting. I’m having a pretty good year and I’m still way down the charts. And so I think that Chase hit .288 and led the club in triples. He’s a pretty disciplined hitter, 18 walks and only nine strikeouts. He’s a guy that might really come on. He’s a guy that struggled a little bit with our changes. He’s a guy that could play center and could play a little left. He’s projected as maybe the 4 or 5 outfielder.
Then you have Jonathan Rodriguez who’s a middle infielder from Carlsbad. He’s a legitimate runner. We told him when we recruited him that we’d look at him in the infield but we’d also look at him in the outfield. We put him out in center for a series and he had a day on one of our double header days where he took three or four balls off the wall that we’d never had anybody do. He just went back, broke and was great. And then later in the day twisted his knee and has kind of been hobbled ever since. We’re waiting for him to get healthy and we’re really looking forward to putting him and Stout out there. Do I expect a freshman to beat my senior out? No. But I think that he’s clearly a guy that gives me an option late in games a lot like we used Justin Lucero for a year ago. Where I can put him out there and move Stout to left and cover a lot of ground. If Leo’s already had an at bat and he’s not going to hit again, it lets me to make that defensive move and he can be a value there, he can be a value as a pinch runner, which isn’t a role anybody in the world wants but they’ll take it if it’s the only thing they’ve got. And he still is progressing as a middle infielder, where we don’t have a tremendous amount of depth.
When I talk about my middle infield, I’m talking about moving my 3rd basesman to play middle infield. It’s the same five guys who are going to play those three positions. If you lose somebody to injury then you only have one backup. Then the flexibility we have going in is lost. So he’s gotta stay in that mix for us.
RF: Nate Shaver was absolutely fabulous as a right fielder for us this fall. Numbers were pretty solid. He hit about .330 but he was hitting about .450 before we started messing with him. He has very high strikeout numbers. With about two weeks to go in the fall and eight games, Shaver was about .450, with the same power, four doubles, six home runs, 31 strikeouts and about 10 walks. That’s what we were concerned with. The next two weeks he dropped 100 points in batting average, but walked 12 times and only struck out twice and was really a more useable player. We know he’s got some pop and we also know he can draw the walk a little bit more. His walk to strikeout ratio got better. He’s still got another step to make. Compared to what we’ve had as defenders in right field the past couple years, he’s really good. We think overall in the outfield we’re going to cover much more range. That was something that hurt us a lot last year. People wanted to talk about the errors in the interior defense, left and right side of the infield, 60 or so errors out there. But what we kept seeing was too many balls dropping in the outfield. They’re not errors but they’re plays you know need to be made. They’re plays that the other guys in the WAC are making. He gives us some real hope out there along with Steven Anderson who has just monster power. This is a big dude. He was injured with a sprained ankle right at the beginning of fall, a pretty severe sprain and ended up hitting .300 with eight doubles and four home runs. Strikeout numbers are pretty high but he’s a 90 mph arm and he’s a closer, so he’s a two way guy. He’s outstanding on the mound, he’ll come in as a power closer and he’s going to continue to compete to have a chance to be a right-handed hitting right fielder. The ankle really caused him some problems. Once you sprain an ankle, they’re really hard to heal when you’re trying to play on them. You almost have to sit out a month then everything’s fine. So instead what we do is we tape it up, continue playing. We don’t really hurt it anymore but you don’t let it heal as much as it needs to be. So we’re looking forward to having him at full health.
We took him and Jared Jordan at the end of the fall and put them on the mound and told them to go work for us as pitchers because we know we can use them a lot. They’re in the top 10 in the pitching staff. They’re both guys who have position players and pitchers. Position players first. They don’t like giving up the bat, they don’t like giving up that part of the game. We’re not asking them to do it but we are also asking them to, instead of thinking of pitching as “a second thing I do occasionally if coach needs me,” it’s something they can do as a frontline thing.
After going through that, we feel like we’re really solid, two and sometimes three deep in these positions. In the middle infield we’re short on bodies because we’ve got to take it from another position to give us that depth there. That’s the only real risk we have and it’s really a plus offensive ballclub. It has a chance to be. Bryan Marquez was good last year, but he struggled at times. He had some series that he just disappeared on us. He’s come back as a completely different guy. This guy is a leader, he’s gone out consistently and played all fall, there hasn’t been a hiccup with him at all and that’s good. When you look at Jeff Farnham, he’s very well respected by his teammates and Bryan Marquez and Richard Stout, those three guys really provide us with quality leadership that maybe we’ve been lacking. We’ve had one or two maybe here and there. Last year Joe Leghorn was the heart and soul of the ballclub. The problem with having a catcher as the heart and soul is he doesn’t play every day. And we probably overplayed him. And that cost Jeff Farnham a lot of playing time because I felt like I had to have Leghorn in the lineup. That’s what makes you even more impressed with Jeff Farnham is he understood his role, he accepted it, came back with the opportunity to be the guy and he did it. Overall we’re really pleased.