Feb. 11, 2014
Towards the end of K-State’s unprecedented run last year, the Wildcats had three players get selected in the MLB Draft. Fifth-round draft pick Jared King signed with the Mets once the season was over while Ross Kivett, a 10th-round draft pick by his hometown Cleveland Indians, elected to return for his senior season.
The third draftee, Shane Conlon, also chose to return to K-State, and the first baseman – a former pitcher who has appeared in 17 career games as a Wildcat starter and reliever – has become a valuable piece to the Wildcats lineup. His return is spurred by last year’s final game in the Corvallis Super Regional at Oregon State, when Conlon popped out in foul territory to end the game and the Wildcats’ season.
“Making the last out of the season and being that close to Omaha, I wanted to get one more chance at it,” said Conlon. “And when Kivett came back, it was a slam dunk.”
Conlon anchors an infield that features returning starters at each position, from catcher Blair DeBord to second baseman Kivett to the left side of third baseman RJ Santigate and shortstop Austin Fisher.
Two years ago, Conlon was not a full-time first baseman. He was used primarily as a pitcher to begin the 2012 season, but an injury cut his campaign short and forced him to use a medical redshirt. The Naperville, Illinois native made the most of his time after the 2012 season and turned around his career.
“It was a lot easier to come back in a shorter time [from the injury] because I didn’t have throw as much as well as hit,” said Conlon. “I had a lot more time to work [on my offense] and ultimately got my swing a lot better than it used to be and was able to play at this high level.”
Conlon’s new role brought him to new heights in 2013. He hit out of the two hole in K-State’s lineup to start the season, but after opening the year on a tear hitting .450 during a 15-game hitting streak, head coach Brad Hill moved the new-and-improved hitter Conlon to the third spot on his lineup card.
Conlon finished the season tied for the team-lead with King in home runs with seven while finishing second on the squad with 25 multi-hit games. The All-Big 12 First Team selection also finished second among Big 12 players in runs (56) and third in total bases (125). A year after only pitching in six games, Conlon started each of the Wildcats’ 64 games last season at first base.
While last year was filled with firsts – for Conlon and K-State – the 2014 season has a bridge from last year’s success to the start of this season in 19 returners. That group includes eight infielders and catchers. Conlon attributes the depth of this year’s team as a strength heading into Opening Day on Friday at Cal Poly.
“There’s a lot of games that we have all played together,” said Conlon. “Just a lot of experience [in the infield], and I think we mesh really well.”
Quick Look at the K-State Infielders
Catcher: Blair DeBord (SR)
DeBord is the veteran of the entire team. The Manhattan native has been with the Wildcats since the 2010 season – he missed all of the 2011 season due to a medical redshirt – which means he has been on three of K-State’s four Regional teams. DeBord calls the pitches behind the plate and showcases leadership throughout the clubhouse. DeBord was recognized as one of the nation’s top catchers last season after he was named a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench award. He hit .327 with 37 RBI in 2013, helping him be named to the All-Big 12 First Team.
First Base: Shane Conlon (Redshirt Junior)
One of the four All-Big 12 First Team selections from last season returning among K-State position players, Conlon broke out in 2013 as a full-time first baseman. He hit .341 and collected 85 hits – both career-highs. His glove during fall camp earned him the K-State’s Gold Glove award – given to the Wildcat who was voted the team’s best defender, no matter the position. From last season’s showing he has already made the right steps in being considered a well-rounded anchor of the infield.
Second Base: Ross Kivett (Senior)
After being named Big 12 Player of the Year as well as an All-American, Kivett turned down an opportunity to play professionally last year. The fiery second baseman has stated he wants to help K-State reach the College World Series, hence his return to Manhattan. Kivett will start the season as the Wildcats’ leadoff hitter, a role he excels in. Last year, Kivett hit .371 (79-for-213) in the leadoff spot, helping set up the Big 12’s top offense. Kivett has been recognized by four different organizations this offseason as a preseason All-American, including three First Team nods.
Shortstop: Austin Fisher (Junior)
Fisher led the Wildcats with a .361 batting average last season, including a Big 12-best .412 clip in conference action. The Lenexa, Kan. native was named a semifinalist for the Brooks Wallace Award, given to the nation’s top shortstop, as well as the Gregg Olsen Breakout Player of the Year award last season. He provided game-changing hits throughout the year, driving in 17 of his 38 RBI with two outs.
Third Base: RJ Santigate (Senior)
While he did not earn All-Big 12 honors like his fellow starting infielders, Santigate still turned in a career-year. The Las Vegas native hit .324 (72-for-222) with a .409 OBP and 29 RBI last year, besting his previous career-highs by more than 100 points in average and OBP. Santigate hit anywhere from cleanup to the eighth spot in K-State’s lineup, with his most games logged in the fifth (19) and seventh (15) holes.
Taylor Anderson, Infielder (Redshirt Sophomore)
Transfer from Cuesta College; sat out all of 2013 due to a medical redshirt
Alex Bee, Catcher (Sophomore)
2013 Stats: .143/.273/.200, 1 RBI in 12 games (1 start)
Tanner DeVinny, Catcher (Freshman)
All-state selection during his senior year at Lovejoy High School in Lucas, Texas
Lance Miles, Infielder (Sophomore)
2013 Stats: .241/.323/.241, 9 RBI, 5 R, 1 SB in 31 games (14 starts)
Tyler Stover, Infielder (Freshman)
Named league MVP during his senior season at Vacaville High School in Vacaville, Calif.; drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 40th round of the 2013 MLB Draft
Jake Wodtke, Infielder (Sophomore)
2013 Stats: .000/.125/.000, 1 BB in 10 games (0 starts)
Carter Yagi, Infielder (Junior)
Transfer from College of Southern Idaho; hit .356 with 23 doubles and 38 stolen bases in his junior college career