Feb. 12, 2013
We continue our three-part series on the 2013 Kansas State baseball team today with a look at the team's catchers and infielders. Yesterday's article was on the pitching staff, while Wednesday's article will detail the Wildcat outfielders.
An experienced catcher and mainstay in the Wildcat lineup, Blair DeBord returns for his junior campaign. A designated hitter at the beginning of the year, DeBord took over catching duties towards the end of 2012 as 15 of his 25 starts behind the plate came in the second half of the season. After an injury benched the Manhattan product in 2011, DeBord came back to hit .257 with eight doubles, two home runs and 28 RBI last season. Even more impressive is the fact he did not commit a single error in 208 fielding chances while calling his own game on occasion last year.
"Blair's leadership, ability to call a game, experience and communication skills will be very important to the development of our young pitchers," Hill said. "He earned the right to call a game under Coach (Josh) Reynolds last year for the first time, and it relieved a lot of pressure on managing the pitching duties during the game. He was much improved at the plate this fall and could add to our solid lineup."
One of the surprises of the fall, former community-college catcher Joe Goodwin performed well enough to secure the backup spot behind DeBord to begin the season. A product of Hutchinson Community College, the switch-hitting Goodwin compiled a .340 average as a sophomore in 2011 but was away from the game last season.
"We didn't know what to expect from him being out of baseball for a year," Hill admitted. "He totally transformed his body from high school - I hardly recognized him when he came in here. He showed he can be a quality backup. If Blair needs to sit out, we can put Joey in there. We didn't know what we had in him, but we feel very good about him being the backup right now."
Adding depth to the position are freshmen Alex Bee (6-0; 185; L/R) from Chatham, Ill., and Cole Davis (5-11; 185; R/R) from Piedmont, Okla.
Three of the four infield positions are held down by quality defensive players in Shane Conlon at first base, Ross Kivett at second base and RJ Santigate at third base. Conlon, primarily a pitcher in 2012 before an arm injury cut his season short, is one of the best defensive first basemen in the conference and will be called upon as a situational hitter.
"We're not really worried about him defensively," Hill said of Conlon. "Shane needs to be who he is. He has no problem being the guy that can move runners over, bunt or put the ball on the ground with a runner on third base. He's very good at first base, plus he's a good vocal leader on the field with game savvy. He should be a pitching coach over at first base to help out some of those younger pitchers."
A team leader as just a sophomore in 2012, Kivett was a solid defender as the everyday starter at second base while proving to be one of the toughest outs and hardest players to contain on the base paths in the Big 12. As the leadoff hitter for a majority of the 2012 season, the Broadview Heights, Ohio, native hit .286, got on base at a .395 clip and finished second in the Big 12 with 25 steals.
"He just needs to be himself," Hill said of Kivett. "He tried to do too much last year at times. We will expect him to be a leader, but that's not a problem with Ross. He needs to be the guy on offense that gets on base, creates runs for us and be the competitive, tough out that he is to wear those pitchers down. We're expecting big things out of him, but he needs to make sure he keeps that under control."
A smooth defensive third baseman that saw his offensive game come along towards the end of last year, Santigate looks to hold down the starting spot at the hot corner to begin 2013. A former member of the Long Beach State program and transfer from Central Arizona College, Santigate is looking to build upon the final 12 games last year in which he hit .324 with five doubles and seven RBI as the starting third baseman. The end of last season, coupled with a great summer performance in the Texas Collegiate League, was a springboard for the Las Vegas, Nev., product into the fall.
"He is much more comfortable this year," Hill said. "I couldn't have asked for any more out of him in the fall. He really stepped up his leadership. He feels more confident in himself and more comfortable being here for a year. I really like the way he handled himself in the fall, particularly putting himself out there as a leader."
The biggest position battle on the team this past fall was at shortstop as the Wildcats must replace a 56-game starter in Jake Brown. With many options fighting for the starting nod at one of the most important positions on the field, freshman Lance Miles ended up winning the job thanks to his consistency throughout fall practices.
"He did things right," Hill said of The Woodlands, Texas, product. "When you're the shortstop, you have to go to the right spots, you have to know the plays and be a leader on the field by communicating. He was probably the guy that did that the best, and that was over the course of time. He just wore the other guys down because he did it more often than everyone else."
A returning backup from last season, sophomore Austin Fisher (6-1; 195; L/R) entered the fall looking to lock up the starting nod at short, but an injury slowed him down before Miles took over. Fisher, who can also play third base, will continue to push Miles at shortstop after a season in which he hit .295 (13-of-44) in 33 games, including eight starts.
Also providing depth to multiple infield positions are freshmen Ben Sego (5-10; 185; S/R) from Southlake, Texas, and Jake Wodtke (5-9; 155; R/R) from Shawnee, Kan.