Feb. 14, 2012
Today is the second of a three-part series on the 2012 Kansas State baseball team as we take a look at the team's catchers and infielders. Yesterday's story was about the team's pitchers, while tomorrow's story will highlight the outfielders.
Senior Dan Klein, who was a junior-college transfer prior to the 2011 season, returns after taking over starting duties at the end of the season as he started 15 of the team’s final 19 games behind the plate. The Overland Park, Kan., product was a big reason the Wildcats went back to another regional as he hit .364 with seven extra-base hits over the final 19 games, including a 3-for-6 mark in NCAA Tournament to earn all-regional honors. Additionally, Klein worked well with the pitchers and threw out 17 base stealers on the season.
Battling Klein this season will be redshirt sophomore Blair DeBord. In his third year in the program, DeBord redshirted last season due to an off-season injury. He was coming off a freshman campaign in 2010 in which he hit .340 in 51 games, including 40 starts as the team’s designated hitter. His .340 average was just six points shy of the K-State freshman batting record.
Although DeBord is an accomplished hitter and could serve as the designated hitter yet again this season, he has vastly improved his defense behind the plate during his first two years in the program.
“It’s nice to have Blair back,” Hill said. “We need to get him into the lineup. He’s a middle-of-the-order guy too. He and Wade (Hinkle) could fit nicely behind Jared (King) and give him some coverage. Leadership-wise, Blair does a good job. There are some leadership things he brings to the table that really help out. Right now, it’s Dan Klein at catcher, but Blair is much improved. His throwing is much improved. We feel good that if something would happen to Dan, that Blair is going to be there, or Blair can spell Dan when he needs to.”
Adding depth to the position is Jordan Stewart, a sophomore transfer from the College of Southern Nevada. Stewart hit .330 with 11 doubles, two home runs and 25 RBI in 34 games last year for the Coyotes.
The infield looks to be the most experienced group in 2012 as three of the four regular starters from last season return, including seniors Jake Brown and Wade Hinkle. Brown started 60 of K-State’s 61 games last year, 10 of which were at shortstop. He held the No. 9 spot in the lineup 55 times as he continually turned the lineup over while becoming the school’s career record holder with 24 sacrifice hits.
“I was really pleased with Jake Brown this fall,” Hill said. “He is a guy that sat in the background the last couple years and has been a good player for us. Jake has been kind of the quiet guy and been steady, but now he has been more vocal.”
Hinkle, a junior-college transfer a year ago, earned 41 starts last season while battling a mid-season injury, and he occupied a spot in the middle of the order. He finished his first year as a Division I player by hitting .308 with 14 extra-base hits and 27 RBI.
“He needs to be in the lineup every day,” Hill said of Hinkle. “He can really be a physical presence in the middle of our lineup. He needs to be there, but he needs to improve his defense at first base so we can feel good about putting him there every day and leave him in there in the eighth and ninth innings.”
Sophomore Ross Kivett helped jumpstart the Wildcats last season as he was in the starting lineup for the final 30 games, hitting .314 during that stretch as the primary leadoff hitter. He also started 11 games at second base during the season, a spot that he looks to hold throughout the 2012 campaign.
“Ross defines who we want to be,” commented Hill. “He’s going to play as long as he can and as hard as he can. He will do whatever it takes for the team to win a game. He’s also fiercely competitive, and that’s why he gets in the lineup. It’s not the prettiest thing in the world as far as baseball thing – he doesn’t have the prettiest swing or mechanics at second base turning a double play – but he’s going to find a way to get it done.”
The lone loss in the infield was at third base, and it is a huge void to fill. Jason King, a two-time All-Big 12 selection and a member of the Kansas State career top-10 in 10 different categories, was drafted in the fourth round last summer.
Those vying for the starting nod at the hot corner are Matt Giller and junior-college transfer RJ Santigate. Giller, a corner infielder by trade, was a 57-game starter in left field as a sophomore in 2010, but he battled injuries throughout his junior year. Now poised for a big senior season in his fifth year in the program, Giller will battle Santigate throughout the spring, and could even split time with the Long Beach State signee. Last season at Central Arizona College, Santigate hit .323 with six doubles and 36 RBI in 52 games.
“If we were going out there tomorrow, it would be a rotation with Matt Giller against left-handers and RJ against right-handers,” Hill said prior to spring practice. “Matt had a solid fall. We know what we’re going to get out of him. He’s Mr. Consistency. He’s going to do whatever it takes to win a game for you, and he really provided leadership for us in the fall.”
Others providing depth in the infield is junior-college transfer Jon Davis, who could split time between the infield and outfield, as well as freshmen Dustin Maas and Austin Fisher. Two-way players Shane Conlon and Johnny Fasola could also add depth to several infield positions, but both will start the year concentrating on their efforts on the mound.