Feb. 15, 2012
Today concludes a three-part series on the 2012 Kansas State baseball team as we take a look at the outfieders and the 2012 schedule. Monday's story was about the team's pitchers, while Tuesday's entry highlighted the team's catchers and infielders. The 2012 season begins on Saturday with a three-game series at CSU Bakersfield.
Kansas State returns two outfield starters from a year ago, but competition seems to be the theme for the group. Coming off a season in which he was named a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball, Jared King will likely start the season in center field, a spot he patrolled for 44 starts in 50 games played a year ago. A Second Team All-Big 12 performer, King was the first Wildcat freshman to be named either first- or second-team all-conference since 1973 as he hit .307 with 12 doubles, eight home runs and 40 RBI. He led all Big 12 freshmen in home runs last season and finished two shy of the K-State freshman record.
Hill is looking for more of the same from King during his second year in Manhattan as long as the Dublin, Ohio, product keeps the game simple and stays within himself.
"You hope Jared can use a season like last year to realize he's a good player at this level, but he needs to understand that he needs to get better and remain hungry," Hill said. "You also hope that doesn't put pressure on him to try to be better and duplicate what he did. He just needs to go play and be who he is. If he does that, he'll have a great year for us because he's pretty special."
The corner outfield spots are wide open going into spring practices. Senior Mike Kindel, who started 58 games in right field a year ago, returns after hitting .243 with 16 doubles, eight home runs and 42 RBI last year and looks to hold down the position again in 2012.
Pushing Kindel for starting duties in right and battling for honors in left field are juniors Tanner Witt, Brett Kauten and Jon Davis. Witt, who started 51 games last season at shortstop, could begin the year in left after hitting .241 with four doubles and 18 RBI in 2011. Kauten, a transfer from West Texas College, hit .488 with five homers and 63 RBI last season, while Davis, who played his freshman season at Cal State Fullerton, hit .331 with seven doubles and 15 RBI last season as a sophomore at Palomar College.
"Hopefully Tanner Witt will be in one of those corner outfield spots," Hill said. "If Tanner understands what his role is and what his strengths are, he is a very good college player. If he can get locked in on what his strengths are and what his role is with this team, he can really be a key ingredient for us offensively. But also, just because I said Tanner Witt needs to be there doesn't mean that he's going to be there. If he doesn't buy into what we need him to do, that opens the door for somebody else."
Also battling for a corner outfield position is freshman Kyle Speer. A Manhattan product, Speer was a three-time all-state player that hit .534 with nine doubles, two home runs and 34 RBI last season at Manhattan High School.
As is the case every year - especially playing in one of the nation's premiere baseball conferences - the 2012 schedule for Kansas State will be one that will challenge the Wildcats throughout the season. The schedule features 30 home games and 20 games against teams that played in last season's NCAA Tournament. Add in the fact that 13 teams are either ranked or receiving votes in the preseason polls, this year's slate looks to be tough yet again.
K-State opens 2012 with a 10-day, seven-game road trip to the state of California beginning with a three-game series at CSU Bakersfield on Saturday, February 18, followed by a tournament in San Diego in which the Wildcats will play at San Diego State twice, at San Diego and against Oregon State.
The Wildcats open their home slate on March 2 with a three-game series against Pacific, which marks the first games to be played on the new AstroTurf GameDay Grass 3D60 field laid at Tointon Family Stadium last summer.
Following a non-conference tilt at Nebraska on March 6, the Wildcats host Hartford for a four-game weekend series beginning on Friday, March 11. K-State will then travel to Minneapolis, Minn., to take on the University of Minnesota, March 13-14, at the Metrodome for their first game at Minnesota since 1994. The series was originally scheduled for the 2011 season, but was delayed one year after the collapse of the Metrodome roof.
K-State opens up Big 12 Conference play on the road when it travels to College Station, Texas, to take on 2011 College World Series participant Texas A&M, March 16-18. After a home contest against Creighton on Tuesday, March 20, the Cats welcome another College World Series team in Texas, March 23-25.
The Wildcats will be back out on the road, March 30-April 1, as they play a three-game series at Oklahoma. That precludes a stretch of nine home games in the next 10 contests as the Wildcats host Nebraska on Tuesday, April 3, before a three-game series against Sacred Heart, April 5-7.
Following a game at Missouri State on Wednesday, April 11, the Cats host 2011 NCAA Regional team Baylor for three games beginning on Friday, April 13, before two games against Northern Colorado, April 17-18.
After a three-game series at Missouri, April 20-22, the Wildcats have two non-conference games against in-state opponents as Wichita State comes calling on April 24, before K-State travels to Lawrence, Kan., the next day to take on Kansas.
K-State will take on its final opponent that advanced to the NCAA Tournament a year ago when it hosts Oklahoma State, April 27-29.
The Wildcats conclude the non-conference portion of their schedule the next week when they make the return trip to Wichita State on Tuesday, May 1. K-State then returns home to take on Nebraska Omaha, Friday, May 4, through Sunday, May 6.
The stretch run of the 2012 season begins on Friday, May 11, when the Wildcats host KU for a three-game home series. It marks the first time since 2001 that all three conference games are scheduled for the same stadium as the two schools have played a split-series over the last 10 years.
The regular season concludes with a three-game series at Texas Tech, Thursday through Saturday, May 17-19, while the 2012 Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship will be held Wednesday, May 23, through Sunday, May 27, at RedHawks Field in Oklahoma City, Okla. The event will use a double-elimination format for the second-straight season.