Fall Ball: 10/21 Practice Notes

Junior catcher John Hester

Perhaps the biggest concern among Stanford Baseball fans about this year's team is filling all the holes in the starting lineup. Who is going to step up offensively to complement the big bats of Jed Lowrie and John Mayberry, Jr.? Well, an early favorite has emerged to take a leading role and we've got all the notes and quotes. In addition, check out all the news from today's intrasquad game.

Under sunny skies at Sunken Diamond, the Cardinal baseball team took part in an intrasquad game Thursday afternoon.  The rules remained the same as last weekend with the hitters broken up into three groups of six or seven.  Four pitchers saw time on the hill while each hitter began their at-bat with a 1-1 count.

The game featured a good mix of strong hitting and pitching with junior catcher John Hester leading the way.  Hester has had a scorching hot first week of fall practice with the bat and more than ever looks ready to take on a prominent role on the team this season.

"People don't know much about him - a little bit like Lucy who had to sit behind Garko - but John Hester will have a good year for us and will be a leader," remarks Head Coach Mark Marquess to The Bootleg.  "What I admire about John is that he's gotten better without playing much.  He's a hard-worker who handles the pitchers well, throws well, and receives well.  He sat and waited for two years for playing time and he's ready to go."

Today, Hester came within just a few feet of smacking three home runs in the game.  His first time up, he got a first-pitch fastball from Greg Reynolds and crushed it over the fence in left-center field for a solo home run.  Next time at-bat was against Matt Manship and the Georgia native smoked a double to deep right center field.  His third trip to the plate (against Reynolds), Hester ripped a double off the wall in left-center.  Then in his fourth and final AB of the afternoon - versus the freshman Erik Davis - the slugging catcher flied out just shy of the warning track in center field for a sacrifice fly.  All total, 3-for-3 with a home run, two doubles, and three RBI.

What was so impressive about Hester's day today was that everything was going from gap-to-gap and with authority.  When you're challenging the deepest part of the ballpark and succeeding with regularity, then you know you're on your game.

Hester was Stanford's #3 catcher in 2003 recording just 13 at-bats (2-for-13, 1 HR) while last year as a sophomore he was stuck behind All-Pac-10 performer Donny Lucy.  Hester would often catch the Tuesday games just so Coach Marquess could get his bat in the lineup (and give Lucy some much-needed rest).  For the year, Hester went 9-for-34 (.265) with three doubles and seven RBI.  He then had a chance to start everyday this past summer up in the high-profile Alaska League and he starred recording a .293 average with a whopping 12 doubles and 20 RBI (along with one home run).  Very impressive numbers with a wood bat in your hands.  So that brings us to the present day and Hester has been Stanford's hottest hitter during the first week of fall ball and that should tell you something with a pair of All-Americans also swinging it well on this team.

"I don't think we're going to dropoff much with John Hester behind the plate and Donny Lucy was a second round pick and had a great year for us (.313, 12 HR, 47 RBI)," offers Coach Marquess.  "I think that's saying a lot.  If I can make a statement like that then I'm really high on John Hester."

However, Hester is certainly not the only one having a lot of success at the plate in these intrasquad games.  Junior shortstop Chris Minaker backed up an impressive performance in Wednesday's game (more on that later) with a perfect 3-for-3 afternoon.  All three of Minaker's hits were ringing doubles into the gap with one ball bouncing high off the wall - maybe just six inches from a home run.  Like Hester, Minaker had a banner summer up in Alaska (.311, 3 HR, 23 RBI) and it's thus far carrying over into the fall.

Other top performers with the bat today included a pair of freshmen in Randy Molina and Brendan Domaracki.  Molina rapped out a pair of singles en route to a 2-for-4 game.  A left-handed hitter, Molina appears to have a really strong approach at the plate and should garner early playing time this season.  He continues to see the bulk of the time at third base during intrasquad games and infield defensive drills with junior Chris Lewis also getting some action over at the hot corner.

Meanwhile, Domaracki has shown he too can handle the pitching at this level.  A native of Tampa, Florida, Domaracki checks in at 6'1", 175 lbs. and certainly didn't receive the same amount of hype as a Molina or Michael Taylor upon his arrival on the Farm.  But Domaracki has had a couple of nice games with the bat including today when he finished 2-for-4 with a couple of singles and an RBI.  He possesses a very nice left-handed stroke at the plate and has shown the ability to draw a lot of walks.  Domaracki also looks very fluid in the outfield and it appears as if he can play all three positions well. 

All four pitchers that threw today enjoyed quite a bit of success.  The junior Manship and the sophomore Reynolds started the afternoon.  As noted in last weekend's practice report, both hurlers struggled mightily with their control in their opening outings of the fall.  However, that was not the case today.  Whether it was some advice from pitching coach Tom Kunis or maybe just shaking off the rust, both Manship and Reynolds attacked the strike zone early in the count today and it paid off.

Manship did not walk a single batter in his four innings of work and that really says something when the hitters start each at-bat with one ball.  Manship wasn't particularly overpowering, but he was doing the job throwing strikes and letting his defense do the work.  Manship breezed through his first two frames before surrendering single runs in the third and fourth innings.  In the third, it was Minaker clubbing one of his doubles to left center and he would eventually score on a two-out wild pitch.  Then in the fourth, John Mayberry, Jr. singled with one out which was immediately followed by a Hester double for a run.

Reynolds also displayed much better control and was even tougher to hit than Manship.  The towering right hander surrendered just one hit over his first three innings with just one walk issued.  The one hit was the Hester home run on Reynolds' very first pitch of the afternoon.  In Greg's fourth and final inning today, again it was a Hester hit (a double) that led to a run. 

Sophomore Jeff Stimpson and freshman Erik Davis also saw time on the hill today.  Stimpson was very difficult to hit as the sophomore right hander yielded only two hits in 3 1/3 innings.  Just one run came home versus Stimpson today as he sat comfortably in the high 80's with his fastball and complemented it with a very solid breaking ball.  This is two very strong outings in a row for Stimpson who again figures to be a major part of the Stanford pitching staff this season (4.68 ERA in 20 relief appearances last year).

The freshman Davis also came through with a solid outing.  He was lights-out early on not allowing a single hit through three innings.  No strike outs during that time, so he was hardly overpowering, but was throwing plenty of strikes and as a result induced a lot of ground balls.  Davis labored a bit over his final two frames as the hitters touched him up for four hits with one walk (although only one run), but all in all, it was a very encouraging performance.

Davis topped out in the high 80's with his fastball and mixed in a slider and a change-up.  The change-up looks like it could be dynamite pitch for Davis as the arm action on it is tremendous.  The slider would occasionally get a bit flat and at least to my eyes is the pitch he needs to work on.  Davis' motion is very smooth and then he comes across with a 3/4 release point.  I've watched him pitch twice now and the major leaguer that keeps popping into my head that he reminds me of is Chicago Cub (and former USC Trojan) Mark Prior.  Obviously Davis' stuff isn't quite there yet (and Erik, at 6'3", 185 lbs. isn't built like Prior), but the pitching motion I think is remarkably similar.  This young pitcher will certainly be one to watch as fall practice continues as he tries to find some innings this season in what's turning into a very crowded Cardinal pitching staff.

*******

After a day off Monday, the team was unable to get very much done on the field on Tuesday because of the heavy rain storm that hit the Bay Area.  All the rain left the infield unplayable on Wednesday, so the team took part in a modified intrasquad game.  Only a pitcher and a catcher were used on the infield while all three outfielders took their positions like in a game.  Any ground ball on the infield was either ruled (by a coach) as an out or a hit depending upon if it would have been a routine play.  Here are a few quick notes from Wednesday's game:

* Blake Holler was the top pitcher of the day with three scoreless innings.  Holler allowed just two hits with five strike outs.  Some occasional control problems for the second straight outing, but the stuff is certainly there for Holler right now.

* Chris Minaker starred at the plate with a perfect 3-for-3 day that included a couple of doubles and a single.  One of his doubles was a blast to deep center field that scored three runs.  So if you combine Minaker's Wednesday game with his Thursday game you get an amazing 6-for-6 with five doubles.  Incredible.

* Jed Lowrie was the only other hitter with a multi-hit game on Wednesday as he finished 2-for-3 with a pair of singles.  Interestingly, Lowrie is the only position player (there are 19 active on the team right now) that has yet to strike out in a game.  And that's saying something with the hitters all starting each at-bat with one strike.

* There was still plenty of offense on Wednesday - much more spread around than Thursday's game where Hester and Minaker starred.  Freshman catcher Brian Juhl had another huge hit when he belted a three-run double to deep right field off Pete Duda (Juhl connected for a three-run homer last weekend in a game).  Sophomore infielder Adam Sorgi launched a three-run homer off Mark Romanczuk early in the contest.  A very impressive hit for Sorgi who didn't homer once last season (70 at-bats).  Sophomore outfielder Ryan Seawell has also been swinging it well thus far as he connected for an RBI double off Jeff Gilmore.

* Romanczuk made his first appearance of the fall on Wednesday - albeit a shortened one.  The junior lefty was held out of the first rotation of games (instead threw a bullpen session) while he fired two innings in this ballgame.  The first inning was a rusty one, to say the least.  Everything up in the zone as four runs came home to score on four hits with Sorgi's blast the damaging blow.  The second inning was much more Romanczuk-like though as he pitched a scoreless frame without allowing a hit.  Romanczuk looked to only be throwing a fastball and a change-up.

* Gilmore started strong allowing only one run through his first three innings.  In his fourth frame, Gilmore allowed a couple of hits and a walk and was pulled with one out as he reached his pitch count for the day.  Holler then came in and promptly allowed the Minaker double to score all three runs.  Gilmore's offspeed stuff continues to really impress.  The movement on his curve ball is good and his very unique change-up is incredibly difficult to hit. 

* Pete Duda was the final pitcher to throw on Wednesday.  The junior rolled through four of his five innings without allowing a run.  The fifth inning though saw him allow five scores as poor control did him in and then Juhl blasted the bases-clearing double.  Still, I thought it was a step in the right direction for Duda.  It appeared he was throwing both a slider and a slow curve (the latter looks like a new pitch for Duda) and with continued development, Duda could be an important member of the bullpen.

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