Fall Ball: 10/25 Notes

Senior Matt Manship

As Fall Practice continues, numerous freshmen are showing they aren't flukes. Multiple frosh hitters are swinging hot bats with baseballs flying out of Sunken Diamond while a left-handed pitcher is proving he has what it takes to succeed at the highest level. Read on for all of the latest notes plus updates on returning hurlers throwing well and comments on a potential starting lineup.

After a relatively tough day for the top pitching group last week, they responded with an impressive performance during Tuesday's intrasquad game at Sunken Diamond.  A theme from fall ball this year has been the effort put forth by Greg Reynolds and Tuesday's contest was yet another step in the right direction for the emerging star.  Despite a strict pitch count of around 50-55 for every hurler on the staff, Reynolds still managed to toss five effective innings yesterday.  It was his fourth consecutive quality outing this fall and was another sign that he may be ready to take on the role of the Friday starting pitcher on this team.

With a fastball that reached 91 M.P.H., Reynolds surrendered just three hits and two runs during his stint on the mound.  There was again very little solid contact against the junior right-hander while he displayed excellent control.  In fact, Reynolds went the entire afternoon without walking a hitter while finishing with three strike outs.  The pure stuff is most definitely there for Greg Reynolds.

Nolan Gallagher appears to be one a handful of other pitchers fighting for the other two spots in the weekend starting rotation.  Gallagher had a solid performance on Tuesday with one earned run allowed on three hits over 3 1/3 innings.  Gallagher hasn't been throwing quite as hard as Reynolds (fastball topped at 88 yesterday) and doesn't have nearly as many strike outs as the towering right-hander this fall.  On Tuesday, Gallagher recorded just one strike out compared to a pair of walks.  I don't know if this means any sort of change with Nolan considering he led the Cardinal last season (as a freshman) in strike outs per nine innings, however, the sophomore has been nearly as tough to hit as Reynolds which is obviously a good sign.  Gallagher is a candidate to become a full-time starting pitcher this year, but even if he doesn't, the Montana native will be among the team leaders in innings pitched.  His ceiling is one of the highest on the Cardinal pitching staff.

Senior right-hander Matt Manship fired four shut out innings on Tuesday.  Manship has put forth a solid fall season and doesn't appear to be going anywhere as the team's closer.  Yesterday, Manship allowed four hits with just one walk and two strike outs.  A successful Matt Manship records a lot of ground ball outs and that was exactly what we saw on Tuesday. 

Finally, Jeff Stimpson also had a successful outing during the last intrasquad game.  Stimpson had a tough 2005 campaign appearing in just six contests out of the bullpen.  His fall season thus far is showing that he should improve on that figure in 2006.  Stimpson is throwing very hard with a fastball that reached 90 M.P.H. complemented with a very impressive, hard breaking ball.  His control has also improved as the fall season has progressed.  Over 4 2/3 innings on Tuesday, Stimpson did not walk a single hitter to go with two strike outs.  Overall, the junior right-hander allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits.  Stimpson has the stuff to succeed at a high level this year, he just needs to maintain strong confidence and throw strikes consistently.  He may not be a closer this year, but still has a chance to be a valuable member of the Cardinal bullpen.

Offensively, there was very little to report from Tuesday's game.  Freshman catcher Jason Castro led the charge with a perfect 3-for-3 effort at the plate that included a triple and an RBI.  The triple was a ringing shot to deep right center field off of Manship.  Castro is an intriguing young player who continues to show he's ready to play as early as this season.  A left-handed hitter with a beautiful swing, Castro is seeing just as much time at first base and may get a look over there at some point during the regular season.  He's a tremendous athlete who has handled the different position with ease while also swinging a hot bat of late.  Castro may be in the shadows a bit with his classmate Brent Milleville (who also catches and now plays first base) earning most of the ink last year in high school.  Not to mention Milleville's torrid fall season at the plate.  But Castro was also drafted last June and could sneak his way into the starting lineup at some point in '06 (DH also being an option). 

Another freshman hitter who had a strong game on Tuesday was two-way player Austin Yount.  His pitching success this fall has been well-documented, but Yount has also shown that he can handle the bat at this level hitting for a high average with very few strike outs.  On Tuesday though came his most impressive swing of the fall.  On an 0-2 pitch from Reynolds, the left-handed hitting Yount ripped a solo home run over the fence in straightaway right field.  Yount almost assuredly will see action out of the Cardinal bullpen this year in some big spots, but his continued improvement at the plate also gives the coaching staff improved depth on the infield (Yount is playing second and third base).  Yet another tremendous talent in this deep freshman class.

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Monday's game was much more favorable for the hitters.  Milleville had yet another eye-opening swing of the bat when he took a Max Fearnow pitch and drove it to center field about halfway up the green batter's eye for a solo home run.  It was Milleville's team-leading fourth home run of the fall season.  He finished the game 2-for-4 and continues to split time between first base and catcher.

The freshman theme continues as J.J. Jelmini rapped out three hits in four at-bats including a double.  Jelmini is strong defensive player up the middle and looks the most ready to challenge for immediate playing time at an infield spot (not including first base) among the frosh.

Sophomore Jeff Boes had a perfect game on Monday finishing 2-for-2 with a single, a double, and a walk.  Boes, a recruited walk-on last year, went 3-for-12 in his first season on the Farm and is one of a number of players fighting for time at DH.  Boes came to Stanford as a catcher, but is quickly becoming the ultimate utility player with game action at third base and corner outfield this fall. 

On the mound, frosh Jeremy Bleich was the star of the day.  The Louisiana product had a successful outing last week and built on it with his performance on Monday.  Over 3 1/3 innings, Bleich did not allow a run with just two hits surrendered.  He walked only one batter and was flat-out dominant to the tune of five strike outs.  Bleich topped out at 89 M.P.H. and continues to throw three impressive pitches for strikes.  Bleich has the top raw stuff of any of the freshman hurlers and seems to be starting to put it all together with his last two performances.  It's not outside the realm of possibility to call Bleich a dark horse candidate for a starting spot on this team.

Fellow freshmen Yount, Fearnow, and Sean Ratliff also threw on Monday and continue to show that they're ready to make a contribution this year.  Ratliff struck out three batters with no walks in 2 2/3 innings - although he was tagged for three runs with Castro and John Hester providing big RBI hits.  Fearnow allowed just the one run (Milleville's homer) over his four innings with one walk and three K's.

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Other Notes:
* Returning starters Hester (2-for-4, 3B, RBI) and Chris Minaker (2-for-4, 2B) also had multi-hit games on Monday.  Hester's triple was a blast to deep center field off of Yount.

* Chris Lewis provided two hits in three at-bats on Tuesday.  One of the hits was a double down the left field line while facing Gallagher.  Lewis continues to see all of his action defensively at second base.  It remains to be seen how much of a higher average he'll hit for this season (.266 in '05), but the veteran has some of the top raw power on the team and should hit his share of home runs.  If the average improves, Lewis could move into one of the power spots in the starting lineup.

* The only other significant hit off of Reynolds on Tuesday was when Michael Taylor belted a line drive off of the top of the fence in left field.  It was one of those liners that barely got off the ground and showed off Taylor's terrific strength.  He eventually scored on a sacrifice fly.

* Matt Leva, who has not thrown in an intrasquad game this fall season, threw bullpen sessions on both Monday and Tuesday.  Barring any setbacks, it would appear the junior will be ready to go once January intrasquads begin.  In fact, based on what I saw the last two days, it would appear Leva is being held out right now more as a precaution than anything else.  Leva had a 4.12 ERA over 59 innings last season (11 starts, six relief appearances) and is an obvious candidate to take one of the weekend starting spots on this team.

* The Alumni Game starting lineup on Sunday:
1. Jim Rapoport, CF
2. Chris Minaker, SS
3. Michael Taylor, RF
4. John Hester, C
5. Chris Lewis, 2B
6. Brendan Domaracki, LF
7. Randy Molina, 3B
8. Brent Milleville, 1B
9. Jeff Boes, DH

Adam Sorgi and Ryan Seawell did not play in the Alumni Game (but returned to practice on Monday) but likely would have taken the spots at third base and designated hitter, respectively, had they been in uniform.  Rapoport and Sorgi would seem to be the most likely candidates to hit leadoff this season.  Milleville, if he continues to hit like he has been this fall (or even just anything close to his fall ball production), will not be in the #8 spot in the lineup for very long.  

Starting in the fifth inning, the Cardinal made substitutions at every position:
C - Brian Juhl
1B - Jason Castro
2B - Cord Phelps/J.J. Jelmini
3B - Austin Yount
SS - J.J. Jelmini/Cord Phelps
LF - Joey August
CF - Jeff Whitlow
RF - Sean Ratliff
DH - Jeremy Bleich

Juhl has been swinging a hot bat of late and is definitely pushing for playing time this year.  He won't start at catcher with Hester firmly in control of the position, but should definitely contend for time at designated hitter.  As mentioned above, Castro and Boes are also leading candidates for playing time at DH.

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