second baseman

On Feb. 19, I took a look at first baseman. Now, let’s shift to second basemen.

Which second baseman should go off the board first?

Robinson Cano (SEA) – This is tough because Cano is playing for a new team in a pitcher-friendly ballpark seeing more money than he ever has. His home run numbers might go down this year since he is not playing in Yankee Stadium half of the time. In any case, Cano will still be a top home run hitter at his position and, aside from stealing bases, he can do it all. It’s also worth noting that Cano has played the second most games of any player over the past five seasons.

Who is making a comeback from a disappointing 2013 season?

Dan Uggla (ATL) – Uggla’s season was ugly in 2013, and even he can admit to that. He has never been known for his batting average, but he hit a career-low .179 last season, striking out 171 times, something Uggla owners are used to seeing him do. Everyone is leaning toward the notion that Uggla is no longer a fantasy option, especially once Tyler Pastornicky recovers from a torn ACL and could take his spot. I, however, expect Uggla to bounce back. The guy has spent the majority of his time working out on a daily basis and coming in with a different attitude.

Don’t sleep on this guy:

Anthony Renden (WSH) – The young Renden is expected to beat out Danny Espinosa for the starting job for the Washington Nationals. Now, the Nationals have some talent in their lineup – Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Denard Span and Adam LaRoche among others. Despite likely being near the bottom of the order, I expect Rendon to explode onto the scene. He may not be known for his power, but Rendon can spray the ball all over the field and should hit for average.

Bound to bust

Chase Utley (PHI) – It is weird putting “bust” and “Utley” in the same sentence, considering how effective he usually is for the Philadelphia Phillies. However, I don’t believe his body can keep up this season. The 35-year-old is coming off one of his better seasons in recent years, but much like his teammates, he’s aging. Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins are certainly not what they used to be, and the entire team is trending down. I don’t see Utley living up to his billing as a top 10 second baseman.

My Preseason Rankings: Second Basemen

  1. Robinson Cano (SEA)
  2. Dustin Pedroia (BOS)
  3. Jason Kipnis (CLE)
  4. Ian Kinsler (DET)
  5. Matt Carpenter (STL)
  6. Brandon Phillips (CIN)
  7. Ben Zobrist (TB)
  8. Jose Altuve (HOU)
  9. Jurickson Profar (TEX)
  10. Anthony Rendon (WAS)
  11. Brett Lawrie (TOR)
  12. Howie Kendrick (LAA)
  13. Aaron Hill (ARI)
  14. Martin Prado (ARI)
  15. Jedd Gyorko (SD)
  16. Dan Uggla (ATL)
  17. Chase Utley (PHI)
  18. Daniel Murphy (NYM)
  19. Jed Lowrie (OAK)
  20. Neil Walker (PIT)

I’ll leave you with this...

Getting a top-notch second baseman should be a point of emphasis for anyone in any format. It is so easy to end up with a scrub at second base, although the position is not as weak as catchers or shortstops. Nonetheless, the position is certainly among the shallowest. With Utley aging, Kinsler being a little bit of a question mark as he starts his new venture with the Tigers, Pedroia possibly being vulnerable to a World Series hangover, Cano signing with the Mariners and so much more, the position has a lot of potential disappointment and wonders.

Each week, Adam will give his two cents about the players at each position, naming a clear-cut number one, a comeback player, a sleeper/breakout, a bust, his full rankings and a little advice as to what to do in your draft and throughout the season.

The Longhorns needed a rally in the eighth, but defeated Oral Roberts 4-3 on Tuesday evening at Disch-Falk Field. With the score knotted at 3, Weston Hall plated second baseman Brooks Marlow for the go-head run in the eighth.

Marlow sparked the rally in the eighth with a single to center field. He then advanced to third off a single from Collin Shaw before Hall came up with the single to second base to put the Longhorns ahead.

“We had some clutch hits,” Texas head coach Augie Garrido said. “All in all it was a good college baseball game.”

Marlow finished the night 1-for-3. Both freshman C.J Hinojosa and junior Mark Payton had two hits for the Longhorns.

With a 3-1 lead, closer Corey Knebel allowed a game-tying, two-run triple to Tyler Boss. But Texas responded in the bottom of the eighth as Brooks Marlow and Collin Shaw both singled with two out before Oral Roberts second baseman Matt Brandy couldn't handle Weston Hall's ground ball up the middle and Marlow scored what proved to be the game-winning run. Knebel came back out for the ninth inning and struck out the side to pick up his first win of the year.

“I guess [Corey] was finally tired of getting saves all of these years so he set himself up for a win,” Garrido said. “We had a lot of opportunities and I think we played a very good defensive game.”

Freshman Chad Hollingsworth started out on the mound for the Longhorns and pitched four innings while surrendering one run on two hits. Texas gave up seven hits on the night.

The Longhorns will begin their conference season this weekend with a home series against Texas Tech. The series opener will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Friday. Game 2 is slated for 2 p.m. on Saturday with game three at 1 p.m. on Sunday. The Red Raiders are 11-7 on the season and will face Utah Valley on Wednesday night before coming to Austin on Friday.

Junior outfielder Mark Payton, who reached base in each of Texas’ first 34 games last year, was the team’s only player to walk more times he struck out (27) in 2012. (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Lingnan Chen | Daily Texan Staff

Coming off a season in which they missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 14 years, the Longhorns are hopeful that an offensive resurgence will lead them back to prominence in 2013.

As a team, Texas hit .263 and scored 250 runs in 2012, good for seventh and eighth among Big 12 teams, respectively. They were among the worst marks the Longhorns have posted since Tommy Harmon was hired as hitting coach in 1989. Harmon was replaced by Tommy Nicholson, a former Texas second baseman who played under Garrido, during the offseason.

The Longhorns have the potential to improve at the plate this season, as several promising new players are expected to join returning key veterans in the everyday lineup.  

One of the players that will be counted on most heavily is catcher Jacob Felts. The junior is poised for a big season after starting every game behind the plate for last season, when he often batted in the cleanup slot and recorded a .282 batting average with eight doubles and 21 RBIs.

Another key player for the Longhorns will be freshman shortstop CJ Hinojosa, who could start immediately after being ranked as the nation’s No. 32 prospect by Perfect Game. Despite high expectations to produce early on, Hinojosa is confident that he will be up for the task.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” Hinojosa said. “It’s the same game that I have played since I was 3-and-a-half years old. So I’m just coming out here and having fun with it. You know, this has been a dream of mine ever since I was a kid to come and play at the University of Texas and now I get the chance. I’m going to take every advantage I get.”

Joining Hinojosa in the infield will be a number of holdovers from last year’s squad. Junior Erich Weiss, who will play third base, was the team’s leading hitter last season with a .350 batting average, and he recorded five home runs and 38 RBIs.

Also returning are sophomore second baseman Brooks Marlow, who hit a pair of home runs and drove in 29 base runners last season, and junior first baseman Alex Silver, who batted .267 with 19 RBIs in 2012. Converted shortstop Codey McElroy could also see time at first base in 2013.

Leadoff hitter Mark Payton will lead the outfield this season after a productive campaign last year. The junior was second among regulars with a .322 batting average, and he hit five home runs to go along with eight stolen bases.

Sophomore Taylor Stell could see a spike in playing time after batting .333 with six stolen bases in 25 games in 2012. Also expected to make an impact in the outfield will be junior Cohl Walla, who missed all of last season with an ACL tear. Walla will look to return to the level of production of his freshman year, when he hit .316 with eight home runs and 40 RBIs en route to earning Baseball America Freshman All-American second team honors.

While many of the Longhorns remember last season’s disappointments, the players are happy to turn the page and begin a new season.

“It’s always in the back of your mind how last year ended, and the bad taste in your mouth that you want to get rid of as soon as that first game starts,” Silver said. “I feel for the most of us, it’s in the back of our minds, but it’s not something that we dwell on or think about a lot. It’s a new season. It’s a new opportunity and we want to take advantage of it.”

The Longhorns are eager to show they have improved since last season’s shortcomings and a productive season from the batting order will go a long way in proving this.

Men's Baseball

Corey Knebel prepares to hurl a pitch against California last weekend. Corey Knebel fanned six of the seven batters he faced in two innings to earn his sixth save of the season and the 25th of his career.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Coming into Thursday, it had been nearly a month between Nathan Thornhill’s last two wins — victories over Rice and California. But, thanks to an offense that went from nonexistent to lethargic in the fifth inning, the sophomore picked up victories in consecutive starts for the first time this season after beating the Golden Bears last week and the Red Raiders last night.

Each of the first 13 Longhorn hitters were retired by Texas Tech starting pitcher, sophomore Trey Masek, but the Texas lineup bounced back in a big way. After more than four innings of offensive futility, the Longhorns put 12 of their next 15 batters on base and held a 6-3 lead after the sixth inning, despite trailing 1-0 after the fifth inning. Thornhill gave up a three-run homerun in the fifth inning, but was good enough to improve to 4-2 on the year as No. 25 Texas (16-11, 6-1) took down Texas Tech (17-14, 2-8) 7-4 in Lubbock Thurdsay night.

Freshman second baseman Brooks Marlow’s one-out walk in the fifth inning broke up Masek’s perfect game campaign and freshman designated hitter Taylor Stell’s RBI single later in the frame broke up Masek’s no-hit and shutout bids. Later in the fifth inning, senior shortstop Jordan Etier drew a bases-loaded, four-pitch walk to give the Longhorns their first lead at 2-1.

The Red Raiders took that lead right back by capitalizing on a triple from junior second baseman and leadoff hitter Jamodrick McGruder and an intentional walk drawn by junior center fielder Barrett Barnes. Another junior, first baseman Scott LeJune, deposited a 1-2 changeup from Thornhill over the right-field wall for a three-run homerun, giving Texas Tech a 4-2 advantage.

Another lead change took place in the top of the sixth inning when sophomore right fielder Mark Payton led the frame off with a walk.

“When you walk leadoff guys, and when you walk guys, they usually score,” Red Raider associate head coach Tim Tadlock said. “Leadoff guys usually score. [Texas has] a history of being real good of getting guys over and getting guys in and that’s what they did today.”

Sophomore third baseman Erich Weiss followed with an infield single while freshman left fielder Collin Shaw laid down a sacrifice bunt that moved Weiss and Payton to second and third base. Freshman second baseman Brooks Marlow took advantage of the runners in scoring position, delivering a two-run single that tied the game at 4-4. Then, sophomore first baseman Alex Silver and Stell each hit RBI doubles that gave the Longhorns a 6-4 lead that they would not surrender.

Thornhill allowed five hits and four runs over six innings of work, with four of those five hits being of the extra-base variety. A pair of third-inning doubles allowed Texas Tech to score its first run before the three-run bomb in the fifth. After junior Hoby Milner tossed a scoreless seventh inning, Corey Knebel came in to seal the Longhorns victory.

Knebel gave up a two-out single in the ninth inning, but that was the only baserunner the Red Raiders had in the final two frames as the All-American sophomore closer lowered his ERA from 1.08 to 1.00.

Texas’ leading hitter, junior left fielder Jonathan Walsh was taken out of the game after running into the outfield wall, and replaced by Shaw, who Longhorns head coach Augie Garrido indicated would likely stay in the lineup Friday when Texas plays the second game of a three-game series against Texas Tech, also at 6:30 p.m. 

Player's bat leads Horns in home runs, strike outs

Sophomore Jordan Etier warms up in between innings against Rice on Tuesday. Etier’s strong work ethic has helped him become the team leader in home runs (five) despite his small size.

Photo Credit: Eric Ou | Daily Texan Staff

At 12:30 p.m. on the Thursday of spring break, Texas second baseman Jordan Etier isn’t just waking up or in the middle of playing video games with friends — that’s not his style.

Etier has been awake for almost five hours and is at UFCU Disch-Falk Field dressed in pin-striped baseball pants and a burnt orange Nike Dri-FIT top taking batting practice with his teammates a day before their first conference series against Nebraska.

He is leaning up against the roll-away backstop watching his double play partner Brandon Loy drive the ball to right field over and over. When Loy takes his final swing, Etier jogs to the plate, says something to him in passing, tucks his gold chain necklace under his shirt and digs in.

“Jordan is the hardest-working kid on this team, and he’s always trying to find a way to get better,” Loy said. “That’s what I like so much about him.”
Etier’s hard work is paying off this season at the plate where he is currently leading the team with five home runs. And for a 5-foot-11-inch, 175-pound second baseman, it’s definitely not what anyone expected.

“He’s always been a good hitter, but we didn’t think he’d lead the team,” Loy said. “It’s good to see him show some power but he’s even hitting it hard when he gets out.”

Etier hit his fifth home run Tuesday night in the bottom of the third inning off Rice pitcher Anthony Fazio to give the Horns a 1-0 lead. And while he’s had two more times around the bases than both Cameron Rupp and Kevin Lusson, Etier has no home run trot. Instead, he lightly sprints with his head down through home plate and into the dugout.

“I’m just trying to put the ball in play, hit line drives and do my job,” Etier said.

Etier doesn’t put much emphasis on his unexpected power at the plate so far this season. And while he does lead the team in home runs, Etier also leads in strikeouts with 28, a stat he and the whole team are working on cutting down.

“He’s playing baseball like a clean-up hitter, but the last time I checked, he wasn’t Dave Kingman,” coach Augie Garrido said with a laugh, comparing him to the former New York Mets slugger who also had a penchant for hitting homers and striking out.

The other side of the diamond
The Horns finish batting practice and go straight into a two-inning scrimmage where the hitters start with a full count to work on putting the ball in play. Etier is no longer reserved or silent in the field as the first opposing hitter steps up. He is all smiles and eventually starts up with some trash talk when he and Loy turn a double play to end the inning.

“It’s fun to get practice going and being vocal and talking helps a lot with that,” Etier said. “You can come out here and dread practice or you can get after it and have fun.”

After not playing much last season, Etier and Loy are starting to get comfortable with each other up the middle by having fun and keeping the game relaxed.

“He’s a funny kid, and he works so hard,” Loy said. “He’s working hard every day and that’s what it’s about.”

As easy as Etier and Loy make double plays look in practice and during games — they’ve turned 14 of them — it wasn’t always that way for Etier, who came to Texas after playing third base and shortstop at Westlake High School.

Playing for shakes
Knowing his position at Texas would be second baseman, Etier approached another Longhorn player last season on the first day of fall practice for some extra ground balls and advice: then-senior Travis Tucker.

And this wasn’t just a one-time lesson. Etier and Tucker got together one-on-one every chance they had to make each other better. Eventually, the two formed a friendship that is as strong as ever now that Tucker gets to watch Etier practice and play every day as a student assistant coach.

“Second base is a completely different ballgame because you are on the opposite side of the diamond,” Tucker said. “When he first got here everything was off, every angle, every throw and every movement, so we had to work on it all.”

Etier said he owes a lot to Tucker’s guidance.

“Tucker has gotten me as far as I’ve come,” Etier said. “He still helps me a lot on all the little details and especially turning two.”

It was in these moments after taking hundreds of ground balls during practice that Etier and Tucker grew closer as teammates and where Etier grew into the middle infielder he is today. They worked constantly at turning double plays and even made some friendly competition by playing for milkshakes.

“He’d miss a ground ball and I’d say, ‘Milkshake, I want a chocolate,’ then I’d maybe bobble one and he’d yell out, ‘Strawberry,’” Tucker said. “It got us both better and that is what playing at Texas is all about.”

From the stands to the field
The work is paying off defensively for Etier, who has only one error this season with a .991 fielding percentage. But Etier didn’t learn everything about baseball from Tucker in his past two years at Texas. It began as far back as the Longhorn second baseman can remember in the stands of the same field he calls home.

Etier would watch and talk about baseball at Longhorn games as a kid and in high school with his father, Mark Etier, who played baseball at TCU.
“[My dad] was pumped about us playing TCU in the super regionals last year,” Etier said. “He likes their colors. He’s still a Horned Frog, but right now he’s a Horn.”

Not a bad side to be on right now as eighth-ranked Texas (16-5) hits the road this weekend for its first out-of-town conference series against Texas Tech.
And even though Etier’s team eventually lost the scrimmage in 10 innings on that sunny Thursday afternoon, he practiced like he plays — all out.

“Games are more amped up,” he said, “but we go out there with that mentality to go hard like you’re going to play hard.”