College baseball players may not technically qualify as the boys of “summer” since their regular season ends in mid-May, but the Bearcat baseball team has been preparing for its 2013 Opening Day when the squad travels to Boca Raton, Florida to play a scheduled three game series against Florida Atlantic on the weekend of February 15-17.
Like in previous years, Bearcat Lair will again be providing coverage of UC baseball, and that coverage begins today with the first in a series of stories about the 2013 season.
Bearcat Lair recently spent some time with 17 year UC head baseball coach Brian Cleary to talk about this year’s team. The Bearcats will be hoping to rebound from a disastrous 18-38 season in 2012, but they’ll have to do it with one of the youngest rosters in the country. Cleary’s 35 man crew is made up of 27 freshmen and sophomores. He has only three seniors.
Today we feature the Bearcat infield and outfield, and as it stands at the time of this writing, Coach Cleary could be starting five true freshmen and one redshirt freshman among his every day eight.
Third Base- Devin Wenzel
The true freshman from Blandon, Pennsylvania took recruiting trips to Florida Atlantic, Maryland and Wake Forest and was a four year varsity player and three time team MVP at Fleetwood Area High School. The right hander hit .484 as a junior striking out only once all season and followed that by hitting .442 as a senior.
“I think he’s going to be a good player,” said Cleary. “Of the freshmen, he’s probably the most ready to be good right away.”
Shortstop- Ian Happ or Colin Hawk
The 5-foot-11, 192 pound Happ also hails from Pennsylvania and as a four year letter winner at Mt. Lebanon High School owned a career .449 batting average. The switch-hitting freshman will compete for playing time with fellow true freshman Colin Hawk. The 5-foot-10, 179 pound shortstop was also a four year letter winner (Roncalli High School in Indiana) and was named to the 2012 Indianapolis Star Super Team.
“Hawk is clearly our best defender,” said Cleary. “But as we sit here today, he’d be a ninth hitter. Happ has been more inconsistent defensively, but he has more offensive potential. I think he might have an adjustment period moving to college baseball at the plate. He’s got some things to work out in his swing. He’s also a switch-hitter, and that’s a difficult thing for guys to do, but he’s committed to it.”
Second Base- Forest Perron
Perron is another true freshman expected to start for the Bearcats. He hit .444 as a junior and .417 as a senior at Strongsville High School (OH) with a total of 21 stolen bases over that two year period.
“He’ll probably be our lead-off guy,” said the UC head coach. “He’s a scrappy, hard-nosed kid. I think he’s going to be a pretty good player. It’s hard to know how they’re all going to turn out, but I think he’s going to be okay.”
First Base- Jeff Murray
The 6-foot-2, 212 pound true freshman is another four year letter winner in high school (Reynoldsburg, Ohio) and was ranked the No. 1 first baseman in the Great Lakes Region by ESPN Rise prior to his senior year.
“He’s going to start out playing first,” said Cleary.
The UC manager was asked about all the youth in his infield.
“We have Ryan Quinn (Jr.), J. P. Jackson (Sr.) and Matt Williams (Jr.) that could jump in there is things go sideways early on.”
Catcher- Woody Wallace and Russell Clark
The smallish Wallace (5’ 9”/187) was a four year letter winner at Olentangy High School (OH) where he had a .424 career batting average as a four year starter. The true freshman has plenty of grit and was also a four year starter on the Olentangy hockey team as a defenseman.
Clark is a little bigger at 5-foot-11 and 203 pounds, and he has proven to be very durable behind the plate. The true freshman started every varsity game during his four years at Pine-Richland High School (PA) hitting .330 as a freshman, .450 as a sophomore, .380 as a junior and .390 as a senior.
“By the end of the fall, these two were pretty even,” said Cleary. “Woody Wallace will remind you of Ryan Baker.” (Baker caught for the Bearcats in 2007 and 2008 and has spent the last five years in the minor leagues.) “Russell Clark has significantly better arm strength. He can really throw, but between the two of them, I think we’ll be pretty good back there. A third freshman, Anthony Hunt, and J. P. Jackson will back those guys up.”
Center field- Taylor Schmidt
This freshman was injured after twelve games (nine starts) last season and got a medical redshirt, but he showed his promise before the injury by hitting .500 and stealing four bases in four attempts. The North Hills (PA) product was named to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review Terrific 10 squad as a senior in high school.
“Taylor Schmidt played in center for us last year,” said Cleary. “He started getting fairly comfortable, and then in our first Big East series down in Louisville, he slid into second base, and ended up having knee surgery.
“Matt Williams will play in right and Justin Glass will play in left.”
Left field- Justin Glass
Glass is the clear star of this team after making 113 starts in his first two seasons and being named to the 2013 Preseason All-Big East Team. As a freshman, the Fort Wayne native batted .326 as a designated hitter. That earned him a spot on the All-Big East 2nd team. He was also a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American. Despite the excellent batting average, Glass bettered it last season hitting .366. He also led the team with 15 stolen bases. His efforts earned him a spot on the 1st team All-Big East squad. Last summer, Glass was ranked the sixth best pro prospect in the Great Lakes League by Baseball America.
Right field- Matt Williams
The Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy grad will be on the move again in 2013. Williams started 56 of Cincinnati’s 57 games at third base as a freshman but moved to shortstop last season. He’ll start his junior season in rightfield but could return to the infield if needed.
Williams has struggled occasionally in the infield making 27 errors in the last two years, but his hitting appears to be improving. After having a .245 career batting average at UC, Williams hit .326 with the Cincinnati Steam last summer and was ranked among the top 40 pro prospects in the Great Lakes League by Perfect Game.
Designated Hitter- Brendon Neel
Brendon Neel could see action in rightfield or as Cincinnati’s designated hitter. The Junior college transfer (Jefferson College) hit .335 last season and led his team with 16 homers. As a freshman, he showed some base running ability stealing eight bases in ten attempts.
“Brendon Neel will start out the season DH-ing,” said Cleary. “But he could end up playing some rightfield as well if we have to move Williams around. He had really good numbers in junior college. He’ll have to make some adjustments, but hopefully, he can give us some power in the middle of the line-up.”
Michigan Transfer- Will Drake
The speedster has transferred to UC from Michigan, where he batted .293 in 40 games as a freshman before an injury cut his season short. The former Fairfield High School outfielder will need to sit out the 2013 season to satisfy new NCAA transfer rules in baseball.
“We wanted him desperately out of high school, but it didn’t work out.” said Cleary. “He has to sit out this year.”
**The next story in this series will take a look at the Bearcat pitching staff.