Baseball America slots Gillaspie No. 18

Baseball America’s draft preview has the Nationals taking Wichita State first baseman Casey Gillaspie No. 18.

Evansville lefty Kyle Freeland is projected to go No. 4 to the Cubs.

Cleanthony Early working for a living

Screenshot of Ryan Michael's video on Cleanthony Early.

Screenshot of Ryan Michael’s video on Cleanthony Early.

Former Shocker Cleanthony Early will take part in the NBA Draft Combine this week in Chicago. Ryan Michael created a video of some of Early’s prep work in Florida, including an interview with trainer Chad Toppert. If Early is showing the ability to “think like a guard” it’s an asset he didn’t show at Wichita State and will serve him well in his move to the NBA.

Early video

Tekele Cotton’s dunk of the year

Hard to argue with this from WSU’s win at Illinois State.

Weekend review: Dallas Baptist at Wichita State

Scores: WSU 8, DBU 5; DBU 8, WSU 2; DBU 6, WSU 4

Key stats: The Patriots hit .304 with 11 extra-base hits. They committed two errors to WSU’s seven. The Shockers hit .240 and struck out 27 times, especially struggling with runners in scoring position on Saturday and Sunday. The Shockers, with those seven errors and two costly misplays that weren’t judged errors, handed the Patriots five unearned runs. DBU “held” Casey Gillaspie to three hits in nine at-bats. They challenged him, especially Saturday, in spots most teams pitch around him and won the matchup. On Sunday, closer Brandon Koch walked him in the eighth with a runner on second, a wise move, although robbing the moment of drama. WSU shortstop Dayne Parker homered twice and catcher Tyler Baker went 4 for 10. While WSU’s starting pitchers deserved far better support from the defense, it’s worth pointing out the Patriots hit well against all three.

Records: DBU 33-18, 11-7; WSU 26-26, 10-8

  • On Friday, the Shockers played one of their best all-around games of the season. It didn’t take long Saturday for things to reverse and the momentum stayed with Dallas Baptist the rest of the weekend. The Patriots came into the weekend hitting .254 and put on a clinic on how to foul off two-strike pitches and put the ball in play. “We think we’ve got a lot of talented hitters, but not a lot of experience,” DBU coach Dan Heefner said. “We don’t really have that star, those guys in the middle of the order that can carry us. We knew for us to be successful we were going to have to have really tough outs, good plate discipline. We don’t have the pure hitters that can roll out there and get four hits a game.” The Patriots did strike out 26 times and walked only eight, but almost everything else worked and the Shockers helped with shoddy defense. Even Friday, starter Cale Elam had to throw 112 pitches to get into the eighth inning and he allowed eight hits and four earned runs. “I knew they were fastball-heavy hitters,” WSU starter Sam Tewes said. “If I missed a spot, I was pretty sure they were going to jump on it.”
  • WSU coach Todd Butler rated Dallas Baptist’s pitching staff on a level with Cal State Fullerton’s. “They have power arms,” Butler said. “They’ve got like 11 guys that are throwing 90.” The DBU pitchers wobbled several times, but usually came up with the big strikeout to stave off disaster. The weekend reminded me of the Tulane series, where a bullpen with several power arms limited the Shockers. “It’s a challenge,” WSU left fielder Micah Green said. “As hitters we like those challenge, but they’re pretty tough to take down when they’re consistently low 90s, good breaking balls.”
  • The Shockers play three games against Illinois State this week (starting Thursday) and then stand a good chance of facing the Redbirds again May 20 in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 game to start the MVC Tournament. WSU needs to win at least one game to make sure it doesn’t fall to sixth place, although that’s unlikely with first-place Evansville playing at sixth-place Missouri State (and WSU holding the tiebreaker over the Bears). With third-place Dallas Baptist playing last-place Southern Illinois and second-place Indiana State playing last-place Bradley, it appears likely that WSU and Illinois State are locked in place.
  • Next up: WSU at Illinois State, 6 p.m. Thursday (Cox 22)

Last chance to see Casey Gillaspie

WSU first baseman Casey Gillaspie is hitting .401 with 13 home runs.

WSU first baseman Casey Gillaspie is hitting .401 with 13 home runs.

The 1981 me was a sophomore at Kapaun Mount Carmel and not interested in Wichita State baseball, at all.  Obviously, I lacked guidance and good role models because nobody pulled me aside to say “Hey, Joe Carter is a great baseball player and you might want to see him play, if for no other reason than to say you did.”

Nobody did that for me - Steve Boleski, I’m looking at you. I’m here to help you out in 2014.

Interest is dipping in Wichita State baseball because the Shockers are average and have been for several years. While weather is a factor, the excitement (and fans) that used to fill Eck Stadium for a game against Oklahoma State or Kansas is slipping away.

So some of you may have missed Casey Gillaspie’s talents. The WSU first baseman, named Friday as one of 30 players on the Golden Spikes Award watch list, is one of the nation’s best hitters. I can’t guarantee he will play in the big leagues, but people smarter than I are confident. He appears to be a solid bet as a first-round draft pick, a rarity for Shocker position players.

Here they are: Joseph Krsnich (1972, Yankees), Joe Carter (1981, Cubs), Russ Morman (1983, White Sox), Conor Gillaspie (2008 Giants).

WSU plays its final home series this weekend. Casey Gillaspie enters Friday’s game against Dallas Baptist ranking in the top 20 nationally in nine offensive categories, including:

  • Batting average, .401 (13th)
  • Home runs, 13 (7th)
  • On-base percentage, .511 (4th)
  • Slugging percentage, .689 (5th)
  • Walks, 41 (4th)

He is the first Shocker to hit more than 11 homers since 2004, a feat made more impressive by the BBCOR bats that tone down the pop since introduced in 2011. Since 2000, only Chris O’Brien (2011), Conor Gillaspie (2008) and Brian Burgamy (2002)  have hit .400 for the Shockers.

Gillaspie is one of the greatest hitters in a program full of them, a status that might get overlooked because of the team’s struggles. Learn from my mistake – it’s worth a trip to Eck Stadium to see a rare talent finish his days in a Shocker uniform.



Baseball: Where are the Shockers?

Former Shocker shortstop Tyler Grimes is playing catcher in the minors.

Former Shocker shortstop Tyler Grimes is playing catcher in the minors.

The annual roundup of all baseball Shockers I can find in the majors and minors:

P Mike Pelfrey - Minnesota Twins

3B Conor Gillaspie – Chicago White Sox

OF Andy Dirks – Detroit Tigers (DL)

P Kris Johnson – AAA Rochester (Twins)

C Koyie Hill – AAA Lehigh Valley (Phillies)

P Brian Flynn – AAA New Orleans (Marlins)

P Tommy Hottovy – AAA Iowa (Cubs)

P Travis Banwart – AAA Columbus (Indians)

SS Dusty Coleman – AA Midland (A’s)

OF Brian Burgamy - AA Binghamton (Mets)

P Jordan Cooper - AA Akron (Indians)

C Chris O’Brien - AA Chattanooga (Dodgers)

C Tyler Grimes – A Fort Myers (Twins)

P Josh Smith – A Bradenton (Pirates)

P Brandon Peterson – A Fort Myers (Twins)

P Albert Minnis – A Quad Cities (Astros)



A basketball that belongs in Wichita

Francis Johnson played for the University of Wichita and the 1936 Olympic team.

Francis Johnson played for the University of Wichita and the 1936 Olympic team.

The basketball used in the 1936 Olympics is for sale. If you know a Shocker with six figures to spare, this might be his or her chance to purchase a pieced of history with Shocker ties (one of my great skills, as former president Don Beggs said about those who agitate for the return of WSU football, is spending other people’s money).

This story in the Kansas City Star details the journey of the basketball from Berlin to Canada to Overland Park, where it awaits sale. The 1936 team was heavy on Kansas ties  with the McPherson Oilers and former University of Wichita coach Gene Johnson served as co-coach with former WU players Francis Johnson and Jack Ragland on the team.

A million dollars is a lot of money to pay (if that is the price) for a ball. In fact, it’s silly. But it sure would be a fitting addition to Koch Arena and a way to highlight Wichita’s role in the first Olympic basketball tournament.

Always vigilant on recruiting

It should come as no surprise to Wichita State basketball fans that coach Gregg Marshall is open to adding another recruit this spring. He doesn’t necessarily need another player and there are no visits scheduled. However, it never hurts to look, so Marshall isn’t totally closing the door on another addition.

Tevin Glass, who signed last week, is a 6-foot-8 forward from Northwest Florida State College who averaged 12.0 points and 5.8 rebounds. He made 55.1 percent of his shots and 68.4 percent of his free throws. As a freshman, he averaged 6.4 points and 4.9 rebounds.

“He’s kind of an active four-man,” Marshall said. “He needs to gain some weight, get a little stronger, continue to develop his perimeter game. He affects the game with his tenacity.”

His signing puts WSU at its limit of 13 scholarships. Marshall wouldn’t say no to the perfect fit, however.

“If the right player comes along,” he said. “Somebody that affects winning. It doesn’t have to be a particular position. He’s got to be good enough to help us win. All sizes, all skills sets and all positions.”

Marshall said he is close to hiring an assistant coach to fill the spot vacated by Chris Jans, now at Bowling Green.

“I’m leaning toward a couple guys, but I haven’t made that call yet,” he said. “There’s no urgency. We’ll have that in place by the time we start summer school, which is in June.”

Eric McKnight and Wichita State

Eric McKnight is a 6-foot-9 forward who is leaving Florida Gulf Coast (Dunk City) and is eligible immediately because he graduated.

McKnight is interested in Wichita State and it is his understanding that the feeling is mutual, he said Monday. He has not talked to WSU coaches, perhaps because they cannot contact him until they receive a release from Florida Gulf Coast. Should WSU contact McKnight, he is interested in visiting.

“I’m very interested in their program,” he said. “I’ve watched their success over the years. I like their style of play.”

McKnight considered turning pro, but said he has decided playing his senior season in college is the best course. He said he is also considering Bowling Green State (where former WSU assistant Chris Jans is coaching) and Tennessee.

McKnight averaged 6.7 points and 5.1 rebounds as a junior. He started 21 games after serving a 12-game suspension for a violation of team rules.

Weekend review: Bradley at Wichita State

Scores: WSU 4, Bradley 3 (10); WSU 7, Bradley 0; WSU 8, Bradley 4

Key stats: WSU has won 19 in a row over the Braves and 33 straight at Eck Stadium. This was a series the Shockers had to sweep to get serious about finishing at or near the top of the MVC. Shocker pitchers held  Bradley to six earned runs, limiting it to five extra-base hits and six walks. Bradley pitchers walked 13, hit five and threw four wild pitches. WSU 1B Casey Gillaspie hit .600 to continue to smash Bradley pitching during his career. While leadoff hitter Daniel Kihle continued to slump (2 of 13), the bottom of WSU’s order sparked the offense. No. 8 hitter Zair Koeiman went 4 for 9 with a walk. No. 9 hitter Tanner Dearman hit .222, but drove in four runs, dropped in two sac bunts, a sac fly and stole two bases. His RBI single won the series opener.

Records: WSU 25-23, 9-6 MVC; BU 21-23, 4-14

  • Wichita State handed pitcher Aaron LaBrie a cap when he arrived in 2010 and he wore that same cap on Sunday. It’s faded, the black looks more like gray, and stained. LaBrie tried a new hat for WSU’s road trip to Kansas City and New Orleans in late April and it just didn’t seem the same. “Everyone was telling me they don’t even recognize me without this old hat on,” he said. “I figure I’ve had it for four years, I might as well keep it and not switch over to a new one with a month left in the season.” The faded lid fits LaBrie and his career at WSU. He toils as an under-appreciated middle reliever, usually reliable and always available. He started as a situational lefty and worked hard to become more than that. In 2013, he provided a major piece of the bullpen, throwing 54 innings and compiling a 0.83 ERA and four saves. He is again a key piece this season, with a 2.45 ERA in 40.3 innings. He bounced back Sunday after a rough stretch in which his control uncharacteristically came and went. LaBrie restored order to a back-and-forth game with three shutout innings by holding Bradley to one hit. “I was just working ahead,” he said. “Before I was falling behind everyone and then trying to be too fine. I just came right at them and jumped ahead.”
  • LaBrie is throwing a slider more often and it is helping him raise his strikeouts in recent games. He struck out a career-high five against Oklahoma State on Tuesday in two innings and added two more Sunday. “In the past, it’s kind of just been a get-me-over slider that I would never really show for a strikeout,” he said. “It’s starting to come along and be one of my better pitches.” WSU’s bullpen isn’t as deep as it was last season and LaBrie is critical to its hopes in the MVC Tournament. He will be needed, probably more than once, if the Shockers are to win four or five games. He will be there, wearing his old hat and filling his familiar role. “It fits perfect, doesn’t fall off my head when I pitch,” he said.
  • LaBrie’s 85 career appearances rank ninth in WSU history, putting him in the company of some of WSU’s top relievers – 1. Noah Booth (115), 2. Jaime Bluma (114), 3. Marc Bluma (103) etc. LaBrie’s career ERA is 2.31, which would rank fourth at WSU. He needs 8 1/3 more innings to qualify for that list.
  • What did the Shockers accomplish? Sweeping Bradley has become routine, so it might not tell us anything about WSU’s ability to win series against third-place Dallas Baptist and at second-place Illinois State the next two weekends. The MVC appears so balanced this season, avoiding Evansville’s Kyle Freeland in the first day of the tournament might be the only meaningful seeding outcome. The Shockers probably need to go 5-1 to have any hope of finishing first and that consistency is unlikely. But they know they can count on good starting pitching. If this weekend’s solid offensive execution and smart base-running is a trend, WSU can finish strong.
  • Indiana State, tied with WSU and Dallas Baptist for third, appears to possess the most favorable schedule. The Sycamores host sixth-place Missouri State and play at last-place Bradley to finish the MVC schedule. Illinois State plays at first-place Evansville this weekend before playing host to WSU. Evansville finishes at Missouri State, where the Bears are 6-8 and 3-6 against MVC competition (after Dallas Baptist swept in a non-conference series in March).
  • Remaining schedules – WSU: DBU, at Illinois State; UE: Illinois State, at MSU; DBU: at WSU, SIU; Indiana State: MSU, at BU; BU: Indiana State; SIU: at DBU; MSU: at Indiana State, UE; Illinois State: at UE, WSU.
  • Kihle is seeing a ton of breaking pitches. After a red-hot start in his return to the lineup, he is in a strikeout-ridden slump. On April 25, he was hitting .393 and had given WSU’s offense a huge boost in 10 games since returning from wrist surgery. After going 2 for 13 against Bradley, with six strikeouts, he is down to .319 (still second on the team). For the season, Kihle has 32 strikeouts and four walks. In nine plate appearances on Saturday and Sunday, only once did he work his way into more than a one-ball count. He had great success swinging early in the count, but now pitchers appear to be using that aggressiveness against him to neutralize his power and speed. While he’s played in only 29 games, his 10 doubles rank fourth on the team and his three home runs are third.

Next up: vs. Kansas State, 7 p.m. Tuesday (ESPNU)