Fall Ball: It's A Wrap

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For every moment of stringent structure under The OG there exists a corresponding whimsical development, one that simultaneously raises the eyebrows and induces a hearty chuckle.

Seemingly out of nowhere Jr. OF Chad Mozingo strolled to the plate Wednesday afternoon to partake in his first at-bat of fall ball, an opportunity that coincided with the final intrasquad of the five-week schedule. Later verification only confirmed what the scene suggested: Mozingo, recovering from offseason surgeries to his wrist and ankle and sidelined throughout the fall, had been harassing The OG for a shot to take his hacks at live pitching. The OG acquiesced, but only on the very last afternoon, cavalierly tossing a bone to the Owls' talented right fielder.

"Mozingo could have played the last week. I just didn't want him running the bases," The OG said. "It went this far (with him being out), there was just no point in (rushing Mozingo back)."

That humorous exchange put the finishing touches on a month full of intriguing revelations. Jr. LHP Doug Simmons tweaked his delivery and was the surprise of fall ball. Fr. C Geoff Perrott, a last-minute program addition, showcased an earnest will to develop and succeed. Jr. LHP/IF Abe Gonzales created distance from his injury-riddled past and forced the coaching staff to consider his application for contribution with exceptional efforts at the plate and at first base, but he must develop a change-up to be a viable option on the mound. A trio of freshmen two-way players - J.T. Chargois, Chase McDowell, Tyler Spurlin - caused a ruckus. Chargois flashed pitching potential but needs improved location, while McDowell assuaged fears that he couldn't throw strikes by doing so when he took the mound. Another member of the Kiddie Corps, Fr. RHP Tyler Duffey, will accomplish plenty once The OG finishes with his tinkering.

Sr. OF Steven Sultzbaugh continued the momentum he established down the stretch of his junior year, swinging at strikes and tearing the cover off the ball. Jr. SS Rick Hague is bigger, stronger, faster, and the results of his offseason conditioning were wildly positive. Fr. 2B Michael Ratterree was as good as advertised, and while he has much to learn about skillfully manning his new position, his willingness to take instruction will make that process easier.

"The one thing about this fall," The OG said, "is the kids seem like they're very coachable."

For instance, Jr. RHP Boogie Anagnostou added a two-seam fastball to his repertoire and became an effective strike thrower. RS Fr. RHP Anthony Fazio didn't rush his return from Tommy John surgery and pitched so efficiently during the second half of fall ball that it's difficult not to anticipate his impact in 2010. Jr. LHP Matt Evers is slowly returning to form.

Southpaw starters Taylor Wall and Tony Cingrani closed the fall with exceptional outings. Sr. RHP Jared Rogers was somewhat inconsistent, but when he was good, he was really good.

"We're moving towards where we think we have to be," The OG said. "You know Wall is going to be a starter. We think Cingrani has a chance to be a starter, Rogers definitely has a chance, Anagnostou has a definite chance, Fazio has a definite chance to be a starter. We've got a multitude of guys in the bullpen that are just going to fight it out.

"We know that (Matthew) Reckling can throw some pitches that nobody can hit; he's just got to get consistent and get his arm one hundred percent. And McDowell shows real possibilities for being a guy out of the bullpen. The last couple of outings (Andrew) Benak was good; he's got to get his arm strength back. And Simmons, of course, was the pleasant surprise of the fall."

As The OG continued rattling off names representing bullpen options, he offered a sweeping analysis of his entire staff, a statement revealing the primary challenge facing the Owls in '10.

"We don't have overpowering fastballs but we've got enough fastballs to keep them honest, particularly if they're moving," he said. "So we want three-pitch pitchers that go out there and are consistent. That's our only concern.

"We don't think we're going to be able to dominate people pitching. We've got to have pitchers that keep us in the ballgame and give us a chance to play defense and hit, because we believe that we can do both of those things. So we've got to have pitchers that go out there and ... not dominate but pitch to contact, keep the ball in the ballpark, get the double play. And the guys have bought into that. They're working hard."

That work will continue away from watchful eyes and in the shadows for the next two months, leaving those most interested in those developments anticipating the start of preseason camp.

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I guess it is a good sign when you can write a summary article like this and the best player on the team isn't even mentioned!

mymrbig: After watching Rendon hit a one-handed, two-run homer on a ball near his shoe tops, I ran out of adjectives. Take comfort in his presence at third base. - MK

How fitting that in his one AB, Mo lined out to an outfielder.

It all sounds good, but I do long for the return of some overpowering arms to the Rice pitching line-up. It's been a few seasons now since there has been one, and ultimately, 4 overpowering arms are what keyed Rice's 2003 national championship. However, I don't doubt that the OG can find a way to win one without those types of arms.

Nonetheless, hopefully one of the strong arms committed in the 2010 class slips through the MLB draft cracks.

Talon: I agree. I would assume that it's much easier to turn a collection of guys who throw 93-94 into an excellent staff than guys who are 88-91. This is an experienced staff, obviously, but the work must be harder when the arms aren't great. - MK

A couple of questions: 1) When does "preseason camp" begin next semester? 2) What kind of workouts do team members participate in over the next few months, and do the coaches get to oversee the workouts?

I suppose the NCAA limits the time that baseball coaches can spend with the players during the off-season, just like they do for football.

BetontheOwl: I'll have to get the exact date for Question No. 1, but it's sometime in mid-January (EDIT: Jan. 29). The next two months are spent on conditioning and individual workouts like batting practice, bullpen sessions, and defensive drills. No intrasquads. - MK

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