On Leather

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The fall signing period pales in comparison to National Signing Day in football, for you can always count on a flurry of activity that first Wednesday in February. With zero releases in my hand late this afternoon, I strolled over to The Reck to get a status report on the 11 recruits the Owls plan to sign. Eight had their paperwork in-house, but instead of trickling the information to the denizens, I'll wait until the list is complete before initiating a discussion on the prospects.

In the interim, I'll share the casual conversation I had with The OG regarding defense. One recruit of note turned in his paperwork on Wednesday, and should he eschew signing a professional contract next summer (a move contingent upon his draft position, of course) and arrive on campus next fall, he makes for an intriguing heir to Owls Jr. SS Rick Hague. With that particular prospect in the fold, The OG could avoid the potential move of So. 3B Anthony Rendon to shortstop, a thought that got The OG and I whimsically chatting about the best defensive players he has coached at each position during his 19 seasons on South Main.

Here is his list:

C - Justin Ruchti (2002-03)
1B - Vincent Sinisi (2002-03)
2B - Greg Buchanan (2005-06)
SS - Paul Janish (2002-04)
3B - Craig Stansberry (2003)/Anthony Rendon (2009- )
LF - Chris Kolkhorst (2002-04)
CF - Jose Cruz, Jr. (1993-95)/Bubba Crosby (1996-98)
RF - open for debate

Notes: Not only was Ruchti outstanding, he cut such an imposing figure behind the plate that the Owls seemed destined for success with him serving as the backstop. However, The OG noted that Adam Zornes (2006-08) and Danny Lehmann (2005-07) were 'awfully good.' ... This was at least the second time The OG expressed great admiration for the work Buchanan did defensively at second base. Bucky might not be the first name to come to the minds of Rice fanatics, but his uncanny ability to turn a nifty double play left a lasting impression on The OG. ... While Janish is a no-brainer, the debate at third was prolonged. On one hand The OG acknowledged that no one played the position better than Stansberry did during the Owls' national championship season. However, he also gave the slightest edge to Rendon on approaching and playing bunts. Of the other necessary skills showcased by those manning the hot corner - range, hands, arm strength - Stansberry and Rendon are essentially even. ...

The OG maintains that the play Kolkhorst made in left at the 2003 College World Series might be the best ever under the circumstances. His selection came without pause. ... The OG just couldn't decide between Cruz and his successor, Crosby, in center, which speaks volumes to the caliber of defense played at that position between 1993-98. ... Although he threw out several names, The OG had difficulty choosing one right fielder before noting that a healthy season from Jr. RF Chad Mozingo could vault him to the top of the list. Mozingo battled wrist and ankle injuries as a sophomore, but he was exceptional in right during his freshman year.

I hope to have information on the signees on Thursday. Until then, the floor is open for debate.

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Must be 2 recruits that we aren't familiar with in the 11. If we get Thon/Simms/Mason, then we are really doing well. Simms is the one I really want to see on campus. Taillon = low probability, unless his love for Rice wins out over millions of dollars.

I'd throw Brock Holt's name into the defensive mix at 2B. He was outstanding. Henley was great in CF, but it's hard to argue against Cruz and Crosby. Also, Ryan Berry at Pitcher deserves a mention, as he was a great athlete on defense

wheredidmypantsgo: I seek forgiveness for blatantly disrespecting the athletic prowess of Rice pitchers. My bad for failing to ask The OG about the best on the bump. - MK

Hard to argue with Coach's selections. I, too, give the slightest of edges to Bucky at 2B...and while it's hard to knock the selection of Ruchti behind the dish, I actually give the slight edge to Danny L., who not only manned the position for three years, but who worked with and supported a somewhat (at least slightly) less talented group of starting pitchers over those years. Ruchti has Herce-Crowder-Humber and then Neimann-Townsend-Humber-Baker.

Just as Chad can earn the RF spot if he can stay healthy all this year, I think Sultzy is going to earn some votes after his 2nd full season in CF in 2010.

As for 1B, you gotta give it to Sinisi at this point, but Jimmy B. is pretty darn good out there.

BTW, with regards to signees, I'm presuming you were refering to SS Thon, JR in your blog entry above...but don't we have another hotshot in-state SS who has at least verbally committed?

Walt: To answer your question: yes. And my inference to the infielder who will remain unnamed wasn't a suggestion that he will be handed the starting job upon arrival. - MK

Off topic but what's with Shane Turner's continued absence? I thought he was just out for a game with mono or something.

Talon: Lower leg injury that he is still nursing. I don't imagine he will play against Tulane. - MK

Right Field:
Armwise you might have to go with Lance Pendleton. Day-after-day and with all those hits Austin Davis might be considered as well.

Rick: Both of those names came up in the conversation, for whatever that's worth. - MK

For right and left, how about Will Ford and Charles Williams? I am a little fuzzy on Ford's defense, but recall Williams' as strong.

(Love Austin Davis, but didn't he play 90% of the time in CF? -- where I put him 3rd behind Cruz and Crosby)

Will Ford had an absolute cannon in RF, but I don't know that the rest of his defensive skills were mind blowing.

Charles Williams was very good in LF. He also had a strong arm and his throws were extremely accurate. Could have been very good in CF if Bubba wasn't already there.

Maybe I'm jaded because I was there in 1998 when Bubba spent most of the season nursing a hamstring injury, but Jason Gray played amazing CF defense in 1999 and 2000. Did the OG mention him at all? He's one of the few guys I've seen where I was just blown away by his defense.

Interesting that so much of the team is from 2002-present, with only Cruz and Crosby from Graham's early career at Rice.

mymrbig: I found that interesting, too, but multiple CWS appearances will influence opinion, especially when those talented players are responsible for that success. The OG placed credit where it was due in a sense. And Gray was mentioned. - MK

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