Nov. 13, 2009
HOUSTON -- The Rice baseball program has signed 11 recruits in the early period who will join the team for the 2011 season, announced head coach Wayne Graham on Friday (Nov. 13).
All 11 of the Owls' signees are from the high school ranks. Nine are standouts from the state of Texas and five are from the greater Houston area who can continue their careers in front of hometown crowds at Rice's Reckling Park.
The signees include Keenan Cook, Jaime Esquivel, Derek Hamilton, Shane Hoelscher, Austin Kubitza, Connor Mason, Kyle Mueller, Tyler Pearson, John Simms, Jameson Taillon and Dickie Thon, Jr. The group officially enrolls at Rice in the fall of 2010. Their first baseball season with the Owls would be in the spring of 2011. Coach Graham had high praise for the program's latest class and his assistant coaches who brought the signees together.
"I do believe this is a great recruiting class, definitely one of the best," said Rice head coach Wayne Graham who has led the Owls to seven appearances in the College World Series in 18 seasons at the helm of the program. "We addressed our needs with high-profile guys. I think there's a reasonable chance to keep most of them and if we do, it will wind-up being one of the greatest recruiting classes.
"It was an incredible job by (assistant coach) Mike (Taylor) and (assistant coach David) Pierce of putting this class together. They get better every year of identifying the best student-athletes who can play and excel in the Rice curriculum. I am amazed at what they did this year."
The signees are a talented pool of prep players. Keenan Cook is a two-sport athlete from College Park High School in The Woodlands, Tex. He earned all-District 14-5A honors as an outfielder in baseball and as a defensive back in football. Cook hit .393 batting from the left side and drove in 21 runs in 25 games as the Cavaliers advanced to the Region II-5A finals.
Jaime Esquivel earned first team all-District 22-5A honors as a right-handed pitcher at South Houston High School. He went 6-2 with a 1.45 ERA for the Trojans, totalling 102 strikeouts in more than 80 innings on the mound.
Derek Hamilton helped lead Brazoswood High School to the Region III-5A finals as a junior shortstop and right-handed pitcher. He earned first team all-District 24-5A after batting .400 with six home runs, 12 doubles and 31 RBI. As a pitcher he maintained a 1.73 ERA with two wins and two saves in 24.1 innings.
Belton, Tex., infielder Shane Hoelscher earned second team 5A All-State honors from the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association (THSBCA) as a junior last season. He batted .441 for the Tigers with seven home runs, 15 doubles and 33 RBI.
Austin Kubitza is a versatile pitcher/outfielder from Heritage High School in Colleyville, Tex. As a right-handed pitcher Kubitza went 4-1 with one save, a 1.79 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 39 innings. The 6-foot-5 left-handed hitting outfielder batted .356 with five home runs, eight doubles and 30 RBI.
Right-handed pitcher and infielder Connor Mason is an out-of-state signee. A native of Suwanee, Ga., Mason (6-foot-2, 185-pound) played two seasons with the United States Junior National Team (18-&-under). He went 9-1 with a 2.67 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 50.2 innings against international competition. He also batted .341 with 31 RBI as a third baseman for Team USA.
The lone left-handed pitcher in the signing class is Kyle Mueller. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound, Bellville, Tex., native is a two-sport standout in baseball and football. Mueller is a 3A Texas all-star who also played in the outfield for the Brahmas.
Tyler Pearson of Monterey High School in Lubbock, Tex., is the only catcher in the class. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal tabbed Pearson as a first team All-South Plains selection after he batted .371 with 32 RBI and 17 extra-base hits.
A prep teammate of fellow signee Keenan Cook, John Simms was the Houston area's high school pitcher of the year according to the Houston Chronicle. The right-hander from College Park High School was also the district's MVP after going 9-2 with a 1.19 ERA and striking out 128 in 88 innings. Simms and Cook helped College Park make the deep run in the 2009 state tournament.
Right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon earned first team All-Greater Houston honors from the Houston Chronicle as a junior after compiling an 8-1 record with a 2.82 ERA at The Woodlands High School. Taillon registered 95 strikeouts in 56 innings of work and was tabbed as the nation's top high school prospect by Baseball America Magazine.
The Owls added an international signee, Richard (Dickie) Thon, Jr. from Dorado, Puerto Rico, who will be a familiar name to baseball fans in the city of Houston. Thon is the son of former Houston Astros all-star Dickie Thon, Sr. The younger Thon is one of the top junior players in Puerto Rico. He follows his older sister, Solei, to Rice, who was a four-year letterwinner in volleyball for the Blue & Gray.
For as talented as the class is on the baseball field, the signees are also solid students in the classroom. As a group the average SAT score for all 11 signees is more than 1130 on the 1600 scale. The class is athletic with multi-sport stars and versatile where three of the signees can contribute as hitters and/or pitchers. Coach Graham knows pitching is one of the keys to success.
"Our class is heavy on pitching. Just when you think you have enough pitching, then you need to go out and get some more," Graham quipped.
Last season the Rice baseball team compiled a 43-18 record and won the Conference USA Tournament Championship. Rice hosted and won an NCAA home Regional to advance to the Super Regional round for a fifth-straight year. The Owls open the 2010 season with a three-game series on the road at national power Stanford on Feb. 19-21. The 2010 home-opener at Reckling Park is set for Feb. 23 against longtime rival Texas State.
Rice Baseball Signees (2010-2011 School Year)
Name Pos. B-T Ht. Wt. Hometown (Previous School/High School)
Keenan Cook OF L-R 6-0 180 The Woodlands, TX (College Park HS)
Jaime Esquivel RHP R-R 6-2 185 South Houston, TX (South Houston HS)
Derek Hamilton Inf./RHP R-R 6-0 170 Lake Jackson, TX (Brazoswood HS)
Shane Hoelscher Inf. R-R 5-11 180 Belton, TX (Belton HS)
Austin Kubitza RHP/OF L-R 6-5 205 Colleyville, TX (Heritage HS)
Connor Mason RHP/Inf. R-R 6-2 185 Suwanee, Ga. (home school)
Kyle Mueller LHP R-L 6-5 215 Bellville, TX (Bellville HS)
Tyler Pearson C R-R 6-0 180 Lubbock, TX (Monterey HS)
John Simms RHP R-R 6-2 185 The Woodlands, TX (College Park HS)
Jameson Taillon RHP R-R 6-6 225 The Woodlands, TX (The Woodlands HS)
Richard Thon Inf. R-R 6-2 180 Dorado, Puerto Rico (Academia Del Terpetuo Socorro)