PREVIEW: Houston Baseball Infield
Feb. 5, 2014
HOUSTON – An experienced returning core that helped the Cougars win 36 games a year ago will highlight the 2014 Houston Baseball infield. This defensive unit will showcase a group that has all seen action in a Houston uniform under fourth-year head coach Todd Whitting.
The mix of young and experienced as well as veteran players will play an integral role in both the Cougars’ offensive and defensive sides of the game, while a shift in corner positions and the return of a missing piece are set to make this already-sound defensive infield unit much better.
“I’m extremely excited about the returning players we have in the infield. This team will play with a lot of energy and that energy begins with our four returners in the infield," said Whitting. “They come to work every day. They put their hard hats on and get out there and get after it. I couldn’t be more pleased with the effort to this point.”
At this time a year ago, Houston would find itself starting newcomers at first base, second base and shortstop. This go-around, the Cougars look to use that experience to capitalize on advancing its defense.
“With the infield being all back you can kind of pick up where we left off last year. The learning curve is really small, and we’ve been able to work on some advanced things that I’ve been waiting three or four years to do with a ball club,” said Whitting.
Grayson, who plays extremely sound defense and will bat in the middle of the lineup for the Cougars this season, will man first base.
“Casey may be one of the best defensive first basemen that I’ve ever coached. He’s one of the best players to ever play in this program that nobody has ever really seen,” said Whitting. "With his injuries the last two years, he’s had minimal chances to play. Folks are going to be really surprised at how good he is around the bag over there."
The middle infield made up of senior shortstop Frankie Ratcliff and sophomore second baseman Josh Vidales will be the infield spark plug once again as the duo brings high energy, speed and versatility to Houston defense.
“We return our double play combination in the middle with (Josh) Vidales and (Frankie) Ratcliff. That has a chance to be one of the best in the country,” said Whitting. “Josh really grew up last year as a freshman, and got a chance to get a lot of quality innings and at bats in. I expect him to springboard into another great year. Of course Frankie is a great and experienced player.”
Set to play second base for the second consecutive season will be sophomore switch hitter Vidales.
Ratcliff will once again be the Cougars’ starting shortstop after a strong debut season for Houston in 2013. Drafted in the 40th Round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft in 2013, Ratcliff instead chose to return to school and finish his college career this year at Houston.
Montemayor, who moves across the diamond after playing first base a year ago, will control third base. His size and competitiveness will fill a needed hole the Cougars had a year ago as several saw action at that position.
“[Justin] Montemayor has had a little bit of an adjustment moving to third base, but he’s a big guy who is extremely athletic and competitive, so what he lacks for in experience over at third he’s going to make up for just in sheer competitiveness,” said Whitting.
“That’s four guys [Vidales, Ratcliff, Grayson, Montemayor] that definitely bring a lot of experience back on our infield, and all of them will hit at the top of the lineup. I have to think it’s going to be one of the better infield packages in the country,” said Whitting.
Houston’s infield may be experienced, but every defense needs depth and the Cougars will look to junior college transfer Cole Coakley and freshmen Jordan Stading and Connor Hollis as options throughout the year. These three provide the Cougars with the needed balance to maintain a healthy defensive core throughout the five-month season.
“There are a couple new guys that we’re excited about,” said Whitting. “Jordan Stading is going to play primarily as a third baseman, and we’re also transitioning him behind the plate as well. He’s got a bright future ahead for him. He is a physical kid, ranging about six-foot-two or three with a left-handed bat and a great feel for the game.”
“Cole Coakley is a middle infield, junior-college transfer that gives us some much needed depth if one of those two guys in the middle goes down. I feel pretty confident in Coakley running out there and being able to handle it. He’s an experienced player. He played a lot in junior college, and he’s got that dirt-bag mentality.”
“Connor Hollis is a shortstop. He’s a young kid; kind of a developmental guy right now. I could see him being the shortstop of the future for us as he continues to develop. He’s put on over 20 pounds in the weight room since he got here.”
Coakley Hollis Stading
“They have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. They felt like that we should have been an NCAA Tournament team last year. It didn’t happen for us, but sometimes a hungry dog hunts a little bit better,” said Whitting. “They’ll be excited to play next Friday night, and I look for this team to have quite a bit of an edge to them.”
Stay tuned for the Houston Baseball Outfield preview next.
Come out and support YOUR Cougars and take advantage of all the promotional days, including FRIDAY FRENZY, Bingo at the Ballpark (Saturday) and Kids Day (Sunday).
Any kid 8th grade and under wearing a Houston Baseball Camp t-shirt to any home game will received FREE ADMISSION!
A LOOK AT THE 2014 SCHEDULE
Houston will open its 2014 slate by hosting Nicholls State in a three-game series on Feb. 14-16. This year will mark the first time since 1988 these two programs have met on the diamond with Houston owning a 28-13 overall record.
Houston is also set to host non-conference opponents Michigan (Feb. 21-23) - for the first time since 1998, McNeese State (Feb. 26), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (March 4), Baylor (March 11), Towson (March 14-16), College of Charleston (March 21-23), Texas State (April 8), Sam Houston State (April 22) and Prairie View A&M (May 6).
The Cougars will compete for the first time in the inaugural American Athletic Conference and will welcome Memphis (March 28-30), Louisville (April 11-13), USF (April 17-19), and UCF (May 2-4) to Cougar Field as part of league play.
SEASON TICKETS ON SALE NOW
Reserved Houston Baseball season tickets will be allocated after the renewal deadline (Friday, January 17, 2014). General Admission seats include 33 "Anytime Tickets". You may use one ticket to each home game, 33 tickets to one game, or any combination in between.
General Admission season tickets start for as low as $150 (33 home games/$4.50 per ticket), while Reserved season tickets start at only $200 (33 home games/$6.00 per ticket).
Families can purchase the Family Plan for just $399, which includes two adult and two youth General Admission tickets to each of the 33 home games. The Family Plan does not include the "Anytime Tickets" package.
Fans also can purchase season tickets by visiting or calling the Athletics Ticket Office at 713-GO-COOGS (462-6647) or 877-COUGAR-5 (268-4275).