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."

    FIRST BASE
    Casey Grayson | RS-Senior-1L | Cypress, Texas | Navarro JC

    • Was sidelined in 2013 due to an ACL tear
    • Appeared in 32 games at both first base and as the Cougars’ designated hitter
in 2012
    • Recorded six multi-hit games; had a career-best four hits vs. Delaware (Feb. 18)
    • Belted a pinch-hit three-run homerun to force extra innings at Texas Tech (April 15)

    • Committed just two errors in 171 putouts and 19 assists
    • Had 10 straight games of reaching base safely to open the season

    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.

    SECOND BASE
    Josh Vidales | Sophomore-1L | La Porte, Texas | La Porte HS

    • Started and batted leadoff in all 58 games for the Cougars last season
    • Notched a Conference USA-leading 49 walks to rank among the nation’s Top 10
    • Hit .266 with 57 hits, 41 runs scored for second-best on the team
    • Was 15-of-19 in stolen bases to finish second among the league leaders
    • Fielded .978 with just six errors with 168 assists and 98 putouts at second base
    • Named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team
    • Honored as C-USA Hitter of the Week & CollegeSportsMadness Primetime Performer in 2013
    • Named to the College Classic All-Tournament Team & All-Silver Glove Series Team

    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.

    SHORTSTOP
    Frankie Ratcliff | Senior-1L | Key West, Fla. | Pensacola JC

    • Started and played in all 58 games in 2013 at shortstop for the Cougars
    • Led the conference and finished second in the nation with eight triples
    • Hit .300 with 63 hits and 38 runs scored
    • Led Houston and ranked among the league leaders with 44 RBI
    • Hit .353 in conference play to lead the league
    • Named Conference Newcomer of the Year
    • Honored as a Second Team All-Conference member
    • Named to the All-Silver Glove Series Team & Commissioner’s Honor Roll

    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.

    THIRD BASE
    Justin Montemayor | Sophomore-1L | Austin, Texas | Anderson HS

    • Was one of just two true freshman to start and play in all 58 games as the Cougars’ first baseman
    • Led Houston in average (.329), hits (73), runs scored (42), homeruns (3) and slugged .432 to accompany his 10 doubles and three triples
    • Fielded a strong first base with a .988 percentage
    • Broke Houston freshman all-time records in chances (575) and putouts (536)
    • Ranked first in C-USA in chances, putouts, fourth in runs scored, fifth in hits and average and 10th in total bases
    • Hit .337 in C-USA play with 29 hits and 10 RBI
    • Named to the 2014 Preseason All-American Athletic Conference Team
    • Honored as a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American in 2013
    • Named Conference Freshman of the Year
    • Honored on the All-Conference Second Team
    • Named a C-USA Hitter of the Week & named to the All-Silver Glove Series

    “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.


    ON DECK
    Houston Baseball is less than two weeks away from the start of the 2014 season. The Cougars will welcome Nicholls State to Cougar Field on Feb. 14-16 for a three-game, opening weekend set. Game times are slated for 6:30 p.m. (Friday), 6:30 p.m. (Saturday), 1 p.m. (Sunday).

    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 Baseball will once again take advantage of its home crowd by playing 33 home games at Cougar Field, including seven of the first eight games. Following a trip to California, the Cougars will return home to host the next 13 games during the month of March, which includes Baylor, Rice and the opening of conference play with Memphis.

    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
    By visiting UHCougars.com, clicking the Tickets link and following the appropriate links or by clicking here, fans can begin purchasing and requesting specific seats within the friendly confines of Cougar Field.

    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).


    STAY CONNECTED
    Stay up to date with all Houston Baseball news and highlights by following us on Twitter @UHCougarBB or on Facebook at /HoustonCougarBaseball. Fans can also follow head coach Todd Whitting @toddwhitting on Twitter.

     


     

     

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