Feb. 13, 2012
HOUSTON--With the 2012 Opening Day just days away, a two-part series highlighting the University of Houston baseball team will showcase an in-depth look at the Cougar infield, outfield, catchers, and pitchers prior to the first pitch.
The season preview begins with a glance at your 2012 infield and outfield under second-year head coach Todd Whitting.
Defense has been the biggest focus as the 2012 season nears and Whitting and staff are anxious to see this young team progress as the year moves on.
Returning as the Cougars shortstop is junior Chase Jensen, who garnered that role early last year after transferring in from Weatherford College. Jensen is the squad's top offensive returner, after hitting an impressive .320 clip a year ago. The Arlington, Texas native led the team in hits with 78 and was second with 45 RBI. Jensen was also a 2012 preseason First Team All-C-USA selection.
"Chase is our only returning position player and we expect him to follow up and have another great year as our shortstop," said Whitting.
Taking the reign at first base this year will be junior transfer Casey Grayson. A transfer from Navarro JC, Grayson was a member of the NJCAA World Series Championship team, earning All-Conference honors.
"Casey was one of the top JUCO hitters for national champion Navarro College last season and is excellent around the bag," said Whitting.
Several Cougars are still competing for the third base job this season as senior Jake Runte and junior transfer Wes Theiss, along with freshman Kendall Stacks are all shaping up to play the hot corner.
Runte returns, but saw limited action in 2011, playing in 24 games and making 21 starts. The local product hit .280 and eight of his 21 hits were for extra bases for a .453 slugging percentage.
Theiss was a First Team All-Conference selection on the NJCAA World Series Champion Navarro JC in 2011, while Stacks was the District MVP at Seven Lakes High School.
"There is tremendous competition at third base as we enter into the final week of practice. Any of the potential third basemen are capable of handling the task," said Whitting.
Junior Taylor White will bounce back after redshirting last year to man the second base position. He will help guide freshmen Zack Gibson and Harrison Ayala to provide much-needed depth up the middle.
White started 56 games and hit .292 his freshman season, followed by posting a .208 average in five game starts his sophomore season as a Cougar.
"Taylor has continued to improve and impress the staff with his play during practice. He is a veteran player who will bring leadership to a very young lineup," said Whitting.
The second preview focuses on the 2012 Cougar outfield.
Appling returns after starting all 59 games as a freshman. The El Campo, Texas honoree hit .265 on 62 hits, while driving in 31 runs. He led the team with 47 runs scored and produced a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage with 168 putouts.
"Landon is a key returner and a spark plug for us at the top of the lineup. We will look to him to serve as a vital leader on and off the field," said Whitting.
Coming in as a freshman and making a strong impression in left field has been Price Jacobs. A Baytown, Texas native out of Goose Creek Memorial, Price was an All-District honoree and Offensive MVP in 19-4A during his high school career.
Behind Jacobs in left field will be freshman Michael Pyeatt out of Lake Jackson, Texas and Brazoswood High School.
In right field, Whitting looks to junior transfer Jacob Lueneburg from Kishwaukee College after receiving All-American, All-Conference, and All-District honors during his first two seasons.
Playing behind Lueneburg will be freshman Ashford Fulmer, a Cypress Ranch graduate, USA Baseball Breakthrough roster member and role player on the TASO Championship team.
Because of their strong offensive prowess, freshman Keegan Sanford and sophomore Jonathan Davis could see action in the outfield, helping solidify the offensive lineup in needed areas. Davis returns after seeing action in 13 games and hitting .167.
The Cougar outfield will use the experience of Appling and poised talents of several newcomers to fill the holes after Caleb Ramsey (.318, 71H, 46 RBI) and Joel Ansley (.273, 38 H, 12 RBI) concluded their careers a year ago.
"I am very excited about our defensive play in the outfield. We have a host of players who can cover a tremendous amount of ground in the grass, which will be led by Landon Appling in center," said Whitting.
UHCougars.com will profile the 2012 catchers and pitchers tomorrow.