K-State Baseball 2014 Preview: Infield

Our very own consensus All-American. Feels good, doesn't it? - Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Wildcats survived last year on hitting and defense. Well, guess what? All five starters are back in the infield. Scared yet?

In 2013, the Wildcats possessed one of the most productive infields in all the land, and when draft day rolled around it looked very much like it was going to be chopped in half. Psyche!

DEPARTED
NAME AVG/OBP/SLG HR RBI
Damion Lovato .262/.319/.310 0 7

Lovato wasn't even a full-time infielder; we could just as easily have dropped him in the outfielders post and pretended nobody was missing from the faux-dirty part of the diamond. No, one problem the BatCats will not have in 2014 is returning experience in the infield. Not only do all five starters return, the two guys who saw the most action behind them also return.

RETURNING
# NAME POS BT TH HT WT YR FROM AVG/OBP/SLG HR RBI
10 Alex Bee C L R 5'11" 185 So. Chatham IL-Glenwood .105/.150/.105 0 1
9 Blair DeBord C R R 5'11" 205 Sr. Manhattan KS .327/.418/.392 0 37
15 Shane Conlon 1B L L 6'1" 190 Jr. Naperville IL-Central .341/.430/.502 7 28
7 Ross Kivett 2B R R 6'1" 200 Sr. Broadview Heights OH-Saint Edward .360/.440/.483 3 39
28 R.J. Santigate 3B L R 6'2" 220 Sr. C. Ariz. CC/Las Vegas NV-Bishop Gorman .324/.409/.360 0 29
3 Austin Fisher SS L R 6'1" 195 Jr. Olathe KS-Northwest .361/.443/.514 2 38
8 Lance Miles IF R R 5'10" 180 So. The Woodlands TX .241/.323/.241 0 9
1 Jake Wodtke IF R R 5'9" 170 So. Shawnee KS-Saint James Academy .000/.125/.000 0 0

The key was, of course, consensus pre-season All-American and reigning Big 12 Player of the Year Ross Kivett. Number 7 was drafted in the tenth round by his hometown Cleveland Indians, and as a result the expectation was that he'd probably take the money and run. Wouldn't you, with the chance to play for the team with whom you'd always dreamed of playing? But Kivett felt the job wasn't finished, and wasn't keen on the thought of riding a charter around between minor-league towns while his teammates made another run for Omaha.

Kivett's decision, in turn, helped K-State's other underclass draftee decide to turn down his chance to go pro. Shane Conlon, drafted by the Royals, quickly made the decision to return to Manhattan after Kivett made his announcement.

Conlon and Kivett, first-team All-Big 12 selections last year, both bring two critical skills: plate selection and power (though Kivett's isn't so much of the home run variety). In addition to being .340 and .360 hitters, respectively, last season, they also know when to take what's freely offered. Kivett reached base safely in 8% of his plate appearances last year without getting a hit, Conlon 10%. Those are big numbers, and a key component in the BatCats familiar process of scoring runs in bunches last year.

They weren't alone, of course. Shortstop Austin Fisher's batting line was very similar to Conlon's, although trading home runs for doubles and triples. He was a finalist for the Brooks Wallace Award (nation's best shortstop), and his glove wizardry anchored the defense. He had a bit of a shaky post-season as a result of a late-season back injury, which potentially marred national perceptions, but make no mistake: the Big 12 knows what he's capable of. Fisher was also a first-team all-conference selection last year.

R.J. Santigate holds the dubious distinction of being the only member of the starting five in the infield who wasn't a first-teamer last year. That's not a criticism, though; the veteran third-sacker more than carried his weight in the batting order, and frequently re-started stalled rallies in the post-season run. He doesn't have quite the pop of his infield-mates, but he knows when to take a base when it's offered, and a .321 batting average isn't exactly a number to be laughed at.

The fourth all-conference returnee is catcher Blair DeBord. The local product doesn't have much power, but he does possess a keen singles stroke, and isn't an exception to the plate discipline philosophy that pervades the lineup. He's also tough as nails, and if there's one criticism one might levy against this squad, it's that DeBord can sometimes be a little too passionate. If the opposing fanbase is riled up about a Wildcat player, there's a pretty good chance they're mad at DeBord. He's the sort of guy opposing fans hate and the home crowd loves.

In addition to returning all five starters, Lance Miles returns as the primary utility infielder. Miles saw significant action in relief of Fisher during the latter's post-season convalescence, and took advantage of the opportunity; he actually played better than he had during the regular season. The other main returning cog is backup catcher Alex Bee, who didn't show a great deal last year, but didn't get much chance to either due to DeBord's durability. Jake Wodtke saw action in 10 games, but only stepped to the plate eight times.

NEW FACES
# NAME POS BT TH HT WT YR FROM
26 Taylor Anderson IF S R 6'1" 190 So. Cuesta (CA) CC/Northern Colorado/Lincoln NE-Southwest
4 Tanner DeVinny C/DH S R 5'9" 200 Fr. Lucas TX-Lovejoy
32 Tyler Stover IF R R 6'3" 210 Fr. Vacaville CA
6 Carter Yagi IF L R 5'9" 165 Jr. College of Southern Idaho/Salt Lake City UT-Cottonwood

Anderson is a transfer who bounced around a bit. He sat out all of last season on a medical redshirt. DeVinny was all-state in Texas last year, and Yagi brings with him a .356 average in two years at CSI. The interesting piece is Stover, who was drafted by the Rockies last summer. He chose to forego that path and come to Manhattan, and coach Brad Hill is very high on his potential.

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