Baseball Preview: Infielders

  • By Grant Dovey
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  • February 13, 2013 02:26 PM
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The Mountaineers return both starters on the right side of the infield in junior Ryan McBroom and sophomore Billy Fleming, but have question marks on the left side after the departure of shortstop John Polonius, who departed early to sign a free agent contract with the San Francisco Giants.

McBroom will begin his third season as the starter at first base after a breakout season in 2012 that saw him near the top of all offensive categories to go along with his strong defensive play. He posted 15 doubles, six home runs and a team-leading 41 RBIs, while also committing just two errors in 55 starts.

“He can be in the middle of the lineup everyday and appears to be a tremendous first baseman,” coach Randy Mazey says. “His biggest challenge is going to be the transition to Big 12 pitching. Hopefully he can be a mainstay in the middle of the lineup.”

Two-year starter, junior Ryan McBroom, will lead the group at the plate, while also serving as a first baseman. McBroom had a breakout season at the plate in 2012, batting .302 with 15 doubles, six home runs and a team-leading 41 RBIs. McBroom had 16 multi-hits games, including five three-hit contests and one four-hit game. He started all 55 games and committed just two errors, while averaging 8.8 putouts per game.

“He’s got a chance to hit some home runs and has a good concept of hitting the ball in the middle of the field,” Mazey says. “He is a great worker, has been very coachable and I wish he was a freshman and we had four years with him.”

He was third in the Big East in chances (513), third in putouts (482) and 11th in the fielding percentage (.998). At the plate, McBroom had a hit in all but 15 games and posted 16 multi-hits games, including five three-hit contests and one four-hit game.

Also returning with McBroom is Fleming, a second baseman who had a strong rookie campaign in 2012, as he posted a .316 average with six doubles and 22 RBIs. Fleming started the last 18 games of the season, batting .393 with 15 RBIs and six multi-hit games during that span.

“Billy is not flashy by any means, but makes all of the plays he needs to,” Mazey says. “He’s not a guy who jumps out at you when you see him with his physical tools, but over the course of a game or season I think his consistency and steadiness will be his biggest strength.”

In Big East play, Fleming ranked fourth in the conference in batting average (.354). As a contact hitter, he struck out just 12 times in 133 at bats, including just three times in the previously mentioned 18-game span. He finished the season with a .975 fielding percentage, committing four errors in the field.

Junior Ryan Tuntland will serve as the third baseman after transferring from Oakton Community College, where he was named to the All-Region IV and All-Illinois Skyway College Conference teams in 2012. He finished the season with an impressive .388 batting average to go along with 56 runs, 21 doubles, five triples, five homers, 54 RBIs and 16 stolen bases.

“Tuntland has been a great surprise for us. I think he is going to be one of our better hitters,” Mazey says. “His work ethic and attitude are off the charts. He’s a coach’s dream as far as the type of kid you want to work with and he needs to have a big year for us in the middle of the lineup.”

Junior Nate Antone played third base last year for the Mountaineers, finishing the season with a .225 batting average, four doubles and 17 RBIs in 42 starts. He also has the ability to play first base and could see some time on the mound.

Junior Michael Constantini will look to convert his abilities to the Division I level as the Mountaineer shortstop after spending the previous two seasons as a starter for Mercer County Community College. In 2012, Constantini led the team in batting average (.380), hits (60), runs (42) and RBIs (26) en route to earning the ranking of the No. 3 best player in Region 19.

“He’s a really good glove guy, but gets a little too flashy at times. He has tremendous hands, tremendous feet and arm strength to get it to first,” Mazey says. “He’s had to make a lot of changes offensively since he’s been here and he’s been very willing to do that. He’s a better hitter now than when he got here and we need to try to get some offense out of him because we know we’ll get the defense.”

Sophomore Justin Fox, who returns from last year’s team, will provide depth at second base, third base and in the outfield. Fox played in 15 games with four starts.

Justin Fox showed us some good signs in the fall that he might be able to do some things offensively,” Mazey says. “We have a few options in there so if somebody gets hurt it’s not the end of the world. I like the way we’re going to play defense in the infield.”

Other newcomers to the infield include freshmen Alex Stephens and Shaun Wood. Stephens served as a backup shortstop in the fall after batting .533 with 40 runs, six homers, 34 EBIs and 62 stolen bases during the 2012 high school season. Wood will backup McBroom at first base, while also having the ability to play in the outfield. Wood batted .390 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs during his 2012 high school season, earning Washington Post All-Met honors.

Without Polonius, the newcomers on the left side of the Mountaineers infield have some big shoes to fill. Luckily, they appear more than capable, and the returning players on the right side at least offer some stability.