Baseball Preview: Infielders
Senior first baseman Ryan McBroom and junior second baseman Billy Fleming, will begin their final season together on the right side of the infield in 2014. As for the left side, the same questions going into the 2013 season still exist.
McBroom had yet another dominant year for West Virginia in 2013, being selected to the All-Big 12 Second Team. Playing in all 59 games last season, McBroom led the club in runs (39), doubles (19), home runs (12), RBIs (48) and slugging percentage (.518). His powerful bat was a force within the Big 12, as he finished No. 1 in home runs, No. 3 in doubles, No. 3 in RBIs and No. 4 in total bases within the conference.
“Everybody knows who he is this year,” coach Randy Mazey explained. “He will be a mainstay in the middle of the order and has tremendous power. He’s a tremendous kid and a great worker. We need to keep him healthy as much as we can because that is one position we don’t have depth at.”
The senior from Fredericksburg, Va., is no liability defensively. McBroom sported a .983 fielding percentage during 2013, second best of any starter on the Mountaineer’s roster.
“He is a really good defender and anytime you have a good defensive first baseman they get overlooked; people think the position is pretty easy,” Mazey says. “Having a good defender at first base saves the other infielders a lot of errors.”
Fleming is expected to hold down second base this season for West Virginia. Fleming was a main stay at the position in 2013, as he was one of just four players on the entire roster to appear in 55 or more games. Known for his consistency, Fleming was ranked fourth on the team last season with a .294 batting average, also recording 11 doubles and 27 RBIs.
“Billy is just a great college player,” Mazey explained. “He gives you offense, he gives you defense and he gives you leadership. He’s just a true Mountaineer. He does everything you ask of him, has a great attitude and I love having Billy in the lineup everyday.”
Moving to the left side of the infield, shortstop and third base are positions surrounded with question marks.
“We really need someone to step up and win that job,” Mazey says. “That is a really important position on the field. We made a lot of errors there last year, so there are a few guys that are candidates to win that job. It’s going to be competitive, but whoever wins it, both guys have improved a lot this year.”
One of the two men competing for the position is Taylor Munden. The junior is one of the most athletically gifted players on the roster, as he can play every position on the diamond. Last season he played in 54 games, starting 45 of those at a variety of locations before settling at shortstop.
“He is a great athlete and has a great work ethic,” explained Mazey. “Usually those guys find a way to win, so I would be happy to have Taylor at shortstop. He has gotten a lot better and before he leaves here he will be a great player for us.”
During 2013, Munden was second on the team in walks (19) with a .203 batting average, six doubles, two triples and one home run. He was just a single shy cycle against Youngstown State in his first game at leadoff, as he drove in two runs and scored two runs. In his seven appearances on the mound last season, Munden struck out seven in 8.2 innings.
Michael Constantini will also have a chance to see time this year at shortstop after playing in 40 games last season with 23 starts. The senior finished the year with a .241 batting average, 11 runs, seven doubles and six RBIs. Constantini was a point of consistency in the lineup, as he had five multi-hit games in 2013.
“Mike has as good as hands as anybody out there,” Coach Mazey explained. “He had a good fall offensively and that’s what he needed to do to be a consistent player in the lineup.”
The most competitive position in 2014 will be third base. Both Constantini and Munden could move to the position if needed, but redshirt junior Brad Johnson and junior Justin Fox are likely to battle for the spot.
“Third base is the one positions that we’ll go into spring practice not knowing who will play,” Mazey says. “Munden has played some third in the past and we worked Constantini at third some in the fall. Between Brad Johnson and Justin Fox, we have some options. That job is open to win right now.”
Johnson is a transfer from USC Sumter, where he tallied a .375 batting average with 12 doubles, one triple, five home run and 24 RBIs in 2013. He was ranked the No. 188 junior college prospect by Perfect Game.
“Brad is a big, physical guy that has shown some power in the past,” Mazey articulated. “He had a good fall offensively, so he is a candidate for both third base and designated hitter. If he can play more consistent defensively, he would be a pretty imposing figure over there because he is a big kid with some skills. I’m looking forward to him trying to win that job.”
Fox also looks to man the hot corner this year for the Mountaineers. This past season he played in 28 games, 14 of those being starts. Throughout 2013 he batted .232 with five runs and seven RBIs.
“He is one of the hardest workers I’ve been around,” Mazey said. “He showed some signs of being a really good player last year and will get another chance this year.”
Junior Cody Semler could man both shortstop and second base in 2014. Playing 2013 for Weatherford College, his biggest contributions will be at the plate. This past year Semler played in 53 games, recording a .298 batting average with seven doubles, one triple, one home run, 31 RBIs and 10 stolen bases.
“Cody is a switch hitter that gives you a different look at home plate,” Mazey says. “He needs to be pesky at the plate and he has a chance to be a good player at this level.”
Freshman Jackson Cramer will serve as McBroom’s backup at first base. The freshman was a 2013 Rawlings/Perfect Game All-Texas Region Honorable Mention selection with a .337 batting average and eight home runs.
Overall the infield for West Virginia this season will contain elements of both consistency and questions marks, much like 2013. While McBroom and Fleming will man first and second, the left side of the field is up for grabs.
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