Feb. 12, 2008
With practice underway and opening day less than two weeks away and quickly approaching, NIUHuskies.com offers the second of a two-part preview of the 2008 Northern Illinois baseball season with a look at the offense and an analysis of the infielders and outfielders. For part one of the season preview, click here.
The Huskies will have big shoes to fill on the corners with the loss of mainstays Scott Simon and Jesse Seykora. Helping to offset the void is 2007 Freshman All-American Jordin Hood, who moves over to third base, his more natural position.
Hood was one of four freshmen to earn All-MAC honors after a season that included six home runs and a .309 conference batting average. As well as Hood played during his rookie season, he expects to take another step in his development as one of the team's offensive leaders while making a smooth transition from second base.
"Jordin has a good understanding of playing third base and did well there during the summer so he is ready to go," said head coach Ed Mathey. "We expect him to maintain his proficiency at the plate. He has a great swing and worked hard to improve and get stronger. He is a two-way threat for us because he can hit for power and can also run."
Third-year shortstop Bobby Stevens returns to anchor the left side of the infield and remains a fixture up the middle. The highly-touted junior and 2008 team captain missed significant time with a hand injury before returning to make an impact at the MAC Tournament despite not playing at 100 percent. Now healthy, Stevens possesses range and a strong arm defensively and provides power and speed at the plate.
"Bobby has been a consistent player for us and is potentially an all-conference caliber player," said Mathey. "He has been very good defensively and at times has been an offensive dynamo. He is a leader who takes charge, plays hard and possesses a great knowledge and understanding of the game."
The most competitive spot on the infield is at second base where a trio of players, each of whom bring different strengths, will vie for time. Offensively, Tim Kamin is the frontrunner. Defensively it's Marvin Sanchez. In terms of all-around contributions, Joe Buonavolanto may be best suited.
Kamin emerged at the end of the season by hitting .588 with three home runs and 13 RBI over the season's final two weeks while earning MAC West Player of the Week honors during that stretch. The senior brings a strong lefthanded bat and experience.
Sanchez, a highly-touted freshman, showed tremendous work ethic and defensive abilities during the fall, and can switch-hit at the plate. Buonavolanto hit .400 in limited time last season while backing up multiple infield positions as a freshman.
"I anticipate that each player will get time early in the season and who plays most may ultimately depend on the situation and whether the team needs more offense or defense or a righthanded or lefthanded bat in the lineup," said Mathey. "Kamin did very well with his opportunities last season and shows more veteran savvy. Marvin has a lot of great tools - great defensive instincts, great hands, a strong arm, and runs very well. Joe does a lot of things well, is a student of the game, and swings a good bat with the ability to drive the ball."
Reynolds, who may also see time on the mound, will take over first base duties after hitting .341 with 15 RBI in 44 at-bats as a backup last season. Beyond his ability to hit to all fields, Reynolds is an accomplished fielder after seeing late-inning defensive duty a year ago.
"Dave did a great job at first base last season behind Scott Simon," said Mathey. "He is the best defensive first baseman I have had since I've been here. He made the most of his opportunities offensively and has a great knowledge of the game. He's a baseball player."
In addition to interchanging middle infield depth as needed, freshmen Allen and Joe Etcheverry will be the primary reserves at the corner positions.
"Allen will provide depth for us at third and Etcheverry has the ability to step in and will get some opportunities at first base," said Mathey.
All three of Northern Illinois' starting outfielders return for 2008, but will need to win their jobs while being pushed for playing time in an open competition for positions.
Jeff Thomas started 39 games and Pat Minogue 54 contests in left and center, respectively, last season and both are looking to regain their form of 2006 when they were table setters and ranked among the team's offensive leaders. Thomas has enjoyed successful stetches and Minogue is a two-year starter who was named a team captain. Danny Reed returns in right field where he started 52 games and ranked second on the team with six home runs in his first season after transferring from the junior college ranks.
"Our outfield competition is wide open," said Mathey. "Jeff has been pretty brilliant at times and has a contagious attitude and approach and a real passion for the game. If he can put everything together he could be a real spark plug for us. Pat is a vocal leader and may be our fastest runner with a great ability to cover the gaps in the outfield. Danny has the ability to be a middle of the lineup guy and top RBI producer. He is an all-around performer and a good rightfielder with power, the ability to run, and a good arm. We anticipate that he will continue to build on the solid season he had last year."
Anthony Maziur emerged during the fall after serving primarily as a pinch-runner who scored nine runs in limited duty during his freshman season.
"Maziur is an aggressive baserunner with deceptive power at the plate and the ability to play either left or center field," said Mathey. "He has been waiting for his opportunity to show what he can do."
Also factoring into the outfield mix will be Smith and Badgley, both of whom will see mound time. Smith hit .245 in two seasons as a reserve outfielder and designated hitter and Badgley was a junior college All-America a year ago. Freshman Brandon House is a speedy outfielder who had a good fall and will provide depth.
With the departures of Simon and Seykora from the middle of the lineup, the Huskies figure to take advantage of an aggressive speed game, especially while the pieces of the batting order take shape over the course of the season.
"I like our overall team speed and not only does that bode well for us defensively, but it will put pressure on the opposing defense," said Mathey. "A lot of our offense will depend on what evolves through the middle of the lineup and who becomes our run producers. I think our speed has increased throughout the lineup and that will give us the ability to stay aggressive."
With versatility and depth throughout the infield and outfield, Mathey will have plenty of lineup options to choose from on a daily basis.
"I see tremendous versatility when I look at our offensive lineup," said Mathey. "We have speed at a number of positions and guys who can consistently drive the baseball. We can put a lot of combinations out there, including an entirely lefthanded or righthanded lineup if we need to."
To view the 2008 Northern Illinois Baseball media guide, click here.