Fall baseball in swing; Marbut likes outlook

PULLMAN -- It's football season, and even the most diehard of Washington State baseball fans aren't spending too much time thinking about Cougars baseball right now. WSU baseball coach Donnie Marbut understands that. He's a big football fan himself, and Marbut loves to swing by Cougar football practices when he has the time.

Marbut doesn't have much time for football these days. Fall baseball practice began last Monday, and by the time the fall session ends Oct. 20, Marbut hopes to have a much better idea who's going to help lead the Cougars to the College World Series next June.

"We feel we have enough talent to win a league (Pac-10) championship. But you look at the league, and you could be in eighth," Marbut said with a laugh.

"But our goal for this program is to be one of eight teams standing at the end of the year that gets to Omaha and plays for a national championship."

The Cougars return six starters, the top three starting pitchers, the two leading hitters, the pitching wins leader and the leading home run hitter and RBI man off a 37-22 team. Washington State finished third in the Pac-10 and made a second straight trip to the NCAA regionals.

Senior right-hander Chad Arnold (5-3, 3.74), WSU's No. 1 starting pitcher last season, is a surprise returnee after being drafted in the 18th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Junior left-hander Adam Conley (5-3, 3.33), a superb closer most of last season, emerged as a top starter at the end of the year. James Wise (4-1, 5.18), a senior right-hander, is the No. 3 starter at this point.

Marbut said Spencer Jackson (3-1, 5.00), David Stilley (2-2, 6.75) and Travis Cook (1-3, 6.33) are other starting candidates. All three made starts last season.

Senior left-hander Paris Shewey (7-3, 3.47), a set-up man last spring, is expected to fill the closer role. Marbut is looking for right-handed set-up men to replace 2010 seniors Seth Harvey, Connor Lambert and Michael Ratigan. Hard-throwing freshman Taylor Williams from Camas is a prime candidate, though Marbut sees Williams as a starter in the future.

In the field, slick-fielding senior Cody Bartlett (.323, 7 home runs, 34 RBIs) is splitting time between second and shortstop this fall. Three-year starting shortstop Shea Vucinich passed up his senior year to turn pro.

Marbut said Trace Tam Sing, a freshman shortstop out of Bellevue's Newport High School, "is the most skilled defender at 18 that I have ever been around." Tam Sing was drafted in the 22nd round by Boston in June.

Marbut said Bartlett "was undoubtedly our best player last year." That's one reason why second baseman Tommy Richards (.300-0-5) saw little action as a sophomore.

Richards was named Most Valuable Player of the West Coast League after leading the wood-bat summer college league with a .364 batting average. Marbut is looking at Richards at various infield positions.

"I have a hard time thinking Tommy won't get on the field some way," Marbut said.

Junior Taylor Ard, a transfer from Mount Hood Community College in Gresham, Ore., by way of Vancouver is a leading candidate to replace the graduated Michael Weber at first base.

Freshman Jason Monda, a first baseman-outfielder out of Capital High in Olympia, has been called "the most talented guy we've ever signed" by Marbut. Monda was drafted in the 32nd round by Colorado.

Senior Matt Argyropolous (.272-3-39) returns at third base, but Marbut likes the potential of freshmen Adam Nelubowich and Stetson Olson. Marbut said Nelubowich, a 14th-round draft pick of Seattle last year, might be destined for more action at first base after redshirting last season following surgery on a shoulder he injured last fall.

Marbut said Conley looks "really good" after sitting out the summer due to finger surgery. Marbut is hopeful that Jackson, who underwent shoulder surgery late in the season, will be able to throw in scrimmages late in the fall.


DEREK JONES

Marbut said he expects Arnold (knee), Shewey (shoulder), Stilley (shoulder) and senior outfielder Garry Kuykendall (knee) to sit out fall scrimmages as they recuperate from minor operations. Stilley had hoped to avoid surgery, but Marbut said the junior southpaw "had a little cleanup in the shoulder; just precautionary."

The Cougars were already planning to move Kuykendall (.284-1-25) from center to left to make room for speedy junior Kyle Johnson (.282-0-8).

"He might be as good a (college) center fielder as there is in the country," Marbut said.

Junior Derek Jones (.309-12-49) returns in right field. Jones struggled all summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League, but Marbut doesn't seem the least bit concerned.

"Derek's worked extremely hard," Marbut said. "He's very, very dedicated to his game. You're looking at one of the premier players in college baseball."

Marbut said sophomore left fielder Brett Jacobs (.340-0-22) has "gotten better defensively." Marbut likes the potential of outfielder Nate Blackham, a freshman from Mount Spokane High.

"He plays with his hair on fire," Marbut said. "We love him … he's a perfect Coug. He plays as hard as he can play."

Marbut said the Cougars "are going to have to put up bigger offensive numbers" after hitting .292 with 45 home runs last season. WSU might get some added punch from senior catcher Jay Ponciano (.225-1-11), who hit .352 with four homers and 21 RBIs in just 36 games and 22 starts in 2009.

NOTABLES:

  • Each year, the Cougar baseball program presents the "Red Cougar Award" -- the highest honor for a non-player -- to an individual who showed oustanding support for the program over the season. Over the weekend, Marbut presented the award to Justin Felker, director of major gifts for the WSU Athletic Foundation. This is believed to be the first time the honor has gone to an athletic department staff member.

  • Marbut just hosted the annual WSU baseball alumni weekend. Festivities included a golf tourney, football tailgate and more. Among the luminaries attending were former Major Leaguers Aaron Sele, Paul Noce, Tom Niedenfuer and Scott Hatteburg. For Sele, Noce and Niedenfuer, it was the first trip back to Pullman in 16 to 20 years.
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