Sunday, October 25, 2009

Where we stand: Catchers

First part of 2009 wrap-ups and 2010 previews begins with the catchers.

Returning Players:
Sr. Shawn Forsythe (18 games, 4 starts)
Jr. Dan Burkhart (105, 105) 2009 starter
Jr. DJ Hanlin (4, 0)
R-Fr. David Fathalikhani (0, 0)

Incoming Players:
F Steel Russell

Spring Roundup:
Burkhart is coming off of a 2009 campaign which saw him share first team All-Big Ten honors with Indiana catcher Josh Phegley. Though the all conference selection resulted in a tie, it was Burkhart who the coaches selected as the Big Ten Player of the Year.

Being used in the 5-hole before sliding up a spot during the second half of the season anchoring the Bucks as its clean-up hitter, the Cincinnati Moeller product batted .354, with 13 doubles, three triples, 10 home runs, and 62 RBI. Burkhart’s .529 slugging percentage was second on the team behind CF Michael Stephens. His .429 on-base percentage tied for the team lead along with DH Ryan Dew and SS Tyler Engle. Combined Burkhart’s 1.018 OPS tied for the team lead with Stephens, ideal production from your clean-up hitter. In conference play the numbers Burkhart put up stayed consistent, posting a line of .350-.575-461.

What makes Burkhart stand out besides the raw numbers is digging deeper into the numbers and seeing a complete player. Blending power wth patience, in drawing 31 base on balls compared to 29 strikeouts, only three other Big Ten hitters with 10+ home runs finished with a BB: K ratio of 1 or better. Teammate Dew who walked an equal amount of strikeout at 12. Purdue third basemen Dan Black who walked 62 times against 46 strikeouts, and Phegley with 45 free passes to34 strikeouts.

Defensively opponents successfully stole bases off Burkhart 65% of the time which finished 4th best behind Minnesota’s Kyle Knudson 60%, Chad Noble from Northwestern at 62%, and Aaron Johnson from Illinois at 64%. Providing a solid glove along with a strong arm Burkhart allowed just 3 passed balls, fewest in the Big Ten.

As you can imagine with the Big Ten Player of the Year in front of you on the depth chart, finding a way to squeeze yourself into the line-up can be challenging, a task that was dealt to Hanlin and Forsythe. Forsythe who is entering his 5th season with the program did pick up at-bats and playing time in 2009, providing veteran depth for the Buckeyes behind the plate.

Appearing in 17 games making four starts, Forsythe batted .238 picking up five hits in 21 at-bats. All five were singles, but the former Sheridan General did drive in three runs, and crossed home four times himself. A bug-a-boo for Forsythe however was his defense behind the plate. Compared to the three passed balls Burkhart allowed in 57 starts, Forsythe allowed two, collected three catcher interference, and base runners successfully stole nine bags in 11 attempts.

DJ Hanlin rounds out the returning catchers. A junior, Hanlin saw playing time in four games, went 1-for-2 and drove in a run. Walk-on David Fathalikhani did not see any playing time in 2009, taking a red-shirt year.

Summer Showings:

As expected, as one of college baseball’s best, Burkhart spent the summer playing in the most prestigious of collegiate summer leagues, the Cape Cod Baseball League. Playing for the Hyannis Mets, Burkhart was selected an alternative to the CCBL All Star game. With the wooden bat Burkhart hit at a .295 clip, third on the team, with a pair of doubles and a triple.

Along with Burkhart, Forsythe dropped the aluminum for the wood in honoring his skills over the summer. Playing for Rockbridge Rapids alongside teammates Brian DeLucia and Jared Strayer, Forsythe made eight starts, appearing in 13 games. In 24 at-bats, Forsythe batted .125, collecting three hits and a RBI.

Autumn Activities:

Burkhart went 6-for-12 with 4 RBI, in the three game Scarlet & Gray World Series. Catching the entire first two games behind the plate, Burkhart trotted out to third for the deciding third game, a site new to Buckeye fans.

Neither Forsythe nor Hanlin collected a hit in the three games, sharing catching duty for the Gray team. While Fathalikhani did pick up a hit in his lone at-bat for the Scarlet team.

Where we stand:

Obviously the position is Burkhart’s to lose, which we highly doubt that will happen. As the player Coach Bob Todd referred to time and time again as the team’s most valuable player, a lot will be expected from Burkhart. After his breakout sophomore year, though not on the level Phegley was, Burkhart’s name is resonating through the collegiate baseball world.

As the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, Burkhart will not sneak up on anyone, however given the skill and depth of the Buckeyes line-up, opposing pitchers won’t have the luxury of giving Burkhart the Dan Black treatment of intentional, unintentional free passes. Burkhart will get his chances to again by the catalyst in the Buckeyes batting order, presumably batting clean-up once again.

As long as Burkhart maintains his focus he should once again put up stellar numbers. Where another year of college baseball under his belt, the line-up the Bucks have, and a sense of urgency that this is the year, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Burkhart bat near .370, line-up 15 home runs, and drive in close to 75 runs

Behind Burkhart you can expect Forsythe to step in on days Burkhart is given off, and do a serviceable job. Hanlin could provide pinch-hit value and a lot defensive replacement off the bench on those days. Fathalikhani is probably still a year or two away from extended playing time. True freshman Steel Russell who will be highlighted later will also provide depth for what could be the Big Ten’s best collection of backstops.

Grade: A. Though top heavy with Burkhart, having Forsythe with some time behind the plate doesn't the the cupboard bare. The numbers are there and if Russell brings the bat from Autumn to Spring this group could be very deep with numbers and talent.

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