SFA Baseball 2013 Preview: Infielders
Feb. 12, 2013
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks were just one win away from its second consecutive Southland Conference Tournament championship game a year ago, and this year with four preseason all-conference selections on board, another successful season seems to be in line for the `Jacks.
This is the fourth in a five-part series previewing the Lumberjacks, position-by-position, leading up to the 2013 opener at South Alabama on February 15 in Mobile.
Led by shortstop Hunter Dozier, the projected starting infield consists of each of SFA's three leaders in batting average a year ago and represents nearly 40 percent of its RBI total from 2012. Dozier, a first-team all-Southland choice last season and a preseason all-American entering this season, led the `Jacks in nearly every offensive category a year ago in hitting while putting up a .357 batting average to go with 10 homers, 37 RBI and a school-record 22 doubles.
Now with two years under his belt and a more dynamic and seasoned group of hitters around him, Dozier could be poised for an even bigger year hitting in the middle of the SFA lineup. He needs just two more doubles to take over the all-time record at SFA in less than three full seasons
"Hunter has had an outstanding first two seasons here, and we fully expect him to continue what he's done," head coach Johnny Cardenas. "But it will not be easy since he is going to command so much attention, which is going to provide an opportunity to the guys around him to have big years too. Hopefully we are able to take advantage of that."
Dozier will make up one half of arguably the premier double-play combo in the Southland, pairing up with senior second baseman and fellow all-Southland choice Freddy Villalobos. After transferring from Weatherford College after his sophomore season, Villalobos delivered a solid debut as a `Jack, hitting .296 with three homers and 26 RBI, and a .408 slugging percentage while hitting primarily in the No. 2 slot of the lineup.
Along with Villalobos, SFA is also expecting a breakout season from redshirt junior first baseman Max Lamantia, who finished the year on fire with a strong showing at the Southland Conference Tournament that garnered him all-tournament honors. He split time last season with senior slugger Bobby Loveless, but still was one of two `Jacks to finish the year with an average over .300, hitting .325 in 120 at-bats. He also finished with a .517 slugging percentage, second on the team.
"If Freddy and Max have good years, there is a good chance we are having a good year as a team," Cardenas said. "Each of them finished pretty strong last year and played well at the Southland Tournament. Ideally they are able to build off that momentum they build last year and it carries over into this season."
The infield will be rounded out by senior Zach Benson, a top-of-the-lineup table setter who will be moving to third base after spending last season in the outfield. A natural infielder who played third base at San Jacinto College before coming to SFA, Benson was off to a fast start last season before suffering a broken hand that sidelined him for nearly a month. It took him a while to return to form after coming back to the lineup, but also closed out the year strong, reaching base in 11 of his final 12 games.
"Replacing Bryce (Cummings) defensively at third base would be tough for anyone, but it is comforting to know that we have someone who has experience there and who we know can do the job," Cardenas said. "Zach is a good defender and is dangerous offensively, especially if he can get on base and run."
The `Jacks also return a pair of infielders who filled key roles last season in Michael Ruiz and Jordon Lenaburg. Each saw time in the field, but provided depth and versatility to the lineup. Ruiz brings not only a left-handed bat, but a reliable glove that can fill any of three infield spots left of first base. Meanwhile, Lenaburg provided one of the biggest hits of the year for SFA when he stepped in and hit a game-winning pinch-hit single vs Southeastern Louisiana to keep the `Jacks alive in the Southland Conference Tournamet. He was one of the most reliable bats off the bench, hitting .357 in pinch-hit opportunities last season with four RBI.
SFA also brought in three newcomers, each of which could challenge for time on the diamond. Likely to get most of hits reps at third base, transfer Brett Thornell comes to Nacogodches after spending last season at McLennan CC where he hit .272 with 12 doubles and 18 RBI for the Highlanders. Originally signed to Texas A&M out of Magnolia High School, he brings a left-handed bat to the roster and a bevy of honors, including all-state nods, from his time at MHS.
Freshmen middle infielder Connor Fikes and first baseman Taylor Raglin will also join the ranks, with each projected to have bright futures. Fikes was a two-time first team all-district choice at Rowlett High School who brings a slick glove to SFA, while Raglin who stands at 6-4 and 235 pounds, brings a slugging left-handed bat of his own after hitting four homers and driving in 40 runs at Frisco's Centennial High School as a senior.
2013 Season Preview Schedule: