Redbird Baseball Season Preview: Week 2 - Infield
Jan. 24, 2008
NORMAL, Ill. - As the start of the 2008 college baseball season draws closer, GoRedbirds.com and Redbird All-Access will check in with the Illinois State baseball team as it gets ready for opening day 2008, with the weekly series "Redbird Baseball Season Preview." The second edition of the series takes a look at the Redbird infield, which returns two veterans from last year's squad, including Mike Stalowy, the vocal leader, who is featured as this week's video interview, available for Redbird All-Access members.
Stalowy will look to improve on his numbers from 2007, as the Joliet, Ill., native batted .300 with four doubles, a triple and 11 RBI in 45 games. The junior will once again be shifted around the infield, as the versatile Joliet Catholic High School product saw action at second base, shortstop and third base last season. Stalowy could see time at all three positions in 2008, in addition to first base, where he is projected to begin the season due to a minor shoulder injury.
Illinois State head baseball coach Jim Brownlee believes Stalowy will provide vocal leadership this season, with his positive attitude and work ethic rubbing off on the younger players.
"Mike played really well in the fall, and has done a good job of improving his feet and getting his body into shape. I was very impressed with the way he played on the left side of the infield last year and this past fall, and it's unfortunate that he had a setback this winter with his shoulder. But I think he's going to be good to go once the season starts in February. But his mentality is such that he has a great attitude, and he's going to do whatever it takes. He's my kind of player because he does whatever it takes to be successful. He's a really good leader, and he's probably the most vocal and confident guy in the infield."
Joining Stalowy in the infield is Kyle Cherney, the lone healthy senior in the Redbird infield. Cherney is penciled in as the starting third baseman as the team begins individual workouts, after starting 48 games at second base in 2007. The Crystal Lake, Ill., native joined the team just before the start of the 2007 season, and struggled to adjust to the competition in the Missouri Valley Conference. Cherney finished with a .194 batting average, but hit 11 doubles and two home runs to go along with 22 RBI.
Though Cherney struggled at times in 2007, Brownlee believes that the Prairie Ridge High School product will have a big senior year for the Redbirds in 2008.
"I think Kyle is going to have big year, whether he plays third or second base. I think he was in a tough situation last year because he came in the middle of the year. He kind of got thrown into the wolves and I think he struggled. But he's a really good switch hitter; he's got the best hands of anyone that I've ever coached and he has a nose for the baseball, positioning-wise.
"I think that after being here for a year, his experience will really make him feel comfortable at what he is able to do. He's a good baseball player, and I think he will have a really big senior year. I think that until you go through the Valley for a year, you don't know what you are getting into."
Senior Collin Salzenstein, who was projected to be the starting shortstop, will miss the beginning of the 2008 season due to a shoulder injury suffered at the end of the 2007 campaign. Though his speed on the base paths and his sure hands in the infield will be missed, freshman Kevin Tokarski looks to make an immediate impact to the squad. A first-team all-state selection by the Chicago Tribune, Tokarski batted .441 with eight triples and 20 stolen bases as a senior at Downers Grove (Ill.) North High School. Another versatile infielder, Tokarski will make the move to shortstop after playing at second base the majority of his career. Tokarski was named one of the top-100 second basemen in the Chicagoland area by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Heading into spring camp, second base appears to be the position where most of the competition exists. With Cherney moving to third, redshirt freshman Ryan Court and freshman Ronnie Calvird will battle for playing time, as both had solid performances during the fall. Calvird, a native of Farmington, Mo., was a two-time all-state selection as a prep at Park Hills Central High School, and batted .549 with four home runs, 15 doubles and three triples as a senior. A native of Sleepy Hollow, Ill., Court recorded a .406 batting average with six home runs and 41 runs scored as a senior at Dundee-Crown High School, and garnered first-team all-area honors from the Daily Herald and the Elgin Courier.
"Right now, if we played tomorrow, Kevin Tokarski would be our starting shortstop," said Brownlee. "He might be our best second baseman, so I think we have some maneuverability. Ryan Court also had a great fall, and I think he's going to get a lot of playing time at second and third. You also throw in Ronnie Calvird, who has played shortstop his whole life, and along with Court, will see the majority of the time at second base. We are just going to have to work it out through the first 20 games of the season."
Redshirt sophomore Gabe DeMarco is another player that will see time in the infield, as the Rockford, Ill., native can play both first and third base, in addition to taking on designated-hitting duties. DeMarco started the first five games of the 2007 season at designated hitter before he suffered a season-ending elbow injury. DeMarco started in 22 games as a freshman in 2006, and batted .238 with six doubles and 12 RBI.
"We talk to our players about preparing ourselves everyday to come to the ballpark and not get too high and not get too low," said Brownlee. "I think we have some juniors in DeMarco and Stalowy and a senior in Cherney who are good leaders, and will show the younger players that mentality. Calvird, Court and Tokarski are all very competitive, but I think they will have their days where they look like a deer in the headlights. But I think by the time May is here, they will all be very comfortable in their roles. I think they are all really hard workers, and they put a lot of time into improving their game. They are also good in the classroom, and I think they have a very good chance of helping us compete in 2008."
Check back with GoRedbirds.com and Redbird All-Access, as the Redbird outfield will be examined next week. The Illinois State baseball team opens up the 2008 season with a three-game set at Tennessee Tech Feb. 22-24.