Redbird Baseball Season Preview: Week 3 - Outfield
Jan. 31, 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 third edition of the series takes a look at the Redbird outfield, which includes a mix of young and athletic talent, including Tyler McNeely, the Normal, Ill., native, who is featured as this week's video interview, available for Redbird All-Access members.
McNeely looks to build off a successful 2007 summer campaign, as the University High School product batted .308 with a team-best 44 hits and was named a West Division All-Star as a member of the Allegany Nitros of the New York Collegiate Baseball League. McNeely struggled at times at the plate during the 2007 collegiate season, and finished with a .152 average in 33 at-bats. However, McNeely's speed and hustle will continue to impact the Redbird lineup, which is why head coach Jim Brownlee believes McNeely could be the opening day right fielder.
"I think in the maturation process, Tyler has got to become more consistent in the batter's box," said Brownlee. "The more at-bats he gets, the more comfortable he will become. But his biggest strength is that he can really run, and he can really throw. He really gets out of the box and gets down the line. He might be one of the fastest players that I have ever coached. It's critical for him to make sure that he has quality swings, and that he is hitting the ball hard and on a line. The more opportunities Tyler has to play, the better he is going to be because he is an athletic kid."
One of the newcomers that the coaching staff is excited about is junior transfer Quinn Ewert, who will see time in left field, as well as on the mound. Ewert joins the Redbirds after spending the past two seasons at Michigan State, where he saw limited time at both pitcher and outfield. Ewert was originally recruited by Illinois State coming out of Crystal Lake (Ill.) Central High School, where he hit .430 and posted a 10-1 record and a 2.10 earned-run average (ERA) as a senior. Ewert also had a strong summer season, playing for the Bethesda Big Train of the Cal Ripken League, and finished with a 2-1 record and a 3.60 ERA in 10 appearances.
"We really liked Quinn out of high school and we really thought that we were going to get him," said Brownlee. "He was a big priority for us because of his athleticism, and he really wanted to be a teacher. But he had a good visit at Michigan State and ended up there. But it didn't work out for him, and I think that sometimes, a change of scenery is really good for some people. I think that's the case for Quinn. He's one of the best athletes and hardest workers, and he's in great shape. His strengths are his athleticism and having a really good arm. He's kind of exciting, for me, because he can do a lot of things."
Another newcomer that will see time in the outfield and on the mound is freshman Corey Maines of Houston, Texas. Maines was a third-team all-state and first-team all-Houston selection after he batted .429 with nine home runs and 42 RBI as a senior at Langham Creek High School. Maines also got it done on the mound, as he recorded a 9-3 record with a 1.01 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 74.0 innings of work. The right-hander is penciled in as the opening day centerfielder, as well as the closer as the team begins spring practice.
Sophomore Dan Weston is the third multiple-position player that has the ability to pitch and play outfield for the Redbirds this season. Weston was used primarily as an outfielder in 2007, where he started 20 games and batted .215 with eight RBI. The LaGrange, Ill., native pitched in only seven games last season, and finished with a 13.50 ERA in 10.0 innings of work. However, Weston could see an increased role in the bullpen, as he will be a key left-handed set-up reliever.
Providing the power in the middle of the lineup will be senior Kevin Konsler, who could split time between right field and designated hitter. Though he hit just .200 with 18 RBI in 2007, Konsler had multiple RBI in four games and has the ability to hit the gaps with one swing of the bat. Konsler did start 21 games last season, and will provide leadership and experience to the young group.
"Kevin's been here for a long time, and the M.O. on him is that he can hit the heck out of the fastball, but struggles with the ball away," said Brownlee. "But he has made some adjustments with that. He's a better athlete than people give him credit for; it's a matter of him focusing and being able to sustain it every day when he comes to the ballpark. He provides some power in the lineup that we don't have, up-and-down, and that's one thing that our ballclub is lacking. He's one of those guys that can run into some balls and hit them a long way."
Sophomore Cole Marty is the final outfielder that could challenge for some starts. The Galesburg, Ill., native was used primarily as a defensive replacement in 2007, and had only two at-bats. Though he has not had much game experience, Brownlee likes his athleticism and believes he could factor into the outfield rotation.
"I think we have a lot of talent in the outfield, and we are very young," said Brownlee. "But I think we are athletic and will go catch the ball. In the first 20 days, we are going to establish an everyday outfield and there is a lot of competition, which is good. I think that each of the guys is different in what they bring to the table. The most athletic guys are Quinn, Corey and Cole, and those guys can all really run. You throw in Weston and Konsler, and I think it's going to be a matter of who really hits and establishes themselves as someone who can consistently hit Missouri Valley Conference pitching. All of them are going to play, and I don't question any of them defensively.
"We base our program on pitching and defense, so I think we have a lot of maneuverability. The other thing that is unique about our outfield play is that we have three guys that are going to pitch a lot. We don't drop off when they go to the mound, and I think that's the strength of our outfield."
Check back with GoRedbirds.com and Redbird All-Access, as the Redbird battery 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.