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Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2003

Baty, Tribble have something to prove

Draft snub inspires sluggers; coach Price feels ‘lucky’ to have seniors back

August 16, 2003

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The snub quickly has turned to motivation for Kansas University baseball seniors Matt Tribble and Ryan Baty.

The two were unsure they were even going to be Jayhawks for the 2004 season. When the major-league baseball draft was approaching in early June, scouts assured the pair they would be high picks -- no worse than the top 20 rounds.

"Twenty rounds went by," Tribble said, "and nothing happened."

In fact, all 50 rounds passed, and the two went undrafted. Now, the only option they have is one more year at KU.

Not that it's a bad option.

"Ryan and I are excited to go play and have a great season," Tribble said. "We want to make them wonder why they didn't take us."

It's a win-win situation for KU coach Ritch Price. Not only was he able to keep two of his top players from a team that went 35-28 last year, but now he has two sluggers with something to prove.

"It was unbelievable how lucky we were," said Price, who will start his second season at KU next spring. "I never thought we'd get both of them back."

Baty, who hit .377 with 10 home runs in 2003, spent the summer playing for the Hyannis Mets of the prestigious Cape Cod League. Tribble, who hit .335 last season, stayed and trained in Lawrence.

Both will be asked to fill the void left by graduating seniors Casey Spanish and Kevin Wheeler.

Spanish was the team's top hitter in 2003, batting .383 with 12 homers, including two booming shots in the Big 12 Conference tournament.

Wheeler hit .319 with 10 homers and went 6-6 as one of the team's top three starting pitchers. He was named most valuable player at the team's postseason banquet.

Along with the unexpected return of Baty and Tribble, Price hopes to get immediate offensive production from Andy Scholl, a transfer from Lamar Community College who hit .472 with 26 homers and 81 RBIs in just 61 games this spring.

"As of right now," Price said, "he's the guy that's projected to come in and replace Casey Spanish."

In addition, junior Travis Metcalf, who declined an offer from the Minnesota Twins, will return at third base after hitting .288 with 11 homers this spring. And KU's second base/shortstop tandem, sophomores Ritchie Price and Matt Baty, both hit better than .300 as freshmen.

Not only did Price and Baty contribute on the field in their first collegiate season, but they may have really helped their coach off the field, too.

"It's important that high school kids see that Kansas plays freshmen," Ritch Price said. "That will help as we start recruiting more high school players."

Regardless, Price's top priority is improving on KU's 9-18 mark in Big 12 play. Enhancing a thin pitching staff is the easy answer to the conference problem.

Although Wheeler and Kenny Falconer (who signed with the Seattle Mariners) are both history, seniors Ryan Knippschild (8-5, 5.16 earned run average) and Chris Smart (2-5, 4.35) aren't. They are the only two on the Kansas roster with starting experience in Big 12 games.

Despite the inexperience, the pitching staff is hardly dry. Senior and Free State High graduate Brandon Johnson (7-3, 2.59, seven saves) again will assume closer roles, and sophomore Chris Jones looks to return after sitting out this spring following elbow surgery. Jones went 4-1 with a 4.57 ERA in 2002.

And, don't forget the immediate help coming in from and abundance of junior college transfers.

They may be the key in KU realizing its goal for year two of the Ritch Price era: an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.

"I feel really good," Price said. "Our coaching staff did a great job in the recruiting process. We've vastly improved."

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