LAWRENCE, Kan. – With the start of the 2013 baseball season nearly a week away, KUAthletics.com is previewing the Jayhawks position-by-position. In this installment, we track the progress of the Kansas outfielders, one of the youngest units on the team last season.
Returning Letterwinners (6) 2012 Stats
Joe Luvisi (So.) .400, 1 HR, 3 RBIs, .400 OBP
Connor McKay (So.) .203, 22 R, 2 2B, 5 HR, .314 SLG, .256 OBP
Joe Moroney (So.) .250, 2 R, .250 OBP
Dakota Smith (So.) .248, 10 2B, 2 HR, 19 RBIs, .376 SLG, .333 OBP
Michael Suiter (So.) .226, 18 R, 5 2B, 4 HR, .333 SLG, .333 OBP
Tucker Tharp (Jr.) .265, 24 R, 3 2B, 3 HR, .339 SLG, .340 OBP
Newcomers/Redshirts (1) Notes
Brian Poupore (Fr.) Missed 2012 season; two-time all-region in HS
Departed Letterwinners (2) 2012 Stats
Jason Brunansky .143, 1 RBI, .294 OBP
Taylor Hart .333, 1 R, .333 OBP
Kansas returns four outfielders, who combined to start all but one game last season. The combination of Connor McKay, Dakota Smith, Michael Suiter and Tucker Tharp gives the Jayhawks four uniquely talented players that have all shown potential at different times in their careers.
Suiter ended his freshman season with a bang, batting .357 over KU’s final 12 games with a pair of home runs and 10 RBIs. Kansas head coach Ritch Price is hopeful that the sophomore can continue his progress as the team’s everyday left fielder.
Tharp played error-free in the outfield last season and hit .265 in his first year as a full-time player. He’ll man center field most of the time, but may see some spot starts in right, depending on different factors.
McKay got off to a quick start, but struggled in the second half of his freshman season. Price has been encouraged by his defensive progress in the outfield during the offseason. He will primarily play right field, but has the athleticism to play any of the outfield positions.
Smith hit his stride at the end of his freshman season, collecting five doubles in the month of May, while batting close to .300. Along with his duties in right field and center field, Smith will also pitch out of the bullpen.
Sophomore Joe Moroney will also see playing time in the outfield. Moroney can play all three outfield positions, while Price calls him “the best defensive outfielder I have coached at Kansas.”
Sophomore Joe Luvisi has moved to the outfield after working at third base last season. As a freshman, Luvisi showed promise with the bat, homering in his first collegiate at bat. He will look for chances off the bench in 2013.
Redshirt freshman Brian Poupore missed all of last season with an injury. He will look for at bats backing up the corner outfield positions.
Head Coach Ritch Price
On having experience in the outfield after starting two and three freshmen for much of 2012:
“We went through the growing pains a year ago; we knew we were going to be young. As a team, we played six freshmen on a regular basis and played Tucker (Tharp) every day as a sophomore. We knew there would be growing pains as those guys faced the competition that you do in the Big 12 Conference day-in and day-out. The good thing is, we’ve gone through those growing pains; we played well the last month and those guys were better this fall than they were a year ago, so the development process has continued like we expected it to. I look at it now, we basically have four starting outfielders back, because all four of them played a lot last year.”
On sophomore Michael Suiter:
“He got off to a really tough start last year, but he continued to work hard and made progress throughout the year. He played very well during the final month of the season. He’s solid defensively; he’s physical with the bat; he has the potential to hit anywhere from third to fifth in our lineup. We expect his development to continue and for him to become an impact player for us.”
On sophomore Dakota Smith:
“He is the same scenario as Suiter. He improved throughout the course of the season and played very well at the end of the season, which is part of the reason why we played so well the last month. Those freshmen were 40 games in and had become good Division I players. Dakota Smith had a fabulous fall. He’s one of the most physically gifted players that we’ve had since I’ve been here. We just need him to do it on a consistent day-in, day-out basis. But he has the chance to be an elite player. He’s going to play right field this year.”
On junior Tucker Tharp:
“Tucker will play center field this year. He had a solid sophomore year in his first year as a starter. He’s ‘Mr. Reliable’. He takes the best routes to the ball of anyone on our team; he catches every ball that should be caught. He’s a good offensive player that competes and plays hard every day. We’re expecting a big year out of him as a junior.”
On sophomore Connor McKay:
“Connor McKay started and played almost every day last year. He had a fabulous fall; he’s improved dramatically defensively, where he struggled last year. He’s made progress with the bat. We will play all four of our guys on a regular basis, while one of them will DH, but we intend to rotate that around. You’ll see Connor in right field and in left. On our trip to the Dominican Republic, he was the top offensive player; he has the ability to do that.”
On sophomore Joe Moroney:
“Joe Moroney is the fifth outfielder. This is no exaggeration, in the 10 years I’ve been here, he’s the best defensive outfielder that I’ve coached. He’s going to come off the bench late in games and have him play the outfield. We’re going to take advantage of his skill-set. He can catch it and throw it as well as anybody that I’ve ever coached.”
On freshman Joe Luvisi:
“He’ll backup in left field. He’s continuing to make progress and continuing to develop as an outfielder. We like what he can do with the bat, but need him to improve defensively.”
On the improvement of the outfield defensively:
“Early in the season, as a group, they struggled offensively, but they also struggled defensively. I was very pleased with the way they ended the season and I was pleased with the summers that they all had and that they’ve all continued to develop this fall. I expect this group to go from being a weakness a year ago to being a strength this year.”
Kansas will open the 2013 season in Mesa, Ariz., with four games against Nevada at Hohokam Park. The Jayhawks and Wolf Pack will open their four-game set on Friday, Feb. 15 at 2 p.m.