The Leadoff: Infield Preview

Feb. 8, 2014

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By Bryan Levine

Feb. 8 - Third Base

As The Leadoff continues to go around the diamond for the Knights, decisions on starting spots for head coach Terry Rooney remain open.

Yesterday, we looked at two players clashing for two positions in the middle of the infield. Today it comes down to two players vying for a single position at the hot corner.

“It’s a battle right now between Kam Gellinger and Chad Whiteaker at third base,” Rooney said. “They are two very different players. Chad is a right-hand hitting junior-college transfer who had a very good fall for us. Kam is a left handed hitter. He’s tall, he’s athletic and he can run.”

Whiteaker, a junior from the College of Southern Nevada, earned first team all-conference honors his freshman year after hitting .354 with 56 RBI. He’s going up against freshman, and Cape Coral native, Gellinger for the starting job. In high school, Gellinger was a four-year starter at shortstop, but he’s someone Rooney feels comfortable playing mostly anywhere on the infield.

“Kam Gellinger has all the tools to be a tremendous player by the time he walks out of here,” said Rooney. “Early in the year I can see us doing a platoon situation at third base based on lefty-righty matchups, those sorts of things.”

If Rooney truly plans to play to the situation to begin the season, Whiteaker could be the Opening Knight starter. It’s assumed Siena will be throwing their left-handed ace Matt Gage out on the mound Friday night, which means Rooney could counter with Whiteaker’s right-handed stick.

“There are some positions like third that are still out there where it’s coming down to who takes advantage of their opportunities,” said Rooney. “We’re always playing to win, but if all is equal, we’ll play the left-right situation for now. The one positive of all this is that I think our defense is going to be outstanding. We have a lot more range and athleticism, as a whole, than we did last year.

The first few weeks of the 2014 season are going to be exciting. Both Gellinger and Whiteaker will be battling to become the permanent starter in every game they play. Which player will end up manning the hot corner permanently? Only time will tell.

Feb. 7 - Second Base & Shortstop

Head coach Terry Rooney has an interesting decision to make on Opening Knight. Rooney knows who his starting shortstop and second basemen will be; juniors Dylan Moore and Tommy Williams.

He just doesn’t know which of the two will play which position yet.

“I think going into the year we could flip flop them both. I feel comfortable with both at short and at second base,” Rooney said. “Right now our focus is on the turns of double plays, and to see who gives us the best chance of that. But the positive is that we have two really good players who are interchangeable up the middle.”

Moore is probably a name most Knights’ fans don’t know yet, though they will more than likely recognize the junior college he transferred from; Cypress College in California. That sounds so familiar because former Knights Erik Hempe and Ray Hanson also hail from the west-coast school.

“We’ve had a lot of Cypress College kids the last few years,” Rooney said. “We have a really good connection with them.”

Moore had a nice year with the Chargers in 2013, leading them to a CCCAA State Championship. The junior hit .273, with 22 RBI and also stole 22 bases.

“Dylan Moore is a high-energy, quick twitch is what I like to call it, player,” said Rooney. “Offensively, he had a very good fall for us. He’s just a winner. This guy has some of those intangibles in the middle of the field.”

Moore’s double-play partner will be Williams, who is entering his third season with UCF. The Palm Beach Gardens native has added noticeable weight and strength to his frame which helped him make tremendous strides in the offseason.

“He has to be consistent. Whether he’s at second base or shortstop, he just has to make the routine plays,” Rooney said. “Tommy has a great arm. He just has to make the routine plays.”

Williams started all 48 games he played in last year at shortstop. He ended the season with a .230 batting average, eight doubles, two triples and 11 RBI.

“He’s got to hit,” Rooney said. “Last year he had too many strikeouts, and didn’t really have the kind of offensive year we believe he’s capable of having. But he had one of the best falls of anyone, offensively, for our team and that was very encouraging.”

No matter which player Rooney chooses for shortstop or second base, the Knights appear to be in good hands up the middle. We’ll see the decision on Opening Knight. 

Feb. 6 - First Base

UCF baseball coach Terry Rooney has a lot of tough decisions when it comes to the 2014 roster. With 24 new faces on the team, there are still plenty of positions up for grabs.

First base is not one of them.

Junior James Vasquez will be back at his familiar position on the field, and back in the middle of the lineup.

“He has one of the most advanced swings for any young player who has come through here in a long time,” Rooney said. “Now it’s time for him to just mentally learn which pitches he can drive, and to get into good counts.”

In 210 at-bats last year, Vasquez hit .248 with eight home runs and 36 RBI. He greatly improved his average this summer, notching a .307 clip in 153 at bats playing for the Staunton Braves in the Valley Summer Baseball League.

“He had a great summer in the Valley League,” Rooney said. “Probably the best summer of anyone up there.”

As a centerpiece of the roster, Vasquez is more than just a middle of the lineup hitter to the Knights. His glove needs to be just as sharp as his bat in 2014.

“Coach Klosterman works with our infielders and he always says first base is the most important guy in the infield,” Rooney said. “It’s absolutely vital that your first basemen is a good fielder. It really helps the rest of your infield.”

While Vasquez will be an everyday player in 2014, his backup Tyler Hayden could see some playing time as well. Hayden is a freshman out of Oviedo High School and grew up just five minutes from UCF campus. According to Rooney, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound rookie spends his time in batting practice launching balls over the fence.

“Tyler Hayden has as much pure power as anyone on our team. He just needs to show, in the opportunities he’ll have, that he can consistently make solid contact,” Rooney said. “I’m very excited about Tyler Hayden. He has the one tool we need on this team, and that’s power.”

Hayden is one of 12 freshmen on the Knights’ squad. With so much youth on the roster, players with experience are at a premium this season. That’s where a three-year guy like Vasquez will play his most important role. Not just as a power hitter or a strong defensive fielder, but as a leader on the team.

“First of all, James leads by example every day. Since the day he got here he’s been one of our hardest working kids,” Rooney said. “D.J. Hicks took James Vasquez under his wing his freshman year, and JV has taken Tyler Hayden under his wing this year.”

Check back tomorrow as we continue our daily positions previews as we break into the outfield depth chart.

UCF baseball insider Bryan Levine is proud to bring you his all-new blog, The Leadoff. This blog is dedicated to giving Knights fans an inside look at the UCF baseball program. Levine, who recently began his second season working with UCF baseball audio broadcasts, will offer his unique perspectives on "Orlando's Baseball Team" with multiple updates throughout each week of the season.



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