Monday, March 3, 2014

A Half-Dozen Huskies Getting Closer to the Major Leagues

March is my favorite month, and not only because of March Madness. It also means baseball is just around the corner. Covering spring training and the Big East/NCAA tournaments were my two favorite things I've ever done as a sports writer. I mean, come on, even if you're not a big baseball fan, you have to admit those warm-weather, spring training highlights are nice to see on another frigid winter day up north.

Anyway, UConn has no less than six former players currently with big-league teams in spring training. I wouldn't be surprised to see at least three or four of these guys in the majors at some point this season. Here's a press release UConn sent out today about those six players and how they're doing so far:

OF George Springer (2009-11): The 2013 MiLBY Award for Offensive Player of the Year, Springer batted .303 with 37 home runs, 108 RBIs and 45 stolen bases across the highest two minor league levels of the Houston Astros organization last season. The former UConn center fielder is ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the Astros organization and appeared in 62 games for the Oklahoma RedHawks (Triple A) last season, boasting a .425 OBP and .626 slugging percentage. In two Spring Training games in 2014, Springer has notched one hit in three at-bats, driving in a run and scoring twice.

While at UConn from 2009-11, Springer hit .346 with 46 home runs, 196 RBIs and 76 steals in 186 games. He was a 2009 Baseball America Freshman All-America First Team member, and became the first Husky to take home BIG EAST Rookie of the Year honors. In 2011, Springerwas the league's Player of the Year, garnering First Team All-America nods from Perfect Game USA, Louisville Slugger and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

RHP Matt Barnes (2009-11): Ranked as the 86th best prospect on the Major League Baseball's top-100 prospect list, Barnes figures to be a major piece of the Boston Red Sox organization in 2014. Barnes spent the majority of 2013 with AA-Portland of the Eastern League, making 24 starts and posting a 4.33 ERA along with 135 strikeouts against 46 walks in 108 innings. Barnes was called up to AAA-Pawtucket for one start at the end of the year, in which he went 5.1 scoreless innings with seven strikeouts, allowing just three hits to pick up a win. In an exhibition game against Boston College on Feb. 27, Barnes tossed a scoreless inning of relief, recording one strikeout and allowing no baserunners.

During his career in Connecticut from 2009-11, Barnes went 24-11 with a 3.30 ERA in 45 career
appearances, 37 starts. In 256.2 career innings, he struck out a program-record 247 batters against 81 walks and allowed just 212 hits. His 2011 year was one for the record books, as Barneswent 11-5 with a 1.93 ERA and a 117:33 strikeout to walk ratio in a program-record 121 innings. He was named a First Team All-American by the NCBWA and Louisville Slugger, also taking home Second Team honors from Perfect Game USA and Baseball America. Barnes was the 2011 BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year and a First Team All-Conference selection.

LHP Greg Nappo (2007-11): An 18th round pick by the Florida Marlins, now known as the Miami Marlins, in 2011, Nappo spent the majority of the 2013 season in advanced A ball with the Jupiter Hammerheads before being called up to the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs near the end of the season. In high A ball, Nappo appeared in 36 games, boasting a stellar 1.15 ERA in 55.0 innings. The 6'0 lefty held a .927 WHIP and recorded 56 strikeouts while issuing just nine walks. In two appearances with New Orleans, Nappo worked two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit. Nappo has appeared out of the pen once for the Marlins in Spring Training, tossing a 1-2-3 frame with one strikeout.

After four seasons at UConn, Nappo holds the program record for innings pitched at 311.1 and ranks fourth with 215 career strikeouts. In 2011, Nappo became the fourth player in UConn history to win 10 or more games in a season with a 10-3 record in his senior campaign and became just the second player in Connecticut history to record 25 career wins. He was an integral part of the 2011 squad that reached the NCAA Super Regional for the first time in school history and was named the 2011 Clemson Regional Most Valuable Player.

3B Mike Olt (2008-10): The last former UConn player to make his major league debut, which occurred for the Texas Rangers in August 2012, Olt aims for a return trip to the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs in 2014. The former Husky INF/OF spent the first half of the 2013 season in Triple-A, playing for the Round Rock Express. In 230 at-bats, the right-handed batter smashed 11 home runs and drove in 32 RBI. After being sent to the Cubs organization as part of the Matt Garza deal, Olt saw time with the Iowa Cubs, compiling a .168 batting average with three homers and eight RBI in 39 games. In limited Spring Training action, Olt is 0-for-2 at the dish.

Olt was selected as the 49th player in the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft, which at the time was the highest pick under current head coach Jim Penders. Olt finished the 2010 season hitting .318 with 23 home runs, 76 RBIs, a .659 slugging percentage and a .401 on-base percentage in 64 games. The 6'2 INF/OF currently ranks second in UConn history with 44 homeruns, fourth in total bases (378), and holds the single-season program record with 23 homeruns in 2010.

RHP Scott Oberg (2009-12): Drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 15th round with the 468th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Oberg has enjoyed success at the minor league level in his first two years of professional baseball. In 2013, the righty spent the year in Advanced-A ball, appearing in 56 games for the Modesto Nuts. In 52.1 IP, Oberg held opponents to just 34 hits, struck out 61 batters and boasted a 1.86 ERA en route to a team-high 33 saves. He has appeared out of the pen in one game in Spring Training, surrendering one run and one hit in 1.0 innings of work.

At Connecticut, Oberg ranks fifth in program history with 11 saves, including nine in the 2012 season. The righty made 30 appearances, which at the time was single-season record, in 2010, allowing just 10 earned runs in 26.1 innings of work. After returning from Tommy John Surgery in 2012, he was honored as an All-BIG EAST First Team selection and named to the ABCA Regional Second Team

SS Nick Ahmed (2009-11): Drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the Second Round as the 85th overall pick of the 2011 MLB Draft, Ahmed spent the 2013 season in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization after being traded as part of the Justin Upton deal. In 136 games for the Mobile BayBears, Ahmed notched 115 hits, including 21 doubles and four home runs to go along with a .236 batting average. The SS was honored with a 2013 Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove accolade, finishing first among all full-season minor league shortstops with 441 assists, second in chances (650) and fourth in fielding percentage (.980), all while turning 88 double plays. Ahmed is 0-for-2 with two strikeouts in limited Spring Training action this spring.

Ahmed, who finished fourth on the team with a .333 batting percentage in 2011, was named to the Clemson Region All-Tournament Team as a unanimous selection. During his final season in Storrs, he recorded 61 hits, 51 runs, 35 RBI, 11 doubles and two home runs while posting a .965 fielding percentage. Ahmed was one of 11 Huskies to earn post season accolades from the conference, as he was named to the All-BIG EAST Second Team.

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