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2019 MLB Draft Prep: Small ball/Army-West Point

A tribute to the Black Knights on Veterans Day.

Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Few topics in a high-strikeout/high home run sector of baseball are more controversial than small ball. The premise of surrendering an out of 27 to gain 90 feet is considered absurd to some, and occasionally essential to others. All I have to add is that a successful small-ball plate trip by Willson Contreras in the home sixth against Milwaukee might have been useful. Today, I talk about college baseball and small ball.

College teams are a bit split on bunting a stealing bases. Hit-and-run attempts are a bit difficult to track by statistics. Some teams are much more prone to swinging away with a runner on and nobody out. Others go with more strategy.

A decent chunk of the decision is based on perceived talent. As in MLB, if you have a guy who’s second in the league in OPS, he probably isn’t going to bunt. Which is where my break with “swing away purists” begins. Some look at Run Expectancy Graphs, They trust them to a fault.

The fault is, some hitters are really bad at hitting. Or, end up in situations where they are unlikely to be successful. The #NeverBunt types scoff “Get better players,” and roll their eyes when a pitcher induces a grounder for two outs.

As with hitting a cut-off man, running the bases well, or tracking fly balls to and above the outfield wall, bunting is a skill. Some will never be any good at it. Some execute well in some situations, but not in others. Minor league teams tend to bunt quite a bit, because all but a select few prospects will be best served at the top level if they’re capable of moving a runner along.

If the defense-first middle-infielder is incapable of getting a runner from second to third, by any means necessary, he’s less useful in the pipeline. The premise of “This guy with a Double-A .573 OPS, but a solid glove needs to hit more fly balls” may work. Or not.

It’s completely cool to call for Cubs hitters to bash two-run doubles. The team has reached the postseason four times in a row because they tend to be reasonably good at the OPS category. However, in some instances, moving a runner along can be helpful. Especially depending on the score, inning, defensive alignment, and pitch selection.

If the hitter at the plate is negligent at a skill, that lessens the likelihood he’ll be successful. Or that the opposition will believe he’ll even try. In 95 percent of the situations, small ball is likely a bad selection. However, when that 1-in-20 shot appears, it might be wise to have a few players capable of going old school.

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Today is Veterans Day, so the draft focus is mainly on the U. S. Military Academy Black Knights from West Point. In 2018, they won their conference tournament (Patriot League) and were seeded fourth in the four-team Raleigh Region. Faced with a really good North Carolina State team, they put on a brilliant small ball display. Not only that, they limited the Wolfpack to a single run. They lost their next two games, but their victory against NC State was a beaut.

Their offense was keyed by the college leader in stolen bases (center fielder Jacob Hurtibise) and their senior catcher (Jon Rosoff) who signed after the draft with the Tigers system. I’m not sure if they will match or eclipse last season’s 37-24 mark, but Hurtibise is that quick. (Not Terrance Gore quick, but he’s worth drafting.)

Their pitcher kept a very good offensive team off-balance all night long. The home squad entered with five hitters with double digit homers. The Knights entered with nine, as a team.

After dodging trouble in the first, Tyler Giovinco baffled the Pack well into his pitch count. The offense started in the third. A walk by Hurtibise led to a steal. He scored from second on a grounder to first. Later, and errant back-pick throw led to another tally.

However, today’s isn’t just about the Black Knights. Most Veterans are justifiably proud of their service. Perhaps you would be interested in tracking a Military Branch’s baseball team. Similarly, a number of other service schools play baseball. I quite enjoyed watching Virginia Military Institute play last season.

If you want to request baseball information on a military-based school, feel free to ask. The Naval Academy and Air Force have baseball teams. And incredible bands to play The Star Spangled Banner. If you want to track something in that range, I can direct you where you’d need to go.

Jim Foster is the head coach at West Point, and they open on February 15. Their schedule hasn’t been released. Whether you’re interested in tracking a service academy or not, thank you for any time you spent in the military.