Double Duty Domination

Some of the nation's top players do so on both sides of the ball



 
 

Jan. 15, 2007

By Glenn Tanner

Special to CSTV.com

 



Glenn Tanner

Glenn Tanner reports from Big 12 country.
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When Houston's Brad Lincoln was voted CSTV.com's Player of the Year last season, almost all of the pollsters were riding the same train of thought -- Lincoln's 12-2 win-loss record and 1.69 ERA might have been enough to garner the award, but when you toss in the fact that he also hit 14 homers while batting cleanup for the Cougars, voting for Lincoln was a no-brainer.

 

Lincoln's place on most All-America teams was in the "Utility" slot.  In the Major Leagues, "Utility" refers to a player who's a rotating substitute at several different positions because he's not good enough to start at any of them; it's not a badge of honor.  In college, "Utility" almost always refers to guys like Lincoln who pull double duty, hitting and pitching.  It's frequently the most competitive position on All-America teams.  Double duty is a big deal in college baseball.  Houston head coach Rayner Noble talked of how consistent his two-way star was.

 

"When you talk about Brad Lincoln and his season, the No. 1 thing that you talk about is consistency," said Noble. "There were no ups and downs to what he did this year, and what he did was on the brink of spectacular. And we're just talking about his pitching. He hit in the middle of our lineup and produced all year long. He is a true Player of the Year, because he did it on the mound and at the plate."

 

Double duty used to be fairly common in the majors, too; Babe Ruth still holds the MLB record for most innings pitched in a World Series game.   But gradually, double-duty players fell out of style in the big leagues.  After Willie Smith got 108 hits and pitched in 15 games for the Los Angeles Angels in 1964, 40 years passed before there was another legitimate two-way player -- some guy named Brooks Kieschnick.

 

Of course anyone who's a real college baseball fan knows of Kieschnick.  He's the only two-time winner of the Dick Howser Award ('92 and '93) and last year he was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame's inaugural class.  Check out the list of Howser Award winners and you'll see more guys who could both throw it hard and take it yard - Scott Bryant, Jason Jennings, Todd Helton, and Lincoln.  Toss in College World Series legends who pitched and hit, such as Dave Winfield and Mark Kotsay, and it's a pretty good bet that this season's most dominating players with be spending time both on the hill and in the batter's box. 

 

In alphabetical order, here are this season's top five candidates for the nation's best double duty player, plus a taste of what you might expect to see them do:

 

--Josh Dew, Troy University

 

Dew is the most talented moose this side of Bullwinkle.  Last year the 6-foot-5 225-pounder helped the Trojans to a 47-16 record with team-leading marks in slugging percentage (.630), homers (17) and RBI (67).  When he wasn't playing first base, he was also a lethal relief pitcher - 63 Ks in 48 innings and a .214 batting average against.    Somehow every major league team ignored him during last year's draft, so he'll have extra motivation to be even more dominant this season. 

 

2006 Double Duty Domination Highlight: Dew was named the National Player of the Week for his performance in a three-game sweep at Arkansas-Little Rock - four homers, eleven RBI, and a win on the mound.

 

--Sean Doolittle, Virginia

 

Doolittle spent his last two summers with the US National team.  This past summer he only pitched one inning, but drew plenty of comparisons to J.T. Snow for his glovework at first base.  Last spring, however, the 6-foot-2 lefty was more dominant on the mound for the Cavs - an 11-2 record, 2.38 ERA, and a .193 batting average against.  As a hitter, he's not a slugger but he is a tough out - he posted a .324 batting average with an incredible 54/28 BB/K ratio, and a team-leading 57 RBI last season.  Doolittle, the 2006 ACC Player of the Year, is expected to be one of the top ten collegians picked in the 2007 MLB draft.

 

2006 Double Duty Domination Highlight:  In a 6-0 win over Maryland, Doolittle hit a two-run homer and allowed only two hits and struck out 13 in 6.1 innings.

 

--Joe Savery, Rice

 

Mighty Joe has been a superstar since his first game at Reckling Park.  In 2005, the 6-foot-3 lefty started every game (including 17 of them on the mound) and was named National Freshman of the Year and WAC Player of the Year.  He batted .382 and posted a 2.43 ERA in 119 innings.  His 2006 season was plagued by shoulder tendonitis, and he was limited to playing first base after only 62 innings pitched.  His hitting numbers were still very good -- .335 batting average, 61 RBI - but the Owls desperately missed his pitching in Omaha.  He could be their ace on the mound this season if he's healthy.  Major league scouts have loved Savery since high school, so expect someone to spend an early first-round pick on him in June. 

 

2006 Double Duty Domination Highlight: Savery stole a base and pitched five shutout innings in a 3-0 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

 

--Damon Sublett, Wichita State

 

Like Savery, Sublett's 2006 double-duty was cut short by injury, only more dramatically.  Sublett broke a bone in his throwing wrist in early May, costing the Shockers their best hitter and their closer.  In spite of his shortened season, Sublett was still named Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year - in 46 games he batted .394, posted a .500 on-base average, and smacked 10 homers.  In 31 career innings pitched, he has yet to allow an earned run, striking out 54.  Plus, he's regarded as an excellent defensive second baseman.  His summer in the Cape Cod League demonstrated that his wrist is fine - he showed power even with a wood bat and used a 92 mph fastball to pitch eight scoreless innings, fanning 23 and allowing only three baserunners.  Yes, that's correct - 23 strikeouts and three baserunners.  For some reason, the absolute filthiness of those pitching numbers doesn't excite the pro scouts - Sublett was ranked only 31st among the 2006 Cape League prospects and is generally projected as a shortstop in the pros.

 

2006 Double Duty Domination Highlight:  In an 8-7 win at Long Beach, Sublett singled, doubled, and tripled, then struck out two in a 1-2-3 ninth to pick up a save.

 

--Matt Wieters, Georgia Tech

 

The rarest species in baseball might be the big athletic catcher who's capable of hitting from the left side of the plate.  Wieters fits that bill, and he's frequently compared to that species' only other recognized member, Minnesota Twins phenom Joe Mauer.  At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Wieters is actually bigger than Mauer and also possesses a 95-mph fastball that he uses as Georgia Tech's closer.  The two-year totals the junior has posted are jaw-dropping - a .360 batting average and 25 homers and 139 RBI in 128 games.  That power also comes with Mauer-like plate discipline - 101 walks and only 71 strikeouts.  On the mound, he has a 3.10 ERA with 13 saves in 72 career innings.  Plus, he comes up big in the NCAA playoffs - in two seasons he's 21-for-43 with six homers and 15 RBI.  Wieters was named this summer's top pro prospect in the prestigious Cape Cod League.  Don't be surprised if his name is called first in the June draft.

 

2006 Double Duty Domination Highlight: In an 8-7 win at fifth-ranked Florida State, Wieters had three hits, threw out speedy Shane Robinson attempting to steal, and pitched two scoreless innings for a save. 

 

Both Dew and Sublett said that physically, it's tough doing double duty.  Not only do they have to be in better shape, but being in shape to both pitch and hit also takes some compromising. 

 

"You can't lift for power because that interferes with your pitching ability," said Sublett.  "So I have to lift to do both, so I'm kind of stuck in the middle."

 

Both players, however, said that the extra work is worth it.

 

"I love doing both," said Dew.  "I can't imagine just being a pitcher.  I've always been one of those guys who likes being in the game, and doing both is even better."

 

Doing both is even better, especially when you do both as well as these guys do. 

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