This is the third in a series of short profiles of the projected starters for the 2007 Nebraska Baseball team. Through the magic of words, I'll swing around the horn, touch home, run around the outfield, check in with the starters, stop in the bullpen, and the finish up on the bench with the DH.
LF: Andy Gerch
2005 - .364 avg, .439 obp, .517 slg, 4 home runs, 14:23 BB:SO
2006 - .290 avg, .369 obp, .473 slg, 4 home runs, 9:21 BB:SO
Andy Gerch, a hometown Lincoln Pius X product, was the hero of Nebraska's College World Series appearance in 2005. In the fall of 2005, he had shoulder surgery, which seemingly limited his production last season. He's allegedly back to full health now, and should return to his 2005 form. He's a likely candidate to hit .340/.420/.500 with 5-6 home runs.
His power is a little less than you'd ideally like from the left field position, but he should be able to make that up in average and on-base percentage. He's an average doubles hitter, with 15 over two years, but if he can step that up, he'll be very useful. I see him hitting somewhere around the seventh spot the lineup. His bat control is excellent, but his walk-to-strikeout ratio isn't quite good enough to hit in the two-hole.
CF: Bryce Nimmo
2005 - .207 avg, .327 obp, .293 slg, 2 home runs, 12:12 BB:SO
2006 - .259 avg, .373 obp, .356 slg, 3 home runs, 27:26 BB:SO
Nimmo can offer three things that Nebraska will find beneficial. One, he has excellent plate discipline, walking more often than he strikes out and carrying an on-base percentage over 100 points higher than his batting average. Two, he can steal bases at a good rate, 80%. Three, he plays a good defensive center field.
That being said, Nimmo is a below average hitter. He's shown some improvement, but even if he keeps up this rate, he will become just an average offensive player this year. He was benched at the end of last season, and his job is far from safe. He'll be challenged by newcomer DJ Belfonte, who comes into Nebraska with a great athletic resume. He earned all-state honors as a junior in both baseball and football. He hit .406 for the baseball team, and led a top-ranked Missouri football team in rushing yards, touchdowns and tackles.
Belfonte suffered a season-ending knee injury his senior year, though. At this point, all signs indicate that Belfonte is at full strength. If he is, he'll quickly challenge Nimmo's centerfield job. Belfonte has the defensive chops and the hitting background to come in and have little dropoff at the position. Mike Anderson will go with Nimmo for the first few weeks, but look for Belfonte to sneak playing time away from him as the season progresses.
An important card in Belfonte's favor is that he's a lefty, and Anderson has been making quite a big deal out of getting a lefty in the lineup for balance.
RF: Nick Sullivan
2006 - .318 avg, .425 obp, .455 slg, 2 home runs, 6:9 BB:SO
In limited action (66 at-bats) last season, Sullivan impressed. He redshirted in 2005, but in his last two years in high school, he hit .422 and .526, earning 2004 All-Colorado honors. Sullivan will get plenty of plate appearances this season, as he's slated to become the everyday rightfielder with Luke Gorsett gone. Sullivan has a good arm (he was a first-team All-Colorado QB in high school), which is why I'm projecting him as a right-fielder, even though he can play both corners. Sullivan is also a lefty, which Mike Anderson needs in the lineup.
Sullivan, along with Andrew Brown, Ryan Wehrle, and Andy Gerch, will anchor the offense in 2007. If the Huskers are to have any chance of advancing in post-season play, they'll need to develop some offensive weapons. Their pitching staff will be solid, but the heart of the lineup must produce consistently. The one-run performances against Miami and Manhattan should still be sticking in Mike Anderson's craw.