The last two positions in my series of profiles are two of the most specialized. Catcher and Designated Hitter. Coincidentally, there may be some overlap between the two positions.
Catcher - Jeff Lanning
Sophomore Jeff Lanning came into the program last season fresh off of an impressive high school career in Ankeny, Iowa. He not only hit .509 with 14 home runs and a .983 (!) slugging percentage, but was a two-time state champion in the 4 x 400 meter relay. He's the rare catcher who can hit very well, run even better, and has -- from all accounts -- at least average defensive abilities. He hit .300 in 14 games as a true freshman, and if he can live up to his potential, he'll make us all soon forget about graduated catcher and sixth-round draft pick Jeff Christy.
Also challenging for the catcher spot are junior Mark Hightower, juco transfer Mitch Abeita and freshman Dominic Piazza.
Mark Hightower is a good defensive catcher with a great arm. That's been his strong suit for years, even though he hit .370 his senior year of high school. He's been given rare at-bats so far in his Husker career, going 4-for-13 with four singles and two walks. If given the chance to start, it will be interesting to see if he can hit at the college level.
Mitch Abeita is a juco transfer from North Central Texas CC, where he hit .330 as a freshman and .303 as a sophomore. He also threw out over 40% of runners while at NCTCC, so it's safe to assume that he has a good arm.
Dominic Piazza, as far as I can tell, isn't related to Mike Piazza. Well, Dominic does have a brother named Mike Piazza, but he doesn't play DH for the Oakland A's. Dominic, from Scottsdale, Ari., turned down local warm-weather schools to come to the snowy great plains. The lefty hit .529 with seven home runs as a senior to earn second-team all-state honors in Arizona, making me wonder who the first teamer was.
Designated Hitter - Thad Weber
Thad Weber lit up the Jayhawk League during his sophomore season at Hutchinson (Kan.) CC. He was a doubles machine, as he hit .435 with 27 two-baggers and six homers as he was named the League MVP. He's originally from Friend, Neb., where he played multiple sports, and also pitched for the Legion team. He continued to pitch at Hutchinson CC, putting up ERAs of 3.10 and 2.16 in his two years there. He went 10-0 last season as a starting pitcher, somehow still finding enough at-bats to hit a school-record 27 doubles. Weber may find himself in the bullpen occasionally, but with his potent bat, he should find himself in the lineup often.
I have to note the irony of a designated hitter being an excellent pitcher...
Other contenders for occasional DH work could well be Dominic Piazza, Steve Edlefsen, Brett Sowers, and anyone else Mike Anderson wants to give a few extra at-bats to.