Posts Tagged ‘Kansas Jayhawks’

From MLB Draft Pick to NCAA Champion?

C.J. Henry (Getty Images)

C.J. Henry (Getty Images)

I know, I’m like you. That sounds totally backward to me.

In the course of doing research for an upcoming college basketball project, I looked into the much-vaunted Henry brothers, both of whom were set to play for the Memphis Tigers this season before coach John Calipari bolted for Kentucky. Instead, the brothers opted to switch their allegiance to the University of Kansas, which happens to be my alma mama, and that of Henry mom and pop, both of whom starred in basketball there.

This is all nice, Eric, but what does it have to do with baseball?

Well, while both Xavier and C.J. Henry are listed as freshmen on the KU roster, only one of them is truly a spring chicken. Xavier is a hotly-recruited blue-chipper who is only in college because of NBA rules. C.J. is a 23-year-old walk on who spent four years swinging a bat for the farm clubs of the Yanks and Phillies before deciding his future lay on the hardwood.

The Yankees made Henry – a 6’3″, 205-lb. shortstop from Oklahoma City – the #17 pick of the 2005 June draft. That’s the draft that gave us Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, and Ryan Braun, not to mention Troy Tulowitzki and our hero, Jay Bruce. For perspective, the following players were drafted lower in the first round than C.J. Henry: Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, Colby Rasmus, and Clay Buchholz.

The elder Henry brother had a modest first season with the GCL Yankees, then started 2006 with the Charleston RiverDogs. 77 games into the Sally League season, he was traded to the Phillies as part of the deal that sent Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle to New York. Henry was racking up errors as a shortstop, and his hitting was nothing to write home about, so 2007 saw him auditioning at third base and every position in the outfield for the Class-A Lakewood BlueClaws. The experiment failed, and Henry was released.

Believe it or not, that wasn’t his last gasp. The Yankees re-signed CJ in 2008 and even moved him up a level, to the A+ Tampa Yankees. He played in 20 games, put up a .237 average with no errors in left field, and then abruptly quit. He walked on at Memphis but sat out the season as a redshirt with a foot injury. Then Calipari left, and CJ rode his younger brother’s coattails to national title contender KU.

C.J. Henry has actually played this pretty well. As a walk-on, he doesn’t have to take up a precious scholarship, which would probably have limited his options, though his ability to bring his superstar kid brother along might have induced someone to burn one on a guy who might still be able to play. At 23, he probably still has his skill-set intact, and he had a year of practice time while sitting out at Memphis to shake off some of the rust. One assumes he still has some of his bonus-baby money to keep him in pizza and beer while he lives the college life. Even if he isn’t a major contributor, he’s going to be a member of a team that has Final Four written all over it.

They say there are no second acts in American lives. C.J. Henry begs to differ.

Bus Leagues Interview: Mariners Prospect Nick Czyz

A few weeks ago, OMDQ had a brainstorm. We like inside perspectives on what it’s like in the minors. Our internet buddy Darren Heitner manages minor league ballplayers as part of his growing business called Dynasty Athlete Representation. So, we got together, and the Quail kicked it off by discussing the WBC with Australian player Paul Rutgers. I chose a player who reminded me of home.

Meet Nick Czyz, former pitcher for the Kansas Jayhawks of the Big 12. As a freshman, he earned a win in the conference championship while his older brother, Don, picked up the save. He was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 2008 draft and played his rookie ball in Virginia with the Pulaski Mariners of the Appalachian League. The team went 40-27 to win their division, and Nick tied for the team lead with six wins, though he also pitched from the bullpen on occasion. This season, he’s expected to begin the season in A-ball with the Everett Aquasox, who begin play in June (I am on record as being a big fan of the Aquasox logo, btw).

Nick was kind enough to take time out of his season preparations and answer a few questions for Bus Leagues.

Oh, by the way. It’s pronounced “Chez”.

Bus Leagues: You played college ball at my alma mater, the University of Kansas.  Did playing in the Big 12 help prepare you for the transition into professional baseball?
Nick Czyz: I definitely think that playing in the Big 12 helped prepare me for professional baseball.  There is so much talent in that league that you can’t take one team lightly, any team either is in the Top 25 or has the potential to be in the Top 25 year in, year out.  With that said I have played with and against many players while at my time at Kansas that have gone on to becoming professional baseball players and a couple have already made it to the Big Leagues.
czyzkansasBL: Is the program at Kansas growing into a contender?
NC: Without a doubt the University of Kansas baseball team is becoming more and more a threat in the league with every year.  Coach Rich Price has done an outstanding job of raising money to make improvements to and around the stadium.  They recently just built a $2 million dollar clubhouse for the guys this year and that is only going to help for recruiting purposes to continue to get better players.  As long as Coach Price continues to stay on the path that he is on I think Kansas has the possibility to become a consistent team in the Top 25.

[editor’s note: as of today, Kansas is ranked #23 in the nation and headed to the Big 12 Championships]
BL: Your brother also pitched at Kansas and went into the minors.  Did he give you any advice?
NC: He always gives me advice, but he told me to never give a hitter more credit than they deserve no matter what league or level you are at.  My brother had a bulldog mentality on the mound and so we always have talks about pitching and his mindset when he was on the mound.  He has a lot of knowledge about pitching so I always try to pick his brain and apply his concepts.
BL: At one point, you and your brother bookended a game in the Big 12 Championship.  Did it give you extra confidence to know that Don had your back in the ninth?
NC: That was the best memory I have of playing Baseball.  It’s kind of funny because him and I had always joked around that year about how cool it would be if I pitched really well and went 8 innings or so and he came in after me to slam the door shut for a victory.  Unfortunately it had not happened one time up until that day in the Big 12 Championship game when I picked up the Win and my brother Don got the save.  I never went 8 innings that day but ended up pitching really well and he had been absolutely lights out all year long for us so I knew that once he got the ball in the ninth they had no chance. 
BL: Which adjustment between college competition and the minors has been the hardest?
NC: I think so far that the only thing that has been the hardest between the two is that in college the pitching coach and I had a game plan for each hitter on the opposing team so when I got to the minor leagues I never knew anything about the opposing hitters I just pitched to my strengths and trusted that was enough to get hitters out.
czyzpulaskiBL: You’ve been a starter and a reliever in Pulaski.  What role would you prefer to fill going forward?
NC: I’ve been a starting pitcher my whole life, when I got to Pulaski they were using me more as a reliever which I didn’t mind at all.  My first start came on July 4th in front of the biggest crowd of the year, I pitched really well that day and from that point on was in the starting rotation for the rest of the year.  I’m not really sure which role I prefer from here on out but I think that if I ever do make it to the big leagues I think it would be as a reliever.
BL: What improvements have you and the coaches been working on?
NC: Being a left-handed pitcher it is important that I am able to control the running game, this last summer in Pulaski I was really slow to the plate and runners were stealing second base pretty easily and regularly.  When I came into spring training that’s what the coaches and I worked on the most with a new look out of the stretch that allows me to be quicker to home plate.
BL: What do you think you’d ben doing if you weren’t playing baseball?
NC: I still have two semesters until I graduate so if I wasn’t playing baseball I’d definitely be trying to finish that up and then try and figure out what I wanted to do.
BL: You have a long road ahead of you on your way to the show.  How do you keep yourself focused on the goal?
NC: The hardest thing to realize is just how far away you are from the big leagues and the long road that it takes, that’s why you absolutely have to stay motivated and take it one day at a time and try to make yourself a better player literally every single day that you are on the field. 
BL: If you make the Mariners as a reliever, what song would you want the PA to play when you take the mound?
NC: When I was in college I walked out to “For Those About to Rock” by ACDC.  However, I don’t think that I would bring that back.  I’m not quite sure what I would take the mound to but that is a problem that I would love to have and figure out hopefully one day.
BL: Thanks for your time, Nick. Good luck this year!
NC: Thanks and Rock Chalk!