Part 2 of 8 in the Dragons 2010 Positional Preview
The new complex in Goodyear, Arizona will be descended upon by more than 150 Reds Minor League players in about three weeks as the Reds prepare to begin the process of setting rosters at the Major League level and for their four full-season Minor League affiliates. Opening day rosters will be finalized approximately April 3. This is part two of an eight-part series on the players who will potentially open the season with the Dragons at Fifth Third Field on April 8th against the Lansing Lugnuts.
Today we look at the first base position.
Hands on deck: Chris Richburg, Tommy Nurre, Derrick Lowery.
In 2001, Dragons sluggers Randy Ruiz and Samone Peters combined to hit 48 home runs as the two players alternated between first base and the designated hitter position. But not since that season has a Dragons first baseman hit as many as 15 homers over a Midwest League campaign. The club has generally gotten decent production from the first base position, but it has been nine years since they have gotten big time power.
The Dragons have three candidates for the first base job in 2010 who will try to change that statistic. All three have the potential to bring home run power to the middle part of the lineup.
Chris Richburg was the Reds 23rd round draft pick last June out of Texas Tech University, where he had been a teammate of former Dragons pitcher Zach Stewart in 2008. Richburg had been a two-time all-state selection at Frenship High School just outside of Lubbock, Texas before enrolling in his hometown university.
Richburg suffered through injuries that slowed his progress as an underclassman at Texas Tech (he broke his leg as a junior in 2008) before becoming a full-time starter in the spring of 2009, and he came up big. He was named 1st Team All-Big 12 Conference and led the team in virtually every major offensive category including batting average (.340), home runs (14), runs batted in (60), and slugging percentage (.620).
After signing with the Reds in June, Richburg was assigned to the Billings Mustangs of the Pioneer League. In 46 games, he hit .274 and added three more home runs, giving him a combined total of 17 for the year in 365 at-bats. He stayed consistent with Billings, going back-to-back games without a hit only three times all season and never going hitless in three straight games.
Richburg is a good athlete. As a high school senior football player in football-crazy Texas, he was selected 2nd Team All-State as a receiver. He was an all-state shortstop as a high school junior.
Richburg was also a 1st Team Academic Big 12 Conference selection at Texas Tech. Because he was a fifth-year senior at Texas Tech in 2009, he is already 24 years old, a bit older than most Midwest League players.
Tommy Nurre will need no introduction to Dragons manager Todd Benzinger. Benzinger was Nurre's manager in the summer of 2008 when Nurre played for the Cincinnati Steam, a college summer league team.
Nurre is a product of St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, which, for those who are not familiar, is one of the nation's sports powerhouses. St. X won state championships in baseball, basketball, and football in Ohio's largest school classification within the past decade and Nurre was a member of the baseball championship team as a sophomore in 2003. After high school, he went on to Miami University in Oxford.
Nurre spent four years at Miami and enjoyed a solid junior season in 2008 when he earned 2nd Team All-Mid American Conference honors, batting .386 with nine home runs and 48 runs batted in, getting 202 at-bats. That season set the stage for a spectacular senior year in 2009 that was one for the ages.
Nurre finished the '09 season at Miami with a batting average of .406. He added 17 home runs and drove in 54 runs, posting a slugging percentage of a Bonds-like .757. He finished his career at Miami with a batting average of .374, the second highest in school history (second only to former Reds infielder Chris Sexton, now a color commentator on Dragons television broadcasts and, like Nurre, a product of St. Xavier).
Nurre was selected by the Reds in the 38th round of the 2009 draft. After being signed, he was assigned to Billings where he split time at first base with Richburg. Nurre got off to a great start with the Mustangs, opening his professional career with a seven game hitting streak. After one week as a pro, Nurre was batting .414 with three home runs. But Nurre struggled over the remaining 26 games he played in at Billings, and his final numbers showed a batting average of .224 with five home runs and 13 RBI in 116 at-bats.
Between Miami and Billings in 2009, Nurre belted 22 homers in 318 at-bats.
Derrick Lowery, according to a story last summer in his hometown newspaper in North Carolina, has reinvented himself as a baseball player. Lowery hails from Laurinburg, North Carolina, a town of about 15,000 people in the southern part of the state. While in high school there, he was a legendary pitcher who was chosen as the Most Valuable Player of the 2006 state championship series.
Lowery went on to Young Harris Junior College and helped his team to a #4 national ranking in 2009 season. Lowery pitched in limited amounts at Young Harris, but as a hitter, became one of the top players in school history. He finished the 2009 season with a batting average of .431. In just 174 at-bats, amazingly, he collected 87 RBI while belting 17 home runs. His slugging percentage was .828. He is second on the school's career home run and RBI list, trailing only current Baltimore Orioles star outfielder Nick Markakis. Lowery was one of three players from Young Harris to be drafted in 2009. Former Dragon Ryan Fry, who belted 25 home runs with Dayton in 2003-'04, also played at Young Harris.
Lowery was selected in the 26th round of the 2009 draft by the Reds and, with his junior college eligibility expired, weighed the Reds offer against a scholarship offer from Western Carolina University. Lowery eventually signed with the Reds near the end of the 2009 season. He appeared in just 16 games, 15 of which came with the Reds' Gulf Coast League affiliate at their former spring training complex in Sarasota. In just 50 at-bats, Lowery hit .260 without a home run after about two months of inactivity. The Reds will get an extended look at Lowery in spring training before determining his 2010 assignment.
2009 Dragons First Basemen
Humberto Sosa: Released by the Reds following the 2009 season.
Mike Konstanty: Converted to pitcher and will battle for a spot with the Dragons in spring training.
Carlos Mendez: Expected to play at Single-A Lynchburg in 2010.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.