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BASEBALL RECRUITING: Irish ink ten recruits during signing period

Ken Fowler | Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Paul Mainieri knew he needed a top-flight recruiting class.

With eight seniors on the 2005-06 squad and the possibility of multiple juniors being drafted after this season, the 11th-year Irish head coach had to reload Notre Dame’s position and pitching weapons with a strong incoming class.

“It’s a tremendous challenge for us this year because we have such an inordinately large senior class,” Mainieri said. “We feel that there’s a chance that we could lose two to three of our junior class also, so that’s a big group to replace in one year.”

His coaching staff delivered, nabbing top prospects from California to Connecticut and Michigan to Maryland.

“We feel like we have a great recruiting class,” Mainieri said. “Our coaching staff, [especially] Terry Rooney, the recruiting coordinator, and Cliff Godwin, our new assistant coach, … the effort that they put in is where the credit is due for the success of this recruiting class.”

The Irish signed ten players to scholarships during the signing period, and Mainieri said Notre Dame’s most important pickup was likely Ryan Smith. Smith, a 6-foot-2 catcher from Waldorf, Md., who will be thrust into the center spotlight as a freshman in 2007 if heavily scouted junior catcher Sean Gaston signs with a Major League team after the current season.

“If [Gaston] signs professionally, then we’re talking about having a situation where Ryan Smith will be coming in as a freshman and competing [for the starting job] with Eddy Mendiola, who we recruited as an infielder and we’re converting to the catching position this fall,” Mainieri said.

Mainieri said the situation at catcher is emblematic of why this fall’s recruiting class was so important.

“We’re going to be a young team next year,” he said. “In 2007, we could have as many as 20 of 30 players on our roster as freshmen or sophomores. It will be a unique year for our program.”

Mainieri said there are serious down sides in having a young team but noted past Irish success in situations like Notre Dame will have in 2007.

“In ’99, we started four or five freshmen every day, and that team ended up hosting an NCAA Regional for the first time ever in Notre Dame history,” Mainieri said. “In ’03, the year after we went to the [College] World Series, we had a lot of turnover again, and we had a lot of young players again that contributed. And we had a tremendous year and went to the Regional at Fullerton.

“We are going to be awfully young, but I still feel confident that we’ll be able to maintain playing at a high level.”

Mainieri said he expects the 2007 Irish team to utilize heavily the three right-handed pitchers in this year’s recruiting class to stay at a nationally competitive level.

Billy Boockford, Steven Mazur and Andrew Scheid all join the Irish as highly touted prospects.

Scheid, a 6-foot-7, 200-lb. starting pitcher for Regis Jesuit High School outside of Denver, Colo., enters Notre Dame as one of the nation’s top pitching recruits after averaging almost 12 strikeouts per nine innings in his junior campaign at Regis Jesuit.

“Andrew really could have gone to just about any school he wanted to in the country,” Mainieri said. “For us to land him was a real major coup.”

Mainieri compared Scheid to former Irish star Brad Lidge, another tall right-hander from Denver.

He saved a more recent comparison for Boockford, a Glen Ellyn, Ill., native.

“Billy really reminds me a lot of Jeff Samardzija on the mound,” Mainieri said. “He’s just a real confident, competitive kid that is fearless. I just think he’s going to contribute a big way to our program and be a real natural leader to our team.”

Mainieri said while Boockford and Scheid bring confidence, Mazur brings fire to the Irish.

“Mazur throws a little bit harder than Scheid,” Minieri said. “Steven is, I think the best way to describe him is he’s a bulldog on the mound. When I watched him pitch, I just saw a guy who attacked the hitters.”

Notre Dame added quality pitchers to its roster, but Mainieri said that the Irish recruits at the daily positions are just as good as the pitchers.

“It was really critical for us to replace position players because on our team in 2006 we could have as many as six seniors in our everyday starting lineup,” he said. “So it was really important for us to bring in some quality position players, particularly in the outfield.”

The Irish signed four outfielders in the class, including two speedy lefties.

David Mills, a versatile 5-foot-10 player from Battle Creek, Mich., and 5-foot-7 Michael Wright of Lockhart, Texas give Notre Dame a dimension of basepath speed it has been lacking in previous years.

“We brought in two little speed guys, which I felt that we were in badly need of some speed into our program,” Mainieri said. “Both [Mills and Wright] are the prototypical left-handed spray hitter that can really run.”

The power hitter of the outfielders is Austin Pearce of Lake Oswego, Ore. The 6-foot-2, 210-lb. switch hitter has the most explosive bat of the 10 Irish signees, Mainieri said.

“He’s another kid that’s just full of a lot of enthusiasm, and he can really hit,” Mainieri said.

Other Irish signees were heavy-hitting outfielder Brayden Ashdown of Tuscon, Ariz., and sure-handed infielders Ryne Intlekofer (Moorpark, Calif.) and A.J. Pollock (Hebron, Conn.).

“This class may rank as high as any in the overall enthusiasm in the players,” Mainieri said. “All of the kids are very outgoing personalities that are tremendously thrilled about being at Notre Dame. … We couldn’t be more pleased with the group that we finally signed and will see next August.”