Well-Rounded, Potent Group Populates Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats' Best Position-Players List

Paul Sturm
psturm@chillicothenews.com
Half (with Logan Eickhoff) of one of the best 1-2 offensive punches the Chillicothe Mudcats have featured in their 18 seasons of summer baseball, Nolan Metcalf swats a first-inning double during a June 7, 2019, home game against Jefferson City. The Indianan and University of Kansas student ripped 21 extra-base hits - including five home runs and 15 doubles - among his 61 total hits last year, helping him post a .589 slugging percentage and 1.054 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Those numbers and others helped earn him a spot on the C-T's list of the 10-best position players the team has ever had.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Break out the biggest bats (and fastest legs)!

Having offered in Wednesday’s edition a subjective list of the 11th- through 20th-best Chillicothe Mudcats position players from the team’s first 18 seasons, our COVID-19 pause-prompted retrospective of the college-level summer baseball club’s best position players in history continues and concludes today with the top 10 Fish sticks ever.

Having reviewed statistics for contact and power hitting, run productivity, and baserunning, an original list of 30-40 accomplished position players was pared to a group of 20, rather than the “top 10” pitchers previously saluted, since a team routinely utilizes many more position players than hurlers in a game. Those 20 then were further sifted for the cream of the crop – the 10 best Mudcats ever to swim into the batter’s box and assume a defensive position.

They include, chronologically, Josh Mayo, the late Steve Martin, Edgar Ramirez, Dominic D’Anna, Darian Sandford, Cory Ford, Paul Trenhaile, Justin Blasinski, Logan Eickhoff, and Nolan Metcalf.

That contingent spans the full range of Mudcats history to date, with Mayo a charter member of the organization and Metcalf and Eickhoff having played a year ago. Ramirez and Mayo are the only two of the 10 who played two full seasons with the club. Sandford signed a pro contract early in his second season here. The longest gap between seasons that had a “top 10er” in the roster is from 2014-16.

The elite group has position diversification. A very legitimate defensive lineup could be formulated from their ranks and even have some flexibility. Two have caught for the Fish, five have played the outfield, four have started at middle infield spots, and at least five have been on the corners.

No attempt at ranking them in a specific order, by performance, has been made; instead, as with the 10 profiled Wednesday, they’ll be recounted in alphabetical order by last name, except in reverse this time.

Paul Trenhaile, 2013, 1b

No Mudcat who played regularly – or extensively over an abbreviated span, such as a midseason arrival or addition – has ever posted a higher batting average than this Hannibal resident’s .434.

Although, despite his hot bat, he didn’t play in 10 of the 2013 club’s 47 games, even on a roster bulging with hot hitters, he was in head coach Eric Peterson’s lineup nearly every time he was physically available. He topped the squad in games played and was second in official at-bats and runs scored while rapping his team-high 53 hits. Waiting out an additional 15 walks and being hit by six pitches, he had a team-record .517 on-base percentage (OBP), a scant .005 higher than teammate Tanner Bily.

Heading into his junior year at Truman State University, Trenhaile posted a .582 slugging percentage – sixth-best for a single season in team history and fifth-best career mark. His on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) rate of 1.099 is third-highest for a season and second-highest for a career.

The only minor flaw in his year as a Mudcat was that, despite his lofty average, there wasn’t more “pop” in his bat. His 53 hits included only eight doubles, two triples, and two home runs, and, despite a handful of his teammates around him having batting averages in excess of .360, the 6’5”, 195-pounds Trenhaile drove in a mere 22 runs in 122 at-bats. Four teammates drove in more, all except one with fewer at-bats.

The right-handed hitter had a couple of standout games, going four for five with a home run, double, four RBI, and three runs scored in a June 24 road game against Ozark and being three for three with another four RBI and two runs in a July 20 contest at Joplin.

Darian Sandford, 2009-10, 2b/of

The switch-hitting St. Louisan put every opposing defensive player on edge every moment he was in the batter’s box or on the basepaths with his speed, skill, and daring. While far from the strongest or most-effective batter with a full swing, he played his strong suit – his swiftness – by hitting the ball on the ground as often as possible and bunting for hits regularly. He also tried to avoid swinging at non-strikes, drawing 23 bases on balls – second-most on the team, despite opposing pitchers knowing he had little “gap power.” And, once on base, he distracted hurlers and catchers and disrupted and rushed infielders and outfielders trying to prevent him from becoming a run on the scoreboard.

Those efforts by opponents proved largely unproductive.

The Park University product stroked 69 basehits – all except six of them singles (three doubles, three triples) – in his lone full season (2009) with the team, good for a .337 batting average. Although his .417 on-base percentage in over 220 plate appearance in ’09 was very good, yet well below those of a number of other Mudcats standouts through the years, he turned those times aboard into 41 runs – often with little more than a bunt or a ground ball from the hitters behind him – by stealing a team-record 50 bases in 63 attempts. His runs scored total is tied for third on the Mudcats’ all-time single-season list, three shy of Martin’s record.

Sandford was at his most-effective – and devastating to foes – on the bases in postseason play. Hitting slightly better (.341) than his .335 regular-season batting mark, the speed merchant swiped 14 bases in 17 tries in the nine games the 2009 club played in the MINK League championship series, pre-NBC World Series tournament “warmup” games, and three NBC outings.In that stretch, he had his second team-record-tying 4-steals game.

Having wrapped up his college eligibility the following spring, Sandford returned here in 2010 to see if, with one last try, he could interest any pro scouts.

He immediately picked up where he’d left off the previous summer, stealing nine bases in 10 attempts in only four games, while raising his  batting profile, as well, with five hits in 14 at-bats (.417 average) while scoring six times. His steals and runs paces were such that, had he played the full season at those rates, he’d have shattered the season records in those categories and, far and away, set team career marks in them, too.

As it was, they were enough to get an invitation from the Kansas City Royals to a June 7 workout at Kauffman Stadium and a minor league contract in the Royals’ system a day after that.

Sandford departed the Mudcats owning – by a wide margin – the team career record for stolen bases (59), in addition to his single-season mark. His 74 career hits are fifth-most ever.

Edgar Ramirez, 2004-05, if

Little of what the San Luis, Ariz., infielder had shown prior to the last two weeks of the 2004 season suggested what he’d do the next summer following his sophomore season at Mesa (Ariz.) CC. However, after being at a .243 batting average on July 11, his 15-for-41 (.366) finish offered a small hint.

Coming back to Missouri the next year after his juco team went to the NJCAA World Series, Ramirez quickly solidified a spot in the top half of second-year coach Brad Phillips’  lineup. After his belated arrival (he missed the first seven Mudcats games while Mesa CC finished its year), he played in all except one of the remaining 42 and led the 25-17 team in virtually every offensive category.

Having had 12 extra-base hits among 33 hits and a respectable 22 RBI  in 35 games the year before, the Arizonan brought a much-more-potent bat when he came back to Chillicothe.

Going two for four in his belated ’05 debut, he put up very good numbers through his 26 regular-season games – a .357 batting average, a .419 on-base percentage, and .554 slugging percentage. Then he went crazy when the team made a postseason bid to reach the long-running NBC World Series tournament for the first time.

In five games in the Central USA Regional tournament at Clarinda, Iowa, Ramirez scalded the ball at a .583 cilp (14 for 24), including eight RBI and seven extra-base hits – four of them home runs after having only two in the regular season. His tournament OBP was .615 and his “slug” a stratospheric 1.208, leaving him with a nearly-unfathomable 1.823 OPS. For comparison, in professional baseball, an OPS of .900 for a season is considered outstanding and all-time career leader Babe Ruth had a 1.164 rate.

With that torrid finish, Ramirez completed 2005 with team season records for slugging percentage (.669, .058 higher than the second-highest rate ever) and OPS (1.122, one of only two Mudcats ever to exceed 1.100). He batted .397 with a .453 OBP and his six circuit clouts are tied for third-most ever in a season and career. His 1.59 hits-per-game rate is third-highest ever and his .397 average ninth-highest.

Combining his two Mudcats seasons, his 64 runs scored are the most ever by more than 10 and his 87 hits are one less than all-time leader Mayo.

In terms of individual moments of incandescence, Ramirez is one of only 11 Mudcats ever to have a 5-hits game, doing that against the St. Joseph Saints on July 29 during that sensational 2005 regional tourney. He then followed, on the same day, that 5-hits game in a 13-innings win that brought the team within one win of qualifying for the NBC World Series with two solo home runs and a double off future long-time major league pitcher Tony Watson of the Beatrice (Neb.) Bruins in a season-ending 6-4 loss. On that one day, he went eight for 11 with three home runs, three doubles, a hit by pitch, four RBI, and five runs scored, challenging the late Martin’s cycle-hitting 4-for-6, 7 RBIs game in 2003 and Michael Klein’s 4-hits, 10-RBIs doubleheader in 2014 for the greatest “day” in team history.

Nolan Metcalf, 2019, c/1b

Half of one of the more-potent tandems in Mudcats history, the Kansas Jayhawk junior-to-be didn’t get quite the notice as teammate Eickhoff, but it could be argued he actually had the better offensive year. He led the team or shared the lead in six offensive categories – runs, runs batted in, doubles, games  played (41), times hit by a pitch, and sacrifice flies (3).

The Granger, Ind., resident finished in the top 10 in season production in runs batted in (35, fifth), slugging percentage (.589, fifth),  extra-base hits (21, tie for fifth), home runs (5, tie for sixth), doubles (15, tie for third), hits (61, eighth), batting average (.386, 10th), runs (41, tie for third), on-base percentage (.465, sixth), OPS (1.054, fifth), hits-per-game rate (1.488, fifth), and times hit by a pitch (11, tie for third).

Additionally, Metcalf’s 5-RBI game at Jefferson City July 7 is tied for sixth-most and he had a 10-games hitting streak for the 26-16 club that broke the organization record for winning percentage on the road (.750, 15-5).

Also highly-praiseworthy was his ability to combine “pop” with contact. His five roundtrippers and 21 extra-base hits came while striking out a mere 17 times in 188 plate appearances (one every 11.1 PA). Among the other six Mudcats ever to amass more than 20 extra-base hits in a season, only D’Anna’s phenomenal 15.8 rate in 2008 ranks above the Indianan’s.

Metcalf’s presence right behind Eickhoff in the batting order in a majority of the games helped dissuade opponents from “pitching around” the eventual MINK League co-player of the year, giving Eickhoff better pitches to swing at.

Not to be ignored is his ability to control opponents’ running game from behind the dish. He cut down eight of 26 would-be thieves, a strong (by summer-play standards) 31 percent rate.

Josh Mayo, 2002-03, if

The most-productive member of the charter Mudcats squad – leading the 2002 club in games played, hits, homers, triples, extra-base hits, RBI, and batting average, the Yuba, Calif., middle infielder came back the next year and, while overshadowed by record-setting seasons by the late Martin and Travis Dunlap, again was a solid producer after missing the first 13 games of the 48-games slate.

When the 2003 Mudcats were eliminated from the NBC World Series-qualifying Central USA Regional tournament at Clarinda, Iowa, after three games, it closed the curtain – somewhat surprisingly, in retrospect – on the finest “career” (multi-years span), statistically, of any Mudcat to date, even though the club had only two seasons under its belt at that time. While Ramirez and Tom Huntingford had solid consecutive campaigns in the immediate aftermath of Mayo’s time here, neither quite has the  production levels Mayo generated. Later, had Sandford or Matty Johnson not cut short the second seasons they began with the club, in their different roles, they might have matched Mayo’s impact or surpassed it, if they continued on the pace at which they’d started their second years.

A collegiate player for his hometown Yuba College, Mayo paced the original Fish in batting average (.388), hits (47), homers (3), RBI (22), triples (2), and games played (34). Those numbers include the team’s pre-regional tournament games only; he is known to have had at least one more hit and two  more RBI during that tourney. His .388 average still stands among the 10 best in club history.

He wasted virtually no time stamping himself as a linchpin of the first team. He established a still-standing team record of hitting safely in six consecutive at-bats during the club’s third and fourth games ever. Although 11 Mudcats subsequently have matched that, none has capitalized on his chance to better it. Likewise, only days later on June 9 and 11, he became the first Mudcat to go deep in consecutive games, something only 10 players have done since.

After his extended junior season in college, Mayo picked right up where he left off here when he joined the ’03 Fish a third of the way through the season. Hitting safely in his first three games, he got on a hot streak as June transitioned into July, going nine for 17 with three doubles and eight RBI during one 4-games stretch.

That turned out to be the early stages of what would become a still-record 19-games hitting streak which virtually lasted the rest of the season. Right in the middle of that streak, he and his teammates unleashed a power tsunami at Springfield against an independent Slashers team, slugging a team-record nine home runs in a 16-0 July 9 victory. When he left the yard in the fifth inning, Mayo became the third Mudcat ever to homer twice in a game – doing so an inning after Travis Dunlap and Jason Clark became the first two.

When the curtain rang down on the 2003 season, Mayo had repeated his three home runs total of the prior year and bumped his RBI output with 32, while smacking the ball for a .338 average.

As a result, the Californian capped his career with a team-record 92 hits (at least), as well as a composite average of .363, .012 better than Sandford’s among multi-season Mudcats. His 56 RBI are second only to Dunlap’s 66 and his six total homers match Dunlap’s, Ramirez’s, D’Anna’s, and 2019 Fish Jack Grace’s career totals for third-most behind the nine each hit by Clark in 2003 and Zach Esquerra in 2011. His .430 on-base percentage also tops Sandford’s .423 and Ramirez’s and Johnson’s .412.

Steve Martin, 2003, of

Probably no Mudcat’s name appears more in the upper echelons of the C-T’s unofficial Mudcats records book nor atop individual categories than the 2003 squad’s ill-fated star center fielder, who would die in a 1-car wreck three years later on the day he was released by the minor league Chillicothe (Ohio) Paints.

The Loudon, Tenn., left-handed hitter swung a loud bat all summer when he was a Mudcat, setting then-team records for hits (76), batting average (.418), hits-per-game (1.62), multi-hits games (23), extra-base hits (23), triples (8), runs scored (44), stolen bases (31), and – as if to show he was mortal – strikeouts (46). Of those, the hits, multi-hits games, extra-base hits, triples, and runs scored all remain No. 1 all-time to this day.

For good measure, the senior-to-be at the University of Alabama-Birmingham also set a still-unsurpassed single-game record of seven RBI in one of the greatest games any Mudcat ever had, a July 7 home contest against the then-non-league Nevada Griffons in which he swatted the team’s first-ever grand slam home run, added a 3-runs triple, and posted the first of only two “cycles” (single, double, triple, and home run in the same game) the club has had in 18 seasons. He also scored three runs. Perhaps only Dunlap’s gargantuan 3-homers, 6 RBI, 14 total bases, 4 run, 4-for-5 game two days later in the aforementioned slaughter of the Springfield Slashers, Zach Esquerra’s 3 homer, 5 RBI, 3 run, 3-for-5 game against Ozark in 2011, and Eickhoff’s 5-for-5, 3 triples, 12 total bases, 3 RBI outburst against Sedalia on July 23, 2019, might give Martin’s big day a run for its money.

Although Eickhoff nearly replaced him for third place on the season batting average list a year ago and fell only four hits short of matching his hits record, the late Martin’s 2003 season probably still ranks as the greatest ever by a Mudcats position player. During it, he also posted a .485 on-base percentage that remains fourth-highest ever for a season and a 1.095 OPS that trails  only Ramirez’s stunning 2005 team mark, D’Anna’s in ’08, and Trenhaile’s in 2013.

When combining the potency of his bat – he also popped a pair of home runs and drove in 29 runs in his 47 Fish games – with his ability to patrol center field and his baserunning – his 31 thefts are third-most for a season and career in club history, it’s safe to say the Mudcats have never had a better all-around performer than the late Martin.

Cory Ford, 2011, of

Perhaps owing to the team he was one having its season – disrupted by a head coaching change that helped lead to a 7-13 record its last three weeks – be the only one in a 5-years span that didn’t produce at least 30 victories (despite playing 51 games), the Bella Vista, Ark., outfielder’s summer with the Mudcats could be called the most-overlooked outstanding performance.

Routinely hitting from the leadoff spot, the left-handed hitter didn’t produce regular, eye-popping, single-game performances, like powerful DH Zach Esquerra or drive in runs at a high rate in an injury-curtailed season like Matt Creel. Instead, he provided a steady drumbeat of hitting his way on base and coming around to put runs on the scoreboard.

When the 2011 season wrapped up, Ford had, almost surreptitiously, stroked 70 hits – second-most in a season to Martin’s 76 until Eickhoff slipped past him last year, 22 of them for extra bases – the second-highest total ever and still fourth-most in team history behind Martin, M. Johnson, and Eickhoff. He used those achievements to circle the bases and dent home plate 43 times, only one tally off Martin’s club standard.

His fine .354 batting average was supplemented not only with his extra-base “pop” (.495 slugging percentage), but by reaching base 29 times by walk or as a hit batsman. His 12 times “taking one one for the team” matched TS Reed’s total from three years before as the then-team record; Jarod Hahn broke it with 13 three years later.

As a result, the Oklahoma Wesleyan University senior-to-be produced an outstanding .436 on-base percentage across his team-record (shared by Logan Moon) 51 games played (neither missed a game all season). His .931 OPS is the best ever by a regular Fish leadoff man, a role Ford filled in 47 of his 51 games (he batted second twice and appeared as a pinch-hitter in the other two games). Only Sandford, who led off in all 49 games in 2009, has topped the Mudcats lineup more often.

Logan Eickhoff, 2019, if/of/c

As cited above in highlighting Metcalf’s outstanding season a year ago, the versatile player from Trenton’s North Central Missouri College was voted co-offensive player of the year by MINK League coaches after easily pacing the circuit in batting (.418 average), hits (72), triples (7), and at-bats (173) and tying for fifth in RBI (34). Among the league’s offensive elite, he was second-hardest to strike out, barely ahead of his teammate.

While fellow right-handed hitter Metcalf led the in a half-dozen Mudcats in six offensive categories, this La Vista, Neb., resident was pacing it in the four in which he also topped the league, along with equaling the 41 games appeared in. The same as Metcalf, Eickhoff fanned only 17 times all summer in one more plate appearance (189). His 12-games hitting streak also was the 2019 team’s longest and tied for the ninth-longest in club annals.

He also stole 11 bases – fourth-most on the club – with the second-best rate of success (85 percent) on the club among those with at least 10 attempts.

In terms of his standing in team history, the Nebraskan carved out a deep notch for a variety of reasons, most of them hitting-related.

Entering what proved to be the season’s final game with a chance to break Trenhaile’s mark for highest batting average and the late Martin’s record for total hits, Eickhoff settled for a final average of .416, fourth all-time behind Trenhaile, Tanner Bily, and Martin, and 72 hits, second to Martin’s 76. However, his 1.76 hits-per-game rate surpassed the late 2003 Fish’s prior record of 1.62. He also broke the Mudcats mark for triples in a game (3) and matched Martin’s and M. Johnson’s team record of 23 extra-base hits.

In the season’s penultimate contest, when he ripped those record three 3-baggers, he also matched team records for hits in a game (5) and consecutive at-bats of hitting safely (6) when he went five for five. Tacking on a double, as well, he matched Travis Dunlap (2003) and Gaven Strobel (2018) in having four extra-base blows in a game.

Eickhoff’s .566 slugging percentage is the team’s sixth-best all-time, his 40 runs scored fifth-most, and his 34 RBI sixth-most.

He achieved those marks while being the first Mudcat ever to start games at seven different defensive positions. The only ones he missed were first base and pitcher.

Dominic D’Anna, 2008, 1b

Batting fourth most of the year before moving up to third the last couple weeks, the sweet-swinging left-handed swatter from West Hills, Calif., almost couldn’t have helped put up huge – in some cases, record – stats batting behind high on-base percentage and speedy Nos. 1 and 2 hitters M. Johnson and Reed (combined .398 OBP, 34 steals).

He made the most of those many chances with a performance which ranks alongside Martin’s monster 2003 as the most-well-blended display of overall hitting in team annals.

D’Anna ripped 68 hits – including a record-sharing five in a June 26 game – while matching Johnson and Tyler Knight for the team lead in games played (48), finishing with a team-best .400 average that, at that time, ranked behind only Martin’s .418 all-time. It still is tied for fifth-highest in a season. Additionally, he received 29 walks and was hit four times, resulting in an on-base percentage of .502, the team’s first full-season OBP of .500 or higher (reaching base in at least half of his plate appearances). Only current record-holder Trenhaile (.517) and Tanner Bily (.512), both in 2013, have eclipsed the California State-Northridge sophomore-to-be’s mark.

Beyond his high rate of reaching base, D’Anna punished the ball often when he made contact. Almost one-third of his 68 hits went for extra bases – 14 doubles, one triple, and six home runs – and he drove in 37 runs. With the Mudcats’ third-highest long-ball total ever and fifth-most doubles, he generated one of only four .600 slugging percentage campaigns in club history. His even .600 mark trails single-season record-holder Ramirez (.669), Derek Birginske (.611), and Martin (.610). His RBI count is fourth-most.

As a result of that combination of hitting skill and power, the corner infielder registered one of only two 1.100 or higher single-season on-base-plus-slugging percentages. While Ramirez’s blazing conclusion to 2005 spiked his season OPS to a mind-boggling record .669, D’Anna’s 1.102 rate three summers later ranks No. 1 for a career, .003 ahead of Trenhaile’s.

He also owns the distinction of being the lone Mudcat ever to homer in three consecutive games, although that record wears an asterisk. He poled pitches over the fence in June 6 and 7 games at Junction City, Kan., before a pair of rainouts and two scheduled days off for the club made for a 5-nights break between games. Then, on June 12, a game against the Mac-N-Seitz Athletics at Richmond was tied 4-4 after nine innings when rain forced a suspension of the action with D’Anna having only a single in four at-bats. The game was restarted two weeks later – this time at Blue Springs South High School – prior to an originally-scheduled game. In the resumed 10th inning, with Dallas Hord having just broken the tie by scoring on a wild pitch after a 2-outs triple, D’Anna got another plate appearance and capitalized by lofting an opposite-field drive over the fence. Given that the game had begun June 12, it technically qualified for a third-straight game in which he’d homered.

Justin Blasinski, 2017, of/DH

Rounding out the ranks of greatest Mudcats position players ever is, like Ford, another easily-overlooked lefthanded hitter whose Mudcats edition faded in July and finished only 24-22.

The outfielder from Lindenhurst, Ill., blazed out of the gate for new head coach Jack Winters, getting two hits, including a double, and driving in three runs in a season-opening home loss and following that with a 4-for-5, 2-RBI night on the road the next night. Three games later, he ripped another four hits, including his third 2-bagger, and four more runs batted in, followed the next night by a 3-hits, 4-RBI outing at home that included his first home run. At that point, he had an astounding 13 RBI in the club’s first six games.

While, predictably, the McHenry County (Ill.) CC sophomore was not able to maintain that head-spinning run-production pace, he still wound up with the second-most RBI ever by a Mudcat – his 42 trailing only Travis Dunlap’s 45 in 2003. Playing in 43 games, Blasinski’s ratio of RBI to games played is fourth-highest in team history, surpassed only by record-holder Tyler Bullock, Dunlap, and Bily.

He also quietly racked up 55 hits, a team top-10 total, including four homers and a solid .333 average and .485 “slug.” His offensive numbers also included what, while full records for 2004 are not available, is believed to be the team record of seven sacrifice flies.

(Final installment next Saturday: Sports editor Paul Sturm’s all-time Mudcats lineup)

Californian Cory Ford is seen in a familiar "pose" during his outstanding 2011 season as a Chillicothe Mudcat, following through on a swing that produced not just one of his 70 hits, but a July 2 third-inning triple against Nevada which was one of 22 extra-base blows the outfielder stroked during his single-season team-record 51 games. That hits total is third-highest for a season in team history and he also ranks second in runs scored (43) and fourth in extra-base hits. Those numbers and others helped earn him a spot on the C-T's list of the 10-best position players the team has ever had.