Part 1: Recapping UK's 2011 in Professional Baseball
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- A total of 27 former Kentucky baseball players played professional baseball during the 2011 season, including MLB standouts Joe Blanton, Collin Cowgill, Scott Downs and Brandon Webb. Below is part one of a multiple-part series of UK baseball in the professional ranks, featuring Andrew Albers, Michael Bertram, Chris Bisson, Sawyer Carroll, Collin Cowgill, Scott Green, Matt Little, Marcus Nidiffer, Chris Rusin, John Shelby and Ryan Strieby.
Andrew Albers (2005-08) signed in the offseason with the Minnesota Twins after spending a season in the independent leagues while recovering from injury. A native of North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Albers played at two different levels in 2011, soaring as high as the Double-A Eastern League for the New Britain Rock Cats. In 35 games and seven starts, Albers posted an 8-2 record and a 2.16 ERA with four saves. In 95.2 combined innings, Albers walked only 14 and struck out 80. In high class-A with Fort Worth, Albers went 4-1, 1.55 ERA in 22 games and two starts, saving four games with only seven walks and striking out 46 in 52.1 innings.
- UK CAREER: Albers appeared in 81 games with 31 starts, posting a 20-18 record with a 4.47 ERA, saving 12 games during his career. In 239.1 innings, Albers walked 77 and struck out 185. His best season for UK came as a closer in 2008 for the Wildcats, posting a 7-4 record and a 2.40 ERA, saving five games with 64 strikeouts in 56.1 innings.
Michael Bertram (2003-06) played for the Erie SeaWolves in the Double-A Eastern League for 82 games in 2011, as a reserve infielder. Bertram, a native of Lexington, Ky., batted .258 (69-for-267) with 20 doubles, five homers and 30 RBI, stealing two bases in 2011. In 2010, Bertram played at the Double-A and Triple-A level, batting .251 with 13 homers and 67 RBI in 122 games.
- UK CAREER: Bertram completed a storied four-year career for the Wildcats in 2006 while leading UK to the SEC Championship with a .340 batting average as UK's everyday third baseman. Bertram had 16 doubles, five homers and 37 RBI during the 2006 championship season, posting a 21-19 walk-strikeout ratio. As a junior in 2005, Bertram hit .327 with nine doubles, two triples, two homers and 37 RBI. During his career, Bertram hit .312 in 192 games, with 37 doubles, three triples, eight homers and 107 RBI, stealing 12 bases. After the 2006 season, Bertram was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 39th round of the MLB Draft.
Chris Bisson (2007-09) played in 123 games in the high Class-A Midwest League with the Fort Wayne TinCaps. A native of Orleans, Ontario, Bisson hit .261 (109-for-418) with 11 doubles, five triples, two homers and 43 RBI, stealing 21-of-31 bases. Bisson drew 53 walks good for a .345 on-base percentage.
- UK CAREER: Had a stellar three-year career for the Wildcats, batting .325 (157-for-483) in 131 games with 115 starts, totaling 24 doubles, four triples, seven homers and 91 RBI, stealing 48-of-60 bases. Bisson's best year came as a sophomore in 2009, batting .360 (80-for-222) with two homers, 52 RBI and 13 stolen bases. A two-time All-SEC selection by the league coaches, Bisson hit .329 (69-for-210) with 12 doubles, one triple, five homers and 35 RBI, stealing 32-of-39 bases. After his junior season, Bisson was a fourth-round pick in the MLB Draft.
Sawyer Carroll (2007-08) excelled in the Double-A Texas League for the San Antonio Missions of the San Diego Padres organization. In 129 games for the Missions, Carroll - who earned All-Star accolades - hit .267 (123-for-460) with 24 doubles, six triples, 18 homers and 71 RBI. Carroll added 11 stolen bases, 61 walks and 68 runs scored.
- UK CAREER: Carroll completed a dynamic two-year career in 2008 with a 44-win season and a spot in the NCAA Ann Arbor Regional Championship game. During his two years, Carroll hit .386 (173-for-448) with 45 doubles, five triples, 22 homers and 139 RBI, stealing 16 bases. As a senior, after returning to school as a 16th-round pick as a junior, Carroll hit .419 (98-for-234) with 22 doubles, three triples, 19 homers and a school-record 83 RBI. In 2008, Carroll posted a 44-33 walk-strikeout ratio with a perfect 12-of-12 stolen bases, totaling a .782 slugging and a .514 on-base percentage.
Collin Cowgill (2005-08) had a breakout season for the Arizona Diamondbacks, advancing to the MLB roster and helping the Diamondbacks to the MLB Playoffs as the National League Western Division Champion. A native of Lexington, Ky., and a product of Henry Clay High School, Cowgill was a productive member of the Diamondbacks since his MLB debut after a prolific season in Triple-A Reno. In his first 36 games in spot-duty action as a fourth outfielder for the Dbacks, Cowgill hit .239 (22-for-92) with three doubles, one homer and nine RBI, swiping four bases. While at Reno, Cowgill was named the 2011 Pacific Coast League Rookie of the Year, while also starting in centerfield in the PCL All-Star Game as the leading vote getter. In 98 games for the Aces, Cowgill batted .354 (140-for-395) with 13 homers and 70 RBI, adding 24 doubles, eight triples and 30 stolen bases, earning PCL Rookie of the Year honors. Baseball America polled all the PCL managers, ranking Cowgill as the best defensive outfielder, most exciting player, best outfield arm and best baserunners in the circuit.
- UK CAREER: One of the more prolific winners in UK baseball history, Cowgill earned All- America honors as a junior, before being a fifth-round selection in the MLB Draft by the Diamondbacks. During his three seasons with the Wildcats, Cowgill batted .306 (171-for-558), in 165 games, with 166 runs, 35 doubles, 37 homers, 140 RBI and 32 stolen bases. While leading UK to the 2006 SEC Championship, Cowgill hit .298 with 16 homers and 61 RBI. After an injury-forced redshirt season in 2007, Cowgill teamed with fellow All-America outfielder Sawyer Carroll to spark UK to a school-record 44 wins in 2008, owning a .361 average with 19 homers, 60 RBI and 23 stolen bags.
Scott Green (2005-08) appeared in 18 games in relief in the New York-Penn League and the Gulf Coast League as he returns from injury. A 6-foot-8, 240-pound right-hander, Green went 1-3 with a 5.21 ERA in his 18 rehab relief outings, posting one save in 19 innings, walking 11 with 13 strikeouts.
- UK CAREER: Green was a fixture out of the bullpen and in the rotation for the Wildcats during his career. A native of Louisville, Ky., Green appeared in 47 games with 15 starts during his three-year career, sitting out the 2006 SEC Championship season due to Tommy John surgery. Overall, Green went 10-8, 4.54 ERA during his career with six saves and 114 strikeouts in 117 innings. As a junior in 2008, after turning down the Red Sox as a 15th round pick, Green went 6-4 with a 4.76 ERA, saving two games in 56.2 innings, walking only 16 with 64 strikeouts. After his junior season, Green was drafted by the Tigers in the third round of the MLB Draft.
Matt Little (2009-10) pitched in relief for the Tigers sytem at two levels, seeing six appearances for the Double-A SeaWolves and 28 outings for the high Class-A Lakeland Flying Tigers. Overall, Little appeared in 34 games with a 0-2 record and a 4.30 ERA, saving six games. In 37.2 innings, Little walked 20 and struck out 27.
- UK CAREER: After sitting out the 2009 season, Little emerged as a key reliever in 2010 for UK, appearing in 24 games with seven saves, a 2-2 record and a 4.93 ERA. Little tossed 42 innings for the Wildcats, allowing 41 hits and 24 walks, striking out 52. After the season, Little was a 31st-round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft by the Tigers.
Marcus Nidiffer (2006-10) played for the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the low Class-A Midwest League in the Los Angeles Angels organization. In 68 games, Nidiffer hit .230 (47-for-204) with 11 doubles, one triple, six homers and 24 RBI. A native of Bristol, Tenn., Nidiffer had a great professional debut in 2010 in the Astros system, batting .286 with 14 homers and 36 RBI in his first career 69 professional games.
- UK CAREER: Nidiffer completed an excellent five-year UK career in 2010 for the Wildcats, batting .320 (47-for-147) with seven doubles, 10 homers and 35 RBI. His 10-homer year was the second consecutive for the UK backstop, who launched 10 homers and hit .312 as a junior. Overall in his career, Nidiffer hit .284 (121-for-426) with 18 doubles, two triples, 25 homers and 84 RBI. Following his senior season, Nidiffer signed a free agent contract with the Astros, then signing a free agent deal with the Angels before the 2011 season.
Chris Rusin (2006-09) played at two levels in the Chicago Cubs system in 2011, advancing to the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. Over the two levels, Rusin was used mainly as a starter, making two relief appearances in Iowa. Over 26 games and 24 starts in 2011, Rusin went 8-4 with a 3.96 ERA in 138.2 innings, walking 30 and striking out 95. In 15 Double-A starts in the Southern League, Rusin tossed 76 innings, walking 16 with 49 strikeouts.
- UK CAREER: A fourth-round pick out of UK in 2009, Rusin was a standout for the Wildcats, making 56 appearances with 45 starts. A native of Canton, Mich., Rusin went 23-11 with a 4.14 ERA in his career, tossing eight complete games in 302.1 innings, striking out 274. Rusin's best year came in 2008, leading UK to a school-record 44 wins and earning All-Southeastern Conference honors with a 6-3 record and 3.33 ERA.
John Shelby III (2004-06) was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays organization before the 2011 season, playing the year for the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits, with one game in Triple-A Durham. In 117 games for Montgomery, Shelby hit .248 (62-for-415) with 20 doubles, five triples, 16 homers and 52 RBI, stealing 7-of-11 bases.
- UK CAREER: Shelby had a stellar career for the Wildcats, cumulating in a fifth-round selection of the Chicago White Sox in the 2006 MLB Draft. A native of Lexington, Ky., and a product of Tates Creek High School, Shelby helped lead UK for a last-place finish in 2005 to the SEC Championship as a junior, also playing for Team USA before the 2006 season. A second-team All-SEC selection in 2006, Shelby led UK to 44 wins as a junior, batting .291 with 18 doubles, 18 homers and 56 RBI. During his 159-game UK career, Shelby hit .307, with 36 doubles, six triples, 33 homers and 131 RBI, stealing 42-of-54 bases.
Ryan Strieby (2006) played a full season for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens in the Tigers system, mainly manning first base with some leftfield. In 130 games in 2011, Strieby hit .255 (124-for-487) with 28 doubles, 19 homers and 76 RBI, posting a .341 on-base percentage.
- UK CAREER: Strieby became the first UK player to earn SEC Player of the Year honors after leading UK to the first SEC Championship in program history. The Seattle, Wash., native launched 20 homers and hit .343 in 61 games with a school-record 77 RBI and 22 doubles. After his 2006 campaign, Strieby was drafted in the fourth round of the MLB Draft by the Tigers.