Youngstown -- Six young men have signed a National Letter of Intent to continue their academic and baseball careers at Youngstown State University, YSU head baseball coach Rich Pasquale announced.
Jack Graham (Cranberry Township, Pa.), Todd Kibby (New Middletown, Ohio), Jake Kucek (Canfield, Ohio), Matt Kurelja (Mifflinburg, Pa.), Josh North (Barberton, Ohio) and Weston Weiss (Reynoldsburg, Ohio) have all signed to be part of the 2011-12 Penguins squad.
Graham, Kurelja and Weiss are infielders, Kibby and North are pitchers and Kucek is a catcher. Four of the six hail from within 60 miles of campus.
"We're very excited to bring in this class that is full of good, solid, smart baseball players with a very good work ethic," Pasquale. "We got better as a program with them coming in. I think all of these guys will contribute right away
Graham has played primarily second base during his high school career at Seneca Valley High. He has earned two varsity letters in baseball while hitting .379 for his career. Graham also earned three letters in football and is an honor roll student.
"Jack has good hand defensively, and he has some pop coming from second base," Pasquale said. "He is a very smart baseball player who has a tremendous work ethic. He's just a gamer."
Kibby was named the Vindicator's Baseball Player of the Year in 2009 when he was a senior at Springfield High. That season he led the Tigers to their first trip to the state championship. He went 10-1 on the mound while batting .433 with two homers that season. Kibby signed with Bowling Green out of high school before playing at St. Petersburg College in Florida. Kibby was ranked 32nd on the Buckeye Scout's Top 100 list in 2009.
"Todd is left-handed power arm who knows how to pitch," Pasquale said. "He has an experienced arm, and he has a knack for getting hitters out."
Kucek is another local player who is coming home after playing elsewhere. He played at Southern Union Community College in Alabama and Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. At Canfield High, Kucek was a two-time first-team all-conference player and helped lead the Cardinals to three straight conference titles. Canfield won the Division II state title in 2007, and Kucek was named the player of the game in the championship tilt. He was ranked 81st on the Buckeye Scout's Top 100 list in 2009. His father, Jack, pitched in the Majors from 1974 to 1980 with the White Sox, Phillies and Blue Jays.
"Jake is very strong defensively behind the plate, and he has the ability to handle a pitching staff," Pasquale said. "He has an impressive pop time, and he can shut down an opposing team's running game. He can also come in with good velocity to close out games on the mound."
Kurelja is a 6-foot-4 first baseman who hit .381 with two home runs and a .902 slugging percentage as a junior for Mifflinburg Area High.
"Matt is very strong at the plate," Pasquale said. "He hits for average and has tremendous power from the right side. He will add a good one-two punch at first with left-handed hitter Jeremy Banks (currently on the team)."
North is a 6-foot-1 right-handed pitcher who plays at Barberton High. As a junior, he hit .303 with three home runs and two RBIs as the starting shortstop. During the summer playing for the Summit County Vipers, he went 3-1 with a 2.96 ERA, two saves and 54 strikeouts in 46 innings on the mound. He was named to the United States Specialty Sports Association World Series First Team.
"Josh's mechanics are identical to Tim Lincecum," Pasquale said. "He is tall and lanky, and his fastball is live with movement. We'll look for early success from Josh next season."
Weiss is a middle infielder playing at Reynoldsburg High. He hit .482 as a junior for the Raiders, and he has hit .413 overall during his prep career. Last year he was named First Team All-Ohio Capital Conference and second-team all-district. Fourteen of his 45 hits were doubles, and he had 33 RBIs. As a sophomore, Weiss hit .400 and was a second-team all-conference pick.
"Weston is a right-handed hitting middle infielder with some pop," Pasquale said. "He plays like he loves the game, and he has a great work ethic. He gave us a verbal commitment as a sophomore, and we're excited that he's finally an official a Penguin. He played with current YSU players Chris Mitko and Drew Dosch the past two summers and falls."
The Penguins have also extended invitations to two more players who are expected to join the program as preferred walk-ons. Those names cannot be released because of NCAA rules, but Pasquale said they will definitely add to this strong recruiting class.