July 12, 2000

The University of Notre Dame baseball team signed two players to national letter of intents during the recent spring signing period: second baseman Javier Sanchez (Miami, Fla.) and lefthanded pitcher Cody Wilkins (Caldwell, NC). Sanchez joins a pair of position players who signed in the fall of 1999 as candidates to help fill the void left by three Irish position players lost to graduation while Wilkins is one of five pitching additions who could play key roles on what will be a young Notre Dame pitching staff in 2001.

Notre Dame inked six players to letters of intent in the fall signing period, including outfielder Steve Sollmann (Cincinnati, Ohio), lefthanded-hitting first baseman/lefthanded pitcher Joe Thaman (St. Louis, Mo.) and righthanders Aaron Edwards (Chambersburg, Pa.), Brian Kaplan (Ormand Beach, Fla.), and Michael Morgalis (Cincinnati, Ohio). Another promising righthander that signed with the Irish, Bob Keppel (Chesterfield, Mo.), recently elected to pursue his career in professional baseball after being selected by the New York Mets with the 36th overall pick in amateur draft.

Sanchez – who is a longtime friend of Irish senior-to-be righthander and fellow Miami native Danny Tamayo – is a righthanded-hitting second baseman who has the skills to develop into a shortstop or third baseman later in his Notre Dame career. A strong all-around player known for his solid fielding skills and improving offense, the 6-3, 195-pound Sanchez could be among the top candidates to fill the second-base spot vacated by 2000 graduate Jeff Perconte. Sanchez earned third team all-Miami Dade County honors as a senior at Christopher Columbus High School, after batting .354 with 34 RBI and four home runs in 30 games played. He captained his team to the 2000 district title and posted a team-best fielding percentage, with just four errors.

“We are very excited about Javier joining our program,” said seventh-year Irish head coach Paul Mainieri, who likewise attended Miami’s Christopher Columbus High School. “Javier came to our summer camp in 1998 and immediately impressed our staff with his great skills. He has excellent hands and a strong throwing arm, which could allow him ultimately to move to the left side of the infield. He also really came on as a hitter this season and will continue to get stronger and better at Notre Dame.”

Wilkins could prove to be a valuable commodity on an Irish pitching staff that will include just two lefthanded pitchers in senior-to-be Mike Naumann and new fall signee Joe Thaman. Known for a tough curveball and a consistent ability to record outs, the 6-2, 205-pound Wilkins turned in an all-state senior season at South Caldwell High School that included a 6-1 record and 1.75 ERA in 56 innings pitched, plus 80 strikeouts and just 27 walks.

“Cody will fill a big need on our staff and he is going to get an opportunity as a freshman to show he can pitch,” said Mainieri of Wilkins, who could become the first Notre Dame baseball letterwinner from the state of North Carolina in the program’s 109-year history (N.C. is one of just seven states not represented on the Irish all-time baseball letterwinners list). “Cody is one of those guys who really know how get hitters out and his curveball is a very good pitch for him. He reminds us a lot of Tim Kalita and we hope his velocity improves while he is at Notre Dame, much like Kalita did before he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers last year.”

The five incoming pitchers will join a young but talented group of returners that could include just three seniors, plus two juniors and four sophomores. That group could include a fourth senior, if righthander Aaron Heilman elects to return for his final season. Heilman-a three-year All-American and ace of the Irish staff-was selected by the Minnesota Twins with the 31st overall pick in the 2000 Major League draft but has yet to decide whether he will sign with the Twins or return to the Irish for his senior season at Notre Dame. In addition to Heilman, the only other four returning pitchers who logged 45-plus innings in the 2000 season all are non-seniors: juniors Drew Duff and Matt Buchmeier and sophomores J.P. Gagne and Matt Laird. The Irish lost two pitchers to graduation, including No. 2 starter Scott Cavey (15-4 career record, 6-3 in 2000 with a 4.58 ERA) and closer John Corbin (who set Irish records with 20 career saves and 11 saves in 2000).

In addition to Perconte (who made just four errors in 2000 while struggling at the plate due to a shoulder injury), the Irish graduated two other starting position players: first baseman Jeff Felker and utility player Matt Nussbaum. Felker batted .307 in the 2000 season, with 51 RBI, seven home runs and just six errors while making countless big defensive plays (he also ranks second in ND history for starts by a four-year player, with 220, while ranking third with 59 career doubles and sixth with 246 hits). Nussbaum started primarily at left field and catcher in the 2000 season, batting .257 with 37 RBI. The Irish equaled the third-most wins in team history during the2000 season, with a 46-18 final record and a spot in the title game at the NCAA Tournament Starkville Regional.

Thaman is a top candidate to start at first base-due to his strong defensive ability-while Sollmann could join junior-to-be centerfielder Steve Stanley and sophomore-to-be rightfielder Brian Stavisky to form a talented Irish outfield in 2001.

Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Bats Hometown Previous School
Javier Sanchez IF 6-3 195 R Miami, FL Christopher Columbus HS
Cody Wilkins LHP 6-2 205 Caldwell, NC South Caldwell HS
Fall Signees
Aaron Edwards RHP 6-2 190 Chambersburg, PA Chambersburg HS
Brian Kaplan RHP 6-0 170 Ormand Beach, FL Father Lopez HS
* Bob Keppel RHP 6-5 190 Chesterfield, MO DeSmet Jesuit HS
Michael Morgalis RHP 6-4 195 Cincinnati, OH Sycamore HS
Steve Sollmann OF 5-11 180 R Cincinnati, OH Saint Xavier HS
Joe Thaman 1B/LHP 6-4 200 L St. Louis, MO St. Louis University HS

* – Elected to sign with the New York Mets and thus forfeit his college eligibility


ADDITIONAL JAVIER SANCHEZ NOTES: Led team to 27-3 record and a No. 4 final national ranking as a junior in 1999, batting .315 with two home runs … received the 2000 Marist Award, which recognizes the CCHS baseball player who most personifies “natural leadership, hard work, dedication, loyalty, moral character and sportsmanship” … batted primarily in the No. 2 and cleanup spots in the 2000 season .. also played JV football as a sophomore, quarterbacking team to 9-0 record and district title … a member of the National Honor Society, graduating with a 3.9 cumulative GPA … currently playing summer ball with the Youngstown (Ohio) Astro Falcons (current Irish players Ben Cooke and Andrew Bushey previously played with the Falcons) … has helped the Falcons post a 23-3 record, batting .310 with 22 RBI, three home runs, just eight Ks, seven sacrifices and just four errors … the Falcons are an independent team and will be hosting a Connie Mack Tournament on July 23-29, with the winner advancing to the regional in Battle Creek, Mich. … the winner of the regional then goes to the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, N.M. (the Falcons went to the ’99 CMWS) … Sanchez had the chance to meet his future ND teammate Steve Sollmann when the Falcons played a four-game series vs. the Midland (Ohio) Redskins (he introduced himself when Sollmann reached second base) … born Nov. 8, 1981.

SANCHEZ ON HIS DECISION: “When I first came to Notre Dame for baseball camp, I fell in love with the campus and knew it was somewhere that I wanted to be. When coach Mainieri told me I had been accepted, within two minutes I told him I would go there. I made a visit during the weekend of the Boston College football game last year and had the chance to meet with some teachers and other people around the campus. I loved talking to (executive director of the alumni association) Chuck Lennon. He had some great quotes about the school. Danny Tamayo also gave me some great advice. He has had a tough career, with his elbow injury and surgery, but he was very honest about how much the school met to him. I could see it in his eyes and in the way he showed me around campus.”

ADDITIONAL CODY WILKINS NOTES: His career stats at Caldwell included a 12-3 record and 1.61 ERA in 140 IP, with 190 Ks and 48 BB … he currently is playing with the Caldwell American Legion team, helping the squad post a 20-4 record due both to his pitching (8-0, 1.63 ERA, 109 Ks in 85.1 IP) and batting (.424, 61-for-144, 37 RBI) … Caldwell Post 29 carries a 27-3 record into the round of 16 in the state tournament … his combined career record in high school and American Legion ball is 24-4 … his junior season stats at Caldwell included a 6-2 record, 1.50 ERA, 83 Ks and 13 BB in 57 IP … named team rookie of the year as a sophomore … team MVP and all-conference as a junior and senior … all-county as a junior before earning all-state and county player of the year as a senior … helped team post 20-3 record and advance to state tournament as a senior … graduated fourth in a class of 270, with a 4.81 GPA … son of Steve and Jill Wilkins … full name is Stephen “Cody” Wilkins.

WILKINS ON HIS DECISION: “The Notre Dame coaches first saw me at a Team One Showcase in Lakeland, Florida, and I fell in love with the school when I had the chance to visit. It has the best combination of strong athletics and academics and the coaches are great. I also was impressed with the facilities, including the indoor practice areas. Overall, I’m real excited to be joining the program and hope I can contribute next season.”