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Mailbag leftover: Who are the five best Nevada baseball players ever?

Chris Singleton
Nevada alum Chris Singleton, then with the White Sox, gets a base knock during a 2000 game against the Cubs. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

On occasion, a Monday Mailbag question requires too much research for me to include in the weekly feature, so I end up writing it separately as a "Mailbag leftover." I got such a question this week from Dr. Trevor Fever, who asked me for the top-five Nevada baseball players ever. Let's get to the list.

It's always difficult in these rankings balancing impact while playing for Nevada against how their professional career went. I put a lot of weight on professional career because if you prove it at the highest level, you're a different caliber of player. So with all due to respect to Ryan Church, Joe Inglett, Darrell Rasner, Chris Dickerson, Braden Shipley, Corky Miller, Chris Gimenez, Brett Hayes, Andy Dominique, Fred Dallimore and Glenn Burke (his life story here), these are my five best Nevada baseball players of all time.

5. Chad Qualls: The next four players on our list are hitters, so we have to get a pitcher on there. Qualls was dominant pitching for Nevada from 1999-2000, earning all-conference honors in both seasons. He won 11 games in each year (tied for third in program history in single-season wins) with his 113 strikeouts in 2000 remaining a program best. He was part of a strong one-two punch with Darrell Rasner in 2000, the last time the Wolf Pack made it to an NCAA Regional. He was a second-round draft pick by the Houston Astros in 2000 and made it to the big leagues as a reliever in 2004. Qualls pitched for nine teams over 14 major-league seasons, spending most of his time with the Astros. He helped Houston get to the 2005 World Series, where it lost to the Chicago White Sox. Qualls pitched in 844 big-league games. The second most in program history is Shawn Barton with 73. Massive difference. Qualls posted a 3.89 ERA over 807.1 innings. He went 52-48 and had 74 saves. He saved 24 games for Arizona in 2009 and posted a career-best 2.61 ERA with Miami in 2013. Qualls was inducted into Nevada's Hall of Fame in 2018 and is the best pitcher in program history.

4. Kevin Kouzmanoff: Despite playing only one season at Nevada, Kouzmanoff has to be on this list. He transferred to the Wolf Pack after playing at Arkansas-Little Rock. The third baseman had one of the best seasons in program history at Nevada in 2003, hitting. 361 with 17 homers and a 1.051 OPS en route to WAC player of the year and All-American honors. Kouzmanoff was then selected in the sixth round of the draft by Cleveland before debuting with the team in 2006. And what a debut it was. Kouzmanoff became the first player in big-league history to hit a grand slam on the first pitch he saw in the majors (and he spanked it; see the video below). Kouzmanoff wasn't a one-hit wonder as he went on to play seven seasons in the big leagues with five teams, most of his time coming with the Padres, where he set the National League single-season fielding percentage record for third basemen in 2009 at .990 percent (he had just three errors in 309 total chances). He ended his career as a .257 hitter and ranks third in school history in big-league games (685) and runs scored (273) and second in hits (650), doubles (143), homers (87) and RBIs (371). Kouzmanoff is the only player on this list not in the Wolf Pack Hall of Fame, and while he only played one season at Nevada, he's deserving of that honor.

3. Chris Singleton: A Bay Area native, Singleton came to Nevada to play football and was an excellent wide receiver who starred for Chris Ault's teams in the early 1990s (he played a huge role in the greatest comeback in college football history, Nevada's 55-49 win over Weber State after the Wolf Pack trailed by 35 points in the second half). But baseball ended up being his future after his split time during college. Singleton only played two season of college baseball given his devotion to football, so his name is not littered all over the Wolf Pack baseball record books. But he excelled on the diamond for Nevada from 1992-93, earning second-team All-Big West honors in his final season after hitting .348 with 21 steals. That was good enough for Singleton to be a second-round draft pick by the Giants. Singleton was traded twice before reaching the big leagues in 1999 with the White Sox where he had a fabulous rookie season, slashing .300/.328/.490 with 17 homers and 20 steals. Singleton finished sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year vote, although it's worth noting he had more WAR (wins above replacement) that season (4.8) than the AL ROY winner (Carlos Beltran at 4.7). The outfielder played five more seasons in the big leagues and ended up a .273 hitter with 9.7 career WAR (second most among Wolf Pack alums). He's the only Wolf Pack player to hit for the cycle in the big leagues, doing so in 1999 (he was the 220th MLB player to accomplished the feat). Singleton, now a successful broadcaster, was a 2006 inductee into the Wolf Pack Hall of Fame.

2. Rob Richie: Richie is difficult to place because he quit baseball after a strong rookie season in the big leagues to focus on his religion as a Jehovah’s Witness. The Northern Nevada native had All-Star potential that went unfulfilled, so do we rank him based on that potential or based only on accomplishments? It's a mix of both because Richie was plenty accomplished before giving up the game. Growing up in small-town Hawthorne, Richie's family moved to Reno so he could face better athletic competition. Despite the increased competition level, Richie was one of the most dominant prep athletes in Reno's history. He earned 1983 large-class player of the year honors in baseball over Carson's Matt Williams. He also was the large-class player of the year in basketball and an excellent wide receiver in football. He opted for baseball in college and stayed home to play for Nevada where he was a four-year starter who came back for his senior season after being a fourth-round pick in 1986. He moved up to the second round in 1987 after an All-American season (he hit .389 with nine homers and 20 steals) and was the Double-A MVP in 1988 while with the Tigers. In 1989, he made his big-league debut and posted a .823 OPS in 19 games before abruptly retiring. It's a "What Could Have Been" story, but Richie remains probably the most talented baseball player to wear silver and blue, and he accomplished quite a bit before hanging up the cleats at age 24. Richie was a 2000 inductee into the Wolf Pack Hall of Fame.

1. Lyle Overbay: The No. 1 spot on this list was easy. Overbay was awesome in college and had the best professional career of any Wolf Pack alum. During his three-year Wolf Pack tenure, Overbay was a two-time first-team All-Big West honoree and All-America via Collegiate Baseball, Baseball Weekly, Louisville Slugger and College Baseball Insider in 1999 when he hit .420 with 76 runs and 88 RBIs. He led Nevada to two Big West titles and two NCAA Regional berths. He was a .358 career college hitter and is first in program history in RBIs (257), second in runs (243) and hits (309), fourth in doubles (62) and fifth in homers (39) and triples (11). After being an 18th-round pick by Arizona in 1999, Overbay made his big-league debut in 2001 while making the Diamondbacks' postseason roster during their World Series-winning season. He stuck in the big leagues for good in 2003 and logged a 14-year career, playing twice as many MLB games as any Nevada alum. Over 1,587 games, Overbay was a career .266 hitter with 356 doubles, 151 homers and 675 RBIs. He led the majors with 53 doubles in 2004 while playing for the Brewers, one of six teams in his career. His best season came in 2006 in Toronto when Overbay slashed .312/.372/.508 with 46 doubles and career highs in homers (22) and RBIs (92). He retired after the 2014 season with 17 career WAR, nearly double that of second-place Singleton (9.7) among Wolf Pack alums. Overbay was inducted into Nevada's Hall of Fame in 2010. See also: Lyle Overbay, professional hitter.

For other reading on Nevada baseball, you can check out my 25-player all-time Wolf Pack team and my ranking of Wolf Pack baseball players based solely on their major-league careers.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.



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