Aces Are Wild: Tufts Baseball Season Preview

Tim Superko '17 (above) and Kyle Slinger '15 are expected to form the best 1-2 punch in the NESCAC (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Tim Superko ’17 (above) and Kyle Slinger ’15 are expected to form the best 1-2 punch in the NESCAC (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

2014 Record: 34-9 (9-3, Lost in NESCAC Championship Game, 1-2 in NCAA New England Regional)

Returning Starters: 7 (5 Position Players, 2 Pitchers)

Projected Starting Lineup (2014 Stats):

CF Connor McDavitt ’15 (.345/.461/.455, 0 HR, 28 RBI, 15 SB)
LF Cody McCallum ’16 (.226/.327/.238, 0 HR, 8 RBI, 7 SB)
DH Bryan Egan ’15 (.258/.368/.290, 0 HR, 9 RBI)
3B Tommy O’Hara ’18
SS Matt Moser ’15 (.299/.371/.422, 2 HR, 28 RBI)
1B James Howard ’15 (.280/.415/.320, 0 HR, 11 RBI)
C Nick Barker ’15 (.346/.466/.432, 1 HR, 13 RBI)
2B Tom Petry ’17 (.256/.424/.333/ 0 HR, 17 RBI)
RF Harry Brown ’16 (.200/.273/.200, 0 HR, 0 RBI)

SP Kyle Slinger ’15 (9-0, 1.18 ERA)
SP Tom Superko ’17 (4-2, 2.64 ERA)
SP Andrew David ’16 (4-3, 3.60 ERA)

Offensive Overview:

Tufts’ offensive is the only aspect of their team that causes any uncertainty heading into 2015. Though the Jumbos’ .278 team average in 2014 was middle of the pack, Tufts stakes its identity on its pitching and defense, so if the offense can produce at a high level they will be very tough to beat. The middle of the order will look very different this season as Wade Hauser ’14 and Max Freccia ’14 both graduated last spring. Centerfielder Connor McDavitt ’15 enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2014 where he hit .345 with 28 RBIs and tied for the team lead with 14 doubles. McDavitt is a sure lock for the lead off spot in the Jumbos’ lineup. Nick Barker ’15 hit .345 in a part-time role last year and figures to share time behind the plate with classmate Bryan Egan ’15. James Howard ’15 figures to get quality at bats at first base after batting .280 with 18 walks over 29 starts in 2014. Matt Moser ’15 will play a key offensive role after earing All-NESCAC honors last year and batting .299 with a team leading 38 RBIs.

Defensive Overview:

The Jumbos Defense is one of the best not only in the NESCAC, but also in the nation. Flashing a .967 fielding percentage a year ago, they look to continue their tradition of defensive excellence. The centerpiece of the Jumbos defense will be returning NESCAC Defensive POY McDavitt. McDavitt had just one error in 105 total chances last year and tallied five outfield assists. All-NESCAC First Team SS Moser, who helped Tufts turn 40 double plays last year, and 2B Tom Petry ’17, who had a .960 fielding percentage, figure to form one of the strongest middle infields in the NESCAC. The Jumbos will look to Barker and Egan to split time behind the plate as First Team All-NESCAC catcher Nick Cutsumpas ’14 graduated.

Pitching Overview:

Like their defense, the Jumbos pitching aims to be one of the top staffs in the country. Tufts ranked seventh nationally with a 2.53 ERA last season. Anchored by the reigning NESCAC Pitcher of the Year and NEIBA and All-New England First Teamer Kyle Slinger ’15, Tufts figures to dominate their NESCAC competition again. Slinger, a pro prospect and preseason All-American, went 9-0 and posted an unreal 1.18 ERA over 76 innings in 2014. Also returning to the starting rotation is reigning NESCAC Rookie of the Year Tim Superko ’17. In 2014, Superko logged 58 innings while posting a 2.64 ERA and an impressive 2.4 K/BB ratio. The Jumbos will look to replace Christian Sbily ’14, an All-NESCAC Second Team pick, with righty Andrew David ’16. The Jumbos’ bullpen will be strong once again as Tom Ryan ’15, who posted a team leading 2.8 K/BB ratio, and Willie Archibald ’15 look to shut down opponent’s offenses in the late innings and Speros Varinos ’17, who matched Ryan for the most appearances last year,  could rack up a lot of saves for the Jumbos.

Storylines to Watch:

1. Can Tufts avenge their NESCAC championship loss?

After missing the conference tournament for two years in a row, the Jumbos returned with a bang by winning the East pennant and earning a berth into the Championship series. After forcing a winner-take-all game by beating Wesleyan 10-0 on the brink of elimination but ultimately dropping the finale, the Jumbos are on a mission to take back the throne. With a nationally-ranked defense and pitching staff, the Jumbos are in prime position to take home the NESCAC crown in 2015. With the reigning POY and reigning ROY returning to their starting rotation, the Jumbos aim to do some serious damage in the NESCAC.

2. What will Kyle Slinger accomplish in his senior season?

Kyle Slinger has been one of the most dominant pitchers over his career at Tufts. Last year’s performance was one for the record books as he held opposing hitters to an astonishing .174 batting average. Slinger’s previous performance lead to selecting him to be a pre-season All-American. With his impressive track record, expect Slinger to raise the bar even further this season and put up some mind-blowing stats.

3. How does the Jumbos lineup shake out?

If there is anything that can hold Tufts back this season it is the offense. Can their offense provide enough run support for its heralded starters? Can returning players such as Moser and McDavitt step up to replace last year’s seniors? Either way the Jumbos will need multiple players to step up to fill in the gap. Freshmen such as Tommy O’Hara ’18, Michael McLaughlin ’18, Christian Zazzali ’18 and Stefan White ’18 figure to get an opportunity to compete for at bats if the returners don’t produce.

Biggest Series: April 24-25 against Bates

Bates probably presents the stiffest challenge that Tufts will face in the NESCAC East, and the two teams’ strengths match up with one another, as the Bobcats figure to bang the ball around the park quite a bit this season. It will be fun to watch two of the league’s best units go after one another, and either team could be fighting for a spot in the NESCAC tournament seeing as this represents the last conference series of the regular season for both teams.

The Champions Have Returned: Wesleyan Baseball Season Preview

2014 Record: 31-13 (10-2 NESCAC, First in NESCAC West, First in Little Three)

Postseason Outcomes: NESCAC Champions, Second at Moosic, Pa. Regional

Returning Starters: 11 (9 Position Players, 2 Starting Pitchers)

Projected Starting Lineup:

DH Robby Harbison ’17
2B Andrew Yin ’15
CF Donnie Cimino ’15
1B Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15
RF Jonathan Dennett ’15
SS Guy Davidson ’16
3B Ellis Schaefer ’17
LF Ben Hoynes ’15
C Nick Miceli ’17

LHP Nick Cooney ’15
RHP Gavin Pittore ’16

Offensive Overview:

After powering through the NESCAC last year and earning a school-record 31 wins, Wesleyan will return all nine players in their starting lineup this year. Expected to continue his dominance at the plate is Sam Goodwin-Boyd. Last season he tormented opposing pitchers while hitting .327 with five home runs and 44 RBIs. Goodwin-Boyd also runs well for a big guy (6’5″ 235 lbs). But the Cardinals’ offense does not stop there. Also returning to the lineup with high expectations are 2B Andrew Yin ’15, two-sport star Donnie Cimino, Jonathan Dennett and Robby Harbison, who all batted above .320 last season. Junior transfer Marco Baratta ’16 also hopes to make an impact on the lineup in 2015 by getting some at bats in the outfield.

Wesleyan captured the program's first ever NESCAC title in 2014. (Courtesy of Tufts Sports Information/
Wesleyan captured the program’s first ever NESCAC title in 2014. (Courtesy of Tufts Sports Information/

Defensive Overview:

In the field Wesleyan returns all nine positions players and will be anchored by three All-NESCAC performers in Cimino (CF), Goodwin-Boyd (1B) and Guy Davidson (SS). Cimino, Goodwin-Boyd and Davidson all look to improve on last season’s success after playing summer ball in the prestigious Cape Cod League and Futures League. Pitcher/catcher Nick Miceli played some competitive summer ball as well, plying his trade in the New England College Baseball League, and hopes to build on a strong freshman campaign. Returning all nine field players will be key for the chemistry of a squad that has championship hopes again.

Pitching Overview:

Nick Cooney '15 (left) and Gavin PIttore '16 (right) got a taste of the Cape League this summer on the heels of their 2014 success. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Nick Cooney ’15 (left) and Gavin PIttore ’16 (right) got a taste of the Cape League this summer on the heels of their 2014 success. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

On the mound Wesleyan will rely on returning starters Nick Cooney and Gavin Pittore ’16 to carry them through the campaign. Cooney was an All-NESCAC selection in 2014. Both Cooney and Pittore pitched in the Cape Cod League, bringing the total number of Wesleyan players in NCAA-sanctioned summer leagues to seven. The bullpen depth appears to be another strong point for he Cardinals in 2015 as well. Sam Elias ’15, another NECBL player, and Pete Rantz ’16 figure to make numerous relief appearances, though Rantz could compete for a starting job as he toed the rubber for seven starts last season. Elias and his devastating splitter accounted for a 9.27 K/9 ratio over 43.2 IP in which he earned four saves to lead the team. His 1.03 BB/9 rate was among the league’s best as well.

Story Lines to Watch

1. Can Wesleyan avoid the Championship hangover?

After last year’s historic season, the Cardinals will look to be even more dominant. The 2014 NESCAC title was the first in school history and the birth into the NCAA tournament the first since 1994. If Wesleyan hopes to continue this excellence they will need their established stars to step up again this year. After dropping the first game in the 2014 NESCAC championship 10-0 against Tufts, they showed incredible resilience to take the next two games. Coach Mark Woodworth has developed a formula for success that is not always pretty, but certainty is effective.

2. Can Wesleyan return to the World Series for the first time in over 20 years?

Last year’s NESCAC Championship certainty makes the Cards a contender to return to the playoffs again. With a cadre of returning starters the team appears to be in prime position to make a deeper run into the playoffs. If the Cards make the tournament again how far can they go? Can they reach the bar set by the 1994 Division-III runners-up? Can they win it all? Either way there is definitely something special brewing in Middletown.

3. How will Wesleyan’s 150th season celebration affect their performance?

This year will mark the 150th season of Wesleyan baseball. To celebrate the historic occasion the Cardinals will play Yale, their first ever opponent, in a regular season match up in April. They will also honor the tradition with a historic anniversary game on September 26, 2015. Will Wesleyan be able to create even more history with an incredible run into the NCAA tournament? Whatever the outcome, the 2015 season will prove to be a historic campaign.

4. How will Wesleyan stack up against top-flight competition?

In the College Baseball Writers’ Association Preseason Poll the Tufts Jumbos were the only NESCAC team to make it into the rankings, but Wesleyan received a good chunk of votes. Now after two weeks of inactivity some of those Cardinals votes have shifted elsewhere, but still Wesleyan is right on the cusp of breaking into the top 25. The Cards’ spring break schedule includes games against No. 5 Cal Lutheran (8-1) and No. 14 Linfield (9-5) as well as two games in Pomona against Pomona-Pitzer (11-3) who is unranked but is receiving votes. If Wesleyan returns from its westward sojourn with a couple of victories against these teams then the NESCAC better get ready.

Biggest Series: Home-and-home against Amherst April 24 and 25.

Most NESCAC weekend series are played at a single site, but Amherst and Wesleyan have turned this into a home-and-home affair. Last year the Cards beat the Jeffs in Amherst and then split the pair in Middletown. Both teams expect to be competing for the NESCAC West title this season, so for Wesleyan it will be important to win the Friday bout in Connecticut before driving up to Amherst for the Saturday doubleheader.