Spring is Sort of Here: Power Rankings 3/25

Andrew Vandini '16 has helped Amherst get off to a fast start.
Andrew Vandini ’16 has helped Amherst get off to a fast start.

The NESCAC regular season finally starts next Friday after several weeks of spring training. Being that the majority of teams have yet to face a NESCAC opponent, the only taste we’ve had of the competition this season has been through non-conference face-offs. With opening weekend looming, it’s time for us to publish our current power rankings. Our opinions for each time are determined by statistics from last season and this year’s spring break. Check back early next week to see our predictions for how the teams will perform in the NESCAC standings this season.

  1. Amherst (8-1, 0-0)

Amherst continues to dominate both the diamond and the NESCAC standings. The mound has already received accolades for its strong start, with pitcher Jackson Volle ’17 being named the NESCAC Pitcher of the Week, and the team from Central Mass also has Riley Streit ’16 to thank for their success. Together, with ERAs of 0.64 and 1.69, Volle and Streit have carried a defense that has yet to disappoint. In the field, senior catcher/DH Connor Gunn ’16 and 1B/DH Dave Cunningham ’16 are pure dynamite, producing 56 and 51 putouts and FPCTs of 0.969 and 1.00. On the offense, a core force of Yanni Thanopoulos ’17, Anthony Spina ’17 and Ariel Kenney ’18 continue to put power behind the bat, helping the team hit a .350 AVG in nine games. For now, Amherst looks like a powerhouse without any loose screws, but how much they can sustain this into the season still needs to be determined.

Amherst hosts Hamilton next weekend in their first NESCAC matchup of the season.

  1. Wesleyan (10-3, 0-0)

Placing in second might come as a shock for the Cardinals, who’ve dominated the NESCAC for two years running. Indeed, the Cardinals are using any doubt as personal motivation. Now, Wesleyan isn’t struggling to deliver, per say, but they certainly need to sharpen up on the mound and in the field if they want to begin to resemble the championship-winning team they have been in the last two seasons. After 13 games, the Cardinals hold a relatively horrific ERA of 6.14, compared to last season’s final of 2.70. This places them near the bottom of current NESCAC standings. While Nick Miceli ’17 has held his own on the bump, boasting a 1.71 ERA with 19 strike outs, Peter Rantz ’16 is showing a bit more inconsistency. In yesterday’s game against the Coast Guard, he allowed 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, and three walks in 4.2 innings. Hopefully Rantz isn’t getting anxious with the added responsibility of being the Cardinals ace.  Wesleyan needs to provide their pitchers with confidence and security in the field in order to properly support pitchers’ efforts. Miceli, Matt Jeye ’18 and O’Sullivan are team standouts but cannot raise the entire defense out of its average-ranking playing.

Wesleyan is just a little rough the edges as the team whips pitchers into champion shape, but once they figure that out, they will be even more threatening to the opposition. After all, Wesleyan still stands out as the biggest hitters in the NESCAC. Lead by a dangerous trio of Miceli, Eric Jones ’16, and Guy Davidson ’16, the Cardinals hold a fearsome .373 AVG with 32 doubles, 14 triples, six homeruns, and 109 RBIs.

  1. Bowdoin (8-3, 0-0)

The Polar Bears have definitely surprised us with their success so far—and are obviously playing far more competitively than their opponents in the East Division. Their 14-8 loss to Hamilton revealed that there remains weakness in the pitching rotation. Brandon Lopez ’19 threw the most innings with 2.2, in which he allowed 6 H, 6 R, 6 ER, and only struck out two batters.  Meanwhile, Ben Osterholtz ’19 and Michael Staes ’16 have stood out early, with a combined 1.29 ERA (helping the team reach 3.71 ERA), but until we see more of their pitching, it’s difficult to determine if Bowdoin’s success as of late is due to true Polar Bear power or just mediocre competition. The Polar Bears travel to Hartford, Conn. next weekend to face Trinity.

  1. Tufts (5-3, 0-0)

The Jumbos had a frustrating start to the season:  their initial losses happened not because the team isn’t capable but because they just weren’t producing like we know they can.  The team has improved, but they have yet to demonstrate the batting power we saw last season behind stars like Tommy O’Hara ’18. Right now, the team’s fielding and pitching stats are pretty average, consistently placing them right in the middle of NESCAC standings. In eight games, the team has averaged .285 at the plate, mainly due to the tremendous effort of Harry Brown ’17, Matt Moser ’16, and Cody McCallum ’16, who have consistently performed admirably up at bat with averages of .450, .353, and .324. However, the Jumbos future is getting brighter: though O’Hara had a slow start to his sophomore season, he has drastically improved his batting edge in Tufts’ last two games, bringing his batting average up to .303. Clearly, the Jumbos are just taking some time to get back their stride. They have until next Saturday, their first NESCAC competition against Bates, to tighten up their loose ends.

  1. Hamilton (9-5, 0-0)

While Hamilton lost to very beatable squads during its two week stretch in Florida, it’s clear that the Continentals have concrete chemistry, especially amongst the junior class. The team’s 14-8 victory against Bowdoin was a big confidence booster too.  The Continentals definitely can brag about their performance at bat: they have a teamwide .370 AVG. Hamilton has produced 28 doubles, five triples, three homeruns, 78 RBIs and a beautiful  .457 OBP, largely thanks to juniors Ryan Wolfsberg ’17, Brett Mele ’17, Kenny Collins ’17, and Andrew Haser ’17. The mound is also dominated by underclassmen. Max Jones ’19 (1.59 ERA), Dan DePaoli ’18 (2.60 ERA) and Spencer Vogelbach ’18 (3.00 ERA) comprise a growing force on the mound, amassing to a team ERA of 3.71. The trio, in addition to veteran Cole Dreyfuss ’16 (5.50 ERA), creates a dependable rotation, but anything beyond that remains a mystery that Hamilton needs to solve quickly.

Some early experimentation in position assignments (i.e. Haser and Andrew Watson’19 on the mound) suggests that the team has needed to make up for unanticipated empty holes in the roster, but the problem is only temporary. CF Chris Collins ’17, 3B Dean Rosenberg ’18 and Finlay O’Hara ’17 have missed several games due to minor injuries, but they’ll be fresh and prepared for Hamilton’s games against Amherst next weekend. The return of Collins and Rosenberg will especially add more power to Hamilton’s already impressive batting lineup.

  1. Trinity (5-6, 0-0)

Throughout spring training, Trinity has been a team that hasn’t played consistently in games: essentially the Bantams win and lose back and forth, and typically by a substantial number of runs. Overall, the team is equally average in all areas. What’s most surprising, however, is the rough start of Bantam veteran pitcher Jed Robinson ’16. After two starts, Robinson holds a 5.84 ERA, and the other pitchers with the same number of starts – namely Anthony Elgein, Jr. ’18, McLane Hill ’18 and Nicholas Fusco ’18 – aren’t doing much better with ERAs of 3.97, 5.87 and 10.38. The good news is Fusco and Robinson have the track record to think they will rebound. While rookie Erik Mohl ’19 showed promise against Plattsburgh St., pitching six scoreless innings, he also racked up a 2:4 K:BB ratio over 7.1 IP. The Bantams still haven’t gotten things going in the way they are capable of.

  1. Bates (5-7, 0-0)

With their current 0.417 win percentage, the Bobcats are a shadow of the team that made it to the playoffs last season. You’d be hard pressed to find a real strength in the team at this point, but it is clear that Bates desperately needs to improve at bat. Their hitting is weak with a .258 BA, and when you’re losing most of your games to average competition by three or fewer runs, that is a huge problem. Brendan Fox ’17 (.457 BA) is the strongest at the plate with four doubles, one triple, one homerun, 12 RBIs, and five walks. However, against NESCAC opposition, the Bobcats need others to step up.

  1. Middlebury (1-1, 0-0)

The Panthers are at a disadvantage when it comes to accurately ranking teams, as they’ve only played two games so far. After coming in dead last in the conference last year with a 4-24 record, Middlebury needs improvement in a host of areas. Nevertheless, in their first two outings, they demonstrated stability and potential for growth, even defeating Bates in the second game of their doubleheader. The currently success of the pitching rotation comes from freshmen, which is somewhat concerning in a conference with much more experienced pitchers. Colby Morris ’19 holds a 3.00 ERA from his one start. The bullpen, meanwhile, which includes yet another rookie Conor Himstead ’19, has produced five scoreless innings, showing some promise for future matchups. Middlebury gets a nod in our rankings because of room for correction, but realistically, their rank is more due to the current deficiencies of other teams.

  1. Colby (2-8, 0-0)

Right now, Colby’s greatest success has been their average batting average (.317 BA). Seniors Dan Csaplar ’16 and Tyler Starks ’17 lead the pack with averages of .444 and .375, and while they don’t get much distance for their hits, they have been reliable starters. However, the Mules can’t rely on decent batting to make up for sub-par fielding and pitching if they want to win conference games. On the bump, Colby needs to immediately improve its 10.31 ERA if they want to improve in rankings. Dan Schoenfeld ’18 and Robert Donohue ’17 are the steadiest of pitchers, and their ERAs are 4.76 and 9.00. The Mules have had more with Tommy Forese ’16 and Soren Hanson ’16, but they need more than those two. Colby faces Wesleyan next weekend in a non-conference series, and perhaps a week of intense focus and the home field advantage will amount to some good competition.

  1. Williams (1-5, 0-0)

The Ephs have stumbled out of the gates. In their six games, Williams was only able to finish their first of the season with a victory. At the end of the day, the team has everything working against them. On the mound, the Ephs clearly need a lot of work: the team bears a pretty dreadful 12.63 ERA, despite the 1.50 ERA held by Luke Rodino ’17. Yet, the below-average pitchers are assisted by disappointing fielders with a 0.931 FPCT.  Hitting is where the Ephs show the greatest strength right now, with a decent 0.345 AVG. Ironically, Williams possesses of two of the best hitters in the conference right now, Kellen Hatheway ’19 (.520) and Jack Roberts ’17 (.500). While power at the plate is a good start for the Ephs, they’ll be eaten alive by the entire NESCAC unless they pull themselves together defensively. The team has talent, and I don’t think they will stay in the cellar, but they have to find answers on the mound.



The Biggest Storylines of 2015 and What to Expect in 2016

Guy Davidson '16 has some big shoes to fill as the incumbent star on the two-time reigning champs. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Guy Davidson ’16 has some big shoes to fill as the incumbent star on the two-time reigning champs. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

The 2015 NESCAC baseball season was one for the history books: from a star-studded senior class to a handful of record-breaking underclassmen claiming the spotlight, the players made an impact not only on their own teams but in the entire NESCAC conference. With the season underway, it’s time to review last year’s hits and misses and predict what we can expect from this year’s competition.

But ICYMI, for any reason (like me—they don’t play baseball in London, where I was last spring!), here’s a rundown of the biggest storylines from the 2015 season:

  1. Wesleyan, Wesleyan, Wesleyan: the Continual Rise of the NESCAC Underdog

The Cardinals made history in 2014 when the underdogs grabbed the NESCAC Championship for the first time; they stunned us yet again in 2015 by holding on to the title in a nail-biting match-up against longtime rival Amherst in the final. It was wild. If you missed it (guilty), you really missed out.

Wesleyan just had everything in their arsenal and all the odds in their favor. The Cardinals didn’t graduate a single hitter after the 2014 campaign, and in 2015 the team ultimately produced the program’s record-breaking 31 wins. Offensively, Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15, Andrew Yin ’15, current Cubs’ minor leaguer Donnie Cimino ’15 and Jonathan Dennett ’15 all produced in their final season. In the field Wesleyan was led by a trio of All-NESCAC performers: Cimino (CF), Goodwin-Boyd (1B) and Guy Davidson ’16 (SS), all of whom were eager to build off the momentum they developed during their summer with the Cape Cod League. Together, the trio helped produce the strongest defense in the NESCAC.

But the talent didn’t stop there: on the mound Wesleyan was a serious force to be reckoned with. Returning starters Nick Cooney ’15, a 2014 All-NESCAC selection, and Gavin Pittore ’16 both pitched in the Cape Cod League in preparation for their season. Sam Elias ’15, who competed in the esteemed New England Collegiate Baseball League the summer before last, was honored with the 2015 NESCAC Pitcher of the Year Award after accumulating a 7.78 K/9 ratio and 1.53 ERA over 76.1 IP. Elias turned into an ace, doing double duty as a starter (seven starts) and closer (four saves), and his 1.03 BB/9 rate was among the league’s best as well. Pete Rantz ’16 rounded out the Cardinals’ dominant rotation, and has big shoes to fill after the graduation of two rotation mates and Pittore’s early departure.

  1. The Man, The Myth, The Legend: the Unstoppable Odenwaelder

At 6’5″ and 225 lbs., Mike Odenwaelder ’16 is the type of baseball player you used to look at and wonder why he wasn’t playing Division-I ball, or even pro. After all, in his first two seasons alone, the player was crowned the 2013 NESCAC Rookie of the Year and 2014 NESCAC Player of the Year and selected for the NCAA Division III Gold Glove Team, the D3Baseball.com All-American team and First Team All-New England.

The real question going into the 2015 season was whether or not Odenwaelder could continue to surpass expectations. He returned to the Jeffs last year fresh off his most successful season. In 2014, he hit .400 with six HRs and 31 RBI, posting a jaw-dropping slugging percentage of .607. On the mound he had a 1.74 ERA over 20.2 IP. Though the Amherst star didn’t pitch for the majority of 2015 because of a shoulder injury, he continued to dominate the NESCAC with his powerful hitting. By the end of the 2015 season, Odenwaelder had racked up a total of 118 games, during which he developed a career batting avg. of .372 with 16 homers, 86 RBI, and 39 stolen bases.

  1. Tufts’ Secret Weapon: Tommy O’Hara ’18

O’Hara transitioned from “rookie” to “phenom” the moment he stepped onto the Jumbo diamond. The freshman third baseman was Tufts’ best hitter on their trip to Virginia and North Carolina. He had an incredible .564 OBP in 42 at-bats with six walks. But the question no one wanted to ask remained in the minds of Tufts’ NESCAC opponents: can a first-year really transform a team?

The answer was a thousand times, yes. Tufts’ offense was undoubtedly questionable at the beginning of the season and definitely needed bolstering if it was to make it to the NESCAC playoffs. O’Hara single-handedly delivered. The freshman infielder led the team with a .405 batting average, .518 on-base percentage and .603 slugging percentage. He also hit a team-high 14 doubles while registering four home runs, 42 runs scored and 42 RBIs.

Oh, and did I mention he was First Team All-NESCAC as well as NESCAC Rookie of the Year? I guess you could say he’s kind of a big deal.

  1. Hamilton’s Franchise: Joe Jensen ’15

The former three-season athlete (football, track, and baseball) gave the Continents serious bragging rights last year, breaking records both on the diamond and off.

In March of last year Jensen outplayed the lofty expectations set out for him after a successful junior year in which he hit .398/.495/.430 and a sophomore campaign during which he set school records with 137 at bats, 30 runs scored and 29 stolen bases. He was in the top three in the NESCAC in batting average (.525), on-base percentage (.587), and slugging percentage (.775) at the end of the month. His trip to Florida was probably his shining moment in the 2015 season, as he had multiple hits in all six games. While his numbers dropped off once the Continentals returned home, he remained one of the best hitters and defensive outfielders in the NESCAC.

Jensen received NESCAC All-Conference honors last spring for the second time, earning second-team recognition after leading the league with 24 stolen bases and a gaudy .450 on-base percentage. His .398 batting average ranked third in the NESCAC.

“His ability to affect the game both defensively and offensively with his speed is something that sets him apart from his peers, both on the field and as a professional prospect,” Hamilton coach Tim Byrnes said following Jensen’s senior season. “Joe is a true take-away center fielder with a plus arm for this level. He’s able to use his plus speed to beat out infield singles, stretch singles into doubles and steal bases at will.”

  1. Bowdoin’s Starting Pitcher Henry Van Zant ’15 (the NESCAC’s Best Non-Cardinal Pitcher)

Van Zant closed out a fantastic career for the Polar Bears by recording one of the finest seasons in program history; he tied the program’s single-season record for wins by going 7-1, including a 5-0 mark in conference games, with a 1.95 earned run average. That some rainy weather allowed Van Zant to pitch and win five NESCAC games is a miracle. Nobody had started five conference games since two players did so during the 2013 season, and Van Zant’s five wins in conference games is a NESCAC record. His complete game shutout over Wesleyan, which ended in a 1-0 victory for the Polar Bears, made him 6-0 overall against NESCAC teams.

Van Zant’s career amounted to 17 win (tied for third in school history) and 168 career strikeouts (ranking him fifth all-time at Bowdoin). Van Zant was named a second-team selection for the All-NESCAC and D3baseball.com teams.

Though Van Zant ultimately lost the Pitcher of the Year nod to his top rival, his remarkable senior season no doubt gave the conference a difficult decision to make.

So with that in mind, here are some of the biggest questions you should have as the 2016 season unfolds:

  1. The Pitcher Problem: Who will take the mount in place of former starters?

Year after year, graduation and the pros inevitably lead to casualties on teams’ rosters, but the damage inflicted this year, especially on the mound, is shocking. Reigning champs Wesleyan lost three—Elias, Pittore, Cooney—of their four top pitchers, leaving Rantz, who threw 60.2 innings with a 2.97 ERA in 2015, to pick up the pieces. After losing Van Zant, Bowdoin has to redesign its pitching plan, and Trinity loses ace Sean Meekins ’15, (3-1, 2.01 ERA, 10.48 K/9, 44.2 IP). Tufts lost Tom Ryan ’15 and Willie Archibad ’15. Amherst lost John Cook ’15. Even Middlebury lost Eric Truss ’15, who finished 9th in the NESCAC.

The pitching lineups of Hamilton, Williams, Bates and Colby appear unscathed, but time has yet to tell how the returning starters will mesh with the young up-and-comers on the roster.

While the teams’ are grateful for the underclassmen they set as starters last season, they still need to figure out how inexperienced pitchers will contribute to NESCAC competition during spring training. The clock’s ticking.

  1. The Odenwaelder Inheritance: Who will fill the shoes left in centerfield?

As anticipated, Odenwaelder was picked by the Baltimore Orioles in the 16th Round (493 overall) of the 2015 Major League Draft. But anticipation didn’t seem to lead to effective planning: Odenwaelder’s incredible talent overshadowed several, if not most, of the other Jeffs, and has consequently left a gaping hole to be filled.

Thankfully, Amherst returns several promising team members, including Harry Roberson ’18, he finished his breakout freshman year with an OBP of .429. Yet, while Roberson is unquestionably a standout hitter, it’s unknown if he can carry the team like Odenwaelder. Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 and Connor Gunn’16 have promising stats, but it’s unlikely Amherst will be the same offensive dynamite as last spring.

Nevertheless, Amherst pushed Wesleyan all the way to extra innings in a winner-take-all NESCAC championship game, so all hope is not lost for the Jeffs.

  1. The End of an Era? How will reigning NESCAC champs Wesleyan compete against the competition after losing most of their starters?

Elias, Cooney, Goodwin-Boyd, Dennett and Yin are off the field and into the real world of post-college life. Pittore signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cimino is with the Cubs organization. Guys essential to the Wesleyan machine, and part of the epic 2015 class of athletes at Wesleyan, are no longer a part of its construction, and for the two-time reigning NESCAC champions, that’s pretty frightening.

Shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 had a notable 2015 season and is back to up his game, but there are very few sure bets in the Cardinals’ lineup. On the flip side of that, though, the early returns on Wesleyan’s shiny, new lineup are darn right impressive. The Cardinals are hitting .386/.469/.600 as a squad through eight games down in Arizona. Gotta love that thin Tucson air.

Wesleyan has been so successful because it has been a complete, practiced team—the players worked for years to mesh together and become the reigning champions. There are a lot of gaping holes in the lineup now, and it’s unlikely the Cardinals will be able to fill them all this season. We’re looking at a dramatically different team than those we’ve grow accustomed to seeing come out of close games victorious again and again.

So, with Wesleyan in a sort of limbo, who will take up the mantle in the West? Amherst lost its beloved star to MLB, but still packs a ton of talent. Middlebury and Hamilton have promising players, but it’s unlikely that they are ready to step up to the plate. Williams has been in a sort of middle tier limbo for awhile now. I’d wager that Hamilton may have an inside track on a playoff spot; the team lost only one starting player going into this year, guaranteeing a solid lineup.

  1. The Spring of Tufts? Do the Jumbos have what it takes to win the NESCAC East this season?

The Jumbos aren’t without any losses: their lineup will have to make do without big contributors like Connor McDavitt ’15 and Bryan Egan ’15. However, Tufts’ fantastic pitchers Tim Superko ’17 and Andrew David ’16 give them a solid baseline on the field, and in a re-building season for many teams, that is a real boon. And then there’s O’Hara. Tommy O’Hara earned D3baseball.com Preseason All-America accolades following a tremendous freshman campaign last spring.

By putting faith in underclassmen—and phenomenal ones at that—early on, the Jumbos have outsmarted other NESCAC teams struggling to pull together competitive lineups.

  1. Chemistry on the Continentals: Is Hamilton the next NESCAC powerhouse?

Hamilton lost just one starter from the lineup, and the strength of the pitching rotation returns.

Even though the Continentals will play without Alex Pachella ’15 or JJ Lane ’15, co-captain Cole Dreyfuss ’16 stood out as the real pitching MVP for the Continentals last spring. Dreyfuss assembled a 5-2 record in seven starts and struck out 41 batters. He ended up third in the conference with a 1.89 earned run average in 47.2 innings.

Overall, the rotation is promising: hard-throwing right-hander Spencer Vogelbach ’18 was the No. 4 starter in 2015 but should be in the weekend rotation this season. Vogelbach went 4-1 with one save and was sixth in the NESCAC with a 2.25 ERA, averaging 9.90 strikeouts per nine innings and fanning a total of 44 batters in 40 innings, but with the propensity to get wild at times. Last season, Finlay O’Hara ’17 also emerged as a versatile arm, earning a 2-2 record and two saves. F. O’Hara struck out 28 hitters and walked just five in 28.2 innings. Depth in the bullpen is added by Dan DePaoli ’18, who fanned 22 batters in 22.2 innings. Charlie Lynn ’18 and Mike Borek ’18 provide depth in the bullpen.

Offensively, Hamilton has fostered a dangerous core group of juniors in twins Kenny and Chris Collins ’17, designated hitter Andrew Haser ’17 and outfielder Ryan Wolfsberg ’17. Kenny Collins, one of this year’s captains, finished with 32 hits in 102 at-bats for a .314 average and scored 21 runs, while hitting six doubles and three triples. He was fourth in the NESCAC with 16 stolen bases and represented the Wellsville Nitros in the 2015 New York Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game. Chris Collins, meanwhile, hit .309 (30-97), cracked six doubles and stole 14 bases. Haser showed great improvement last season after having an OBP below .300 in 2014. To finish off the group, Wolfsberg developed his skills in the California Collegiate League last summer after finishing in fourth in the NESCAC with a .396 batting average (36-for-91) in 2015, smacking nine doubles, three triples and four homers and driving in 25 runs. The outfielder posted a .692 slugging percentage and a .449 on-base percentage.

Second baseman Zack Becker ’16 also proved to be an incredible offensive player last season, rebounding after a disastrous sophomore campaign. He was eighth in the conference with a .365 batting average (27-for-74) and enjoyed his best season at Hamilton with five doubles and a pair of round-trippers to go with an on-base percentage of .447.

In just two weeks, the season will begin in full force. While you can never really be sure what’s going to happen in baseball, it’s certain that these questions will significantly linger throughout the spring.

Talent Aplenty for the Jeffs: Amherst Baseball Season Preview

Mike Odenwaelder is back to mash baseballs which is good news for Amherst. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Mike Odenwaelder ’16 is back to mash baseballs which is good news for Amherst. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

2014 Record: 30-11 (9-3, Second in NESCAC West), 0-2 in NESCAC Tournament, 2-2 in NCAA New England Regional.

Returning Starters: 8 (7 Position Players, 1 Starting Pitcher)

Projected Starting Lineup: (Stats are from 2014)

CF Brendon Hardin ’15 (.179/.304/.179, 0 HR, 6 RBI)
2B Andrew Vandini ’16 (.309/.401/.315, 0 HR, 25 RBI)
1B Mike Odenwaelder ’16 (.400/.452/.607, 6 HR, 31 RBI)
LF Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 (.312/.375/.409, 0 HR, 24 RBI)
C Connor Gunn ’16 (.307/.382/.444, 4 HR, 23 RBI)
RF Tyler Jacobs ’15 (.289/.331/.389, 2 HR, 27 RBI)
3B Sam Ellinwood ’18
SS Harry Roberson ’18
DH Max Steinhorn ’18

LHP John Cook ’15 (5-3, 1.93 ERA, 9.32 K/9, 64.2 IP)
RHP Keenan Szulik ’18 (6-0, 4.56 ERA, 6.93 K/9, 49.1 IP)
RHP Drew Fischer ’18

Offensive Overview:

If you didn’t look carefully at those stats from 2014, look again at Odenwaelder’s. Those were good enough for him to win NESCAC Player of the Year as a sophomore, and he followed that up by winning the Futures Collegiate summer league MVP award as well. The expectation is that Odenwaelder will be drafted at some point in the draft this spring, and it is possible that he gets picked somewhere in the top 15 rounds. There are plenty of other boppers around Odenwaelder, too. Both Gunn and Jacobs hit multiple home runs a season ago. Vandini will get on base a lot while Hardin will have to show he belongs at the top of the lineup. The bottom of the lineup looks completely different with three freshmen getting the first chance at those spots. The shortstop Roberson in particular is one name to keep an eye on as he was the ISL (Independent School League) MVP last season. There are a lot of new faces from a season ago, all of which have high expectations.

Defensive Overview:

The major change on defense is on the left side of the infield where the duo of Jacobs and Taiki Kasuga ’14 combined for 26 of Amherst’s 50 errors a season ago. That is why Jacobs is now playing right field, and the freshmen Roberson and Ellinwood are getting a crack at starting. They should be more steadily reliable defenders which will go a long way. Gunn threw out only 19 percent of runners who stole against him. That number will need to be much higher or else Amherst might look elsewhere and move Gunn to DH. Hardin is also a new center fielder so there are some big question marks surrounding the Amherst defense. The key will be Roberson and Ellinwood making the simple play. Having Vandini as his partner in the middle infield will help Roberson a little, too.

Pitching Overview:

The Jeffs lose a ton from their rotation a year ago. Two of their three top starters, Dylan Driscoll ’14 and Quinn Saunders-Kolberg ’14, along with two others who pitched more than 25 innings, graduated. Odenwaelder likely won’t pitch because of shoulder concerns, and he was dominant for the Jeffs when he came in for relief in 2014. Cook will be an ace at the top for them, but after that things get a little dicey. Szulik ended up pitching 49.1 innings, but he was a reliever for most of the season. He will need to become an important piece very quickly. Jackson Volle ’17 is  another returning pitcher who might make a major impact, but it will be the freshman Fischer who gets first crack at a weekend slot. That third spot could ultimately go to somebody else, though. If Cook replicates his dominant junior season, that will give the rest of the rotation a little bit more leeway to get their feet under them.

Storylines to Watch

1. How good are the freshman?

Trotting out three freshmen in your starting lineup is unusual, and it is even more so when you consider the three are playing SS, 3B and DH. Those are usually some of your best hitting positions for college players. The youth in the Amherst lineup stands in contrast to their West division rival Wesleyan who has upperclassmen manning every position. Don’t let the DH label fool you with Steinhorn. He is actually a speed demon who will see some time in the middle infield but is simply blocked by Vandini and Roberson. Throw in the fact that Fischer should get major run in the rotation, and the Jeffs are going to be one of the teams most heavily reliant on freshmen.

2. What is Odenwaelder’s ceiling?

He had a spectacular freshmen year and then managed to easily top that last season. Then last summer he was the best player in a league that includes a decent amount of Division-I players. Throw in the fact that he is 6’5″ and weighs 225 and you start to get an idea for why MLB scouts are going to be showing up for a good amount of the Jeffs games. It is a real shame is that we are unlikely to see Odenwaelder throw 90+ like he did a season ago. However, his ability to absolutely MASH should keep us happy. The only real potential speed bump is that some of the hitters around him struggle. Then you could see teams pitch around Odenwaelder. That is very unlikely to happen given all the talent on the Amherst roster. We expect his on-base percentage to top .500 and his slugging percentage to rise also. Think 2002 Barry Bonds, but without all the steroid baggage.

3. Does the bullpen hold up?

Even though the rotation looks shaky right now, I expect a reliable top three to emerge by the time that conference play begins. The problem might be that there is no depth behind that top three because of all the losses from a season ago. The Jeffs have almost nobody who threw innings last season ready to step into a big time role. Last year Eric Kotin ’14 appeared in an astounding 22 games over the course of the season. He got touched for runs a couple of times, but overall he was a big stabilizing force for Amherst. They need somebody like him to step up and help Amherst to close out close games.

Biggest Series: April 24-25 against Wesleyan

This is really the only series that matters in the West. That might sound harsh, but this is very much a two-tier division. Wesleyan and Amherst will make the NESCAC playoffs unless one of the three bottom teams comes out of nowhere. The winner of this series should take the West division. Yet, this series is really more of a measuring stick than anything else. The championship format for the NESCAC this year is different, and instead of the top team hosting, all games are being played in Nashua, New Hampshire. That won’t change the Jeffs’ desire for revenge for last season when Wesleyan took two out of three.

Power Rankings Part 3- The West Playoff Teams

We wrap up the Power Ranks with the two West playoff teams. Same format as the East, and the numbers coincide to their overall ranking this week. We will have our predictions for the weekend up tomorrow morning so make sure to check back in.

3. Amherst (28-7, 9-3)

Why They’ll Win: Amherst might be the only team who could give Tufts a running in the “most sheer talent” category. Their lineup is filled with dangerous hitters, most notably ace leadoff hitter and shortstop Taiki Kasuga ‘14, who comes into the playoffs batting .366, and Mike Odenwaelder ‘16, the Miguel Cabrera of this NESCAC season. Odenwaelder comes into the playoffs at least in the top three of every major offensive category known to man, and leading in batting average and slugging percentage, at .417 and .658 respectively. As if that wasn’t enough, Odenwaelder also sports a 1.74 ERA out of the bullpen. When you combine these offensive threats with the three-headed beast in the rotation of Dylan Driscoll ‘14, John Cook ‘15 and Quinn Saunders-Kolburg ‘14, Amherst looks as deep as any team except maybe Tufts.

Why They’ll Lose: The blueprint for beating Amherst was shown two weekends back when Wesleyan took two out of three from the Jeffs. In that series, Wesleyan was able to get to Driscoll early in game one, making the other matchups more even. Each game in the series was close, decided by 2 runs or less, and Wesleyan’s propensity for clutch hitting helped them in the first two games, one of which went 9 innings. The final game of the series was a classic, going 11 innings, with Odenwaelder hitting a two run homer to end it. If teams follow this formula, and scrape out a win against Driscoll, than either of the other matchups in the double-elimination weekend could come out against Amherst’s favor. By the way, Driscoll has been another pitcher in NESCAC play, with a below average 4.10 ERA.

Sleeper-Catcher Connor Gunn ‘16: As his last name implies, Gunn is a superb defensive catcher, who certainly deserves some credit for the success of Amherst’s pitching this season. While his overall offensive statistics are not eye-popping, he has shifted into another gear in NESCAC play, batting at .349 with a .899 OPS. This success has firmly planted him in the fifth spot in the lineup, behind season-long sluggers Odenwaelder and outfielder Alex Hero ’14. This middle of the order probably constitutes the best in NESCAC, and if Gunn can continue to constitute the back end of that threat, Amherst is probably pretty well set to repeat their tournament success from last year.

2. Wesleyan (24-10, 10-2)

Why They’ll Win: Wesleyan’s confidence is at an all-time high right now after posting a league best 10-2 record in NESCAC play, including taking two out of three from Amherst on the weekend of April 25. While Wesleyan certainly has the all around balance of any great NESCAC team, it’s their offense that carries them. Sam Goodwin-Boyd ‘15 has been solid all season, but in league play he has been unbelievable, batting .422 with a ridiculous .711 slugging percentage. Jonathon Dennett ‘15 and Guy Davidson ‘15, both of whom also rank in the top ten in NESCAC for RBI, flank him in the lineup. When you pair these sluggers with table setters like Andrew Yin ’15 and Donnie Cimino ’15, it makes for a potent lineup that any pitching staff would struggle to contain.

Why They’ll Lose: Wesleyan certainly has chinks in their armor that could cost them in this weekend. Although their pitching has stepped up to the plate (pardon the pun) in NESCAC play, posting a 2.10 ERA, for the season they come in with a mediocre 3.72, pointing to early inconsistencies in the rotation. Their main starting pitchers, Nick Cooney ‘15, Jeff Blout ’14 and Gavin Pittore ‘16, have all been solid, but can struggle with their control at times, leading to extra base runners. And against a well-oiled machine like Amherst or Tufts this weekend, mistakes like that are not often forgiven.

Sleeper- Relief pitcher Peter Rantz ‘16: If Wesleyan does have shaky performances from any of those three key starters, Rantz will be crucial in righting the ship, and giving the offense a chance to slug their way back into the game. Rantz was putting together a nice year out of the pen, with a 3.06 ERA, but has struggled mightily in NESCAC play. At his best, he is a guy who can relieve a struggling starter in the third inning and keep them in the game. It is likely this weekend Wesleyan will need to have that option.

Stock Report May 5

The conference regular season is officially in the books now. The playoffs are set. Every team has seen their fortunes rise and fall somewhat over the course of the season. The Stock Report was meant to capture some of that in showing who was playing well and who was struggling. This will be the final one of the 2014 baseball season and feel free to look back through the other Stock Reports for a snapshot of how things looked every Monday of the season.

Stock Up

1. Connor McDavitt ’15 Centerfielder (Tufts) – Bates stole the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday, scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh and one in the eighth to walk off with the win, but Tufts held them off in game two to secure hosting rights for the NESCAC championship. McDavitt had a huge role in that game from the get-go. He singled to lead off the game before stealing second as Matt Moser ’16 struck out for the second out of the inning. A Max Freccia ’14 single brought McDavitt home for the first run of the game. In the second inning, McDavitt struck again, singling home Nick Barker ’15 to extend Tufts early lead to three runs. McDavitt finished the day with two hits in what was his fourth straight mult-hit game. He has been superb at the top of the lineup getting on base at a .467 clip. Much of that comes from his 26 walks, four more than anyone else in the NESCAC. He also has twelve stolen bases, but has only five since April 12, while been caught four times in that span. The Tufts bats will come to the forefront this weekend and will face a tough matchup with whomever Amherst throws out in the first game.

2. Jed Robinson ’16 Starting Pitcher (Trinity) – Trinity dropped off the radar pretty early on by not winning any of their conference series. They lacked the starting pitching depth or power hitting to win enough games to make some serious noise, but they played better down the stretch winning seven in a row before falling to Wesleyan in their season finale. We wrote a few weeks ago about the talent already on the Trinity roster saying “the final weeks of the season will help the coaching staff identify those potential contributors.” Robinson fits that profile perfectly. He struggled in a few early season starts and ended up not starting a game in conference play. He did get the win in Trinity’s extra inning victory over Tufts, pitching 1.1 scoreless innings. After that he re-entered the rotation, winning his final three starts. His best performance came Saturday against Wesleyan when he held the Cardinals to two runs over seven innings in Trinity’s 4-2 win. Robinson was one of several silver linings to emerge down the stretch for the Bantams as they look to quickly get back to the top of the league next season.

3. Bates (19-15, 7-5) – They didn’t quite manage to pull off the shocking feat of sweeping Tufts and stealing NESCAC hosting rights, but they came very darn close. Down 4-2 in the second game on Saturday, Bates got the first two runners on in the sixth before stranding them and then had two runners on in the seventh with one out and their two best batters coming up. Unfortunately, neither Kevin Davis ’14 or Griff Tewksbury ’14 was able to deliver a big hit, but consider how Bates started the season with six straight losses and you see how improbable the situation was. One of the major reasons for that poor performance was their awful defense which had 25 errors through seven games. In their next 27 games Bates had only 29 errors. Even given how they have been trending upward in the last few weeks, their performance against Tufts surprised a lot of people around the league. The consensus is that Tufts, Amherst, and Wesleyan have separated themselves, but Bates is closing fast on that trio heading into the playoffs.

Stock Down

1. Middlebury Hitting – Almost anyway you slice it, this was the worst hitting team in the NESCAC. Not to say that the hitting was the only reason why Middlebury struggled, because their pitching wasn’t much better, but it at least offered some decent performances. The only bright spot in the lineup was senior leadoff hitter Alex Kelly ’14. As soon as Dylan Sinnickson ’15 and Hunter Merryman ’15 announced that they weren’t going to be playing baseball, we knew the lineup was going to struggle, but Kelly was left almost without any support. Kelly had 14 more total bases and 11 more runs than anyone else on the Panthers along with the highest batting average and slugging percentage. With Kelly graduating, players who flashed promise like Max Araya ’16 and Jason Lock ’17 will have to become much more consistent in order for Middlebury to improve.

2. Andrew Vandini ’16 Infielder (Amherst) – In the weekend preview for April 18 we highlighted Vandini as an under appreciated cog of the Amherst offense. Since then he has not had multiple hits in any of his last twelve games. In fact that very weekend he went 1-15 from the leadoff spot. That prompted him to move from first to the two hole where he continued to struggle. He has been dropped down to near the end of the lineup in what has been part of a reshuffling of the Amherst offense as a whole. His season performance is still very respectable considering he has a .412 OBP, but he is representative of a perceptible drop in Amherst’s play in the last few weekends of conference play. They played well this weekend winning all four games, but both games against Colby were close fought battles. In the second game a Connor Gunn ’16 single scored two to give Amherst the walk-off 4-3 win. Vandini and the rest of the Jeffs have to pick it up just a little bit to repeat last years run.

3. Kyle Slinger ’15 Starting Pitcher (Tufts) – Given how dominant Slinger was pitching for most of the season, it isn’t a surprise that teams have started to hit him just a little bit. It started with Bowdoin tagging him for two runs in seven innings. That might not seem like cause for concern, but it was the most anyone had hit against him in weeks. The downward trend worsened when he let up three runs and eight hits against Bates. Those aren’t bad stats, but he only lasted five innings, forcing the Tufts bullpen to throw four innings. Tom Ryan ’15 and Mike Moser ’16 weren’t up for the task as they let up the lead. It is clear that Slinger has to be better this weekend for Tufts to win it all. A great long start by him will have the domino effect of causing the rest of the pitching staff to be fully rested for just a few games.