America’s Pastime Returns to the NESCAC: Baseball Season Preview

Tim Superko ’17 and the Jumbos look to defend their NESCAC title in 2017 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

Editor’s Note: At this point, pretty much every NESCAC baseball team has had a chance to get out on the field and play some games (aside from Williams, who plays their season opener tonight). Devin Rosen is joining us for our NESCAC baseball coverage this spring, which is perfectly timed since we lose a couple writers, Colby and Rory, due to their roles on the Middlebury and Tufts baseball teams. The beginning of the NESCAC baseball season is always a mess for coverage since teams always try to cram as many games as possible into their spring breaks. Once NESCAC games roll around, we will be much more organized with our content. Until then, enjoy this preview of the NESCAC baseball season that Devin put together!

East

Bates

Ryan McCarthy ’17 is primed to lead Bates back to the playoffs this season (Courtesy of Bates Athletics).

Bates opens the season with new coach Jon Martin who comes from the head coaching position at Vassar College. He looks to turn last year’s 14-21 record (4-8 in conference) into a more productive season in 2017. Helping his transition at the leadership helm are senior captains Ryan McCarthy and Brendan Fox. McCarthy has been a three year starter in the outfield for the Bobcats, and 2016 Second-Team All-NESCAC shortstop Fox looks to continue his success after hitting .377 last season. The Bates rotation and bullpen returns most of its staff and is led by Connor Speed ‘18 who looks to open the season as Bates’ number one starter. Anthony Telesca ’17 adds to the returning rotation as well providing depth in the rotation. After a break out year last season, Connor Russell ‘18 aims to round out the Bates rotation. The strong core of returning players for Bates gives the Bobcats the potential to put up a strong fight in the NESCAC this year. In his first season in Lewiston, Coach Martin will have to use his returners to help him achieve a successful season. If Fox can lead the bats, then the solid pitching staff can keep Bates in contention in the competitive NESCAC East.

 

Bowdoin

Brandon Lopez ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics).

Bowdoin had a decently successful 22-14 campaign last spring, but looks to avenge their 4-8 in conference record this season. To do so, however, their pitching staff must fill in the spots of two now-graduated starters who combined for over 93 innings last season. Sophomore Brandon Lopez ’19 looks to be the number one guy for the polar bears after a solid freshman season as a starter. After him, however, it seems that Coach Mike Connolly will have to find a few arms out of the large junior class to eat up innings. Sean Mullaney ’17 aims to maintain his position as the team’s consistent top hitter after having a .304 average in 115 at bats last spring. Similar to the pitching staff, the young talent on this offense will have to step up in order to compete with the rest of the NESCAC. Bowdoin showed promise in their overall record last year and aims to replicate it both in and out of conference.

 

Colby

Brooks Parker ’19 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics).

Colby looks to turn their luck around after a disappointing season last spring. This task is made even tougher after graduating a First-Team All-NESCAC first baseman, Soren Hanson ’16, and a Second-Team All-NESCAC third baseman, Zach Ellenthal ‘16. Sophomore Andrew Currier looks to lead the way in doing so after posting a solid freshman spring which included 20 RBIs. The rest of the lineup will depend on hitting from other lower classmen. On the mound, the Mules graduated their number one starter, Hanson, and most reliable reliever, Tommy Forese. However, just like the lineup, young pitchers such as Brooks Parker ’19 and Will Cohen ’19 gained valuable experience in just their first spring. Look for Coach Dale Plummer to ride these young arms throughout the season while also depending on the more experienced juniors Dan Schoenfeld ’18 and Bobby Forese ‘18. Colby’s lineup and pitching staff took a hit from the most recent graduating class, but look for the young Mules to step up their game. Despite a smaller presence from the senior class, the underclassmen have the potential to compete with the top teams in the NESCAC after gaining a year of valuable experience.

 

Trinity

Brendan Pierce ’18 is off to a hot start for the Bantams in 2017 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics).

Trinity enters the season having lost high caliber seniors from last spring including First-Team All-NESCAC catcher Scott Cullinane and Second-Team All-NESCAC outfielder Nick Pezzella, as well as their most reliable reliever Sam Jordan, all of whom contributed to a 7-5 conference record. The Bantams’ success in the NESCAC East earned them a playoff appearance, and they advanced to the NESCAC Championship game before losing to in-conference rival Tufts. Despite the talent lost, first baseman Johnny Stamatis ’19 is back after hitting .309 and earning a Second-Team All-NESCAC nod in his first college season. Another key returning bat is NbN writer and Trinity infielder Nick DiBenedetto ’17, who posted a .357 average last spring. On the other side of the roster stands Anthony Egeln Jr. ’18. He is the only returning consistent starter, but after posting a 4-2 record last spring, Egeln Jr looks to take over as the number one starter in the program. In order to keep up with the tough NESCAC East, Trinity’s young talent must replace last year’s seniors with some fluidity. The rotation’s consistency will make or break Trinity’s season as long as their bats heat up.

 

Tufts

The Jumbos are coming off a dominating performance after achieving the best season in school history. With an 11-1 in-conference record and 35-8 overall record, Tufts returns the core of its team. 2x First-Team All-NESCAC third baseman Tommy O’Hara ‘18 leads this stacked line-up along with captain First-Team All-NESCAC outfielder Harry Brown ‘17, who hit a team leading .397 average in 2016. Behind the plate, sophomore catchers Harrison Frickman and Eric Schnepf have a year under their belt after being thrusted into a timeshare of the starting role behind the plate as freshmen last season. In addition to a powerful line-up, Tufts returns most of its dominating pitching staff. Led by captains Speros Varinos ’17 and Tim Superko ‘17, the rotation looks to remain the best in the conference after posting a team ERA of 3.25, over a full run less per game than the second-best ERA in the league. Varinos, the reigning pitcher of the year, looks to best last year’s All-American performance, which included a 2.15 ERA and league-leading 79 strikeouts. He also tied fellow teammate, RJ Hall ’19 with a league-leading 7 wins. Additionally, our very own, Rory Ziomek adds depth to the staff. Tufts has the fire power to maintain their status as the best team in the league, and has their sights set on not only a NESCAC Championship, but a NCAA Regional Championship as well after coming up just short last spring.

 

West

Amherst

Harry Roberson ’18 is back and ready to help his team win the NESCAC Championship this year (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics).

Amherst looks to stay atop the NESCAC West this upcoming season, and the will jump on the back of First-Team All-NESCAC pitcher Jackson Volle ‘17, who had a league leading 1.79 ERA. The pitching staff aims to maintain its status as one of the best in the league, but we will have to wait to see who joins Volle atop the staff after losing a few arms to graduation. At the plate, Amherst returns two Second-Team All-NESCAC selections: shortstop Harry Roberson ’18 and outfielder Anthony Spina ‘17. Roberson had an impressive .336 average while Spina tied the league lead in homeruns with 6. Joining them in this impressive lineup are Ariel Kenney ‘18, who had a team leading 52 hits, and infielder Max Steinhorn ‘18. Outfielder Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 rounds out the lineup that hit a remarkable .316 as a group last year. Amherst has the potential to not only compete in the NESCAC, but to compete for its top spot. Volle gives them a consistently dominant starter while their lineup can hit any arm in the league. If Amherst plays up to their potential, look for them to stay atop the Conference.

 

Hamilton

Hamilton will try to knock off Wesleyan and Amherst in 2017 in order to reach the NESCAC Tournament (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics).

Hamilton’s ferocious lineup from last season returns its top hitters, including First-Team All-NESCAC outfielder Ryan Wolfsberg ’17, who led the conference in slugging percentage (.645) to go along with a .418 batting average. Adding even more power to the lineup is Andrew Haser ’17, who was tied for the league lead with 6 homeruns last spring. The Hamilton pitching staff is forced to replace now-graduated pitcher Cole Dreyfuss, and first in line to do so are Spencer Vogelbach ‘18 and Dan DePaoli ’18. Look for these two juniors to eat up significant innings for Coach Byrnes. Rounding out the staff is Max Jones ’19, who threw 35.2 innings with a 3.53 ERA in his freshman campaign. Hamilton’s success will depend on its lineup and rotation performing up to their potential. The experienced pitching staff will have the chance to prove they can compete with the best of the NESCAC, and the returning Continental bats have the power to hit any arm in the league. If this occurs, Hamilton will be considered a force to be reckoned with in the competitive NESCAC West.

 

Middlebury

Colby Morris ’19 leads the Middlebury staff in 2017 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics).

Middlebury enters the year looking to replace its key seniors from last season. However, plenty of now-sophomores including OF Sam Graf and SS Spencer Tonies, now have a year of experience to potentially improve their campaign from last season. Junior Brendan Donohue will also look to build off his .316 season in contribution to the Panthers season. Pitching, on the other hand, seems to be a plus for the Panthers both now and in the future. Sophomore starters Colby Morris (legendary NbN writer) and John Bunting led the team in innings last season, but with Bunting having transferred, Morris will be looked to to handle even more of the load. Seniors Dylan Takamori and Tucker Meredith additionally look to contribute to the strong staff. Last season Middlebury had a 6-6 in-conference record and aims to stand over .500 this season. To do so, Coach Mike Leonard will have to depend on his pitching staff, comprised of mostly returners. If the Panther bats can stay consistent, the rotation and bullpen can keep Middlebury relevant in the NESCAC West.

 

Wesleyan

Will O’Sullivan ’17 will lead the Cardinals offense this spring (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics).

The Cardinals look to repeat last year’s impressive 23-12 record along with winning the NESCAC West. Despite losing three senior bats hitting over .330, including the Player of the Year Marco Baratta, Wesleyan returns a dangerous lineup. Leading the way are two-way player Nick Miceli ’17, who is coming off a Second-Team All-NESCAC performance, and the Roxbury Latin groomed shortstop Will O’Sullivan, who hit a remarkable .370 last spring. Andrew Keith ‘19 proved his potential last season as well and looks to build on the success he enjoyed in 2016. On the mound, Wesleyan returns a solid core of three pitchers, including Miceli, who is joined by Ethan Rode ‘17 and Asher Young ‘17. These seasoned veterans should consume many of the season’s innings. Coach Mark Woodworth will ride his senior leaders throughout the season after they dominated the NESCAC West last spring. As long as his upperclassmen take charge, Wesleyan has the lineup and the rotation to compete for the NESCAC crown.

 

Williams

Luke Rodino ’17 will be in the running for NESCAC Pitcher of the Year once again this spring (Courtesy of Williams Athletics).

Williams aims to get over the .500 hump in NESCAC play this season, and if they do it, their efforts will be led by Second-Team All-NESCAC pitcher Luke Rodino ‘17. He is joined by fellow senior Tyler Duff ’17 as the leaders of the pitching staff. These two seniors look to guide Tom Benz ‘19, Jack Bohen ‘19 and Will O’Brien ‘19, all of whom contributed heavily during their freshman campaign. At the plate, Kellen Hatheway ’19 looks to build on a stellar first year in which he earned the NESCAC Rookie of the Year award after hitting .331 with 21 RBI’s and 24 runs scored. Joining him in the lineup are Adam Regensburg ’18 and Doug Schaffer ’18, as well as Jack Cloud ‘17, who all hit over .300. The freshmen, now sophomore class proved to have the potential to compete against the top teams in the NESCAC. This year for Williams baseball will be about how these sophomores, along with their other key returners, can perform after having last season to rebuild and come together as a group. Williams will use last year’s experience to give them a chance to improve on their record in the NESCAC.

Fight to the Finish: Power Rankings 4/28

It's hard to believe, but with the West still up in the air, Williams, ranked seventh this week, can still make the playoffs with a sweep of the Continentals. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)
It’s hard to believe, but with the West still up in the air (like this fastball), Williams, ranked eighth this week, can still make the playoffs with a sweep of the Continentals. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

It’s been about two weeks since we last released our NESCAC Baseball Power Rankings, and lots of epic wins, losses and upsets have happened since then. As teams make their final push for the playoffs, let’s take another look at how the they stack up against one another.

  1. Tufts (23-5, 8-0), Last Rankings: #3
    The Jumbos have proven that you don’t need to be the best in each area of the game to be a winning team—talent and skill can be two different things. Whereas plenty of teams in the NESCAC have talented players, Tufts has players able to utilize their talent in a way that yields success. Their team batting average isn’t great at .296, but their OBP of .427, the third best number in the league, is promising. Even their .405 slugging percentage is admirable. On the mound, Andrew David ’16 (2.22) and Speros Varinos ’18 (2.29) have tortured batters. The East may not be as competitive as the West this season, but let’s not disregard the significance of Tufts’ 8-0 conference record. No other NESCAC team comes close to that. Of course, we haven’t really seen Tufts face the scrappy West teams yet, so we will have to wait until the playoffs to see how these teams really compare.
  2. Wesleyan (18-9, 5-4), Last Rankings: #1
    I’m sure the Cardinals will be furious when they see this drop in the rankings, but you can’t drop two games to Williams (#8)—by at least three runs—and still hold the number one slot. According to statistics and overall performance, Wesleyan would actually place several spots lower in the rankings were it not for their incredible roster of batters, especially Marco Baratta ’16, Guy Davidson ’16 and Will O’Sullivan ’16. These guys bang it out when up at bat, bringing real firepower every time they’re at the plate, and hitting for power is what a team needs to get ahead in the NESCAC. On the mound, ace Nick Miceli ’17 is a phenomenal and crafty pitcher with a solid 2.63 ERA and 45 strikeouts on his resume, while the team’s most successful pitcher after him, Peter Rantz ’16, has just a slightly above-average 4.59 ERA. Having watched Wesleyan’s series against Hamilton, I can say that the Cardinals won the series because the Continentals made ghastly errors in Game 3, not necessarily because the Wesleyan team is far superior, which speaks to the NESCAC’s parity this year. Wesleyan’s deadliest weapon is unquestionably its offense, and they beat their closest competition in that category, Hamilton, last weekend. Their ability to pick up runs will allow them to get ahead, or stay relevant, in each game and compensate for other facets of the game, where they are still good, just not great. However, despite the #2 ranking here, the Cards are playing for their playoff lives this weekend. A sweep of Amherst gets them in for sure, while a 2-1 mark will have them watching the Williams series to see if the Ephs can pull off a sweep. Good for Wesleyan is that a scenario where the Cards, Ephs and the Middlebury Panthers all end 6-6 will put Wesleyan into the postseason because of overall winning percentage.
  3. Amherst (20-8, 6-3), Last Rankings: #2
    Wesleyan and Amherst are pretty interchangeable right now, but the Cardinals’ production at the plate gives them the boost. That being said, the Jeffs are by no means a team to take lightly, and they have a superior rotation to the Cardinals: their record currently leads the West, and their ace Jackson Volle ’17 (1.10 ERA) earned not one but two conference nods for the Pitcher of the Week position. Dave Cunningham ’16 also received attention this week from the conference for his batting and fielding, boasting a .500 average and an error-free performance in the field. Perhaps Amherst’s one weakness is that the team is good in all areas but not exceptionally great in any one of them. Regardless, Wesleyan and Amherst face each other this weekend, and the series will undoubtedly be neck-and-neck in each game. 
  4. Trinity (14-14, 7-5), Last Rankings: #6
    The Bantams have had killer series since we last looked at the team rankings. They have gotten back-to-back series wins over Bowdoin (#7) and Colby (#9)—which at the end of the day wasn’t a real struggle—and swept Bates (#10) last weekend, ensuring their spot in the playoffs. Trinity was swept by Tufts, but at the rate the Jumbos have picked themselves up this season, that’s not surprising. The pitching rotation also lacks depth, relying mainly on Anthony Egeln, Jr. (2.44 ERA) for high performance on the mound, but right now that hasn’t been a cause for too much concern. Trinity falls dead center in every area of the game, according to NESCAC standings, so I’m happy with Trinity’s ability to shut down every team in the East except Tufts. Right now Trinity is 7-5 in the conference, and Bowdoin and Colby are next at 3-6. That says a lot about the landscape in the East. The Bantams are also back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013, displacing Bates, who has gone the last two seasons.
  5. Hamilton (14-12, 3-6), Last Rankings: #4
    The Continentals currently have the worst record in the West, so why are they still stacked relatively high up in the rankings? I swear I’m not being biased in saying that Hamilton possesses extremely talented players with lots of potential, especially when it comes to performance at the plate. Their slash line of .343/.432/.481 put them second in the conference for hitting, and juniors Ryan Wolfsberg ’17, Kenny Collins ’17 and Brett Mele ’17 would be hitting on any team in the league. Yet, dropping two games a piece to Middlebury and Wesleyan proves a fact that cannot be ignored: Hamilton is consistently unreliable in the field, dropping balls and making terrible throws that add up to inexcusable big innings. Accordingly, they have the worst FPCT in the league at .926 with 588 putouts and a whopping 68 errors. Against the Panthers, Hamilton had eight errors in Game 1, three in Game 2, and two in Game 3. Thankfully, the Continentals improved throughout the weekend, but that’s 13 errors in one weekend—Middlebury had only two. Then last weekend against the Cardinals, Hamilton had 10 errors in total, seven of which contributed (or directly led to) their 15-6 loss in Game 3. Wesleyan, in comparison, had three errors.Compounding the problem is a shallow bullpen that doesn’t rack up a lot of strikeouts. Balls in play plus shaky defense equals unearned runs. The Continentals have a ton to offer, but they’ll never be truly great unless they clean up on defense.
  6. Middlebury (9-16, 6-6), Last Rankings: #7
    Week after week, the Panthers are improving rather than shrinking back into the losing team the West has grown accustomed to. They stand right in the middle of all NESCAC team stats when they used to come dead last, or close to it, in previous seasons. We’ve already said that the older players, especially seniors John Luke ’16 and Joe MacDonald ’16, have clearly developed during the off-season and that fresh rookies like Colby Morris ’19 have added more depth to the team, but it’s likely that watching their program progress into a winning program has motivated the players to put in that extra push of effort, producing even more wins. Should Wesleyan fail to win their series against Amherst, the Panthers could potentially knock them out of that second-place slot guaranteeing a run in the NESCAC playoffs. As an eternal lover of the underdog, I’m honestly excited just thinking about it.
  7. Bowdoin (19-10, 3-6), Last Rankings: #8 
    Honestly, Bowdoin has moved up in rankings because other teams needed to go down in them. That’s probably something to be thankful for, based on the number of rookies the Polar Bears have on the roster. Bowdoin has already been eliminated from the playoffs, but their matchup with Tufts this weekend provides an opportunity to make a statement. It sounds cliche to say Bowdoin is a young team right now and coming out low in rankings is just a part of their growing phase, but, to an extent, it’s sort of the only way you can look at the team right now. No Bowdoin player has made it into the top-50 in batting average, and the team’s batting average of .265 is scary. However, I really like Bowdoin’s ERA of 3.80. That shows some potential, or at least a good starting point, for next season. At this point, Bowdoin needs to think about the future rather than salvaging the rest of their now stagnant season. 
  8. Williams (10-17, 4-5), Last Rankings: #9
    The Ephs managed to win two games in their series against Wesleyan, which definitely must be acknowledged in some way. I’m pretty dumbfounded by the stats of the games, but nevertheless, those two pretty wins pushed the Ephs ahead of Hamilton in the West’s standings, making this certainly an odd year for the division. Still, statistically Williams hasn’t stacked up well this year. The Ephs have an ERA of 6.94 and have allowed 120 walks, both league worsts. They have a FPCT of .945, which ranks seventh in the league. They swing it at a solid .299/.391/.376 clip, but overall, the team is not up to the caliber of the rest of the division. But, baseball is a crazy game, and a sweep for the Ephs this weekend puts them in the mix for the playoffs.
  9. Colby (10-18, 2-6), Last Rankings: #10
    At least the Mules are consistent, right? Colby has a handful of extremely talented players like Soren Hanson ’16 and Tommy Forese ’16, but there’s only so much you can expect them to do for a continually struggling team. Bates’ miserable losses to Trinity pushed Colby ahead of the Bobcats in the East, but the Mules have zero chances of getting to the playoffs anytime in the near future. They remain too far down the standings in all categories to show tremendous growth—they are seventh in average and ninth in ERA and FPCT—and with their two most talented players graduating, it’s likely next year will be a struggle for the Mules. Hopefully Colby really invests in the youth in the offseason in order to get a head start on next year’s season, when there will be really, really big shoes to fill.
  10. Bates (10-16, 2-6), Last Rankings: #5
    In just two weeks, the Bobcats have severely dropped in our power rankings. They started off the season quite well: they won their doubleheader against Bowdoin; Connor Speed ’18 was awarded NESCAC Pitcher of the Week. Everything just fall apart afterwards. Trinity dominated their series, winning all three of the weekend’s games. In all fairness, two games had a one run differential, and one game went into extra innings, so Bates wasn’t entirely out of control there. However, those three losses were the straw that broke the camel’s back, or in this case, the Bobcats’ back. Bates is now last in the East after losing six conference games. The team’s pitching is the best thing it has going right now, as Bates has an ERA of 4.42 thanks to guys like Speed. Thankfully, there’s plenty of time for the youth on the team to develop the program, but this year’s essentially over for the team as a whole.

Conference games this weekend will make or break teams’ chances of playing in the NESCAC playoffs this year. Here are this week’s match ups:

Colby vs. Bates—Friday at 3:00 pm; Saturday at noon, 2:30 pm
Tufts vs Bowdoin—Friday at 3:0o pm; Saturday at noon, 2:30 pm
Tufts vs BatesSunday at 1:00 pm
Wesleyan vs Amherst—Friday at 4:00 pm; Saturday at 1:00 pm, 3:30 pm
Hamilton vs Williams—Friday at 4:00 pm; Saturday at noon, 2:30 pm
Trinity vs. Middlebury—Saturday at noon, 2:30 pm (non-divisional)

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.

Baseball Starting Nine: What You Have Missed Thus Far

Baseball returns to New England this coming weekend. Get ready. (Courtesy of Tufts University)
Baseball returns to New England this coming weekend. Get ready. (Courtesy of Tufts University)

Been too busy watching basketball and avoiding the snow to remember that NESCAC baseball is in full swing at this point? You certainly were not alone. It has been easy to lose sight of everything going on down south, but we kept close tabs for you. With the NESCAC conference season starting Friday, get ready for our season predictions and other analysis coming later this week. In the meantime, here are nine things you need to know about.

1. Wesleyan has experience for days: A quick perusal of the Wesleyan statistics tells us very clearly that freshmen are not going to see much playing time. Through twelve games, the only stats accrued by freshmen are four at-bats. Besides that a returning player has played every pitch and at-bat. That ability to have exclusively upperclassmen separates the Cardinals from every other team that has to rely on some freshmen to fill crucial roles. The returning champions have every reason to be confident.

2. Cardinals have impressed: Sticking with the defending champions for our second point. As we mentioned in our season preview, Wesleyan played a challenging spring trip schedule, and overall they showed they belong with the best. Their 8-4 victory over #7 Cal Lutheran was a high water mark that brought them to 5-0 for the season. Ace Nick Cooney ’15 started and won that game for Wesleyan. Wesleyan stumbled a bit near the end of the trip and is now 8-4, but they still are the most impressive team to this point. Guy Davidson ’16 has a slashline of .395/.477/.684 to lead the offense. Wesleyan probably hasn’t hit their stride yet, and they are already pretty scary looking.

3. Dylan Sinnickson ’15 is bashing baseballs: The return of Sinnickson to the diamond is a big reason why there is a sliver of hope around the Middlebury team, and he wasted no time making an impact. In the Panthers opening doubleheader Saturday, Sinnickson went 5-9 and hit THREE home runs. Then he hit another in the Panthers first game on Sunday to tie for the league lead after only three games. The team’s pitching against him probably had no idea who he was and he likely saw some fat fastballs that he was able to eat up, but still, not many players in the NESCAC can do hit four homers in three games. To take a year off from baseball and come back hitting like that is incredible and shows the type of athlete he is.

4. Bowdoin and Trinity struggled: The two East Division teams both have their sights set on returning to the playoffs, but they need to improve on their play quickly. Bowdoin went 5-8 on their Florida trip while the Bantams went 7-5. The Bowdoin staff saw nobody pitch well and the team had a 5.58 ERA. The front of the rotation guys like Erik Jacobsen ’15 and Harry Ridge ’16 pitched decently while Henry Van Zant ’15 started only one game. Meanwhile Trinity’s problem of hitting for no power carried over to this season. As a team the Bantams slugged .357 in their 12 games and had nobody hit a single home run. The good news is that their top two pitchers Sean Meekins ’15 and Jed Robinson ’16 looked fantastic.

https://twitter.com/TrinityBaseball/status/579722627373240320

5. Tommy O’Hara ’18 big for Tufts: The weakness of Tufts is their lineup, but O’Hara looks like he is going to solve a good deal of that problem single-handedly. The freshman third baseman was Tufts’ best hitter on their trip to Virginia and North Carolina. He had a ridiculous .564 OBP in 42 at-bats. With a 1:1 K:BB ratio, he should be able to carry over that type of hitting to the conference season. Don’t expect him to finish with an OBP above .500, but the Illinois native will be a huge bat in the middle of the Tufts lineup that appeared a bat or two away from being elite before the season started.

6. Amherst pitching is unsettled: The big reason why the Jeffs went only 6-6 on their trip was a pitching staff that saw a lot of players auditioning for a starting role. Six different pitchers started games for the Jeffs, and John Cook ’15 started only one game in part to let others get a chance to show their stuff. Drew Fischer ’18 flashed his massive potential with 15 strikeouts in only 8.2 innings. The problem is that he also walked nine batters. He will have to do a better job of trusting his fielders and not simply trying to strike everybody out. Jackson Volle ’17 had two solid starts and might have won the third rotation start because he appears to be more consistent than the flashy Fischer.

7. Rob DiFranco ’16 emerging for Bates: The transition from reliever to starter is going well for DiFranco so far with two starts and two wins. Granted, the first start he only went two innings. He has allowed only one run in eight innings so far, and he has yet to walk an opposing batter. DiFranco only went five innings in his longest start so far so we have not seen whether he can go deep into games yet, but the early returns are promising. Combined with Will Levangie ’15 thus far, and the Bobcats rotation has been solid.

8. Hamilton sophomores stepping up: Joe Jensen ’15 has been fantastic like you would expect him to be, and the Continentals are hitting better behind as well. Chris Collins ’17, Kenny Collins ’17, Ryan Wolfsberg ’17, and Andrew Haser ’17 are all hitting .333 or better. Haser in particular has been impressive after having an OBP below .300 in 2014. Having this core group of sophomores be consistent threats in the lineup makes Hamilton a much more dangerous team to pitch against. The Continentals will get the chance to see whether it stands up against Wesleyan this weekend.

9. Remember the sample size caveat: Do not get carried away with all the results so far. Statistics tells us that through random probability some players will get hot  A lot of things are going to change as we go forward. When assessing the worth of early season statistics, keep in mind Bayes’ theorem. While the idea is sort of complicated, the idea is lend more weight to events that confirm what we thought already and give pause to events that contradict what we thought. So for example, we can trust that Jensen hitting above .500 is not a fluke because we knew already that he was really freaking good at baseball.

Your Continental Breakfast: Hamilton Baseball Season Preview

Joe Jensen '15 could have a massive senior season. (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)
Joe Jensen ’15 could have a massive senior season. (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

2014 Record: 10-16 (2-10, Fifth in the NESCAC West), missed NESCAC playoffs

Starters Returning: 10 (8 position players, 2 starting pitchers)

Projected Lineup: (Stats are from 2014)

CF Joe Jensen ’15 (.398/.495/.430, 0 HR, 9 RBI)
RF Kenny Collins ’17 (.359/.422/.372, 0 HR, 15 RBI)
LF Ryan Wolfsberg ’17 (.273/.359/.364, 1 HR, 13 RBI)
3B Andrew Haser ’17 (.250/.291/.350, 1 HR, 9 RBI)
SS Chris Collins ’17 (.280/.353/.307, 0 HR, 8 RBI)
C Brett Mele ’17 (.237/.384/.271/0 HR, 7 RBI)
1B David Rose ’16 (.176/.167/.353, 0 HR, 3 RBI)
DH Mike Chiseri ’16 (.242/.395/.273, 0 HR, 5 RBI)
2B Brian Ferrell ’16 (.120/.241/.120, 0 HR, 0 RBI)

LHP Jjay Lane ’15 (1-4, 5.35 ERA, 3.74 K/9, 33.2 IP)
RHP Cole Dreyfuss ’16 (1-3, 6.75 ERA, 5.83 K/9, 29.1 IP)
RHP Finlay O’Hara (1-1, 3.38 ERA, 4.22 K/9, 21.1 IP)

Offensive Overview:

Almost the entire lineup returns from what was a very freshmen-heavy contingent a year ago. The one MAJOR exception to those freshmen was center fielder Joe Jensen ’15. The speedy outfielder enjoyed an incredible junior season and was voted by Baseball America this winter as the best Division-III professional prospect in America. Teams are forced to pitch to him because he is so fast that walking him is almost like a lead-off double because he can steal second base almost at will. He is the most likely player to keep Mike Odenwaelder ’16 from winning NESCAC POY again. Besides Jensen, the Collins twins, Chris and Kenny, will be major cogs in the lineup again as sophomores. Ryan Wolfsberg ’17 is another of those sophomores looking to improve after playing a lot as a freshmen. This lineup was one of the worse ones in the NESCAC because of how many freshmen got serious at-bats, but they should be much improved and at the least the top of the lineup will scare pitchers because of Jensen.

Defensive Overview:

The Continentals struggled in NESCAC play to make the simple play and ended the year with 30 errors in 12 NESCAC games, the most of anyone in the league. Again, Jensen is the best glove where he uses his All-American track speed to catch everything in the outfield. Having two freshmen, Chris Collins ’17 and Andrew Haser ’17, man the left side of the infield a year ago showed as those two combined for 22 errors. Expect a good amount of improvement as the two get more comfortable this season. Brett Mele ’17 is back at catcher where he will provide a steady presence behind the plate.

Pitching Overview:

The pitching staff is the area where Hamilton is probably the weakest. As a sophomore in 2013, Jjay Lane ’15 was one of the best pitchers in the NESCAC with an ERA well below 2.00, but last season he was touched up to the tune of a 5.35 ERA. Never a power pitcher, Lane only struck out 14 batters all season, and his defense let him down a good amount of the time as well. The Continentals are hoping that he will be able to rebound this year. Cole Dreyfuss ’16 really struggled a season ago, but he will get another chance this season, and Finlay O’Hara ’17 will try to build on a freshman year where he showed promise. None of those three is a strikeout heavy pitcher so they will rely a lot on their defense behind them. The hope is that Lane can be an ace and Dreyfuss and O’Hara are able to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible.

Storylines to Watch

1. Does Jensen have another level?

The somewhat amazing thing about Jensen is that he has improved leaps and bounds during his time at Hamilton. His freshman year he hit .170 in 53 at-bats, and his sophomore year showcased his speed more than his bat. Only last season did he emerge as an absolute force at the plate. His sudden ascent to an actual MLB draft prospect took virtually everybody by surprise. Already this season Jensen has hit a home run, something that he never did a year ago. That could hint at him being more than just somebody who is able to get on-base like crazy. It would also make the talk about him being drafted become a lot more realistic. Despite being on one of the worst teams in the league last year, Jensen is unquestionably one of the top five players in the NESCAC, and he could finish the year as the very best one.

2. Where does their opponents’ BABIP end up?

For the uninitiated, BABIP stands for “batting average on balls in play” which basically takes away strikeouts and home runs. In general research has found that pitchers actually have little control over their BABIP, though there are some notable exceptions. So a lot of it is luck, and for a staff like Hamilton that doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters, luck can be very important. The difference between a low opponents’ BABIP (good for Hamilton) and a high one (bad) is significant enough that we could look back at Hamilton’s season differently just based on that. A good defense that limits errors will also help the pitching staff, of course.

3. What is their ceiling?

Jensen is going to be very good, and the lineup around him should be much improved. Unfortunately for Hamilton (Middlebury and Williams too), Amherst and Wesleyan just have way more talent than them. The Continentals went 2-10 in conference last year, and they were fifth in the West because they lost the head-to-head tiebreaker to Middlebury. A third place finish in the West is certainly possible given the room for improvement amongst their younger players, but their lack of any dominant pitcher will make beating Amherst or Wesleyan in even one game a tall task.

Biggest Series: April 24-25 home against Williams

A season ago Hamilton ended the NESCAC season on a low note by being swept at Williams. That result was a big reason why they ended up in the cellar, but the series could be very different in New York this year. A series victory could be enough to lift Hamilton into third place.

First Year Spotlight

We wanted to take a minute to highlight a bunch of freshmen who have come into the NESCAC and had immediate impacts. Spring athletes have the advantage over those in other sports because they have two whole semesters to practice and get comfortable with college competition while captains can report back to coaches on first-year’s performances. On the other hand, experience is a valuable asset than isn’t gained in the fall and winter. This is by no means a complete list or ranking of who the best freshman in the NESCAC are, but these are the ones who have caught our eye so far.

Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics
Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics

Ellis Schaefer ’17 Third Baseman/Right Fielder (Wesleyan) – Schaefer started from day one in right field, but he has recently moved to the hot corner. His ability with the bat is readily apparent, and his 17 RBIs is second on the team. For the season he owns a .396 OBP and, despite playing two different positions, has committed only one error. Schaefer and Robby Harbison ’17 have taken a lineup that was already loaded and made it Mariana Trench deep.

 

Courtesy of Amherst Athletics
Courtesy of Amherst Athletics

Anthony Spina ’17 Left Fielder (Amherst) – It isn’t easy to come in and play as a freshman on a team as talented as Amherst, but Spina is the latest in a long line of Jeffs first-years to make a big difference. After getting only one at bat through five games, Spina has started every game since in left field. The Brooklyn boy now holds a .377 OBP and six stolen bases. He went hitless in the three games against Williams, but made up for it yesterday against MIT going 3-6 and scoring the tying run in the bottom of the eight. Spina’s classmate Yanni Thanapoulos ’17 has also emerged recently and has a scalding .524 OBP highlighted by a 3-3 day yesterday. You can read all about Amherst’s comeback win on the Amherst website here.

Courtesy of Colby Athletics
Courtesy of Colby Athletics

Ryder Arsenault ’17 Center Fielder (Colby) – Arsenault is another player who has worked his way from part time player to lead-off hitter and starting center fielder over the course of the spring. The New Hampton, NH native’s contributions were especially crucial this weekend for the Mules as he had timely hits in all three games. He is yet to make an error in the outfield, and his .444 OBP is ideal for a lead-off hitter. Colby’s success so far this season has been in large part because of returning players stepping their games up, but Arsenault’s play has also played a huge part.

 

Courtesy of Williams Athletics
Courtesy of Williams Athletics

Jack Cloud ’17 Left Fielder (Williams) – Earlier in the season, Cloud was overshadowed by fellow freshman Jack Roberts ’17, but while Roberts has regressed somewhat, Cloud has continued his superb play. His OBP of .480 is extraordinary and his slugging percentage of .644 is bolstered by his four triples so far. Cloud has batted near the bottom of the lineup most of the year providing a potent weapon that makes the Williams offense dangerous from top to bottom. Cloud could have a huge weekend against Wesleyan.

 

Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics
Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics

Ryan Wolfsberg ’17 First Baseman/Third Baseman/Right Fielder (Hamilton) – One reason for Hamilton’s offensive struggles this season is that they have a TON of freshmen in the lineup. After Joe Jensen ’15, the next five players in terms of plate appearances are all freshmen. The one who has been the best so far is Wolfsberg, a player without a natural position right now. He has a .405 OBP, but he understandably struggled against elite Amherst pitching. Hamilton will have had almost two weeks between games when they play against Utica today. They need Wolfsberg and some of his classmates like twins Chris and Kenny Collins ’17 to improve throughout the season to continue their nice start.

Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics
Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics

Johnny Read ’17 Shortstop (Middlebury) – Middlebury has a couple of other freshmen like Jason Lock ’17 playing well, but Read is the one who could have the biggest impact over the course of his career, purely because of the defensive pressure placed on his position as opposed to Lock, who plays 1B/DH. Read returned from a shoulder injury to play every game against Wesleyan and looks like he is the starting shortstop from now on. At 6’2″ he could become a shortstop in the Nomar Garciaparra mold capable of playing great defense while hitting for decent power and a top notch average while providing above average speed. He has gotten off to a good start at the plate with .417 OBP in 11 at-bats, and he will continue to grow as Middlebury’s young core develops.

Courtesy of Tufts Athletics
Courtesy of Tufts Athletics

Tim Superko ’17 Starting Pitcher (Tufts) – Superko is easily the best pitcher in the 2017 class so far and has pitched like one of the best pitchers in the NESCAC regardless of year. 30 Ks in 21 innings isn’t shabby, and only allowing six walks is just silly. Throw in a .86 ERA and .90 WHIP (walks+hits per innings pitched) and you start to see why the Wellesley, MA product has cracked the rotation for the Jumbos. His last start against Colby-Sawyer was flat out dominant with ten strikeouts in six scoreless. Expect Superko to capture a NESCAC Pitcher of the Year award before his career ends.