Editor’s Note: Our baseball coverage this spring is not going to be as comprehensive as in the past two seasons. Blame senior spring and most of our writers also being baseball players.
Every year February sneaks up on me because I’m busy not freezing to death while being caught up in the excitement of NESCAC basketball. So every year Bates begins their season and I’m blindsided. Players have been hard at work getting in practices either late at night or early in the morning. The season really gets going this Saturday with five NESCAC teams playing games, but the NESCAC regular season doesn’t begin until April 1 so you (and us too) have plenty of time to get up to speed.
The 2015 baseball senior class was a loaded one, and the additional loss of the two most talented underclassmen (more on them later) to Major League Baseball makes the returning talent pool even smaller. A lot of new names are going to make a major impact on this season, and it is unlikely the predictability of last season holds again. Wesleyan has reigned supreme for the past two years. They dominated last season going undefeated in the regular season and winning the NESCAC tournament, and they won the NESCAC tournament in 2014 as heavy underdogs.
Brief aside: we began this site in the spring of 2014 with coverage of baseball. For some reason, I had illusions that when we started the blog that it would spread quickly and our readership would quickly develop. That didn’t quite happen, and it took us a LONG time just to get 100 Twitter followers. I was a little discouraged by the end of the spring, but then something happened after Wesleyan won the NESCAC championship. I had been writing all spring about how I didn’t think the Cardinals were that good and had picked them to lose early in the tournament. After they won, one of the Wesleyan players (I’m pretty sure they’ve deleted their Twitter since then) tweeted at the blog handle saying something to the effect of, “How you like us now?” A ton of other guys on the Wesleyan team retweeted and favorited it, and that was when I knew that things were going to be all right.
Back to this year. Wesleyan is going to look a lot different this season. They have already started their season in Arizona, and boy did things go badly in the first game Sunday. Wesleyan went down 24-0 after the third inning in a game that was an unmitigated disaster. You shouldn’t read too much into it, though. The first game of a baseball season, especially for a team that has barely been able to practice outdoors because of the New England weather, is notoriously fickle. Trips down south count on the official record, but they are still viewed as glorified spring training games by most. Anyways, Wesleyan swept a doubleheader the next day.
Wesleyan loses Donnie Cimino ’15 and Andrew Yin ’15, their two hitters at the top of the lineup, and three other positional starters. That doesn’t hurt as badly as the losses in the rotation where Sam Elias ’15, Nick Cooney ’15, and Gavin Pittore ’16 are all gone. That trio threw basically all of the high leverage innings a season ago, and the rotation is a mystery behind Peter Rantz ’16 who threw 60.2 innings with a 2.97 ERA in 2015. The good news is that slugging shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 is back and is mashing the ball so far. Guys like Robby Harbison ’17, who had a great freshman year but didn’t play much last year, and Marco Baratta ’16 need to have huge years offensively. Their best bet for winning a third consecutive NESCAC title is by mashing their way there, a very different story from their first two titles.
The two teams most likely to knock Wesleyan from their perch are Amherst and Tufts, traditional powers that also lost a good amount from last season. The loss of Mike Odenwaelder ’16 a year early is a major blow to Amherst, but they return a lot of other pieces in their lineup including Harry Roberson ’18 who is looking to build on a freshman year when he had an OBP of .429. The rotation was young a year ago, and guys like Sam Schneider ’18 have the chance to be cornerstone pieces now. Amherst pushed Wesleyan all the way to extra innings in a winner-take-all NESCAC championship game, and I think the presence of Odenwaelder overshadowed some of the other phenomenal players on the team.
The Jumbos meanwhile are in a similar spot with the loss of some big lineup pieces like Connor McDavitt ’15 and Bryan Egan ’15. That hurts, but the duo of Tim Superko ’17 and Andrew David ’16 gives them two legitimate frontline starters to trot out every weekend. In a wide open league, that is a luxury. The possibility of strikeout wizards Speros Varinos ’17 or Zach Brown ’18 replicating that ability over a larger amount of innings is intriguing. The other playoff team from the East, Bates, has a chance to be very good on the mound. Guys like Connor Colombo ’16 and Rob DiFranco ’16 have proven themselves to be above-average pitchers. I’m worried about the lineup because their three best hitters are all gone, but I had the same worry last year and guys stepped up then.
When looking for a team that could jump into the playoffs, no single team jumps out, honestly. The East was so even last year with every team having at least four wins that you would expect one of those teams to jump out. The problem is Trinity loses their three top hitters and ace, Sean Meekins ’15, leaving some big gaps to replace. Then Bowdoin has to find a way to win games without Henry Van Zant ’15 pitching them to it. A strong senior class featuring Chad Martin ’16 and Harry Ridge ’16 gives the Polar Bears hope, but like so many others, freshmen and sophomores have to step way up. Colby has nobody primed to replace Greg Ladd ’15 or Scott Goldberg ’15 in the weekend rotation, but their lineup should be improved.
Williams has a chance to make a big jump behind their young bats, but getting over the two giants in the West is so hard to do. The pitching for the Ephs was better a year ago, but it coincided with a drop in offensive production. Hamilton and Middlebury both look to be deeper than they were last season, but I think it’s a long shot for one of them to make such a big jump.
Overall, the season has a lot of uncertainty. The junior class is a weak one overall (more 2018 grads than 2017 grads made All-NESCAC teams last season), and that is the primary reason why so many young players are going to see playing time. I expect the talent bases of the elite teams to be strong enough to keep the status quo in place. But again, it’s March 9, and not even coaches really know what they have.
I’m still a few weeks away from being able to watch NESCAC games in person, but I’m excited for when I do get to watch some baseball. A NESCAC doubleheader can be over in a brisk four hours, and the large college rosters makes for a lively atmosphere even if not many fans besides parents show. We will get there eventually folks, just hang in there.