2006 Baseball Preview: Endless Possibilities
Feb. 24, 2006
In sports, it's often said that having a short memory is a good thing. For Bob Babb and the Johns Hopkins baseball Blue Jays, it's a necessity in 2006.
And for good reason as well. Last season, the class of Paul Long, Mike Durgala, Paul Winterling, Brian Harris, Dave Montegari, Jason Hochfelder, Mike Spiciarich, Ryan McConnell and Eric Nigro took the graduation walk, leaving the Blue Jays with nine holes to fill for the 2006 season. The group departed Hopkins with a .780 winning percentage through four years, three straight Centennial Conference pennants and a 40-4 season to their credit in 2004.
While the contributions of these players will never be forgotten in the baseball lore of Johns Hopkins, the keys to the car will be turned over to a new crop of players this season. For many teams, taking such a hit to the lineup would produce catastrophic effects. However, Babb has built a deep roster stocked with players ready to produce right now.
"There's no doubt the last two years we've had a stable corps of players and we knew what to expect position wise and production wise," says Babb. "Even though we graduated a lot of starters last year, I think our team depth is about as good as we've ever had. I think we could field two solid lineups and not be weak at any position."
Despite the loss of Hochfelder and McConnell, who combined for 14 starts and five complete games last season, Babb feels that his pitching staff may be in a better spot than any other position heading into the season.
"I think our pitching depth will be tremendous," Babb comments. "We have a number of pitchers that are capable of being good on any given day. I'm not worried about the pitching this year."
Flannery returns with 11 career starts to his credit, including seven last season. With a 5-1 record, he led the staff with a 1.52 ERA while allowing an opponent's batting average of .178.
Thayer provides another reliable arm, posting a 4-3 record while starting in nine games and appearing in two out of the bullpen. In his career, Thayer has 13 starts while logging 107.2 innings.
Bail, a co-captain, provides an option in numerous spots for Hopkins. He proved himself as a starter in 2005, throwing 13 scoreless innings in his first two starts while appearing in 13 games (a team-high), including 10 in relief.
Also figuring into the starting mix are a pair of veterans who are on the rebound from injuries last season. Senior Tim Denning, shelved for most of last season, allowed six hits and two earned runs in a pair of 2005 starts, while junior Ryan Lanpher, lost for the second half of the season, posted a 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 innings.
A trio of young pitchers looks to make their impact in starting roles this season, as sophomores Brian Duddie, Ryan Kuhlman and Patrick Steffee may get the call. All three punched up big strikeout numbers in 2005, combining for 62 in 64.1 innings.
While these pitchers all have the ability to start, they also have the skills to serve in relief roles. Each of the returning members of the Hopkins staff, with the exception of Flannery, made a relief appearance in 2005.
Among the most stable positions on the diamond for the Blue Jays, the catcher's spot is a deep one, led by junior Rob Sanzillo, a player who Babb says can do it all.
"Rob is truly a pro prospect. He can run, throw, hit for power and average, he's got the size. And he's getting better defensively in blocking, framing and handling pitchers. I expect him to have a truly breakout year."
Offensively, Sanzillo had 24 hits last season (.324) with 11 of the extra-base variety (six doubles, one triple, four homers). On the basepaths, he swiped 10 bags in 12 attempts while cutting down six runners from behind the plate.
Sophomore backstop Tony Margve provides another solid option for the Blue Jays, hitting .281 in eight starts last year while driving in 11 runs in only 32 at-bats.
Possibly the deepest spot on the field for Hopkins in 2006, a number of players are in position to compete for starting jobs.
A lot of uncertainty comes into the new season on the infield, but Babb thinks this is a good thing.
"There will be a lot of competition early on to see who is the best first baseman, best second baseman, best third baseman. At each of those positions, we have two guys who are capable of doing a good job and in some instances, three or four. In a way, it will force me to play a lot of people early in meaningful playing time."
Leading the unit into the new season is senior co-captain Corey Gleason, a middle infielder with three years of starting experience to his credit. Gleason combines a solid glove (six errors in 93 chances last season, assisted on 16 double plays) with a stable bat (.333 career hitter, 25 career doubles) that can hit anywhere in the middle of the lineup.
Another veteran option on the infield is junior Ian Christie, a 2005 Second Team All-Centennial Conference selection. Christie made only four errors in 107 opportunities last season, but his hitter's eye may be his biggest asset to the team: he drew 23 walks with an on-base percentage of .457 last season.
Also poised to step into starting roles this season are senior Tim Sliker and sophomore Jonas Fester. Sliker, the understudy to Durgala at first base in past seasons, picked up 11 RBI in 33 at-bats last season with four multi-RBI games to his credit. Fester, who posted a .367 average with seven extra-base hits last season, figures into the mix for the team's leadoff spot.
Other infielders that will be making a push for significant playing time in 2006 are Matt Benchener, Todd Emr and Jon Solomon. Emr saw the most action of this young group in 2005, with two multi-hit games in three starts.
Featuring arguably the most seasoned starting lineup of any position on the field, the Blue Jay outfielders give Babb numerous fielding, baserunning and hitting strengths.
Senior co-captain Gary Rosenberg is the most decorated outfielder, earning Second Team All-Centennial honors in 2005. A starter in 34 games last season, Rosenberg had team-bests in hits (45) and RBI (42) provides a power threat in the middle of the order. "He's a guy I know can drive in runs and I want up with runners in scoring position," Babb says.
Another co-captain, senior Matt Scally, gets his first chance to move into an everyday starting role. A .328 hitter in 64 at-bats last season, Scally is tagged by Babb as the best defensive outfielder and will man the center field position this year.
Senior Bryce Baumann will have an opportunity to shine in 2006, giving the Blue Jays solid defense and speed in the field and on the basepaths. Another candidate to occupy the leadoff spot this season, Baumann hit .396 in 26 games last year, collecting 11 walks and 11 stolen bases as well.
Babb says that the Blue Jays have numerous other outfielders who can provide an offensive spark, but sophomore Rob Pietroforte provides not only a good offensive game, but solid defensive skills as well. "He can play center, right or left and gives me the versatility to move guys around a little," Babb adds.
With the uncertainty of 2006 looming, the Blue Jays have prepared themselves better than ever, Babb notes.
"This team has probably worked harder in the offseason than any team I've ever had. Partly because of [strength and conditioning coach Mike] Durgala, but also because this is the first time for a lot of these kids to show what they can do."
Babb knows his team has the talent in 2006, but it's time for these Blue Jays to show their ability to produce on a consistent level.
"I know they have the talent to do well, they just don't have the experience. That will be key: how quickly they feel comfortable with themselves in key situations and how they perform in those situations"