Baseball Season Preview: Wildcats Keeping Their Options Open
Feb. 11, 2013
VILLANOVA, Pa. - The returning players to the Villanova baseball team from last year - 19 of them total - played significant roles last year for a squad that won 28 games. As a group they represented more than 60 percent of the team's innings pitched and over half of the at-bats. This season they are joined by 14 newcomers who give the Wildcats depth and athleticism at every position on the field.
Villanova has a roster which will allow head coach Joe Godri to mix and match players on the field to maximize the team's chances for success. From a pitching standpoint the Wildcats have eight right-handed arms joined by six lefties and Godri will look to exploit situational matchups during the course of a game. This is a formula which has been successful in the past.
The team's 19 position players - a group that includes 10 of the 14 newcomers to the squad - together form one of the most athletic lineups Godri has had at his disposal in the past few years. Villanova should have a great deal of speed throughout the lineup and at every defensive position. While the lineup as a whole will not be as experienced as some teams the Wildcats have had, the energy brought to the field by the younger players is something that Godri envisions helping the team win games during the course of a long 56-game season.
Villanova opens its 2013 schedule this weekend at the USA Baseball Complex Classic, where it will face Monmouth, Canisius, Toledo and Wright State in a tournament featuring a number of similar teams. During the second weekend of the season the Wildcats will play in a tournament at nationally-ranked North Carolina State, taking on the host Wolfpack as well as familiar foes La Salle and Wagner.
The first week of the season will be markedly different from last year's season-opening three game series at Arkansas, which began the 2012 season as the No. 4 ranked team in the nation. Godri is looking forward to Villanova gaining some momentum early in the season with two tournaments leading into a series at Florida State.
The second weekend of March will mark the beginning of four consecutive weekends at home for the Wildcats, who open their home schedule with the familiar Villanova Baseball Classic and Big Five Baseball Bash events. Following a three-game series against Cornell - the Wildcats have a bye during the first week of conference play - Villanova plays its first BIG EAST series at home against Rutgers.
A balanced league schedule this season features all 11 conference teams playing four series at home and four on the road. In addition to hosting the Scarlet Knights, the Wildcats also have home series against Connecticut, Seton Hall and Louisville. Villanova will travel to Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Georgetown during the BIG EAST schedule.
At the end of the regular season the top eight teams in the conference standings qualify for the BIG EAST Championship at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla. The Wildcats last made the conference tournament in 2008 and have made a return trip to the postseason the primary goal for their veteran players.
Below is a breakdown of the Villanova roster for the 2013 season.
The old baseball adage about pitching and defense winning games is the central philosophy that the Wildcats follow. A recruiting emphasis on pitching, a history of sending pitchers on to the professional level and the spacious confines of the Villanova Ballpark at Plymouth have made the Villanova pitching staff successful year in and year out.
Last season the Wildcats had a staff ERA of 4.78 and featured seven pitchers who threw at least 10 innings with an ERA of 4.50 or better. Those are solid numbers for a college team and the staff is poised to be even stronger from top to bottom this season.
Junior right-hander Pat Young (The Woodlands, Texas) spearheads the pitching staff and for the second straight season will be the anchor of the weekend starting rotation. He led the team in ERA, victories, strikeouts and innings pitched last season while pitching at least six innings in 10 of his 14 starts. Young is a professional prospect who Godri feels will be as good as any pitcher Villanova faces all year.
Another candidate for the weekend rotation is sophomore southpaw Josh Harris (Streamwood, Ill.), who came on strong at the end of his freshman campaign and has continued to build momentum through the summer and fall seasons. He throws with high velocity and is among the most improved pitchers on the roster.
Senior right-handers Stephen Ostapeck (Sacramento, Calif.) and Kevin MacLachlan (Matawan, N.J.) have each had success during their careers in the starting rotation as well as in relief roles. Ostapeck enjoyed a terrific start to the 2012 season and is in the mold of Young and Harris as a true power arm who can consistently miss bats with his fastball. MacLachlan leads all pitchers on the current team with 126 2/3 career innings pitched. He possesses outstanding command of a deep repertoire of pitches and gets outs effectively with his secondary stuff.
Two of the more intriguing pitchers on the staff this season will be junior lefty Matt Meurer (Katy, Texas) and sophomore right-hander JB Kole (Basking Ridge, N.J.). Meurer flourished last season as a long reliever in close games and won three games with a 4.11 ERA out of the bullpen while striking out 27 and holding opponents to a .257 batting average against him in 35.0 innings. Kole appeared in 11 games as a freshman and averaged a strikeout per inning.
Regardless of who joins Young, and likely Harris, in the weekend rotation Godri feels good about having a great deal of depth on the entire staff as well as a great deal of experience in the bullpen. The starting rotation will certainly have a number of options but the relief corps is also set up to support the starters and protect leads in the late innings. In the 11 years that Godri has been head coach Villanova has won more than 92 percent of its games when leading after seven innings (220-18, .924). That includes a perfect 21-0 record in such games last season.
Senior left-hander Matt Longfield (Miami, Fla.) has been a vital asset to the Wildcats over the past two seasons as someone who can be used in situational matchups against the other team's top bats from the left side. Longfield is also one of the hardest throwers on the team and in 32 2/3 career innings pitched has averaged better than 13 strikeouts per nine innings. Last season he appeared in 17 games - tied for third most on the staff - and logged 12 2/3 innings with 20 strikeouts (14.2 per nine innings) while holding opponents to a .217 batting average against him.
Two pitchers who are in line to gain additional experience this season are junior righty Chris Haggarty (Valley Stream, N.Y.) and sophomore left-hander Jeff Courter (Maple Glen, Pa.). Despite limited experience both have done a good job getting Villanova out of trouble spots in the middle innings and have earned a chance to be used in more critical relief roles during games. That opportunity should come this season and Courter could also have a chance to join the midweek starting rotation.
Although the primary needs addressed with this year's recruiting class were position players that doesn't mean that the newcomers to the pitching staff aren't still very talented. Freshman Max Beermann (Tampa, Fla.) is 6-6 and presents an intimidating figure on the mound. He has a plus fastball and above average curveball that should make him an immediate contributor. Fellow first-year righty Luke Emling (Nottingham, Pa.) is a local product who the team has high hopes for as he continues to develop. He has the makings of a power pitcher and both he and Beermann are two-way players who will also have a chance to contribute offensively.
Further depth on the pitching staff will come from the trio of graduate student Alex DiValerio (Malvern, Pa.), sophomore Jon Tam (Basking Ridge, N.J.) and freshman Andrew Blazoski (Chatham, N.J.). DiValerio is a transfer who graduated from Vanderbilt after playing four years for the Commodores tennis team, while Blazoski and Tam each made the team as walk-ons who will compete to earn a role on the staff.
Villanova made great offensive strides last season and its returning starters in the field have been significant contributors during their careers. There is star power with senior infielder Tyler Sciacca (Staten Island, N.Y.) and the Wildcats also return their entire starting outfield with seniors Paul Rambaud (Chicago, Ill.) and Steve Schrenk (Brigantine, N.J.), as well as junior Connor Jones (Chandler, Ariz.). Godri is looking for the continued emergence of his returning players to give the team a boost and will also rely on his talented group of freshmen to make an immediate impact on the field.
Last season the trio of Schrenk, Rambaud and Jones combined for 131 starts and gave Villanova a terrific defensive outfield. There was plenty of offensive upside as well, as the three starting outfielders each hit above .270 while combining for 67 runs scored, 65 runs batted in, 27 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases.
Rambaud leads the group with 122 games played and 86 starts during his Wildcats career. He batted .282 last season, ranked second on the team with 11 times getting hit by a pitch and compiled a .396 on-base percentage. In addition to having the ability to hit at the top of the order Rambaud is excellent defensively in center field.
Jones was an everyday starter for the first time last season and he emerged as someone who could thrive hitting in the middle of the order. He batted .276 for the season while finishing third on the team with 13 doubles and fourth with 35 runs batted in. Jones had 16 multi-hit and eight multi-RBI games while also stealing nine bases. In the field he has perhaps the strongest arm of any of the outfielders and last season threw out three runners at the plate from right field.
Schrenk began his career as one of the top bats off the bench for Villanova and eventually made himself into a valuable commodity in the daily lineup as both an offensive threat and a strong defensive player. He hit .273 with a .363 on-base percentage last season while starting 41 of the 48 games he appeared in. Schrenk is a .270 career hitter in 108 games for the Wildcats and has played flawless defense in left field with no errors in 69 career chances (68 putouts, one assist).
Freshman Derrick May, Jr. (Newark, Del.) is in line to assume a fourth outfielder's role. He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals following his senior year of high school and is an excellent defensive player who can cover the gaps. Freshman Nicolas Coutre (Libertyville, Ill.) worked his way back from an injury during the fall season and will also compete for playing time in the outfield. Newcomer Kevin Rojko (San Jose, Calif.) is a junior college transfer from Cabrillo College in California and has two years of eligibility remaining. Godri sees him being in the mold of someone like Schrenk who is a smart player and works hard to maximize their talent.
Sophomore B.J. Bochicchio (Moosic, Pa.) is an infielder by trade but could possibly see time in the outfield at some point during the season, as is the case with freshman Emmanuel Morris (Willowbrook, Ill.). Bochicchio, who missed time due to an injury last season, is capable of being a strong offensive performer and is athletic enough to be used in a number of different defensive roles. Morris is among the fastest runners on the team, played catcher in high school and is excellent defensively up the middle in both the infield and the outfield. Senior Dan Parham (Broken Arrow, Okla.) has experience playing both the infield and the outfield and is a solid hitter who makes consistent contact.
After missing the 2011 season with a shoulder injury senior Tyler Sciacca (Staten Island, N.Y.) returned in a big way last year and reestablished himself as one of the top all-around players in the BIG EAST and the Northeast region. Sciacca was one of three players who started in every game for Villanova last season and he finished the year leading or tied for the team lead in seven different offensive categories. He batted a team-best .359 while posting a .430 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage and counted 16 doubles, six triples and a home run among his 79 hits. Sciacca also led the team with 17 stolen bases, five sacrifice flies and 24 walks.
In the field Sciacca is as good a defender as there is and he is equally skilled at both second base and shortstop. Last season he posted a .980 fielding percentage at second base with only six errors in 302 chances, while accumulating 131 putouts and 165 assists. He will likely shift over to shortstop at the start of the 2013 campaign.
Sophomore Brandon Carr (Danville, Calif.) batted .268 in 38 games (27 starts) as a freshman last season and has continued to make progress defensively at first base. He was a steady player last season and reached base safely in 19 of his 27 starts while posting a .336 on-base percentage. Carr and freshman Max Beermann (Tampa, Fla.) will be among the players that see time at first base. Both are big targets but are also nimble defensively. During preseason practices Godri noted that Carr and Beermann make each other better on the field and that both players recognize the importance of their defense.
Two other players who fit in defensively at the corner infield positions are sophomore B.J. Bochicchio (Moosic, Pa.) and freshman Kevin Jewitt (West Chester, Pa.). Last season Bochicchio played in just six games due to injury but he is a solid defender on the left side and also has great offensive potential. He was a high-profile recruit upon entering the Villanova program and may see time in both the infield and the outfield. Jewitt has more experience at third base but will also put in some work at first base in practice to give the Wildcats additional options against left-handed pitching. He is a young player that the team has high hopes for and presents a good balance between offensive and defensive skills.
Sciacca will be a mainstay in the middle of the infield and he will be joined at times by any of three members of a talented freshmen trio. Eric Lowe (Arlington Heights, Ill.) played for the high profile Top Tier program in Illinois and was cited by Godri for defensive skills which include very quick actions, a good arm and great lateral movement. He could eventually develop into the team's shortstop of the future and will be used there at times this season.
Fellow first-year player Adam Goss (Bellaire, Texas) can also play both middle infield positions. He is a left-handed hitter who played shortstop in high school and may have the strongest infield arm of anyone on the team. He also uses his speed well both at the plate and in the field. Emmanuel Morris (Willowbrook, Ill.) is one of the most athletic players on the team and can be used at a variety of defensive positions, including second base. He has great range in the field and, like both Lowe and Goss, will have a chance to work his way into the lineup early in the season.
Villanova has two experienced catchers in senior Brandon Clark (Spring, Texas) and junior John Cialone (Houston, Texas), who split most of the playing time behind the plate last season. Freshman Bob Slagle (Lafayette Hill, Pa.) is a local recruit who signed early and is the only left-handed hitter among the three catchers.
Clark is in his second season with the Wildcats after transferring from Northeast Texas Community College. His first season was a highly successful one and he batted .306 in 37 games (20 starts) while posting a stellar .457 on-base percentage. Clark is a highly-energetic player and a vocal leader on the team who has earned rave reviews during his time at Villanova for his work handling the pitchers during games.
Cialone has played in 66 career games with 33 starts, with 25 of those starts coming last season. He has developed as an offensive player and will have a chance to win the designated hitter job early in the season. He will also compete for the starting role and see significant time behind the plate. Cialone has a strong throwing arm and has made great strides in his game-calling abilities.
Of the three catchers Slagle may have the most tools as an all-around player when it comes to combining offense and defense. He has great catching skills and a plus arm while also showing power from the left side of the plate. Godri noted that catcher is the most difficult position for a young player to break into at the college level but is excited about the option that Slagle presents as a left-handed hitter and looks forward to seeing him continue to develop his all-around game.