Villanova Baseball Season Preview
Feb. 16, 2009
Senior Wesley Borden (State College, Pa.) returns behind the plate for his second year as a full-time starter. A left-handed hitter with power potential, Borden batted .270 a year ago with five home runs and 22 RBI while posting a .373 on-base percentage and a .428 slugging percentage. He started 48 games behind the plate and possesses a strong arm and solid all-around defensive skills.
"Wes has gone from a part-time player to a weekday player to an everyday starter during his career," head coach Joe Godri said. "He has developed into one of the better hitters and one of the more feared power hitters in the league. As a catcher, he does a great job behind the plate and is a good defender."
Sophomore John Dunham (Madison, N.J.) and freshman Adam Nelson (St. Joseph, Mo.) give the Wildcats a pair of backup options for Borden. Dunham is in his second season on the roster after making the team last year. Nelson offers raw power as a batter as he continues to develop and is coming off a very strong season. He is also capable of playing at first base or in the outfield.
"John is in his second season catching full-time and continues to develop within the program. Adam had a very strong fall season and brings immense raw power to the team," Godri said. "He is still developing and is a very good athlete. We are really excited about Adam's potential based on our fall workouts."
The inside track on a starting job at first base should fall to senior Kyle Carver (Aldan, Pa.), who is one of the team's top defensive players. After being used exclusively as a relief pitcher in his first two collegiate seasons, Carver emerged last year with a .254 batting average in 114 at-bats. He hit five home runs with a .336 on-base percentage and a .447 slugging percentage. Carver is expected to shift between an offensive role and pitching duties this season, especially given the depth that the team has at the corner infield spots.
"Kyle is a two-way player for us and I don't know if there is a better defensive player on the ballclub than he is as a first baseman," Godri said. "He gives a lot of confidence to our infielders and possesses power potential as a hitter. Kyle is effective when we utilize him on the mound and is also capable of entering the game off the bench and providing instant offense."
Freshmen Scott Buckwalter (York, Pa.) and Kevin Stephens (Marlton, N.J.) are similar in their ability to play multiple positions on the field and both could be utilized at first base during the year. Buckwalter was highly recruited and has the potential to develop over time into a key hitter in the lineup. He offers a good target at first base at 6-5. Stephens is a left-handed hitter who initially should provide a bat off the bench. He can also play in the outfield and has experience from high school behind the plate.
"Scott was a highly-recruited hitter in the Harrisburg area," Godri said. "He should develop over time into a key hitter for us. He provides a plus target at first base for the other infielders. Kevin is a left-handed hitter who was used behind the plate in high school. This season he offers potential as a lefty bat off the bench."
Sophomore Dain Hall (Barrington, Ill.) shifts to a more natural position at second base this season after playing out of position at third base last year. As a freshman starter, Hall batted over .300 for most of the year and finished the season at .292 with a .413 on-base percentage and a .354 slugging percentage. He stole 13 bases, scored 33 runs and drew 32 walks while striking out only 21 times. A measure of Hall's potential was seen during the BIG EAST Championship, during which he batted .375 (6-16) with two doubles in four tournament games.
"Dain earned a starting role as a freshman last year and played out of position at third base," Godri said. "He did a good job and hit over .300 for most of the year and was the leadoff hitter for a portion of the season. Dain hit well in the BIG EAST playoffs and he is one of those guys who can cause problems for other teams with our style of offense. He can bunt for a base hit and can steal a base."
Freshman Cuyler Esposito (Marietta, Ga.) and Carl Fiebig (Darien, Ill.) are both players that eventually could fill long-term roles in the infield for Villanova. For now, each is capable of playing the middle infield positions and both continue to develop offensively. Esposito in particular has the potential to develop into a solid all-around collegiate hitter. Fiebig can play all four infield positions and is in line to make contributions to the team right away off the bench and as a spot starter.
"We expect that Cuyler will develop into a pretty solid college hitter," Godri said. "Carl plays very well at all four infield positions and is a very good defensive player. These are both guys we can see having an immediate impact this year off the bench or to provide a spark in spot starting roles."
A close competition to watch during the preseason will be for a starting role at third base between redshirt freshman Matt Szczur (Erma, N.J.) and freshman Kevin Wager (Chester, Va.). Szczur has played two seasons of football at Villanova and is an all-conference wide receiver, but missed last spring's baseball season while recovering from an injury. A draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers out of high school, Szczur has the athleticism to play anywhere on the field and should immediately slide in as one of the most dangerous bats on the team. His versatility should make it possible for Szczur to be utilized in a number of roles throughout the year.
"We are real excited to interject Matt into the lineup this year," Godri said. "He is one of a handful of guys since I have been here who came into the program after being drafted out of high school. He has had success at Villanova on the football field for a team that made the playoffs this year but he has a lot to offer on the baseball field too and we are excited about having him this spring. Matt can fit in virtually anywhere on the field given the way we play defensively. He can be a backup catcher and has experience playing at shortstop in high school. We think he will play somewhere in the infield for us but with his overall speed and ability he would have no problem transferring to an outfield spot as well."
Wager is in the same category as Scott Buckwalter and Kevin Stephens as players who can immediately help at the corner infield positions. A big, strong hitter at 6-3, Wager has the potential to bat in the middle of the lineup and hit for power.
One of the most daunting tasks facing Villanova this season is having to replace the program's all-time hits leader in Derek Shunk at shortstop. Freshman Tyler Sciacca (Staten Island, N.Y.) and others will have a chance to do that, though the tools Sciacca offers are of a different nature. The Wildcats have made a commitment to strong team defense with this year's recruiting class and Sciacca will be one of the team's best all-around defensive players as well as having the best infield arm. He continues to grow as a hitter and at the outset of the year should hit near the bottom of the lineup.
"Tyler has as good defensive skills as anybody we have ever had at shortstop," Godri said. "He has good range and arm strength and plus hands. He will begin the year hitting towards the bottom of the lineup as he develops offensively."
"In the infield, we have a group of freshmen in [Tyler] Sciacca, [Kevin] Wager, [Cuyler Esposito] and Carl [Fiebig] who can potentially fill long-term roles on the team. Each guy brings some different things to the table. Like with the pitching staff we feel that this group is a very solid core when you look at the guys they have to replace in all-time hits leader Derek Shunk and everyday starters Ryan Arcadia and Dan Terpak."
Cuyler Esposito and Carl Fiebig, along with fellow freshman Marlon Calbi (Montclair, N.J.), should also see time at shortstop during the season. Calbi joins Szczur as two-sport athletes for the Wildcats and was on the football team this past fall.
"When I look at this freshman group as a whole, I think they are maybe more equipped to defend the field as opposed to last year's graduating class that came in equipped to have offensive success sooner. Those guys came in at a time where we felt we had to take a big step forward offensively and they did that. While this class doesn't take a step back by any means, they will continue to develop offensively during their careers. I don't know if these guys will challenge our all-time hits leaders but they are on par with any other group we have had when it comes to getting on base and stealing basses. Overall we are bringing a bit more athleticism to the table with our team defense."