By Ryan Melillo, UConn Baseball Beat Writer (@rmelillo12)
Monday, February 1, 2016
In the heart of yet another winter here in Storrs, it’s never too early to start talking UConn Baseball. The Huskies look to build off of a solid 2015 campaign in which they went 35-25 overall, losing to champion East Carolina 4-2 down in Clearwater, Florida in the semifinals of the AAC Tournament; postseason play did not ensue. As the new team regroups, they look to hit the ground running in just under a month, where they will open up with a 3-game set @ UT-San Antonio starting February 19th. That being said, here’s a positional breakdown of the squad to get you up to speed with where UConn stands and how we stack up against our opponents for the upcoming 2016 season.
The Coaching Staff
Head Coach: Jim Penders
Assistant Coach: Joshua MacDonald
Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator: Jeff Hourigan
Volunteer Assistant Coach: Chris Podeszwa
The starting rotation will be losing two major contributors from last year in RHP Carson Cross and RHP Jordan Tabakman. Cross, the AAC Pitcher of the Year, was a true workhorse for the pitching staff. As a redshirt senior, his role as a leader was evident. He recorded a team-best 10-2 record as a starter and finished with a 2.29 ERA. Fellow redshirt senior Tabakman finished 2015 with a mark of 3-5 paired with a 3.60 ERA. The starters combined for a total of 196 innings and 158 strikeouts, which will definitely be missed this season.
What to Expect:
The departures of Carson Cross and Jordan Tabakman raise a variety of questions. Who will be the go-to guy? Who will be the leader of the staff? Who will fill the void in the rotation?
When it comes to the ace of the rotation, look no further than LHP Anthony Kay. The junior from Long Island, NY started 14 games a year ago for the Huskies, posting an 8-6 record. Kay had an impressive earned run average of 2.07, while recording 96 strikeouts over 100 total innings pitched. To add to his impressive resume, he also happens to be the 2016 American Athletic Conference Preseason Co-Pitcher of the Year and has earned 3rd-team All-America honors. Look for Kay to pick up where he left off last season, as he looks to lead UConn to a successful 2016 campaign.
Fellow junior RHP Andrew Zapata joins Kay as the second returning starter from a year ago. Zapata started 10 games last year, tying Carson Cross for the highest win percentage on the team (.833).
A preseason favorite for one of the open spots in the rotation is RHP William Montgomerie. The Connecticut native started 6 games for the Huskies last year, primarily joining the rotation to give the usual starters rest when needed. He was able to put together a 3-2 record with a 4.55 ERA. Expect to see him on the bump come spring time.
Other strong candidates looking to step up to fill the void include RHP Sam Nepiarsky and RHP Ronnie Rossomando. The two CT products both saw substantial action in fall play and look to build off of it heading into the spring. Overall, preseason and early season play will be the ultimate deciding factor for the rotation moving forward.
As expected, star 2B Vinny Siena decided to forego his senior year of NCAA eligibility, and was selected in the 14th round of the 2015 MLB Draft by the New York Mets. He spent this past year playing single-A ball for the St. Lucie Mets (Florida State League). Siena’s departure is significant offensively, as his 7 home runs, .362 average, .424 OBP, and 94 hits were all team highs. Besides Siena, the only other loss from last year is C Connor David. David, a backup, only started 2 games for the Huskies and was statistically not a key contributor in big games. Therefore, we are VERY deep in terms of fielding talent from the infield, which should be the backbone of the 2016 squad.
What to Expect:
If you are worried about the infield’s ability at the plate due to Vinny Siena’s early departure, take a deep breath. The infield, led by senior slugger 1B Bobby Melley, has plenty of weapons when it comes to putting up runs. Melley, a team captain, started all 60 games last season. His 238 plate appearances were among the team’s best, not to mention his .315 batting average and 40 runs batted in.
Arguably one of the team’s best all-around players for this upcoming season is 3B Willy Yahn. As a freshman in 2015, Yahn was selected to the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America team, while also receiving 2nd-team All-AAC honors. In terms of 2015 batting average, his .343 mark is best amongst all returning players. He is sure to attract scouts as he looks to follow up his exceptional 2015 season.
UConn landed slugger INF Tyler Gnesda this offseason. A transfer from Cypress College, he batted .307 a year ago, with 4 HR and 38 RBI. Gnesda saw plenty of action, including a few starts, in fall play and will provide the infield with plenty of offense.
Other returning contributors include power-hitter INF Joe DeRoche-Duffin, INF Aaron Hill, and INF Bryan Daniello.
INF Tyler Gnesda (#25) INF Jack Lambrecht (#5) INF/OF Dillon Malandro (#26) INF/OF John Toppa (#27) C Zac Susi (#23) INF/RHP Randy Polonia (#34) C Sam Breiner (#40)
The Huskies lose 2 of 3 starters from last year in OF Blake Davey and OF Jon Testani. Davey was a key component of the offense, generating 6 HR and 45 RBI. He also batted .300 with a .477 slugging percentage. Testani was lights out from the field, leading the team with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.
What to Expect:
Expect plenty of competition with this year’s outfielders. With two starting roles up for grabs, expect Head Coach Jim Penders to put out a multitude of different groups of starters to see who will be able to contribute. OF Taylor Olmstead, OF Troy Stefanski, and OF Griffin Garabedian all have mild experience from a year ago and look to compete with incoming freshmen for playing time.
OF Jack Sundberg will be the leader of not only the team, but the head of the outfield. The 2016 captain is the lone returning starter from last season, and will most likely be starting at centerfield this year. The speedster stole a team-high 33 bases on 38 attempts while starting all 60 games.
OF Keith Krueger (#7) LHP/OF P.J. Poulin (#19) INF/OF Dillon Malandro (#26) INF/OF John Toppa (#27)
Here’s the good news. The Huskies’ bullpen will be reloading, not rebuilding in the 2016 season. UConn returns its entire bullpen from a year ago.
What to Expect:
Upperclassman RHP Patrick Ruotolo should be a lock as the team’s closer. The junior from Peabody, MA was the closer last year as a sophomore. With a 2.72 ERA and 2-4 record in 22 appearances, there’s some room for improvement. His 52 strikeouts and .181 opponent batting average were astounding, so expect a solid year out of Ruotolo.
Expect a continued rotation between RHP Nico Darras, RHP Devin Over, RHP Trevor Holmes, RHP Ryan Radue, among others. Here’s a brief look at their stats from a year ago.
Darras--- 29 IP, 3.10 ERA, 2-2 record, 1 save, Over--- 18.1 IP, 3.44 ERA, 0-2 record, Holmes--- 15.1 IP, 3.52 ERA, 1-0 record, Radue--- 15.2 IP, 4.02 ERA, 1-1 record
• February 19-21—Season Opener @ UT San Antonio
• Austin Peay Tournament—February 26-28 Clarksville, TN
• Tough non-conference opponents March 15 @ USC, March 18-20 @ UC Santa Barbara
• First Game in Storrs—March 22 vs. Yale
• Start of AAC Conference Play April 1-3 vs. Tulane
• First Conference Road Trip April 8-10 @ Cincinnati
Link to full UConn Baseball Schedule:
Sources: UConnHuskies.com The-Boneyard.com cypress.prestosports.com MiLB.com TheUConnBlog.com