Jan. 24, 2007
ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The second of a four-part series previewing the upcoming 2007 Navy baseball season focuses on its relief pitchers. Part I took a look at the starting pitchers last week, while Part III will view Navy's catchers and infielders (Jan. 30) and the final part will focus on the outfielders (Feb. 5). Navy is scheduled to open up its 2007 season with a three-game set at Florida A&M on Feb. 9-11 in Tallahassee, Fla.
RELIEF PITCHERS PREVIEW
Despite losing career saves record-holder Ryan Hefner and career appearances leader Joe Koessler to graduation, Navy's starting pitchers should still feel comfortable turning the ball over to the bullpen in 2007. The Midshipmen retained the services of many experienced pitchers and welcome a solid crop of young arms into the mix this season.
Looking to fill the void as this year's closer is freshman JD Melton, who comes to the Academy from Wofford (S.C.) College where he earned Freshman All-American honors. During his rookie season at Wofford, Melton went 7-4 with seven saves, a freshman school record, helping in 70 percent of the team's victories on the year. The right-hander from Myrtle Beach, S.C., held the opposition to less than a hit per inning over 49 innings of work, striking out 34 in the process. In a win over No. 10 South Carolina, he hurled five innings of one-hit, shutout relief, struck out four and retired the final-11 batters of the game.
"JD had a great freshman year at Wofford and pitched in several key games," said Navy head coach Paul Kostacopoulos. "You can't help but use him in the role that he was good in. He's got above average stuff and a three-quarter slot delivery. However, the difference this season is working within the strike-zone on a more consistent basis."
Serving in the setup, short relief role for his senior season is James Lee, who had significant success in 2006. The right-handed pitcher from Asheville, N.C., struck out 19 hitters in 18.2 innings during his 17 appearances as a junior last season. He allowed only one of 14 inherited runners to score and did not allow a run in five bases-loaded situations. Lee did not allow a run to score in 12.0 innings of work between March 5 and April 15, as he fanned 15 batters in the process.
"James is again going to be a key short to middle relief guy," Kostacopoulos stated. "He has a lot of experience and has had a lot of success with his off-speed pitch. The opportunity also exists for him to come in and close a game out on an occasional basis."
The Midshipmen will count on freshman Yale Eckert to serve in middle-long relief, in addition the possibility of him serving as a weekday starter. Standing at 6'7", tied for the tallest player in school history, Eckert was a two-time all-league selection in California. The southpaw struck out 73 batters in 56 innings while walking only 12 during his senior season at Aptos High School.
"Yale is a solid left-handed guy coming out of the bullpen," said Kostacopoulos. "He showed during the fall that he has good command and can throw strikes. Like Oliver (Drake), we like his presence on the mound for a freshman."
After working as a starting pitcher for much of his first season in Annapolis last year, Navy will look for Tim Hammond to produce in a middle-long relief role in 2007. As a reliever last season, Hammond struck out nine and walked only three in 11.2 innings. The right-hander fanned six in a 3.1-inning stint out of the bullpen at Coppin State and went at least one inning in all six of his relief appearances.
"Tim has some experience in the relief role from last season," commented Kostacopoulos. "He had some good games and still produced despite giving up 73 hits because he worked around the plate and walked very few hitters. In order to be successful, he needs to bring the whole package when on the hill."
Competing as a starter and reliever last season, senior southpaw Daniel Kovalcik will provide support in the middle relief role in 2007. Coming out of the bullpen last season, Kovalcik recorded a save and a 4.85 ERA in 13 innings. The product of Westwood, Mass., allowed only 13 hits during that time and struck out seven batters in the process.
"Daniel is another left-handed reliever that possesses an outstanding changeup," said Kostacopoulos. "When he is working, he can be really tough on right-handed hitters. However, he needs to display more consistency on the mound in order to be effective."
Several other returning pitchers may see some relief time for Navy in 2007. Junior right-hander Mark Foris went 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA in 11 appearances out of the bullpen. During his 16.1 innings of work, he allowed only 13 hits, holding the opposition to a .224 batting average. Sophomore southpaw Tyler Haught posted a 1-0 mark and a 4.91 ERA in six outings, two of which came as starts. Junior left-hander Kevin Heasley recorded similar marks as Haught, going 1-0 with a 4.91 ERA, as he made five appearances and one start. Junior right-hander Spencer Suarez came out of the bullpen 10 times last season, registering a 1-0 record and a 5.84 ERA in 12.1 innings. Junior right-hander Mark Guadagnini tossed 4.1 innings in five relief efforts in 2006.
Complementing the returning relievers are several newcomers that could get some key experience this season. Southpaw Chris Murray comes to Annapolis after redshirting his freshman season at South Alabama. With Navarre (Fla.) Senior High School, he posted a 1.03 ERA to earn second-team all-area recognition. Left-hander Ridge Alkonis helped Claremont (Calif.) High School to the state semifinals in back-to-back season. In addition to his duties as an infielder, right-hander Jonathan Berkowitz may see action on the hill after being a two-time preseason All-American selection. Kyle Millerd, a 6'5" right-hander from La Quinta, Calif., combined for a 2.08 ERA in 100.2 innings over the last-two seasons. Southpaw Jeff Murdza struck out 155 batters in 143 innings during his career at The Lawrenceville School (N.J.), where he earned state prep player-of-the-year honors. Right-hander Alec Thomas fanned 120 batters in only 61 innings during his senior season to earn second-team all-state accolades at Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School (N.C.).
Player Th. ERA W-L APP GS CG SHO/CBO SV IP H R ER BB SO
Mark Foris R 3.86 2-1 11 0 0 0/1 0 16.1 13 7 7 8 7
Mark Guadagnini R 8.31 0-0 5 0 0 0/1 0 4.1 7 5 4 4 3
Tim Hammond R 5.43 1-4 14 8 1 0/0 0 53.0 73 37 32 14 32
Tyler Haught L 4.91 1-0 6 2 0 0/0 0 14.2 16 14 8 6 8
Kevin Heasley L 4.91 1-0 5 1 0 0/0 0 11.0 13 8 6 2 5
Daniel Kovalcik L 7.31 1-3 13 5 0 0/0 1 32.0 39 31 26 19 17
James Lee R 5.30 0-0 17 0 0 0/0 0 18.2 20 12 11 15 19
Spencer Suarez R 5.84 1-0 10 0 0 0/0 0 12.1 14 13 8 4 12
David Wilson R Did not play
Player Th. Hometown / High School / Last College
Ridge Alkonis R Claremont, Calif. / Claremont
Jonathan Berkowitz R Parkland, Fla. / North Broward Prep
Yale Eckert L La Selva Beach, Calif. / Aptos
JD Melton R Myrtle Beach, S.C. / Myrtle Beach / Wofford (S.C.)
Kyle Millerd R La Quinta, Calif. / La Quinta
Jeff Murdza L Hamilton, N.J. / The Lawrenceville School
Chris Murray L Navarre, Fla. / Navarre / South Alabama
Alec Thomas R Kernersville, N.C. / Bishop McGuinness Catholic