Feb. 12, 2013
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -
Led by a core group of 10 seniors, the Navy baseball team is primed for a run to the top of the Patriot League. The Midshipmen return 20 letterwinners from last year's team that qualified for the Patriot League tournament, but fell short of expectations. This year's roster boasts a wealth of experience at several key positions as the pitching staff, infield and outfield all include veteran contributors.
Navy returns two of its most reliable starters in seniors Ben Nelson and Johnny Schoberl; the two right-handers have combined to start a total of 60 games in their careers. Nelson enters the season ninth on the program's all-time strikeouts list with 184 and his 35 starts rank in a tie for 10th.
"Ben has always provided a really solid presence on the mound for us, even since his freshman year," said Navy head coach Paul Kostacopoulos. "He handles and conducts himself very well."
Like Nelson, Schoberl is a former All-Patriot League honoree. The native of Milford, N.J., won five games for the second consecutive year and posted his lowest-career ERA in 2012.
"With Ben and John, we have two really experienced pitchers who have been successful throughout the course of their careers," said Kostacopoulos. "Having those two pitchers that are capable of logging a lot of innings is a good way to go into the season."
Rounding out Navy's weekend starting rotation will be a pair of sophomores in Brad Borosak and Anthony Parenti. Borosak is coming off a season where he was limited to just eight appearances on the mound due to a leg injury.
"We have been extremely high on Brad," said Kostacopoulos. "Obviously, he wasn't able to pitch as much as we would have liked last season, but we think he's ready to move into a starting role. We're excited about his ability."
Parenti tied for the team lead in appearances with 18 last season, seven of which were starts. He posted a 2.91 ERA in 34.0 innings.
"Anthony got his feet wet last season as a fourth starter during league competition," said Kostacopoulos. "He needs to improve and establish himself in that weekend starting role."
Another pitcher that could get some starting assignments is freshman Luke Gillingham.
"Luke looked really good this fall for us," said Kostacopoulos. "He is certainly someone we'll keep our eye on."
Senior captain Joel Rinehart returns to lead the Navy bullpen again in 2013. Rinehart ranks in a tie for fourth place on Navy's all-time appearances list with 55 and his 12 saves are second most in school history. His leadership will be vital to a pitching staff with nine underclassmen, including five in the bullpen.
"Joel is very similar to Ben in that he provides a great example of how to approach the game," said Kostacopoulos.
Rinehart worked 2.0 innings or more in 10 of his 18 appearances in 2012. This season, Kostacopoulos hopes freshman Sam Sorenson can provide some needed support in the back end of the bullpen.
"In short relief, you need to have two guys because of the format of our conference games," said Kostacopoulos. "We need Joel to return to form from his sophomore season. Hopefully, we can give him some help and he's not doing 3-4 innings of relief work. Historically, he has shown he can do that, but we'd like to keep him in that shorter roll.
"Sam showed us some good stuff this fall."
The only Mid that came close to Rinehart and Parenti in terms of appearances last season was Stephen Moore, who had 17. The sophomore right-hander totaled 44.2 innings in 2012 and picked up two saves while sporting a 3.83 ERA. He also started five games.
"Stephen is pretty good out of the bullpen," said Kostacopoulos. "He throws strikes, fields his position well and does a good job of holding runners on base. Through the first half of last season, he was pretty solid. We hope he's healthy and ready to go."
Fellow sophomores Dallas Redden and Charlie LaMar combined for 16 appearances. Redden recorded a win in one of his two starts, while LaMar earned one save.
"Dallas didn't see much time last year, but had a good fall and should compete for some innings in relief," said Kostacopoulos. "We'll see Charlie as well."
Veteran seniors Jake Coffey and Stephen Geiss have provided some key innings in the past and will be called upon again in middle relief. Junior Matt Kilby, who made the transition to pitcher prior to last season, should also provide some innings.
A pair of freshmen in Brenden DelMonte and Andrew Bartek will be the new additions to the bullpen.
"Brenden and Andrew didn't see much action in the fall due to some injuries from plebe summer, but we believe they can do some good things," said Kostacopoulos.
Chris Cannon started just over half of the team's game's behind the plate last season and should see a majority of the time at the position again this season.
"Chris got a lot of innings for us last year. Having graduated our starter, Jeff Bland, the year before and with Dave Milanes hurt, the circumstances really forced him into that role," said Kostacopoulos. "He needs to get better and he really showed some signs of that this past fall. Catcher is probably the most difficult position to play as a freshman because of everything that's going on. We think he'll improve a lot this season and utilize his experience from last year to become a better player, because he certainly has the physical skills to be very good."
Also in the mix behind the plate will be Jack Keller and Milanes. Keller appeared in seven games in 2012, while Milanes started three games behind the plate.
"Jack didn't get much time last year but he has gradually improved," said Kostacopoulos. "He and Dave will certainly compete for playing time."
Freshman Pat Lien will provide depth.
With a host of returning talent, Navy's infield could shape up to be one of the best in the Patriot League.
"One aspect the coaches took away from the fall is that I think we have the chance to be a pretty good defensive team in the infield," said Kostacopoulos.
Sophomore shortstop David Wiedeman and junior first baseman Kash Manzelli both started at least 45 games last season. Wiedeman's 48 starts were the second most of any player on the team.
"I think David fought through a lot of those typical plebe issues and all that experience that he gained, plus a little more physicality that he has gained, is going to make him a better player," said Kostacopoulos. "He held his own last year, but we hope to see more improvement. Hopefully, he can build off of last year."
Newcomer Ryan Moody should also see some playing time at the position.
Manzelli started the final eight games of his freshman season at first base and last year made 45 starts at the position. He hit .283 and his 32 RBIs were second on the team. Classmate David Norman, who made the transition from catcher during the fall, will join Manzelli at first base this season. Manzelli, a lefty, and Norman, a righty, provide valuable options at the position.
"Kash has been a starter for over a year now and we need him to continue to improve," said Kostacopoulos. "David is picking up the position pretty quickly. He had a good fall and caught our attention."
At second base, Borosak will team with freshman Drew Hayes. With his time limited due to injury last season, Borosak saw action in just eight games at second base as he hit .310 in 29 at-bats. Hayes is a switch-hitter from Collegeville, Pa., that was a part of two state championship teams at Malvern Prep.
Senior Dylan Wheeler, who has appeared in nearly 140 games through his career, provides a reliable veteran presence at both second base and shortstop and will see time at both positions.
Seniors Chris Campbell and Craig Veech at third base complete the Mids' infield.
"Third base is very competitive," said Kostacopoulos. "Both Craig and Chris are pretty good defensive players and have above-average arms."
Freshman Ryan Turner, who suffered a stress fracture in his leg and missed most of fall ball, is also competing at third base.
Senior Greg Dupell, a key piece of the Mids' infield over the past two seasons, has made the transition to the outfield. The native of Tampa, Fla., has been one of the team's leading offensive producers over the last two seasons.
"Greg has adapted very well to left field," said Kostacopoulos. "It's something he'll have to continue to work on and I think he'll be a lot better outfielder after the first three weeks of the season. He's a pretty fast learner and puts himself in good position."
Junior Brandon Beans will return to right field after battling injuries that limited him to just 19 games in 2012. He drove in 21 runs in 48 games as a freshman and last year hit .307.
"Unfortunately, we haven't had a complete year with Brandon due to injuries," said Kostacopoulos. "He has done some great things in the offseason to modify his body type and hopefully that makes him a little more durable. He's a very good player."
In center field, freshman Robert Currie will look to replace the graduated three-year starter Alex Azor.
"Robert really impressed us this fall. He's one of those guys that can kind of do everything," said Kostacopoulos. "He brings great energy, can play defense and can throw. Almost all plebes are going to struggle offensively as they adjust to college pitching. We really like him based on what we saw in the fall and he improved over that time."
Unlike the infield, which has several upperclassmen, the remainder of the Navy outfield is made up of younger talent with sophomore Jonathan Huggins and freshmen Conner Adamski, Connor Deneen and John LaPoint. The four players will all look to get in the lineup early and contribute.