2016 Season Preview: Part II - Offensive Players
Similar to the experience and depth that the Mids’ pitching staff brings back in 2016, the team’s offense returns eight starters and plenty of promise from a large group of improving underclassmen. Led by 2015 Patriot League Player of the Year senior OF Sean Trent, Navy comes back with all three of its Patriot League All-League players and over 80 percent of its cumulative hits, runs scored, extra-base hits and runs batted in from last season.
All-Patriot League First Team honoree junior Adrian Chinnery highlights Navy’s catching corps in 2016. A dynamic two-way threat, Chinnery broke through last season with a .314 batting average, 11 extra-base hits and 27 RBIs, in addition to a 39.5 percent (15-38) caught stealing put out rate from behind the plate. His batting average ranked seventh overall in the league, while his total steal attempts and successful steals against was fewest amongst starting catchers in the Patriot League.
“Adrian played at such a high-level for us last year,” remarked head coach Paul Kostacopoulos. “The way he controls our opponent’s running game is a tremendous asset. In addition to his offense and defense, he brings such great energy to the game and his teammates. He’s the ‘juice’ of this team.”
Junior Nick Paglialonga is in line for a larger for the Mids in 2016 after sitting behind Chinnery and then-senior Jack Keller last season. In limited duty, he appeared in three games, with two pinch-hitting assignments and one defensive replacement call coming his way as a sophomore. The strong-armed backstop was able to flash his arm in a mid-week performance on the mound at Delaware State in a relief-pitching role on April 15.
“Nick has improved a great deal since joining the program in the fall of 2013,” said Kostacopoulos. “We’d like to see him get some early season regular reps to solidify our depth behind the plate. Chinnery made 50-plus starts last season with the majority coming as a catcher so hopefully we can give him a bit more rest this year, especially early on.”
Freshman Christian Hodge will begin the season as number three for Navy on its catching depth chart. The first-year collegiate backstop comes in with some extra seasoning as he played at the Naval Academy Prep School in 2015 and earned the MVP award for the baseball team. Prior to NAPS, he lettered for four years at Winder-Barrow High School in Georgia.
“Christian is a young catcher, who will add to our depth and learn the college game as he goes along this season,” said Kostacopoulos.
Navy returns three of its four starting infielders from 2015 in sophomore 1B Ben McGrath, SS Travis Blue and 3B Logan Knowles, though a familiar face may press his way into the lineup as junior Leland Saile is adding to his versatility with regular reps at first base. With a strong fall and preseason freshman 2B Matthew Wilcox has earned the nod as the team’s starting second baseman.
A three-year starter, Blue is the veteran of the infield as he has taken the role of first-string shortstop since Opening Day 2014 and hasn’t looked back. The California native has now started 108 straight games with a cumulative stat line of 70 runs scored, 41 RBIs and 18 stolen bases over that span. Last season, Blue drew a league-high 41 walks and scored the second-most runs with 43.
“Travis is back for his third year as our starting shortstop so there is a lot of comfort there,” remarked Kostacopoulos. “He’s a sure-handed glove man, that does a lot of little things right at the plate, on the bases and on defense.”
Knowles rounds out the left side of the infield as the sophomore third baseman will earn his first Opening Day starting assignment on Friday, Feb. 19 at North Carolina A&T. After coming off the bench six times early in non-conference play, Knowles took over the starting third base role on March 21 and didn’t miss a game during the second half of the season. He eventually ended up with 37 total starts as a freshman on the hot corner. A strong-armed defender with solid glove skills, Knowles only made three errors over 20 conference games in 2015. Offensively, he finished his season with 13 runs scored, 12 RBIs and three stolen bases. Often times, Knowles was called on to lay down pressure-filled bunts as he gave himself up on nine sacrifice bunts to rank second in the Patriot League.
“Logan returns as our starter at third base after earning that role in the second half of the season,” said Kostacopoulos. “He is continuing to improve on both sides of the ball so we look forward to his strong play on defense once again with the potential for added offensive output.”
On the right side of the diamond, McGrath is the incumbent at first base, though Saile has been pressuring the sophomore with fall and preseason reps. McGrath was in and out of the starting lineup early in the 2015 season before finally taking over the job on a full-time basis beginning on April 1. Once comfortable in the lineup, his level of play picked up down the stretch and culminated with a spot on the Patriot League All-Tournament team courtesy of a final line of .360 (9-25), three runs scored, nine RBIs and three doubles over a six-game span.
With all three outfielders and regular DH/fourth outfielder Stephen Born all back and healthy for 2016, Saile has taken up the first base craft to improve his chances of breaking back into the starting lineup on a regular basis. After dealing with some early season ailments last spring, Saile, a recruited outfielder, caught fire near the end of the season with a .429 (9-21) batting average, three doubles, two home runs and 10 RBIs in seven games versus Army West Point, Georgetown and Lafayette. A solid source of extra-base hits, Saile notched eight doubles, two triples and two home runs for a .398 slugging percentage as a sophomore.
“Ben and Leland go into the season in an open competition for the first base job,” said Kostacopoulos. “They have both been starters in the past and they will need to earn the starting spot at first this year. Both have shown glimpses of the talent they possess. The one who shows it the most and in the most consistent manner will ultimately win the job. Leland’s flexibility as an option in the outfielder is another valuable piece to our team.”
Wilcox completes the infield as the freshman is charged with replacing 2015 graduate Brad Borosak at second base. A three-year varsity letterwinner at Los Gatos High School in California, Wilcox was selected to spots on the All-De Anza League First Team in 2014 & 2015 and All-San Jose Mercury honorable mention teams in 2014 and 2015. A consistent winner, he helped Los Gatos to a 30-6 record and the SCVAL De Anza League title during his senior year in 2015.
“Matt is a player who came in from the first day and played hard,” exclaimed Kostacopoulos. “He’s a talented player, who flashed his potential throughout the offseason and rightfully won the job with his effort and skills.”
Kostacopoulos envisions sophomore Hayden Spalding as the team’s go-to utility player on the infield in 2016. In limited time at third base and in pinch-hitting duties off the bench as a freshman, the Virginia native had seven total at bats with his first career RBI coming on a sacrifice fly against Coppin State on Feb. 25.
“Hayden will fill the important and valuable role of infield utility man for us this season,” said Kostacopoulos. “He has the ability to come of the bench and play second, short or third for us. Having that type of versatility from just one player is a huge asset to our team and overall makeup of the roster.”
The talented senior trio of LF Sean Trent, CF Robert Currie and RF Connor Deneen returns for one final season of donning the Blue and Gold in 2016. With the addition of sophomore DH/OF Stephen Born factored in Kostacopoulos proclaims Navy’s talent and depth in the outfield “the strongest unit on the 2016 team.”
Currie will be back to his familiar spot in center field for the fourth consecutive Opening Day. A two-time All-Patriot League honoree, Currie once again found himself amongst the league’s best players in 2015 with top-10 statistical totals of triples (7), hits (71), stolen bases (16), batting average (.324), RBIs (34) and runs scored (37).
After starting 2015 in the infield as Navy’s third baseman, Trent moved to out to left field midway through non-conference play and started the final 38 games there. Offensively, he was a dynamic factor in the heart of the Mids’ batting order from day one and recorded to one of the best single-season outputs in the NCAA in 2015. A third-team All-American and Patriot League Player of the Year, Trent finished the year ranked third in the NCAA Division I with 94 base hits and fifth with a .407 batting average. He also was top-10 in the Patriot League in doubles (18), RBIs (42), on-base percentage (.446), slugging percentage (.524) and runs scored (35).
The final returner in the outfield is Deneen, who will be tasked with holding down the right field position. After battling injuries and platoon situations over his first two seasons with Navy, the California native broke through in 2015 with career-highs across the board. Appearing in 51 games with 48 starts, he recorded a .278 batting average with eight triples, seven doubles and 35 runs scored. His triple total was the third highest in NCAA DI last season.
Born completes the quartet as the sophomore left-handed batter is coming off of a successful debut season, that was unfortunately hampered with an injury during conference action in late April. After starting the year as one of the team’s top options off the bench during non-conference play, he began earning regular time in the starting lineup in April. The highlight of his first collegiate campaign was the selection of Patriot League Rookie of the Week on April 20 after hitting .579 (11-19) with eight RBIs, two doubles and a home run during a five-game stretch against Delaware State and Lehigh. He finished the year with a .398 batting average, 16 runs scored eight extra-base hits and 14 RBIs over 83 at bats.
“All four players performed at All-League levels last spring and the fact that we return all four of them is of huge value to this team,” said Kostacopoulos. “Robert has been a four-year starter and really anchors the outfield defensively, as well as our lineup as the leadoff man. Sean is an extremely talented hitter that has great mechanics that keeps him from slumping at plate and always a threat. Connor has underrated speed that doesn’t necessarily show up in stolen bases, but if he powers a ball to the gap, he’s a threat on the base paths. Stephen is the fourth player in the outfield unit and he’s shown great promise in his first year-plus here. It was unfortunate that he sustained an injury in conference play last year because he was really putting it together at the plate beforehand.”
Three freshmen outfielders that the team envisions having important roles as backups or in pinch-hitting situations are Liam Lowery, Andrew Lowry and Scott Koscho. Lowery joins the Midshipmen after completing his high school career at Jamestown High School in Virginia with honors on Perfect Games’ All-Atlantic Region Second Team. During the 2014-15 school year he prepped at NAPS.
Lowry crossed the country to Maryland like many of his fellow freshmen, as he is a native of El Cajon, California. The right-handed hitting outfielder earned accolades on the 2015 All-Grossmont League and All-East County First Teams as a senior at Granite Hills High School.
Koscho is a versatile athlete who has both caught behind the plate, as well as earned reps as an outfielder prior to joining the Mids. A Pennsylvania native, he was recognized on the WPIAL Class AAAA All-Section II First Team in 2015 for his play at Penn Trafford High School.
“These three freshmen will play important roles in our offensive depth,” remarked Kostacopoulos. “Liam has an extra year of experience and skill work after playing at NAPS last year so he should be in line for a solid amount of playing time early on from what he’s shown us so far. Andrew has also shown us some solid play through the offseason to put himself into consideration for backup duties. Scott is someone, who we immediately foresee getting regular pinch-hitting calls. He has proven himself as a capable hitter and continues to improve.”
“The one thing that our team has this year offensively is depth and flexibility,” said Kostacopoulos. “In the past, we didn’t have a ton of options to sit players when they were slumping or play lefty-righty matchups in pinch-hitting situations, but with this roster we shouldn’t have that problem as much. Players with the ability to play multiple positions, as well as a good mixture of righty and lefty batters should result in favorable outcomes. With a lengthened roster, we should constantly see our players looking to better themselves and keep the level of competition high in games, as well as in practices.”