Saturday, February 9, 2013

2013 Preview: Beltway Baseball Preview

We’re taking a break from the Dirtbags coverage for today to take a look at a few schools based nearly 3,000 miles from Blair Field.

Though the bulk of content on this blog is going to be geared toward west coast baseball, for the time being Dirtbag Blues is headquartered out in our nation’s capital (i.e. I live in Washington, DC), so it only seems fair I also take a peak at the programs I’ll actually get to physically watch this season. Here’s a brief look at the DC-based schools.

Catholic University Cardinals (Division III)
The CUA Cardinals enter the season after a slightly disappointing 2012. Though the Cardinals remained competitive as always, they ultimately finished third in the Landmark Conference after they’d tied for first in the pre-season poll. Furthermore, they made a quick exit from the conference championship after having won three of the previous four tournaments. Though they lost a good chunk of their 2012 team that finished 24-17, the Cardinals return a solid group and should remain one of the Landmark Conference’s top teams.

The strength of the Cardinals should lie in their infield, which includes sophomores 1B Colin McCarthy (.410/.467/.620 and all-conference 1st team in 2012), SS Dan Hinchcliff, and junior 3B Marc Hanna (.394 OBP and all-conference 1st team). Additionally, highly rated freshman Andrew Stewart should fight for playing time in the middle infield. The pitching side should also be solid, as CUA retains five of their top seven innings loggers from the ’12 squad, including first team all-conference pick RHP Andrew Carroll (3.66 ERA in a team-high 59 innings).

Though CUA has only qualified for the regionals once since the 1970s, respected coach Ross Natoli, who has headed the program for nearly three decades, could be on the verge of building a Landmark Conference dynasty if his young roster can come away with another tourney title in 2013.

Gallaudet Bison (Division III)
Gallaudet enters the year on the heels of one of its best seasons in school history, going 25-17 and 10-4 in conference in 2012. Reigning conference coach of the year, Curtis Pride, will lead a Bison team that retains many of its key pieces from last season, including easily the league’s top player, outfielder Billy Bissell.

Bissell posted a 1.146 OPS last year, with 16 steals, and posses a rifle for an arm. He enters his junior season having already won two conference player of the year awards and is a pre-season All-American honorable mention.

Three all-conference players, catcher Casey Hicks (.393/.481/.523), shortstop Tommy Barksdale (.461 OBP, 17 doubles), and RHP Marcus Smith (4.16 ERA in 67 innings), are also back, along with GU’s second best arm (after Smith), RHP Brandon Holsworth (4.78 ERA in 64 innings).

The Bison failed to grab a pre-season ranking from either D3Baseball or Collegiate Baseball, but for the first time they’ll enter the season with a realistic chance at taking the NEAC title, and potentially a bid to the regionals.

Georgetown Hoyas
A typical bottom feeder in the Big East, the Hoyas look poised for another tough season in 2013. Though G’town returns most of its lineup they will have to replace two of their top hitters from last season, Mike Garza (8 homers, .616 slugging) and Rand Ravnaas (.400 OBP, 14 steals). The 2013 offense will be lead by the speed of outfielder Justin Leeson (.419 OBP, 18 steals) and several seniors, including DH Corbin Bernsen Blakey (.835 OPS).

On the pitching side, the Hoyas lost their most reliable starter from last year in Will Harris (2.85 ERA in 75.2 innings). Nine different pitchers who made starts last season are back, but of that group only Neal Dennison (6.19 ERA in 64 innings) started more than nine games. However, G’town does return multiple senior relievers, lead by Charles Steinman (3.05 ERA in 44.1 innings), and balancing out those senior arms will be freshman right-handers Matt Smith and Tim Davis, and southpaw Gino Basso.

Making an improbable run in the Big East tournament will likely be Georgetown’s only chance at making a regional this year, so building a reliable starting rotation that’s capable of carrying the Hoyas that far will be key.

George Washington Colonials
As if finishing in last in the Atlantic 10, as the Colonials did last year, didn't sound bad enough, GW's conference has now brought Virginia Commonwealth and Butler into the fold, meaning it's now possible that the Colonials will be bringing up the rear in the nation's largest conference in 2013. The A"10" now boast a staggering 15 teams (and still no divisions), yet for the Colonials it would be a successful season if they could manage to sneak inside the top ten. 

The good news is GW's rebuilding process has gotten off to an excellent start. They've brought in a former major league coach, Gregg Ritchie, to lead the program and have literally rebuilt part of their home ballpark, Barcroft Field, making extensive renovations in preparation for the 2013 season.

On the field, GW will have to replace several starters from last year's squad though their top hitter, Owen Beightol (.309/.349/.459) is back. Virtually every significant piece of the 2012 pitching staff is back, as each of the team's top seven innings-loggers return. The rotation will be lead by big junior Aaron Weisberg (3.56 ERA, stands at 6'7", 250 lbs.) with senior closer Kenny O'Brien (2.76 ERA, 6 saves) anchoring the bullpen. On top of that the Colonials bring in a strong corps of freshman arms, including righties Danny O’Donnell, Rob Costello and Bobby LeWarne.

It could be a long 2013 for the Colonials, but a more competitive GW baseball program could arise within the next couple years. Of course, by then they'll probably have to compete with 30 or so teams for the Atlantic 10 title.

Maryland Terrapins
I’ll probably see the Terps in action more than any other team this year, so I may have some periodic updates on them throughout the season both here and on twitter, but being an ACC team there’s already plenty to be found on Maryland at places like Baseball America, College Baseball Today, and Perfect Game (they also have some nice content on the UM website). Here’s a nutshell preview anyway…

It’s going to be an interesting transitional year for Maryland. After starting the 2012 season strong the Terps faded in ACC play, dropping their final four series. The UM rebuilding efforts were then badly derailed by the departure of Head Coach Erik Bakich for the University of Michigan.

There’s some good news for Maryland, however, which brought in a solid new coach in John Szefc (totally called it!) and retained its drafted southpaw Jimmy Reed (2.70 ERA in 60 innings) who should anchor the 2013 rotation. The rest of the pitching staff is fairly inexperienced, however a good crop of freshmen joins the fray including draftees RHP Jared Price and LHP Jake Drossner.

The lineup will be much more experienced although replacing four-year starter and team leader, SS Alfredo Rodriguez, will be tough. Leading the ’13 Terps will be the supremely talented outfielder Jordan Hagel (.403 OBP, 20 doubles, 15 steals), powerful corner infielder KJ Hockaday (.305/.367/.404), and senior utility man Tomo Delp (.379 OBP, had 25-game reached-base streak in ’12), whom I bring up mainly because of this awesome bat-twirl he does before every pitch (I’ll do my best to get a video of it this season).

A long overdue regional bid isn’t out of the question for Maryland, but for now the Terps should be more focused on simply getting into the ACC tourney and padding their resume.

Up Next: I do my part to add to College Baseball’s dangerously low amount of rankings; it’s the very first “Best of the Rest in the West” top ten!