Hanson, Piwinski lead Yale's Return to the Diamond Saturday
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Spring is in the air and with it comes a new season full of hope for the Yale University baseball team.
Yale kicks off the 2013 season with a three-game series against Army on Saturday in Tampa, Fla., with the season finale being played at the spring training complex of the New York Yankees Sunday afternoon.
After the three-game set with Army, Yale will remain in Florida for the RussMatt Invitational in Winter Haven with games against Bucknell, Valparaiso, North Dakota State, Long Island and Navy.
The return home will first see stops at Virginia for a pair of games and a doubleheader at Holy Cross. Yale will then host Opening Day at Historic Yale Field on March 24 with another doubleheader against the Crusaders. Another highlight on the 2013 schedule is the game against Michigan at Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets, on March 26.
Yale is looking to rebound from a difficult 2012 season that ended with a 13-31-1 final record. But as tough as the season was last spring, there are a few areas from last season that even a slight change could have produced much different results for the Bulldogs.
Yale was 8-10 at home but 5-21-1 in games away from Yale Field, but the key to last season was the team's play in close games. Of the 31 losses in 2012, 11 losses came in one-run games and a total of 17 losses came by two runs or less. Finding ways to score in the late innings could also go a long way to turning things around for the Bulldogs in 2013. Last year, Yale was outscored 68-34 in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
"As a coaching staff, we had to do some serious evaluation," said Yale head coach John Stuper. "We lost 11 one-run games and 17 games by two runs or less. I don't believe those games are lost in the eighth and ninth innings, but rather early in games when you don't get a bunt down, don't turn a routine double play, miss a cutoff man and give the other team a free 90 feet, or don't get a runner in from third with less than two outs. We have worked extremely hard on fundamentals this spring to be better at all of those things."
So as they prepare to return to the diamond this week, the Bulldogs are focused on the little things that will make them better as a team. As those parts fall into place, they are confident that the wins will start to pile up.
Six players are gone from last year's roster, including five seniors and three players who were drafted in the 2012 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft (Pat Ludwig – Pittsburgh Pirates; Nolan Becker – Cincinnati Reds; Charlie Neil – Detroit Tigers).
However, there is more than enough talent returning this spring, along with the additions of a strong group of freshmen and new players, to carry the Bulldogs to a strong finish.
Leading the way for Yale is junior shortstop Cale Hanson, an All-Ivy League Second Team selection who had a dominant individual season in 2012.
Hanson led the Bulldogs in hitting, posting a .340 batting average, while also posting team-highs in on-base percentage (.412), total hits (55, second in the Ivy League), walks (19), and stolen bases (11) while starting all 45 games (39 at shortstop and six in center field). Hanson also recorded a streak of 34 straight games in which he reached base, the longest such streak in the Ivy League last season. Hanson will anchor the infield at shortstop, but he has also seen time in his last two years in center field and has pitched well in relief. Stuper expects him to pitch more this season.
"In my view, Cale is the best all round player in our league. He is just outstanding defensively at shortstop," Stuper said.
Yale's other anchor in 2013 will be junior pitcher/first baseman Kevin Fortunato, an All-Ivy League Honorable Mention selection who started all 45 games last season and was fourth on the team in batting average (.277). He led the team in RBIs (33), home runs (4), doubles (11) and slugging percentage (.439). His 33 RBIs were fifth among Ivy League leaders this season. Fortunato is expected to provide power to the Yale lineup and he will anchor the bullpen as the team's closing pitcher.
"(Kevin) led us in RBIs last year and we need him to be a run producer in the middle of our lineup," Stuper said. "His stuff on the mound is as good as anyone in our league."
Roster Bolstered by Versatility
Led by Hanson and Fortunato, the Yale roster is full of players that can play multiple positions, pitch, and hit in different positions in the lineup.
Of the 23 players on Yale's roster, 14 of them can play multiple positions and of those 14 players, six of them should see time on the mound as well. Besides Hanson and Fortunato, senior Josh Scharff (DH, OF, P), sophomores Eric Hsieh (P, OF, 1B) and Green Campbell (OF, P), and freshman Chris Moates (P, DH), will pitch and take other positions in the Yale lineup this season.
"Our roster gives us some versatility this year. I can platoon a good mix of left-handed hitters when we face a righty and also a good mix of right-handed hitters when we face a lefty," Stuper said.
After finishing second in the Ivy League in 2012 in putouts (1,093) and double plays (40), the Yale infield promises to be even more reliable this season. The Bulldogs will field four of the five infield positions with returning players.
Hanson will anchor the Yale infield at shortstop, while senior captain Chris Piwinski will return to his familiar spot behind the plate after serving as the team's third baseman last year. Piwinski was the Bulldogs' backup catcher during his sophomore season. Sophomore David Toups returns to second base after a stellar freshman season in which he finished second on the team in hitting with a .306 batting average. He was also second in hits (45), third in slugging (.374), on-base percentage (.363), total bases (55) and fourth in RBIs (15).
"Toups has looked great swinging the bat this preseason and has improved his athleticism at second," Stuper said. "Chris can be an absolute force on defense and throws as well as any receiver I have had here. He is athletic, blocks well and has a good idea about calling a game. He is an excellent leader."
Fortunato will return to play his primary position at first base with a lot of help from Jacob Hunter, as well as Eric Hsieh, and Robert Baldwin, who all could share some time at first base this season. Fortunato was second in the Ivy League last season in fielding chances (365), putouts (348) and led the league in double plays (35).
"Jake Hunter is going to play first and DH," Stuper said. "He has had injury problems his first two seasons, but is totally healthy now and swinging great. If he stays healthy, he could be one of the best hitters in our league. He hit .300 as a freshman but struggled last year while playing through a torn labrum in his shoulder. I am looking for him to bounce back in a big way."
Freshman Tom O'Neill will begin the season as Yale's starting third baseman, bringing a ton of talent and a great glove to an already solid infield.
"Tom is an outstanding defender who will move to shortstop when Cale Hanson goes to the mound," Stuper said. "His talent at shortstop gives us the ability to put one of our best pitchers on the mound (Hanson) while sacrificing very little defensively."
The outfield will have a slightly different look in 2013 after the graduation of Charlie Neil, a mainstay in the outfield for four seasons. Senior Cam Squires enters 2013 as Yale's most experienced outfielder and he will get help from freshman Brent Lawson, who will start the season as Yale's starting center fielder after an impressive preseason.
If there is a question mark, it is in right field, where Neil was stationed as Yale's starter for four seasons. Sophomore Joe Lubanski, a regular in the lineup in 2012, could fill Neil's place in right field, but there are several players on the roster who could see time in the corner this season, including newcomers Jake Semones and Charles Cook, who join Stuper's squad after showcasing their talents on Yale's football team.
Fortunato, Campbell, Scharff, Hsieh and freshman Nate Adams give Stuper a strong rotation of players who could find time in the outfield in 2013.
Following the departures of leading pitchers Ludwig and Becker to the professional ranks and the transfer of Chris O'Hare, Yale's pitching staff has undergone somewhat of an overhaul leading into this season.
"We are not as deep on the mound as I would like us to be, but I am looking for a few guys to improve over last year to help us in that regard," Stuper said.
Junior lefthander David Hickey is the ace of the staff and will start in the season-opener on Saturday against Army. Junior lefthander Rob Cerfolio enters 2013 as the most experienced starter on the staff. Sophomore Ben Joseph and freshman Chris Lanham, both righthanders, will also begin the season in the starting rotation.
Anchored by Fortunato, who will be the Bulldogs' closer, the Yale bullpen is full of two-way players who will pitch in relief and also play other positions in the field, including Hanson, Campbell, Hsieh, Scharff, and Chris Moates, a freshman who could also move into the starting rotation. Junior Michael Coleman could start or come out of the bullpen, while sophomore Nate O'Leary gives Stuper a lefty reliever who has a live arm with a good breaking ball. If he is consistent this season, he will be a huge asset for Stuper.
Overall, the spring is promising to be a bright one for the Yale baseball team.