Feb. 16, 2012
Head Coach Mike Gambino and the Boston College baseball team understand the challenges of playing in arguably the best conference in the country, but that does not diminish what their goal is each and every season.
"Our goal is to get to the postseason," Gambino said. "From the fall and into the spring, we preach that we need to be a team that is playing its best heading down the stretch. That is something that we talk about and focus on all of the time; getting to the postseason and making a run to Omaha once we get there."
The Eagles will have to do that without some of their key components from last season. Veteran leader Garret Smith, who played a multitude of roles for BC, graduated and was drafted. Brad Zapenas, a three-year starter at shortstop, left early after being drafted by the Chicago Cubs. John Leonard was the Eagles' most reliable starting pitcher. Mike Dennhardt, despite being lost last year to Tommy John surgery, would have been a weekend starter but he also took his chance to go pro. Matt Hamlet was a four-year starter at second base.
"Losing Smith is tough with the versatility and leadership he gave us," Gambino said. "Leonard was so consistent and you always knew what you were going to get out of him. Zapenas leaving early after being drafted was a huge loss for us at shortstop."
Every team in the country has to fill those holes every year and BC is no different. With a combination of proven players and an injection of new talent, the Eagles will look to make a bid to get back to postseason play.
The starting pitching might be the place where Boston College has the most question marks. The only definite to be a weekend ACC starter is sophomore Eric Stevens
, who appeared in a team-leading 27 games last year as a freshman. He went 2-1 with a 4.38 ERA in 49.1 innings of work, which also was the most on the squad.
"Stevens is a legitimate ACC pitcher with a dominant fastball; not with velocity but with life," Gambino said. "Those other spots are up in the air."
The Eagles' most reliable returning hurler is senior Kyle Prohovich, but Gambino would like to use him out of the bullpen. Senior Nate Bayuk has been both a starter and a lefty specialist out of the bullpen and is in the mix for a starting role.
Senior Andrew Lawrence was forced into action last year and started 12 games, appearing in 20. He usually pitched just one inning per start as Gambino used a bullpen by committee in two of the three weekend games. He has valuable experience pitching in the ACC as he ended the season 2-3 with 4.26 ERA.
Junior Hunter Gordon and sophomore Matt Alvarez are a couple of more options for the weekend. Gordon has primarily come out of the bullpen, as he made 26 appearances last year with a 4.09 ERA. Alvarez threw 23 times with three starts.
If senior Matt Brazis can get back to the form he had in 2010 when he was a go-to guy of the bullpen, he could play a huge role for the Eagles.
"Alvarez has impressive stuff and could play a huge role," Gambino said. "I could see him closing or being our Sunday starter. Bayuk is coming off a little elbow trouble but has looked good. Brazis is a wild card for us and could really change everything."
Junior Taylor Lasko is a proven arm who has started games in the past, but he underwent Tommy John surgery late in 2010 and is still on the road to recovery.
Gambino brought in local product Andrew Chin, who would have been an immediate impact on the weekends, but he will sit out the year to recover from Tommy John. Chin, who hails from Newton, was drafted by Toronto in the fifth round.
BC returns its best reliever in Prohovich, but as stated above, Gambino would only use him in the pen in an ideal situation. He made 24 appearances last season and went 3-1 with a 3.46 ERA in 39.0 innings of work. He struck out 34 batters and walked 16.
"We trust Prohovich so much out of the bullpen and we love having him in there," Gambino said. "He is the guy I want to go to. But if you can't get to him, you can't get to him. He might have to be a swing guy."
With Stevens being the only solidified starter, BC could use a variety of pitchers out of the bullpen. Bayuk has been the go-to guy to retire a left-hander if the situation arose and Gordon has come out of the pen his entire career.
Brazis served as the closer in 2010 and racked up nine saves.
The Eagles return junior Jay Jeannotte, who will be a factor in the back end of games after coming off shoulder surgery. Sophomore Steve Green made 13 appearances last year as a freshman and will see more time if his consistency improves.
Freshmen John Gorman, Eric Stone and Tyler Hinchliffe will get their time on the mound this year, as will Michael West and Nick Poore.
The Eagles have two viable options to go behind the plate and they are junior Matt Paré and sophomore Nate LaPointe. Paré was one of two starters at catcher last year before a knee injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. He made 27 starts. LaPointe appeared in 20 games with 12 starts and batted .282.
"We have a really good battle between Paré and LaPointe," Gambino said. "It will be back and forth with those guys early because both have some experience behind the plate. LaPointe's raw power and hard work has turned him into a good option. Paré is going to hit and everyone knows that. He is also a solid defensive player."
Freshman Geoffrey Murphy is the third option for Gambino behind the plate, but could make a bigger impact out of the bullpen in his first season with the Eagles.
The field position that is most up in the air entering the season is at first. Senior Spenser Payne might see the most time at the position after appearing in 31 games last year with eight starts. He batted .242 in 33 at-bats.
Junior Rob Moir is also a player who could see a lot of time at first base. He played in 21 games in 2011 with three starts and is undoubtedly one of the leaders on this year's team.
Prohovich has spent time at first base in the past and Gambino can also use Gorman, Hinchliffe and freshman Travis Ferrick at the position.
Freshman Blake Butera looks to be the starter at second base to replace Hamlet, who was a four-year starter at the position. Butera is the brother of Barry, who played for BC from 2007-09 before leaving to go pro. He led BC to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 42 years in 2009.
"Blake is a solid baseball player," Gambino said. "He has really good hands and an arm for shortstop. He is a natural shortstop who has made the adjustment and gotten much better on his turns."
Sophomore John Hennesy is another option to play at second, but he seems to be the frontrunner to start at third. Ferrick will fight for time at all of the infield spots while freshman Nick Colucci recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Gambino knows what he has at shortstop and he is excited for the type of year that senior Anthony Melchionda could have.
Melchionda has started at third base the last two seasons but is making the move to his left to become the anchor of the defense. Last season, he batted .304 with 17 doubles, three triples and 34 RBIs.
"I think Melchionda is our best player across the board," Gambino said. "He has way more range than you would think and he is just a really good baseball player. Anything you would want your shortstop to get to, he gets to. He is so consistent over there and so accurate with his throws."
As a career .319 hitter in the brutal ACC and with 110 starts under his belt, Gambino knows Melchionda can use his experience to have a massive final season.
"I think he is going to be a sleeper for ACC Player of the Year," Gambino said. "That's how good he is going to be."
Hennessy is the likely pick to start at third base this season. He earned some time in the infield a year ago with 13 appearances and five starts.
"Hennessy has worked so hard and is right in the mix at third and second," Gambino said. "He has gotten a lot better defensively and the bat is coming along. He is settling in at third as he gains more experience over there."
Payne has also spent some time at third base and will see action over there. Newcomers Gorman and Ferrick are a couple of more options for Gambino at the hot corner.
The outfield is where the Eagles return the most experience and will serve as a strength for the 2012 Eagle team.
Lawrence will serve as the starting left fielder if he isn't taking the mound to begin the game. He is one of the most seasoned veterans on the team with 96 starts. He is a career .291 hitter with 11 homers and 58 RBIs.
Sophomore Tom Bourdon returns as the starting center fielder after being a key component for the Eagles last year. He batted .289 and led the team with six steals.
Junior Matt McGovern was held out of the lineup early last season with an injury but emerged as one of the best bats on the team. He led BC with a .371 average and three triples. He is the likely option at right field, but he and Bourdon could switch spots at different times.
"Those are three really good left-handed hitters," Gambino said. "Lawrence is coming into his own offensively and is going to hit for some power this year. He should give us some protection around Melchionda."
Senior Marc Perdios is a solid option when a right-handed batter is needed in the lineup, especially if Lawrence is on the mound. He started 38 games in 2011 and batted .267. Moir is another experienced outfielder that would have no problem stepping in. Junior Koury Hajjar and sophomore Jimmy Dowdell could be in the mix as well.