Sports, Baseball

Baseball Preview: What to Know About BC in 2019

Last season, almost fittingly, Boston College baseball’s last game against Miami was canceled due to rain with the Eagles holding a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the third. Even Mother Nature didn’t want head coach Mike Gambino’s side to catch a break.

BC finished a dismal 17-32, the lowest win total under Gambino since the 2013 season, and exactly half that of the magical 2016 season that ended in the NCAA Super Regionals. It was a year marked by struggles, with the Eagles hitting just .239 as a team, second-worst in the ACC, while simultaneously posting a 5.19 earned run average that was third to last in the conference. A particularly brutal eight-game losing streak at the beginning of April buried the team, as BC managed a lone conference weekend series win the duration of the year.

This year, though, with a large freshman class and seven returning starters in the infield, the Eagles are poised to put a much different foot forward.

“If it all comes together, this team is going to be really, really good,” Gambino said. “If none of it comes together, we’re going to be .500. How quickly can it come together? Can you do enough early on to make the second half of your year playoff baseball? I think if this team is in playoff baseball, I’d be really confident of that team.

“It’s going to be one of those groups that’s on the bubble, in the mix during the year.”

As BC prepares to take on Jackson State in a three-game series to open the 2019 season, read up on how the roster has changed, which of the incoming recruits will be seen the most, and which reliable returners are looking to shake off the rough stretches of 2018.

Roster Transition

Departures: 1B Mitch Bigras, SS Jake Palomaki, OF Scott Braren, INF Anthony Maselli, RHP Brian Rapp, RHP Jacob Stevens

Several notable names departed, with Palomaki arguably the biggest hit. The 18th round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays finished up his prolific career on the Heights as the program’s all-time leader in times reached base (377), second in steals (60), and third in runs (153). He had a strong summer in Rookie ball with the Princeton Rays, slashing .257/.362/.359 in 45 games.

Two-thirds of Gambino’s weekend rotation is gone, after Rapp graduated and Stevens left for the pros a year early. Rapp, a righthander, ended 2018 with the rookie-level Elizabethton Twins after Minnesota took him in the 26th round. He had a similarly strong showing in his pro debut, starting six games and registering a 3.52 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 38 and a third innings pitched. Stevens, the more well-regarded of the two, went five rounds earlier to the Arizona Diamondbacks. A shift to the bullpen has followed for the 6-foot-3 righthander, who made 16 appearances with the rookie-level Missoula Osprey after leaving the Eagles and piled up 40 strikeouts while holding opponents to a .228 batting average.

Aside from the players that moved on to the minor leagues, BC lost some players that had meaningful time on the diamond last season. Still, the trio of Braren, Maselli, and Bigras finished as the bottom three qualified hitters on the team in average, and only one of them cracked 80 at bats on the year.

Freshman: 2B Cody Morrissette, UT Sal Frelick, C Peter Burns, 1B Ramon Jimenez, UT Lucas Stalman, RHP Emmet Sheehan, RHP Samrath Singh, LHP Ryan Smith, RHP Joe Mancini, RHP Travis Lane, RHP Mason Pelio

The incoming class for Gambino is a strong one, with several players expected to immediately contribute. Morrissette won the starting second baseman job out of the gate, while Frelick—albeit limited by injury—is expected to work his way back and compete. From the same Massachusetts town as alum Chris Shaw, Frelick is an explosive athlete who clocked a 6.6-second 60-yard dash, faster than that of reigning All-ACC selection and teammate Chris Galland. Stalman can play practically anywhere on the field, whether it’s behind the plate, at third base, or in the outfield. Jimenez is in the mix at first base, while Burns is expected to catch one to two games a week for the Eagles.

There’s a plethora of standout arms in the class, too—Gambino described the bunch as a group that is “really going to jump out”. The obvious first name is Pelio, who Perfect Game identified as the No. 75 righthanded pitcher in the country in his class. Up to 93 miles per hour in high school, Pelio is a hard-throwing starter who is expected to help alleviate the loss of a chunk of innings in Rapp and Stevens. He’s joined by Travis Lane, the younger brother of teammate Thomas Lane, who throws similarly hard, while Mancini has good touch and feel with the ball. Sheehan hit 94 miles per hour this fall and has “big stuff,” per Gambino, and Smith has strong offspeed. All in all, for a pitching staff that needed a boost, they seemed to have gotten it with an exciting mix of freshman talent.

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

Note: For the sake of brevity, not all names of players that could see time will be included here. Freshman pitchers discussed above are not included in the bullpen section.

Lineup: C Gian Martellini, 1B Jack Cunningham, 2B Cody Morrisette, SS Brian Dempsey, 3B Jake Alu, LF Chris Galland, CF Dante Baldelli, RF Joe Suozzi

Look around the diamond, and there’s a lot of depth for Gambino to work with. Martellini took a step back last season, hitting just .230 and seeing his slugging percentage slide by 100 points. Still, the senior catcher is expected to right the ship and anchor the middle of the lineup, as he has 42 extra base hits over the past three years and is a dangerous hitter nonetheless.

The infield features plenty of experience—Morrisette, who will likely split time with Frelick, is the only true newcomer. Cunningham led the team in RBIs last season, Dempsey had the best batting average (.319), and Alu, a lockdown defensive third baseman, hit just .216 but is looking to bounce back to the .331 mark he reached as a sophomore.

The outfield is defined by speed, and plenty of it. Galland, an All-ACC Third Team selection, stole 28 bases in 2018 and slashed an impressive .316/.398/.403 in his first year. Baldelli saw a 150-point jump in his batting average and will look to replicate that feat—his speed on the basepaths was similarly impressive with 19 stolen bases. Suozzi, meanwhile, played half the Eagles’ games in 2018 and hit a respectable .250.

Rotation: LHP Dan Metzdorf, RHP Matt Gill, LHP Zach Stromberg, RHP Mason Pelio

Metzdorf was a late-round flier of the New York Yankees but opted to return for his senior year, and BC will benefit mightily from it. While his 1-8 record and 5.74 ERA over 13 starts reflect struggles, Metzdorf has shown flashes of pure dominance—he shut out Notre Dame over eight innings and struck out 13 over eight innings against Virginia Tech as well.

Gill went back and forth from being a midweek starter and bullpen arm last season with decent results. He very much pitches to contact, managing just 15 strikeouts and 15 walks in 40 innings of work. Stromberg will start this weekend against Jackson State but will be a flexible fourth arm, seeing as Pelio will fill that third spot in the coming weeks.

Bullpen: RHP Thomas Lane, RHP Sean Hughes, RHP John Witkowski, LHP Carmen Giampetruzzi, LHP Joey Walsh, LHP Will Hesslink

Some of the aforementioned freshmen will get plenty of run out of the BC bullpen, but the group is as experienced as they come—the Eagles returned 135 of 146 relief appearances from last season and gained Giampetruzzi back after an injury sidelined him in 2018.

Lane is a hard-throwing arm that will be tasked with closing games out—Gambino’s faith in the senior was evident by the team-high 30 appearances he made last season. Hughes piled up 21 strikeouts in 16 and two-thirds innings, while Witkowski was a closer for a bit last season but will have to shake off some late struggles to return to that regarded of a role.

Younger but experienced arms include Walsh and Hesslink. The former made 18 appearances, and while hitters boasted a .310 batting average against him, he still was able to work out of trouble for the most part. Hesslink, meanwhile, made just nine appearances in his debut season, but flashed potential with 12 strikeouts in 11 and two-thirds innings pitched while holding opponents to a .225 batting average.

Featured Image by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor

February 15, 2019