Baseball: Pitching, middle infield questions remain for young squad

Baseball: Pitching, middle infield questions remain for young squad

After a successful debut in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), the Northeastern baseball team looks to continue its success heading into the 2007 season.

The Huskies (27-23, 19-10 CAA) lost several key members from last year’s squad, including their ace, Adam Ottavino, (4-5, 2.98, 120 strikeouts) who was taken 30th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals in the Major League Baseball draft last June.

Also drafted was the Huskies’ No. 2 starter, Dave Pellegrine (6-5, 3.02), in the 11th round by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, catcher/pitcher Matt Morizio (.312-5-35, 2-2 4.74 8 sv), in the 17th round by the Kansas City Royals and center fielder Chris Emanuele (.313-9-35, 16 stolen bases), taken by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 26th round.

“It’s only natural that we’ll probably come down to earth a little bit based on last year’s first year in the CAA, considering the losses we’ve had,” said manager Neil McPhee. “That does not mean we think that we still won’t have a tournament team, which we think that we will.”

“The adage in baseball is ‘strength up the middle’ and we lost pretty much the whole strength up the middle,” he said of his squad, which also lost the sure-handed double-play combination of second baseman Brian Nutting (.251-6-23) and shortstop Arman Sidhu (.224-3-17), who McPhee called “the best defensive infielder in the time I’ve been here.”

With NU opening regular season play March 3 against Indiana-Purdue, here’s a look at the 2007 Huskies.

Catcher/Designated Hitter

After splitting time last year with Morizio, senior tri-captain Dan Milano (.317-9-27) will look to assume full-time catching duties this season and hold down the no. 5 spot in the lineup. In his junior season, Milano proved an all-around offensive threat, posting a .422 on-base percentage and slugging .559. Milano will also be charged with handling a young pitching staff.

“Dan behind the plate will give us a calming effect with the staff,” McPhee said. “[He fits] the traditional catcher leader’s role, [and] he plays that [role] very well. He has excellent power [as well].”

Junior Caleb Ginsberg (2-5, 1 RBI) will back up Milano and provide solid defense.

Maine transfer sophomore Frank Pesanello will start at DH and bat cleanup and can also play catcher and first base. In just 14 at-bats for the Black Bears, Pesanello slammed two home runs and knocked home seven runs.

Redshirt freshman Anthony DiCesare will also see time at catcher and DH, as well as some duty in the outfield.

“He could play a big role offensively,” McPhee said. “We are trying to find the best spot to put Tony in.”

Infield

Junior tri-captain Josh Porter (.250-4-17) will start at first base and bat anywhere from fourth to sixth depending on the lineup, while looking to build on last year’s numbers.

“[He] really came on strong when he got his opportunity last year,” McPhee said.

Outside of Porter, the rest of the infield is in flux.

“No doubt that is our question mark,” McPhee said of his infield.

For now, junior Mike Lyon (.250-5-17) is the front runner at shortstop and will bat second, while redshirt freshman Brendan Stokes has the edge for the second base job. Sophomore James Donaldson (.186-1-10) made 22 starts at third base last year and is back looking to improve his offensive production.

However, players like freshman Dave Fisher and senior Garrett Chin (0-3) could get a chance to earn playing time as well.

“[Fisher] really played exceptionally well in the preseason,” McPhee said. “We were going to redshirt him but now it looks like he is going to get a chance to fight for a starting position at either shortstop or second base.”

The combination of Donaldson, Stokes, Chin and Fisher will round out the final two spots in the batting order.

Freshman Bryan Roberts’ versatility will be an asset as he comes off the bench to spell the middle infield spots.

Outfield

Sophomore Mike Tamsin (.353-3-34) had a superb rookie campaign, leading the team with a robust .439 on-base percentage, and was named a member of the second team All-CAA and the All-Rookie team. He will start in leftfield and hold down the No. 3 spot in the order.

“[He] had a an All-American year,” McPhee said. “[He is] going to be what our offense revolves around,

no doubt about that.” Redshirt freshman David Gustafson will replace Emanuele in center

and at the top of the order.

Fellow freshman Frank Compagnone will start in right and provide pop

from his sixth spot in the lineup, although a dislocated finger has his status in question for the beginning of the season. He also has the ability to pitch out of the bullpen.

Junior Alex Fox (1-13) will see some time in the outfield as well as the DH spot this year.

Pitching Staff

In addition to the middle infield situation, the pitching staff has

undergone many changes since the end of the 2006 season. The duo of Ottavino and Pellegrine are gone, leaving Northeastern

with two holes to fill at the top of the rotation. Despite the losses, the depth of the pitching staff is better than a year ago.

Looking to fill these holes will be junior Kris Dabrowiecki and sophomore Trevor Smith.

Both have shown they are more than capable of rising to the challenge, as Dabrowiecki started 11 games and posted a 6-2 mark with a 3.76 earned run average last year. Smith (7-4 3.88) appeared in a school-record 23 games, including four starts. He also saw time as the team’s closer, notching three saves. However, he will be slotted in the No. 2 spot in the rotation behind Dabrowiecki.

“The top end of the staff is still a pretty strong top end of the staff,” McPhee said. “[We] were very fortunate to have Trevor come out of the bullpen [last year]. [We] didn’t lose a step when he came in to pick up for a lot of guys. He was throwing 92 [mph] with a hard slider; he did a terrific job at it.

“This year [we] can’t afford to take his talent and make him a closer. At least that’s the thought right now,” he said, leaving the door open for Smith to return to the closer’s role ala Jonathan Papelbon.

The final slot in the rotation is up for grabs, with freshman southpaws Sheldon McDonald and Ryan Quigley among the early favorites.

However, someone could emerge among redshirt freshman Charly Bashara; sophomore Dan Zehr, who is coming off Tommy John surgery; sophomore Jeff Thomson (6.17), sophomore Aaron Greenblatt ( 1.42), junior Bobby Carrington (0-4 8.35) or junior Mitch Duggins (1-1 2.96)

Senior tri-captain Tristan Besse (1-0 6.23) is a “crafty lefty” and will be used situationally out of the bullpen, McPhee said.

Whoever claims the final rotation spot will determine how the bullpen shakes out, but McPhee isn’t looking for just one player to nail the door shut in the ninth.

“In our scheme of things, we don’t have a traditional closer,” he said. “What we have are people who we need to be able to come out of the bullpen and finish games. We can’t rely on one or two.”

NU will begin their season with an exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox and Josh Beckett March 1 at City of Palms Park in Ft. Myers, Fla., and will begin conference play March 9 on the road at William ‘ Mary.

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