Brown Baseball Opens Friday at Georgia Southern
March 1, 2007
The 2007 baseball season will see Brown retooling its approach. After relying on a lineup that featured some of the most prolific sluggers in the program's history over the past few years, this year's version of the Bears will play more of what Head Coach Marek Drabinski calls a "National League-style" game. After posting a 12-8 Ivy League record, good for third place in the competitive Red Rolfe Division, and a 16-24 overall mark, Bruno is poised to build on a solid second half of 2006 and compete for an Ivy title.
Featuring improved speed throughout the batting order and what promises to be a solid defensive lineup, Brown will keep pressure on teams with an emphasis on small ball. However, that does not mean the Bears won't be able to hit. They return three First Team All-Ivy players in senior second baseman Bryan Tews, senior catcher Devin Thomas, and junior first baseman Jeff Dietz, as well as center fielder Steve Daniels, the Co-Ivy League Rookie of the Year.
Meanwhile, the pitching staff will attempt to build on a solid Ivy League season, in which Brown led the league in ERA during conference play. The Bears return Second Team All-Ivy pitcher Tews, as well as former Second Teamers Dietz and senior James Cramphin. Senior tri-captain Ethan Silverstein will also be a factor in the conference rotation, while junior closer Rob Hallberg will again be called upon to close the door on opponents late in games.
Dietz and tri-captain Tews make up the strongest right side in the Ivy League, at first and second base, respectively. Tews led the Ivy League with a .390 average last season, finishing 44th in the country and at one point boasting a 13-game hit streak. His .438 on-base percentage also tied for the team lead. While he only has two steals for his career, he'll run more this season hitting near the top of the lineup, as the Bears revamp their style of play.
Dietz was fifth in the Ivy League with a .364 average, earning First Team All-Ivy honors as a utility hitter after starting a handful of games at third base. Finishing second on the team with 33 RBIs last season, Dietz will be a mainstay in the middle of the order.
On the left side, a pair of sophomores will be counted on to improve in their sophomore seasons. Shortstop Robert Papenhause has shown marked improvement in the fall and in spring practice after experiencing some growing pains in the field in 2006. Starting 32 games as a freshman, he hit .255. However, Drabinski said Papenhause's performance this season "will be like night and day" compared to 2006, as hard work in the offseason has improved his strength and quickness.
Sophomore Matt Nuzzo returns to the hot corner, where he started 26 games in his freshman campaign. A pair of slumps brought his season average down to .224, but Nuzzo showed flashes of his raw talent during the middle of the season. His power could put him as high as fifth in the order on some days.
With two key pitchers in the infield, the backups will see plenty of innings. Sophomore Brad Rifkin, who saw time in just five games last year due to injury, will man first base when Dietz is on the mound. A 45th-round draft pick by his hometown Baltimore Orioles out of high school, he will also compete for time at designated hitter.
At second base, junior Brian Kelaher and junior J.J. Eno will compete for time behind Tews. Kelaher will get innings at many positions in 2007, as he will be a back-up catcher and see time in left field when the Bears face southpaws. He hit .294 in limited action last season, and had an impressive fall campaign. Eno also will see time in left field, and could get a fair share of the starts at designated hitter. A walk-on as a sophomore, Eno earned seven starts last season.
Senior tri-captain Thomas earned All-Ivy honors for the third time last season, being named to the First Team for the first time. Thomas is tireless behind the dish, having started 120 games in three years, including nearly all of the games at catcher the last two seasons. Drabinski says he is definitely the best catcher in the Ivy League, and is certainly among the best in the Northeast.
Thomas hit .324 last season with five home runs and 29 RBIs, posting the third-best on-base percentage (.426), slugging percentage (.551), and OPS (.977) on the team. He also possesses above-average speed for a backstop, stealing seven bases on eight attempts each of the past three seasons and leading the team with two triples in 2006. He'll hit in the middle of the Bear line-up.
Backing him up will be freshman Joe Mellano, who hit .350 with five home runs and 35 RBI as a senior at Fallbrook High School in California.
While several players enter the season competing for time at the two corner outfield positions, center field is well-secured-Daniels will patrol those confines and lead off. He was limited to 19 starts and 68 at-bats in 2006 due to injury, but still managed to steal 10 bases in 11 attempts. The prototypical leadoff hitter, Daniels is always a threat to bunt for a base hit, and will provide exceptional defense up the middle. Freshman Mike Peterson, who batted .440 his senior season and was twice a Puma Preseason All-American at Los Altos (CA) High, will back him up.
Sophomore Dan Shapiro has the edge to start either in right field or at DH after a promising performance in limited time last season. Shapiro hit .302 in 43 at-bats, earning 11 starts. Pushing him for time will be freshmen Nick Puñal and Chris Tanabe. Puñal, a native of Wellington, Florida, hit .507 as a high school senior. Tanabe was a First Team All-State Class 2A in Florida, hitting .470 as a senior.
On the other side of the outfield, junior Ryan Murphy is expected to start against right-handers, with Kelaher seeing most of the time against southpaws and senior Adjatay Nyadjroh competing for time as well. Murphy hit .288 in 73 at-bats last season, showing some promise early on with five hits in two games against Florida State. Nyadjroh earned a career-high nine starts in 2006, and has made just one error in his career, posting a .978 fielding percentage.
Brown's 14-man staff has a great chance to improve upon its stellar finish to last season, losing one conference starter and a lefty setup man. Coach Drabinski calls this the deepest pitching staff he has had in his 11 years at Brown, saying everyone will be called upon to pitch key innings during the Ivy season.
The coaching staff plans to take advantage of that depth using a new strategy for midweek games. Instead of the typical pitching philosophy the Bears will schedule four or five pitchers to throw short one- or two-inning stints. By using a "bullpen game" during the week, the Bears will have their full complement of arms available for use during the critical Ivy League weekends.
Tews, a Second Team All-Ivy pitcher last season and a mainstay in the Bears' weekend rotation since late in his freshman year, will again be penciled in as the game one starter this season. During a stretch of six starts in 2006, he threw all but one possible inning, including his team-leading five complete games. Tews is also quite stingy in terms of allowing walks, giving up just 37 in his career for an average of just 2.22 per nine innings.
Dietz, a versatile pitcher who has been able to bounce back and forth between starting and relieving, was a Second Team All-Ivy pitcher as a freshman in 2005. He'll likely man the back end of the weekend rotation, as situations earlier in the weekend may necessitate his use out of the bullpen. His ability to change between three-quarters and sidearm deliveries makes it difficult for batters to get good wood on the ball, as evidenced by his 8.18 strikeouts per nine innings last year. Dietz came on strongest at the end of the season, striking out 27 batters in 24 innings pitched against Dartmouth, Harvard, and Yale. He led the Bears with four wins, also earning a save.
Cramphin returns to the team after taking last season off from school, and will be counted on to fill the spot in the conference rotation left by Shaun McNamara '06. A former Second Team All-Ivy pitcher, he will look to regain the form with which he led the Bears in wins in 2003.
The fourth weekend starter will likely come from the trio of Silverstein, junior Alex Silverman, and freshman Will Weidig. Silverstein earned a spot in the conference rotation last season, finishing with the third-most starts on the squad and the third-lowest ERA at 4.58. Silverman also saw time in the conference rotation, making five starts on the year. Weidig headlines a talented crop of freshman arms. At Katy (TX) High School, he set a single-season record with 114 strikeouts.
Hallberg will again handle the closing duties. After a rough start to the year, he settled down midway through the season and was very effective, allowing just one run in 10 Ivy League appearances and posting a 16.1-inning scoreless streak. He held opponents to a team-low .237 average, and averaged 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
A solid mix of relievers will bridge the gap to Hallberg. Anthony Vita, who walked onto the team last season but pitched just 3.2 innings due to an injury, is back at full health. The former Brown quarterback's live arm makes him a dark horse to earn a job starting, but will start the season in the bullpen. Senior Paul Costa, the team's lone Rhode Island native, and junior Peter Moskal will also see plenty of innings.
Freshmen Rob Wilcox, Will Ellis, and Matt Boylan will all compete for time in key situations. Wilcox was named the Region 5-AAA MVP after going 7-1 with a 1.42 ERA, five saves and 68 strikeouts at South Carolina's Dreher High. Ellis, a North Broward (FL) High graduate, was a two-time TeamOne Puma All-American. Boylan will serve as the team's lefty specialist. The Phillips Andover (MA) Academy grad had 43 strikeouts in 40 innings his senior year, posting a 2.10 ERA.
The Bears open the season at the Georgia Southern Eagle Invitational from March 2-4, facing the host Eagles and Kennesaw State. They'll follow that with a three-game series against South Carolina, which was ranked sixth in Baseball America's preseason Top 25.
After a game against Sacred Heart on March 22, the Bears will begin their Spring Break trip through South Carolina, playing four games at Charleston Southern, two at The Citadel, and one at Francis Marion in the course of six days. The Ivy League season will start two days later, as the Bears will play two in Princeton before traveling to Cornell for two. Mid-week contests with Rhode Island, Maine, Marist, Connecticut, Holy Cross, and Central Connecticut will come between Ivy weekends during the final month of the season.