“Every year is a whole new year. My usual train of thought
at the start of a season is that it doesn't matter how good we were
last year, we have to go out and prove ourselves again. This year
it feels more like a sigh of relief in that we finally get to put
last year behind us. And, the fact of the matter is that as tough
as it was, we have taken some very good things from our struggles
in 2008. A bunch of younger players picked up a bunch of playing
time, and frankly, we seem to have a bit of a chip on our shoulder,
and I like that.”
Those are the words of York College baseball coach Paul Saikia. The Spartans labored last season and finished the year with a mark of 14-28. A record that Saikia and the Spartans are determined not to repeat.
“I'm going into this season with a very good feeling about my team. I believe there is a genuine sense of responsibility among the returners to represent themselves in a manner we can be proud of. And, though it's young, we've added some significant talent. We've all worked very hard and I like they way its mixing together.”
Saikia’s pitching staff will play a large role in determining how good the Spartan squad can be in 2009. York welcomes back five returners with significant experience while they add five talented freshmen, two transfers, and a position player who will also see time on the hill.
The Spartans will feature a starting rotation composed of senior Matt Austin, junior Jason Christenberry, and sophomore Andy Rosenzweig as the front three. Saikia will look for a fourth starter among the threesome of senior Jake Hughes, freshman Rob Harrington, and freshman K.C. Beshore.
Austin finished last season with a mark of 4-3 with a 4.13 ERA in 52.1 innings of work. For his career, the big right-hander owns a mark of 12-6 with a 3.31 ERA in 127.2 innings as a Spartan. He is an experienced pitcher that gets a high percentage of ground balls and doesn’t walk hitters.
Christenberry finished last year with a very deceiving 2-7 mark. That comes off a freshman year that saw him go 6-0 with a sterling 1.60 ERA. The junior right-hander ran into some bad luck last year but the coaching staff is very happy with how he threw the ball in the fall. Christenberry will be the Spartans’ number one starter this spring, as his success will play a large role in the 2009 campaign. He needs to pitch to his defense to keep his pitch count down and allow himself to work deeper into contests.
Rosenzweig had a very good freshman campaign highlighted by some very good outings. He went 4-6 last year with a 4.31 ERA as he tossed 56.1 innings for the Green and White. He struck out 23 and walked just seven during the year. He is a control pitcher that pitched much better than his record indicated last year. Rosenzweig is a year smarter and the coaching staff is pleased with how he has progressed during the fall.
Austin, Christenberry, and Rosenzweig combined to toss 185 innings last year as they walked just 37 hitters, which works out to less than two per nine innings.
“Reliability is the name of the game,” says Saikia. “These three have shown us that they will go out there and compete. They all throw a lot of strikes and tend not to make trouble for themselves. I feel they give us a good chance every time they take the mound.”
Hughes enters the campaign as another Spartan returner. He posted three wins last year with a 5.45 ERA. He made 13 appearances with six of those being starts. Hughes battled with his control in his 39.2 innings of work. He has worked very hard in the fall to refine his delivery as his focus is getting first pitch strikes and working ahead of hitters.
Harrington and Beshore are a pair of talented newcomers who will have the opportunity to make contributions as first-year Spartans. Harrington is a tall athletic pitcher that throws hard and hits his spots. He has the physical ability to be a strong contributor. Beshore has three different pitches and brings big-game experience from his high school career. He has a good temperament and composure and will also have the chance to contribute either as a starter or out of the pen.
“It's always hard to know how much depth you will need in the rotation. In college ball, rain outs and makeups are so prevalent, you can't always just set things up for the week and let it go,” says the Spartan mentor. “KC, Rob, and Jake give us some solid options. They all have decent stuff and I think they'll all battle.”
The bullpen has a chance to provide the Spartans with the best relief corps they have had in a number of years. Junior Chris Frankenfield is joined in the pen by junior transfer Jeff Benchich, and freshmen Brandon Ullom, Tommy Moran, and Damian Bertuzzi. A pair of dual role players in junior Matt Monti and sophomore Kyle Cook will also get some time in the bullpen.
Frankenfield has matured as a pitcher and will be in line to give the Spartans quality innings. Benchich brings juco experience and has a good mound presence. Both Frankenfield and Benchich both need to work down to succeed and rely on their good change ups to keep opponents off balance. The three freshmen will get opportunities as the year progresses to contribute to the pen. Monti and Cook are also very interesting for the Spartans. Both infielders began throwing after fall workouts and have shown the coaches enough to warrant innings in the spring. Monti is a hard thrower with a split and slider. He is a tough-minded and has good mound presence despite minimal innings on the hill. Cook got valuable pitching experience this past summer and flourished on the mound. He has good velocity, with a solid change up and slider.
“The bullpen could be one of our most improved areas. We have a number of guys who can help. We have lots of talent but we are going to be very young. We'll see how it adds up,” says Saikia.
The Spartans’ everyday lineup gives Saikia a great deal of flexibility as he has a wealth of players that he can insert into the starting lineup.
The infield features a core of players that will vie for starting spots. Sophomore C.T. Stanley will be expected to be the everyday first baseman. He is a good athlete who has gotten stronger as the coaching staff expects him to have big season at the plate after a good fall. Stanley hit .269 wit h11 RBI, 10 runs scored, two doubles, a triple, and a home run in limited at-bats last year. He has made himself into a very solid defensive player. Stanley will be backed up by freshman Ryan Woods.
“CT got a lot of time toward the end of last year. I think his comfort level is much different now. He can be a special hitter for us,” states Saikia. “Ryan's got a chance to make some noise too.”
The middle infield and third base provide Saikia with his versatility. He welcomes back Rob Klinck and Cook, two sophomores who got extensive time as freshman. Klinck can play either third or short while Cook can slide between third and second. Klinck played in 37 games last year as he hit .252 in 127 at-bats. Klinck had 19 runs scored, 15 RBI, and five doubles for the Green and White. Cook also played in 37 games as he hit .248 with 22 runs scored in 101 at-bats. Both Klinck and Cook benefited from extended playing time as freshman and the coaching staff believes their performance as sophomores will reflect that growth.
Klinck and Cook will be joined in the middle infield by freshman Dustin Worthman and Monti. Worthman is a gritty player who will primarily play second base. He is a spray hitter with lead off tools. He brings leadership qualities to the Spartan middle infield while he also has a winning pedigree. Monti is a versatile player who will see most of his time at third while he can also play shortstop. He has plus speed and a great arm at the hot corner. At the plate, Monti is a gap hitter with a good understanding of the strike zone. A combination of these four players should cover a lot of second, third and short for the Spartans in 2009.
“We're solid on the infield. Not flashy, but I'm guessing our uniforms will be get dirty every game,” concludes Saikia.
Freshmen Sean McCann and Adam Hegedus along with senior Scott Livengood provide York with outstanding depth on the left side of the infield.
Behind the dish, the Spartans are in good hands with starter Jim Meehan as the junior receiver has blossomed into an outstanding defensive player. He is one of the best throwers in the region and is respected by the pitching staff for his ability to work with them and call a good game. At the plate, Meehan has matured and will provide the Spartans with a steady presence in the lower third of the lineup. Meehan is joined by freshmen Rob Andrews and Dylan Martin. Andrews is a talented catcher who will earn some innings as Meehan’s understudy. Andrews is a good hitter that also does a nice job defensively. Martin brings good tools to the Spartan squad as he continues to make the adjustment to the collegiate game.
“Jimmy has a good foundation. He's caught a lot of innings for us over the last two seasons. He has a plus arm and his bat has come a long way. The freshmen have good tools. We'll be looking for opportunities to give them some positive time behind the plate.”
The outfield is two deep at each position as the Spartans have a wealth of talent at all three positions. Senior Ryan Poff starts in centerfield, as he is primed for a big senior year. Finally fully healthy and ready to go, Poff will hit in the heart of the line up and be expected to be a big run producer for the Green and White. Poff hit .367 with 31 runs scored and 21 RBI in 41 games last year. He added 16 doubles and four home runs in 147 at-bats for the Spartans. He owned a team-best .558 slugging percentage.
“I’m hoping Ryan has some fun this year,” says Saikia. “I feel he has shouldered a lot of the burden the last two seasons after breaking out the way he did as a freshman. I think we’ll all see him really shine as a senior.”
In left field, Saikia welcomes back junior Mike Connolly, as the left-handed hitter is an important cog in the Spartan offense. Connolly hit .324 with 26 runs scored, 16 RBI, six doubles, and two home runs. Connolly, who has improved as a defensive outfielder, will hit in the heart of the Spartan order and be expected to provide York with significant run production in 2009. Connolly could also see some time at designated hitter during the year.
“Mike is just a good, solid player. I think his stroke is coming into its own, and I expect he'll do a great job of hitting in the middle of the order.”
In right field, Saikia will turn to a combination of Chris Young, Devin Harbold, Mark Miloski and Joe Doyle. Any of these four players can play right or also man any of the other two outfield slots. Young played in 24 games last year as he had nine runs scored and eight RBI in 49 at-bats. He is much stronger physically and hit the ball well during the fall. He gets good reads on the balls in the outfield and is a smart player. Harbold is one of the Spartans’ best athletes who hit .348 in limited at-bats last year. He runs well and continues to grow as a player. Harbold will primarily see his time in left but can also play center and right. Miloski returns to the program for his sophomore year looking to garner playing time in either right or left field. He is good hitter with outstanding power potential who could force his way into the Spartan lineup as the year progresses. Doyle is another player who is a very talented athlete. He is the best pure defensive outfielder on the squad and will vie for innings as a sophomore. The group provides Saikia with great versatility when filling out his lineup card.
“We have some depth in the outfield,” says Saikia. “I'm not exactly sure how the time will split up, but I have faith in all of them, and they each brig something to the table."
Saikia’s batting order could have subtle differences from game to game as he will use the early portion of the schedule to evaluate the line up and the batting order. One thing for sure is that he will have attractive options every day.
“We're going to throw some different looks out there early in the season. Aspects of our lineup will have to evolve--we simply don't have enough evidence with some of our players to make absolute decisions. We'll get as many people involved as possible and see where it takes us,” states the Spartan head coach.
The Spartan schedule is once again a typically challenging slate. One change this year is that all of York’s games will count for regional contests, as there are 29 South region contests and 11 Mid-Atlantic contests that fall within the 200-mile radius requirement. Saikia also feels the CAC is balanced as the Spartans will have a chance to climb back up to the upper echelon of the conference.
“Our schedule is always well-respected--this year's will be no different,” comments Saikia. “I'm excited about the CAC. It's going to be interesting, to say the least. In addition, as things have worked out, our schedule is made entirely of in-region games. Hopefully, that will prove beneficial in May.”
The Spartans begin their season on February 20 with a trip to the Emory College Rawlings Southern Classic in Atlanta, GA. York will also take a four game swing through Myrtle Beach, S.C. before heading back north in early March. The Spartans are slated to open their home campaign on Saturday, March 6 when they host Gallaudet in a CAC twin bill.