March 7, 2009

2009 Season Preview: Bulldogs Building for the Future, Ready for the Present

March 7, 2009

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The Yale baseball team had its share of ups and downs in 2008. Faced with a tough non-conference schedule in addition to the always competitive Ivy League slate, the Bulldogs fell as far as seven games below .500 before battling back to wrap up the season at 20-24-1 overall, a four-win improvement from the previous season, and 9-10-1 in the Ivy League. Despite losing nine key players, including three to the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Yale looks to continue its steady improvement, adding seven newcomers to a club comprised of 18 returning letterwinners from the 2008 campaign.

Catcher
At the catcher position, the Bulldogs are faced with the task of replacing both the most important defensive position on the diamond and one of the best offensive players in the 144-year history of Yale baseball, Ryan Lavarnway. Lavarnway, a 2007 third team All-America selection after leading the NCAA in batting average at .467, was selected in the sixth round of the MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox as the 202nd overall pick. Senior Davis Stanley is the most experienced catcher on the Bulldogs' roster, having started 11 games behind the plate for Yale in 2008. Stanley hit .267 in 45 at-bats with two home runs and seven runs batted in.

"Davis is an outstanding defensive catcher with a very strong throwing arm," said John Stuper, the Mazzuto Family Head Coach for Baseball. "The pitchers love throwing to him. He will be our No. 1 guy behind the plate, and his leadership will be an important part of any success we have."

Backing up Stanley will be sophomore Harry Koulos, a converted catcher who made four appearances in the outfield and two at designated hitter last season, and freshman Ryan Brenner.

Infield
The Bulldogs return four starters around the horn, including second team All-Ivy player and 2009 team captain Stefan Schropp. After making appearances at six different positions in 2008, Schropp figures to settle in as the Elis' starting first baseman for his senior season. Juniors Trygg Larrson-Danforth, who will be the Bulldogs' starting designated hitter in 2009, and Chris Sweeney both made starts at first base last season while Schropp filled other positions on the diamond. Sophomore Gant Elmore will move to second base from shortstop, where he made 38 starts last season. Elmore hit .264 and drove in 13 runs in 2008. The hot corner at Yale Field will once again belong to sophomore Andy Megee, who made 43 starts at third base as a freshman in 2008. Megee racked up the most RBI among returning Bulldogs with 19. He also hit .265 and swiped seven bases on seven attempts last season. The starting shortstop position, vacated by graduate P.J. Gorynski, could go to freshman Matt Schmidt.

"Matt is just outstanding defensively," said Stuper. "He can make tough plays at short and has a very strong arm along with great hands and feet. He is a contact hitter who runs well and could find himself in the lineup right away."

Rounding out the Yale infield is Zach Tobolowsky, a freshman with the offensive tools of a lead-off hitter and defensive experience at several positions around the horn.

"Zach is much like teammate Gant Elmore. He brings energy to everything he does and is very versatile. He can run, and that makes him a candidate to lead off. He is a very tough out and should be in the lineup quite often," said Stuper.

Outfield
A combined 43 RBI and 33 extra base hits have left the Bulldogs' 2008 starting outfield due to the graduation of center fielder Josh Cox and right fielder Jake Doyle. The lone remaining starter is sophomore left fielder Andrew Kolmar, who belted four home runs in 62 at-bats last season. Junior Stephen Miehls, who had just three at-bats last season due to injury, also returns to the line-up. Miehls, considered by Stuper to be the best defensive outfielder on his roster, hit .217 with three home runs in 40 games as a freshman in 2007. Sophomore Andrew Moore played 12 games in the outfield as a freshman and will also see significant playing time this season. Schropp, Larrson-Danforth, Koulos and Brenner could also see time in the outfield when not playing their primary positions.

Added to the fold will be freshman Charlie Neil. Neil, who appeared in 16 matches for the Bulldogs' soccer team in the fall, could see time in either corner of the outfield or infield, as well as behind the plate, this spring.

"Charlie is a very versatile player who can play virtually anywhere," said Stuper. "His versatility also extends to the plate, because he is a switch hitter. Regardless of where he settles in, he is a good player to have on the team."

Pitching
With 2008 ace Brian Irving now graduated and pitching in the San Francisco Giants organization, the Bulldogs' rotation features just two players that started regularly last season, senior Brandon Josselyn and junior Chris Finneran. Finneran was second on the 2008 squad in strikeouts with 34, and Josselyn was right behind him with 33.

"Brandon will be the first to tell you that he struggled last year," said Stuper. "He had a great summer, and came back in great shape and throwing harder. He is our best professional prospect and I expect him to anchor our rotation."

Joining the rotation will be sophomore Vinny Lally, a left-handed hurler who recorded 21 strikeouts in 22.1 innings as a reliever last season.

"Vinny was invaluable out of the bullpen as a freshman last year, but we are moving him into the starting rotation for 2009," said Stuper. "His velocity and his off-speed pitches have improved, and I look for him to have a really good year."

Just as the Bulldogs' starting rotation will need to find a new ace in 2009, the Yale bullpen will need to find a closer to replace Steve Gilman. The 2008 team captain, who graduated in May of 2008 and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers, posted a 4-0 record with an earned run average of 1.00 in 27 innings last season. He also tallied five of the Bulldogs' six saves. While the closer role is still to be determined for 2009, five returning Elis will anchor the bullpen. Senior Chris Walsh, juniors Joe Castaldi, Robert Gruber, and Matthew Smith and sophomore Will Stratton all made relief appearances for Yale in 2008. Andy Megee, the Bulldogs' starting third baseman, may also be called upon as a reliever.

Yale also introduces one sophomore and three freshman hurlers into the mix this season. Sophomore Alex Young fills a void as the lone southpaw in the bullpen, while freshman Eric Shultz has made an immediate impact on Coach Stuper.

"Eric is a submariner who pounds the strike zone and has a very good breaking ball. He has a chance to be our closer. He has the makeup and stuff to assume that role. He throws strikes and is very competitive," said Stuper.

Freshmen Greg Lyons and Pat Ludwig could both see action as starters and relievers this season.

"Greg and Pat both have good command of a variety of pitches," Stuper said. "Regardless of their roles, they will both see a lot of time on the mound."

Schedule
The Bulldogs will kick off 2009 with contests in Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia before the season-opening, 13-game road swing wraps up at Holy Cross. Yale Field will see its first action on March 25 as Connecticut makes the trip to the Elm City. After the non-conference tilt with the Huskies, Yale will promptly hit the road again to begin the Ivy League slate with doubleheaders at Princeton and Cornell on March 28 and 29. A doubleheader with Maine on March 31 and an April 1 contest against in-state rival Quinnipiac await the Bulldogs upon their return to Yale Field. The home crowd will get its first Ivy League contest on April 4 as the Columbia Lions visit New Haven for a doubleheader. Twin bills with Penn on April 5 and Sacred Heart on April 7 wrap up the seven-game homestand. The Bulldogs will meet Harvard four times in two days, a pair of doubleheaders on April 11 and 12 in Cambridge, before hosting Fairfield for a pair on April 15 and Dartmouth for a quartet of games in the form of dual twin bills on April 18 and 19. The Elis will wrap up their non-conference slate with a road clash at Hartford on April 22. Yale Field closes out another season on April 25 as the Bulldogs host a doubleheader with Brown. The 2009 regular season wraps up at Brown on April 26 with another doubleheader against the Bears.

report filed by Drew M. Kingsley, Yale Sports Publicity