2010 Baseball Season Outlook
Feb. 11, 2010
Last season concluded with a come-from-behind victory over #21 Minnesota to spoil the Golden Gophers' chances of winning the Big Ten Regular Season Title. A strong start included winning 21 of their first 35 games with two wins over perennial power Michigan and another over eventual regular season champion Ohio State. Though the year didn't finish as the Nittany Lions would have liked, there were a number of positives which makes 2010 a highly-anticipated campaign.
Led by All-Conference performers Ryan Ignas and Jordan Steranka, a young squad has its goals set high. Should they finish in the top six in the conference, the Nittany Lions would make the Big Ten Tournament for the third time in four years. The last time it happened was from 2000-2004 when they qualified four times in a five-year span.
Make the Big Ten Tournament and anything can happen - just ask the 2000 team that reached the conference championship. Despite succumbing in the finals, it was awarded an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament and advanced all the way to the Super Regionals. As we look back at the first decade of the 21st century, the Nittany Lions hope they can ring in the next 10 years as they did the first.
Head coach and former Major League catcher Robbie Wine knows that Heath has the intangibles that can make a catcher special.
"We're expecting a good year out of Ben," said Wine. "The experience he got last year was beneficial. He had a great fall and his leadership really seems to be coming to the forefront."
Arguably more important than a catcher's hitting is his work with the pitchers, which pitching coach Jason Bell is well aware of.
"Ben brings that stability because he's been back there and he knows everyone pretty well," he said. "Bobby is a little bit behind right now just for the fact that he missed the fall. When he gets back catching everybody on a regular basis, guys will feel comfortable with him as well."
Behind Heath and Jacobs are junior transfer Mario Eramo and sophomore Ryan Clark. Both have the versatility to play multiple positions, allowing them to see additional time when not catching. Eramo comes to Penn State from Blinn Junior College with a power bat from the left side. He is expected to have multiple roles ranging from DH to even a late-game pinch hitter.
On the other end of the spectrum is Clark, who has continued to improve after seeing limited action as a freshman. He moved to the outfield in the fall, but still has the ability to get behind the plate if needed.
Depth at the catcher position is something that the coaching staff hopes to use to its advantage. Each player brings his own skill to the table, combining to form a hybrid of speed, power, average and most importantly, the intangibles that can turn a good catcher into a great catcher.
DeBernardis' talent is well-known, as the Florida Marlins selected him in the 2008 Major League Baseball Entry Draft. He played in 13 games as a freshman, starting four, while posting a .280 average with a home run and two RBI. Robbie is very excited about his upside.
"He will hit and play really good defense," said Wine. "I'm excited about him. We threw him in some games last year, but he didn't get to play [consistently]."
In the mix for key playing time at first is redshirt junior Jack Greenberg, who is back and ready to go after redshirting last season. The native of Upper St. Clair hit .300 in limited action in his inaugural Penn State season in 2008.
Other first base options are senior Gordon Atkisson and freshman Jose Texidor. Atkisson joined the squad after serving as team manager the past two years, while Texidor is one of three current players who attended State College High School.
"He's at his position now," said Wine. "I think he's an All-Conference candidate if he hits. He will be solid with the glove and make the plays."
Signs are certainly pointing toward a breakout offensive season. Not only has he consistently been steady with the glove (career .954 fielding percentage), but his average has continued to climb as well. After hitting .238 as a freshman, he posted a .248 average as a sophomore and .257 as a junior.
Another player who has progressed nicely is redshirt freshman Elliot Searer, who had a good fall season. He could see time in the infield with continued improvement.
"He's back, he's working hard and he looks good," said Wine. Alongside Glantz is Montesinos, a viable option who is expected to be eased into the college game.
"We'll be able to throw him in some midweek and weekend games to get him some experience," said Wine. "In the event we need him somewhere down the line, he'll be there for us. We really like where he is and what he's doing."
Glantz and Montesinos are versatile as well, which could allow them to shift to second or third base if needed.
"How Jordan handles being one of `the guys' now is the key and we have 100 percent confidence he will," said Wine. "He will be the target people look out for. It will be up to the other guys in the lineup to pick up the slack if they decide to pitch around him."
Another possibility at third includes Greenberg, who is also one of the Lions' top backups at first base.
Left and center field will likely feature a young combination of Clark, Deegan and Deegan to fill those two slots. In addition, the third could DH when not playing the field.
With Lynd's injury, Snyder is also deep into the outfield mix. The native of West Chester, Pa. impressed during the fall and has a similiar skillset to Lynd, highlighted by his speed.
Johnson, a junior college All-American should receive considerable time in right field, but Clark or Deegan could aslo slide over if needed. Johnson comes to Happy Valley from Frank Phillips College in Texas. He is a prototypical two-hole type hitter with strong gap-to-gap power.
Another outfielder is State College native and redshirt sophomore Drew Yukelson, who sports a 1.000 career batting average. He redshirted last season after getting a hit in both at-bats in 2008.
The one common denominator from the outfield is speed, a great asset in covering the large confines of Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. Along with speed come stolen bases, a department which Snyder could impress. He has big shoes to fill to make up for the loss of Lynd, who finished last season with 22 thefts, which was third in the Big Ten and fourth in Penn State single-season history.
Spearheading the group is redshirt senior Mike Wanamaker, who missed the entire 2009 season due to injury. The coaching staff loves his makeup.
"Mike has that bulldog mentality [and is] a guy you want on the mound," said Bell. "[He is] the type of guy you have to go out and pry the ball from. He wants the ball in every game."
"Wanamaker is a horse and a competitor, which is what we're all about," said Wine.
Someone who looks to take the next step is junior left-hander Calvin Grumley. He showed spurts of brilliance as a sophomore which included three quality starts, against Rutgers (7.0 IP, 8 H, 3 ER), New York Tech (6.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER) and Michigan (6.0 IP, 8 H, 3 ER). With added consistency, he could develop into one of the team's top and most relied upon starters.
"Look for Calvin to come out, have improved command and take a little bit of a leadership role with the starters," said Bell. "At times, he's his own worst enemy. When he's on, he has a chance to be pretty good."
Returning All-Conference performer Ignas could contribute as a starter or out of the bullpen. He was impressive as a freshman in leading the Nittany Lions in both wins (5) and saves (5), one of only 10 pitchers in the nation to accomplish that feat. Along with starting two games, he also served as the closer and a middle reliever.
"It will be nice to finally get Ryan into a role and let him stay there," said Bell. "He's someone who could be a conference starter or a key member of the bullpen. He gives us a lot of flexibility."
A couple of other starting options are freshmen Neal Herring and John Walter. They both have live arms and will be in the mix for innings. Whether as a starter or reliever, they will get their share of work by the end of the year.
"Walter and Herring are both talented freshmen," said Bell. "Both of them have good arms and have a chance to be impact guys. We want to put them in situations to have a lot of success, then throw them into the fire a little more as the season goes along."
Sophomore Mike Franklin and freshman Erik Rumberger could also start at some point. Franklin started twice last season, including one gem against La Salle when he tossed five hitless innings for his first career win.
"Lutz anchors the bullpen for us," said Bell. "He's shown the ability to come in and get out left-handers and right-handers and have success in many roles. You know what you're getting every time he's out there. He brings that intensity every time."
While Lutz comes from the left side, junior Jesse Alfreno brings a similar game, but from the right.
"Jesse is probably the right-handed version of Dave," he said. "He can go out there and give you quality innings. He's intense; he gets after it. Both he and Lutz are pretty good athletes, which means a lot."
The closer position is up in the air - a number of pitchers could emerge. One option is Lutz, while Ignas and Walter could also fill the role.
Additional pitchers who could see time are: freshman Steven Hill, sophomore Drew Irsfeld and junior Mike Pierce. Franklin, Herring and Rumberger could also pitch out of the bullpen if they're not starting.
Along with their usual Big Ten games, the Nittany Lions are set to face teams from the BIG EAST, Big 12, MEAC, Southland Conference, Mid-American Conference, Ivy League, Big South, CAA, Patriot League, Atlantic 10 and NEC. An impressive 13 opponents finished 2009 with a winning record, including eight with at least 35 wins and four that surpassed 40.
"I am very pleased with the balance of our schedule," said Wine. "Our strong nonconference opponents should help us prepare for an always challenging Big Ten slate."
Highlighting the schedule are games against NCAA squads Texas A&M, Texas State, Kent State, Minnesota and Ohio State, among many strong foes.
The Big Ten Tournament is set for May 26-29 in Columbus, Ohio. After failing to qualify last season, Penn State looks to make it back to the conference tournament for the third time in the last four seasons in search of its first Big Ten Tournament Title in program history.