Rider Broncs athletic logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Baseball Outlook 2016
They say you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. That expression will hold true this spring for the Rider University baseball fans with all of the new faces on the 2016 team.
The 2015 Broncs, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season champions, graduated a dozen players. “We lost more than anybody in the MAAC,” said Rider head coach Barry Davis, the 2015 MAAC Coach of the Year. “This year 21 of the 31 players on the roster are freshmen or sophomores, and two of the juniors are new.”
Despite the lack of experience, the Broncs look to qualify for the MAAC Tournament for the lucky 13th time, after qualifying for seven of the last eight conference playoffs. “Qualifying for the MAAC Tournament is where our focus is,” Davis said.
The Broncs have a simple formula for winning baseball this year, and it is based on the starting pitching. “We’ll try to play a solid six-inning game, using the backend of the bullpen in match up situations and we have strong defensive replacements to bring in in the late innings,” Davis said. “Simply shorten the game. The ingredients are there for the formula to work. With all the new faces it might take us some time to find the right combination. It is a definite challenge.”
The roster has a lucky 13 pitchers. “Pitching has to be considered our strength, based on the people we have returning,” Davis said.
Margevicius won five games as a rookie last year and was 4-1 vs. MAAC teams. He was second on the squad in innings pitched and strikeouts. “We knew from the beginning Nick had the potential to be a weekend starter,” Davis said. “He has good size, his velocity has increased and his command has always been there. (50 strikeouts, 22 walks).”
Aiello made four starts (1.64 earned run average) last year before red-shirting with an arm injury that has since been repaired. “Vinny was our best pitcher last year before he injured his elbow,” Davis said. “We’re hoping he can duplicate that. He will pitch the second game in the three-game series. We feel based on past performance Nick and Vinny match up with any one-two in the MAAC.”
Hirschy was 3-0 last year as a rookie, making four starts. “CJ has been a starter and he could also pitch out of the bull pen this year if needed,” Davis said.
Kosciolek had over 200 strikeouts in his scholastic career. The 6’7” right hander can also play first base. At Tamaqua High School he had over 100 hits and also lettered in basketball and football. “Kosciolek had a really good fall,” Davis said. “He is going to be a starter, either on the weekend or during the week. Brett and CJ are both strike throwers.”
Sparano will begin the season as the closer. Sparano pitched in 15 games last year, 10 out of the bullpen. “He can pitch back-to-back games and he fields his position as well as anyone, so it makes sense to give him a shot at closing games,” Davis said.
Sharik set a Rider record with 33 appearances last year, most in the MAAC and 13th in the nation. “He’s been our most dependable pitcher out of the pen,” Davis said. “Like Paul, Josh can throw multiple days. He can close as well.”
Adding to late inning possibilities is freshman Anthony Arneth. Arneth compiled 12 wins over his junior and senior years at Central Regional High, striking out 100 batters in 115 innings with a 1.83 earned run average. “Arneth could also be a possible fifth starter,” Davis said. “He has size (6’5”, 195) and good arm strength.”
Other key members of the bullpen include junior Mike Diorio, freshman Nick Payesko, freshman Dylan Simcik, freshman Tanner Clifford and freshman Jordan Silverman. “Diorio and Payesko could be situational lefties,” Davis said. Diorio owned a 3.95 earned run average last year and opponents batted just .204 against him. “Payesko cold also pitch as a starter,” Davis said.
“Simcik, Clifford and Silverman will provide depth and they will gain experience pitching middle relief, in match-up situations,” Davis said. “We’ll try to play a six inning game and bring in Sharik, Sparano, Arneth and Simcik against righties, with Diorio, Silverman, Payesko and Clifford coming in to match up with lefties. Of course we are confident in all of them to get outs, regardless of which side the hitter stands.”
Locklear is a Preseason All-MAAC selection this year after earned First Team All-MAAC honors last season. “Locklear will again play leftfield,” Davis said. “He’s a good hitter who runs well and will begin the season hitting in the two hole.” Locklear ranked 10th in the MAAC in stolen bases last year and batted .341 vs. MAAC pitchers.
Lipinski will be the starting catcher this year. Last year he made 39 starts, 19 behind the plate, and had 31 hits. “We’re counting on Lipinski to catch the majority of the games and hit in the middle of the order,” Davis said. “He has a pro arm and has gotten better and better each year.”
In centerfield will be Uliana. As a red-shirt freshman Uliana started just 13 games last year but batted a team-high .364 with 20 hits. “Uliana took advantage of an opportunity coming on really strong at the end of last year, winning the position” Davis said. “He can bunt and he has power.” Uliana had a bunt single and a home run in the same game last year at Manhattan.
Murphy started 41 games at second base last year and enjoyed a 10-game hitting streak in April. “He is solid defensively, turns the double play well,” Davis said. “He gives you a solid at bat every time up, putting the ball in play, hit to right field.”
Backing up Murphy will be freshman Richie Tecco, a two-time All-City player at Monsignor Bonner. “Tecco is solid defensively, can also play shortstop,” Davis said. “He has good range and could see some late-inning time or possibly even DH against left-handed pitchers.”
Also expected to play some innings behind the plate will be freshmen Jack Finn, Brennan McAllister and Juan Pena. “McAllister can hit,” Davis said. “He might also see some action as a designated hitter or pinch hitter. Finn is athletic and can play the outfield in a pinch.” Pena was a pitcher and a catcher at Perth Amboy High, batting .431 and was also a varsity wrestler.
“Kaiser plays the game at a high level of intensity,” Davis said. “He took advantage of the few opportunities he had last year (playing behind an All-MAAC first baseman). He has a chance to be a productive offensive player.”
Estevez collected four hits in five starts last year. Mihalik earned All-City honors one year and All-League honors another at Chestnut Hill Academy. “I feel good about first base,” Davis said. “Collectively we have defense and power. Estevez could serve as a late inning defensive replacement. He is also a right-handed hitter. Mihalik and Kaiser are lefties. Mihalik has tremendous power. He could see some action at DH. It’s an offensive position and we will need one of these three to assert themselves.”
Bender played in 21 games as a rookie, making 15 starts, being groomed to take over this year. “Bender was brought in to be the shortstop this year after learning the position his freshman year,” Davis said. “He is also going to bat leadoff and is expected to anchor our infield.”
Backing up Bender will be freshman Pat Meenan. “Meenan has defensive skills and his bat is improving,” Davis said. “He possesses a really strong arm who I feel completely confident in. I like our middle infield depth and comfortable with any combination.”
At third base will be junior college transfer Mike Volaski. “Volaski played shortstop in junior college, so he has the arm strength and hands needed,” Davis said. “He’s solid all around, with above average foot speed and above average power. He will bat third or fourth in the order to begin the season.”
Adding depth to third base will by sophomore Andrew Tumbelty. Tumbelty batted .333 as a rookie.
Another junior college transfer, junior Dalton Mayberry, will start in right field. “Mayberry can hit,” Davis said. “He drives the ball. He is a very intense player and he runs better than average. He will also pitch as a late-inning reliever.”
Clark played in 17 games last year, mostly as a defensive replacement. “Clark is one of our best defensive outfielders and could play the late innings,” Davis said, “especially if Mayberry comes in to close a game. His offensive production could add tremendously to our success.”
Piechnick played in eight games as a rookie. “Teagan will add depth to the outfield,” Davis said. “He can play any of the three outfield positions and he possesses above average power at the plate.”
Maldonado was a four-year starting shortstop at Glassboro High, three times earning All-Conference honors, and will be the fourth outfielder. “I really like him as a hitter,” Davis said. “He could also DH.” Maldonado batted .493 as a junior and also earned All-Conference honors in football as a quarterback.
The season begins February 26 in South Carolina. The home opener is March 23 against Rutgers and the MAAC opener is March 25-26 at Monmouth.
“Our lineup has good balance with lefties and righties, we have some tough outs and we’ve got some speed sprinkled in there,” Davis said. “The potential is there for a formidable offense, but we are going to rely on our pitching staff and our defense to keep us in games.”
And the Rider fans will be relying on their scorecards.