DonateTicketsEnewsMobile AppsYoutubeTwitterFacebookLive StatsLive Video
Sportsanity long
FLCU Banner
Hat-Alerts
Fleishel Financial
Basketball Season Tickets
Florida Hospital Banner Ad
Uploaded Ad
 
Patrick Mazeika batted .382 as a freshman.
by: David S. Williams
2014 Baseball Season Preview, Part III: Infield
Courtesy: Stetson University  
Release:  02/10/2014
Share |
This is the third of a four-part series previewing the 2014 Stetson Baseball season. Today, we look at the infield. The Hatters open the season Feb. 14 vs. Ole Miss at Melching Field in DeLand:

With the pitching staff expected to be a strength for the Hatters in 2014, the offense will need to take some steps forward. The 2013 campaign was a struggle from an offensive standpoint, with the Hatters averaging 4.6 runs per game, the lowest figure for a Stetson team since 1976.

But head coach Pete Dunn and the coaching staff believes this season will be different for one reason: experience. Last year Stetson routinely started as many as seven first-year players, most of whom were freshmen.

One player who wasn’t a freshman last year but was relatively inexperienced was catcher Garrett Russini. Prior to the start of 2013 Russini had just nine starts under his belt. As a sophomore, Russini started 53 games a produced a respectable .256-2-33 hitting line. His work behind the plate steadily improved as well, and Dunn expects him to take a major step forward in both areas in 2014.

“Garrett is the one guy we feel has the best opportunity to take the next step,” said Dunn. “He’s a left-handed hitting catcher, which you always love to have. He has some pretty good power and good arm strength behind the plate.”

But Dunn says Russini’s continued growth behind the plate will mean more for the Hatters, and for Russini.

“He needs to take charge more out on the field,” said Dunn. “I’ve talked to him about being more assertive and being a leader. It’s tough for kids sometimes because so many of them come to college and, for a variety of reasons, they aren’t as authoritative as they should be. Catchers have to run the show out on the field. Garrett has worked hard on that aspect of his game.”

While Russini is the unquestioned starter behind the plate, he won’t be the only one doing the catching for the Hatters. Sophomores Patrick Mazeika and Wade McNabb are battling for the number two job. And regardless of which player become the regular backup, both will see plenty of playing time at other positions.

Mazeika burst on the scene in his first season with the Hatters, earning multiple freshman All-America nods and Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year honors while mostly playing first base. Mazeika, who was originally recruited to Stetson as a catcher, went on to hit .382 with three home runs and 33 RBI in his rookie campaign. He also led the team in both slugging (.495) and on-base (.488) percentage.

“Patrick was a catcher in high school and we recruited him to be a catcher here,” said Dunn. “He was our regular first baseman last year and did a solid job. We put him behind the plate in the fall and the pitchers really liked throwing to him. He doesn’t have a great arm behind the plate but he makes up for it with a quick release. Obviously, his bat will be in the lineup somewhere, whether it’s a first or at DH.”

McNabb is in his first season with the Hatters after transferring from Vincennes (Ind.) University. The right-handed hitter can also play first base and may see time at DH, much like Mazeika.

“We brought Wade in to challenge and backup Garrett,” said Dunn. “He has some good experience. We like him a lot.”

First base is another position which will be heavily impacted by Schulter’s availability and role. Mazeika started all 57 games there as a freshman in 2013 and is expected to see at least some time there again this year. But if he’s healthy and not in the starting rotation Schluter is expected to be the primary first baseman. Schluter owns 43 career starts at first base, with 30 of those coming during his freshman season in 2010. Dunn raves about Schluter’s defensive skills at first.

“His role on the mound will determine how much he plays first base,” said Dunn. “He’s special defensively. He wants to be at first and he wants to hit. There’s always a risk of injury involved, but the reward in this case probably outweighs the risk.”

Schluter is a .295 career hitter with five home runs and 39 RBI.

There are only a few positions which have been locked down heading into the 2014 season, and second base is one of them. Sophomore Kevin Fagan, who started 17 games at second as a freshman before he was sidelined with an injury to his throwing arm, has already been named as the starter at second. The injury forced Fagan to spend the last 28 games of the season as the designated hitter, but his offense was a key for the Hatters. Fagan batted .275 with three doubles and three triples, earning A-Sun All-Freshman honors.

“Fagan is the guy that should be out there every day,” said Dunn. “He’s a pretty good defender and he’ll be an outstanding lead-off hitter for us. He draws walks, he’ll get hit by a pitch. He understands that he needs to get on base.”

Tyler Bocock will be Stetson’s opening day starter at shortstop. The junior won the job out-right in the fall, holding off several challengers. Bocock started 42 games at shortstop last season, batting .238 in his rookie season with the Hatters.

“Tyler is settling into the job now,” said Dunn. “Last year he put a lot of pressure on himself. He tried to do too much and really struggled at times. He has to go out there and be himself. Tyler had a very good summer and really good fall. He earned it.”

As solid and secure as both second base and shortstop seem to be, third base is anything but. As many as four players are vying for playing time at third base and as fall practice came to a close in November Dunn said no one separated themselves from the field.

Dunn mentioned veterans K’Shawn Smith and Kyle Pitts, and freshmen Colton Lightner and Mitch Piatnik as the quartet at third.

“It’s still wide open,” said Dunn. “It’ll likely be Opening Day before we make a decision, but I expect all four guys to see time there during the season.”

Smith, a senior who started a total of 36 games on the infield last season but only two at third base, has the edge in experience. While he batted only .241 last season he finished strong, hitting .444 over his last nine games.

Pitts served a more traditional utility role as a sophomore, appearing in 23 games overall, including six starts at second base. Sure-handed fielder, Pitts made just three errors in 38 chances.

Lightner is considered the best defender of the four third base candidates. He helped lead Venice (Fla.) HS to back-to-back 7A state championships as a junior and senior, hitting .306 his final year.

Called Stetson’s shortstop of the future by Dunn, Piatnik is expected to see significant playing time somewhere. A switch-hitter, Piatnik batted .374 as a junior and .299 as a senior at Winter Haven High.



Stetson Baseball


Advertisement

HATTER VISIONJOIN NOWLAUNCH PLAYERLOGIN