Swinging for the Fences: Baseball 2018 Preview
Under Coach Pepicelli, the baseball team posted a strong year in 2017, winning 21 of 38 games and preparing a strong foundation for the upcoming year. The team had some really impressive performances, such as a 2-1 record at the Spider Invitational, a 27-run game against Towson and a series win over Columbia in New York. There was definitely room for improvement, but on the whole the season had to be considered a success.
While the performances were good, Cornell lost many key players at the end of the season, some to graduation and some to the draft. Cole Rutherford, the big first-baseman, anchored Cornell’s offense last year. He led the team in home runs with seven, and also led the team in RBIs with 33. Rutherford was more than a pure power hitter, scoring 24 runs and batting .310. He was a decent fielding first-baseman as well, and will be hard to replace. Cornell will miss 2B Frankie Padulo as well. A sure fielder and solid batter, Padulo anchored the lineup well, and managed to get 21 RBIs even though he regularly batted ninth. Not only was Padulo a leader on the team, he also started every game and always put out a strong performance.
Cornell has lost valuable pitching assets as well. Cornell’s ace, Paul Balestrieri, was on his out as a senior, but was drafted anyways. He posted a 2.18 era and a 5-4 record, leading Cornell with nine starts and 57.2 innings pitched. He was a workhorse who could always be counted on to continue a win streak or stop a skid. This loss is only compounded by the loss of someone who really improved as the year went on, left-handed pitcher Justin Lewis. Cornell expected to have him back for another year, but Lewis was drafted and chose to leave for the MLB. Lewis threw a complete game for Cornell, and even though he threw fewer innings than two other starters, he struck out the most batters. Cornell also lost its closer, Peter Lannoo, who saved eight games for the Big Red last year.
Even though we will miss those players, there is still quite a lot of talent on the Cornell team. Dale Wickham, a five-tool player was injured for a decent part of the 2017 season, but will return fully healthy for the 2018 season. A center field with a right fielder’s arm, Wickham led the team in average in and the third-best slugging percentage. Getting him back to healthy for the full year will be a huge boost for the team. Cornell will also be able to count on Ryan Krainz, another player who started all 38 games. The leadoff hitter in every game, Krainz showed a keen eye and led the team in walks, along with a team-leading seven stolen bases. While attempting to replace Rutherford’s power might be hard, Cornell will be able to turn to the bat of Will Simoneit, who hit only two fewer home runs and drove in 28 runs, all with 34 fewer at bats than the big first baseman. Given a full season, Simoneit might be able to be an even bigger slugger.
Cornell will not be lacking options from the mound either. The team has one of its key starters returning in the form of senior Tim Willittes. Last year, the six-foot-four-inches right hand pitcher threw two complete games and logged 50 innings, all while posting a winning record. Cornell also has many promising pitchers returning, including Tommy Morris, who started six games last year and posted an even 2-2 record, as well as reliefs Jeb Bemiss and John Natoli.
And, of course, a major change in the way the baseball season will be played means teams will need fewer starters. Last year, once the season got fully under way, weekend series would be played in sets of four, at two games per day. That meant every team needed at least four starters. But, the schedule and the season has changed, and now weekend sets will be in threes. That means if Morris and Willittes hold down their starting roles as expected, even though Cornell lost two starters, the team will only need to find one replacement, something it can easily do.
Cornell has all the tools for a successful season. However, it will lean heavily on its talented offense to put runs up on the board with some regularity. Looking at many of its box scores last season, there is no reason to suggest the team will not be able to put up those numbers.