After months of preparation for the 2012 season, the Massachusetts baseball team, which features a mix of young talented players and experienced veterans, is ready to compete for the Atlantic 10 title.
And for UMass coach Mike Stone, the goal for this season is simple.
“Just try to win every inning at a time, we can’t count the wins before they happen,” he said.
UMass coach Mike Stone enters his 25th season under the helm and he holds the record for most career wins in Minutemen baseball history with 597. Stone has won eight A-10 regular season titles and two A-10 tournament titles.
A new addition to the coaching staff this year is former UMass second baseman Eric Fredette. Fredette, a 2011 graduate and team captain, had a prominent career at UMass, finishing with a .320 batting average, 46 runs batted in and 55 runs scored.
“Fredette was a leader for our team for two years,” said Stone. “He hustled, played hard and got the most out of his ability playing scrappy baseball and that’s what we want from our guys this year.”
The theme for the Minutemen pitching staff this year is depth, as they return a number of experienced starters from last year’s squad.
Senior Glen Misho is the ace of the squad and the arm Stone will rely on most.
Last season, the right-hander led the team in innings pitched (82.2), win-loss percentage (55.6 percent) and strikeouts (42).
“The experience this year in our rotation definitely helps,” said senior closer Leif Sorenson. “Having Glen on Fridays gives us a chance to win every time.”
Dennis Torres and Joe Popielarczyk fill the other two starting spots. Torres, the right-handed junior, comes off an eight start season in with he posted an ERA of 7.04 and struck out 31 batters.
Popielarczyk rounds up the rotation for the Minutemen. The junior posted a 7.86 ERA and 29 strikeouts last year.
UMass also features a handful of relief pitchers to offer the starting pitchers support.
Sorenson will be the closer for the Minutemen. He’s had experience in the closer’s role, but more importantly, he’s had a successful career at UMass. In his two first two years as a Minuteman, he had a 3.46 ERA and 11 saves. Stone said he feels comfortable handing him the ball with a lead.
“Sorenson is our leader and our closer out there, and we feel more than comfortable with that,” said Stone.
Sorenson is excited about the depth that the team has this year.
“I feel really good about the bullpen, if the freshmen pitch to their talent then we should have a lot of depth out there as opposed to last year,” said Sorenson.
Freshmen Andrew Grant and Tim Cassidy could also see time out of the bullpen.
The Minutemen infield will be anchored by senior catch Tim Conley. Conley has been an integral piece in UMass’ infield during his three years with the school, and Stone looks for him to lead by example for his young infield teammates.
“Although we probably won’t pick a captain this year we know he will step up and be a leader. He doesn’t have to talk a lot. You can be a leader by your actions on the field,” said Stone.
Playing the corner infield positions will be Dylan Begin and Rob McLam. Begin, a first baseman, will see a lot of time this season hitting in the cleanup spot, as Stone looks for his power to progress in his sophomore year. Begin had 26 hits in 100 at bats and added 13 RBIs in his freshmen year.
Starting at third base will be McLam, another sophomore who’s expected to produce this season. McLam will sit at the top of the lineup most of the season especially in the second spot. McLam comes off of a season in which he batted .304.
Second baseman Ryan Cusick will anchor the middle infield for UMass. Cusick returns after sitting out the 2011 season with a shoulder injury. The redshirt sophomore was an A-10 All-Rookie team selection in his freshman season, when he batted .297 and added 11 extra base hits.
At shortstop is another sophomore, Nick Sanford. Stone lauded Sanford’s scrappy style of play and anticipates that he will hit towards the bottom of the lineup.
Sophomores Nik Campero and Josh Messier are strong defensive players who will find time in the infield.
“I think our infield will be really strong defensively. We are also not as explosive offensively as last year, but its going to be a different look and we can put up a lot of runs,” said Conley.
UMass features a total of five outfielders that can all run the bases well and play strong defense. Leading the Minutemen outfield this year are two juniors, Anthony Serino and Rich Graef.
Serino, a centerfielder, hit .269 last year and will hit third in the lineup this year. . Graef had 149 at bats, stole seven bases and scored 20 runs last year.
There is a plethora of young talent in the outfield including Adam Picard, Kyle Adie and Jeff Cavanaro. All three can play any outfield positions and each can be used as pinch runners. Stone noted that Cavanaro would be a defensive replacement in the outfield throughout the season, when he is not given the start.
“We have a lot of young guys this year. That means they will be here for another two or more years. I feel really good about that,” said Stone.
Chris Corso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @MDC_Corso.