2014 Baseball Season Preview
February 15, 2014HOOSIER SPORTS 365
BUTLER PRESS RELEASE
INDIANAPOLIS -- Returning eight starters, including all three starting pitchers from 2013, the Butler Bulldogs will look to rely on their experience as they prepare to enter the BIG EAST in the 2014 season. Head coach Steve Farley, entering his 23rd season with the Bulldogs, led Butler to a 25-27 record last season, including a 12-12 finish in the Atlantic 10. As the competition stiffens in the BIG EAST, Farley is convinced that the team is ready for a tough schedule.
"I think competing in the A-10 Conference last year will help us as we get ready for the challenge of the BIG EAST in 2014," Farley explained. "Our guys got used to playing in some new ballparks, flying to new cities…it will be a similar situation this spring."
Butler will be facing the 2014 season without a few of last year's top contributors, as the Bulldogs lost first baseman Jimmy Risi, catcher Radley Haddad, and relief pitcher Chase Byerly this summer to graduation. Leading the pack of returning starters will be Butler's pitching staff, which brought back all three of its top starters from last season. Junior lefty Eric Stout, senior right-hander Kyle Kramp, and senior right-hander Billy Laing all enjoyed successful outings in 2013, and pitching will be one of the Bulldogs' key assets this season.
"I'm expecting our weekend starting pitching to be one of the strengths of our team," Farley said. "Eric Stout, Kyle Kramp, Billy Laing, and Peter Nyznyk all have the potential to be effective front-line guys. I'm counting on our pitching to keep us in every ballgame."
Stout, who was named to the Preseason All-BIG EAST team, will be under the spotlight this season after drawing attention for his performance alongside senior outfielder Marcos Calderon in the Northwoods League this summer. Stout led the team in wins in 2013, finishing 8-5 with 56 strikeouts and an ERA of 5.21 in a team-high 84 innings pitched.
"Eric Stout has worked extremely hard to put himself in a position to be an important leader on our pitching staff and it's great to see him getting attention from some pro scouts and the media," Farley stated. "I expect him to build off of the summer success he had in the Northwoods League and take his pitching to the next level in the BIG EAST."
Kramp posted a 7-4 record last season, including 52 strikeouts and a 4.80 ERA in 69 innings pitched. Laing started nine games for the Bulldogs in 2013, but will shift roles this year as he transitions to Byerly's previous role as an ace relief pitcher. Laing finished 2-3 last season, with 46 strikeouts and a save. Newcomer Peter Nyznyk, a JUCO transfer, will also see plenty of opportunities this season as a starting pitcher for Butler.
Turning to the bullpen, Farley is confident in his returning contributors. "We lost an outstanding reliever in Chase Byerly last year, but pitching coach Miles Miller and I are counting on bullpen guys like Kyle Allen (Junior), Will Schierholz (Redshirt Junior), and Gunner Johnson (Senior) to be consistent strike throwers," Farley said. "Freshmen River Pitlock, Jeff Schank, and Danny Pobereyko should all get significant innings on the mound."
Allen recorded the lowest ERA (3.44) on the team as a sophomore in 2013, adding 30 strikeouts to post a record of 3-1 in 21 appearances. Schierholz finished with a 3.73 ERA in 31 innings pitched, and Johnson added 26 strikeouts for the Bulldogs.
At the plate, the Bulldogs will look to replace Risi's production as he led the team in batting average, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, and on-base percentage in 2013. Leading the charge will be sophomore utility player Mike Kseniak, who leads all returning starters with a .269 BA and 27 RBIs last season. Kseniak will split time at third base and designated hitter with redshirt junior Pat Guinane. Guinane posted 18 RBIs and two home runs for Butler last year.
"Our coaching staff is still waiting to see which position players want to take on a more vocal leadership role," Farley stated. "Guys like Marcos Calderon, Michael Fries and others will be counted on to step forward and challenge their teammates."
Calderon started 46 games for the Bulldogs in the outfield, and finished the 2013 season with 51 hits, 30 runs, and five stolen bases, leading all returning players in all three categories. Fries, a junior outfielder, led all returning players with 13 doubles last season, and posted 44 hits and a .265 batting average in 41 starts as a sophomore. Rounding out the outfield, sophomore Nick Bartolone appeared in 22 games as a freshman, finishing with a .270 batting average and six RBIs.
Competing for the starting position at second base will be senior Marco Caponi and junior Austin Miller. Caponi started 44 games as a junior, finishing the year with 16 RBIs and 39 hits. Miller posted a .308 batting average last season, starting 16 games for the Bulldogs.
Butler will start two newcomers this season in the infield, with Quincy Quintero, a sophomore JUCO transfer, at first base and freshman Alex Horowitz at shortstop. Quintero was recognized as a JUCO All-American in 2013.
Other returning contributors from the 2013 squad include sophomore first baseman Nick Saldutti and sophomore outfielder Drew Small. Saldutti appeared in 21 games as a freshman, finishing with six hits and four runs. Small posted a .352 on-base percentage last season, including six RBIs and ten hits as a freshman.
The Bulldogs will begin much of their season on the road, which presents unique challenges for a team that has had to practice around cold weather. "As always, the schedule will be very challenging, with trips to SC, AL, and GA to start the season," Farley said. "It's a huge challenge for Northern baseball teams who have been practicing inside to compete against Southern teams that have been working out outside but that's just the nature of the beast. Our coaching staff has worked hard to organize practice to give our guys the repetitions and work they need."
Highlighting the BIG EAST schedule is a late April road trip to Creighton, which Farley says the team is especially looking forward to. "A highlight for any Division I college baseball player is getting the opportunity to play in TD Ameritrade Stadium in Omaha, home of the College World Series," Farley added. "Our series at that ballpark against Creighton will be something special for our team."
Heading into the season, the Bulldogs are predicted to finish 6th in BIG EAST, according to the conference's preseason coach's poll. "Like most coaches, I'm not a big fan of pre-season polls," Farley said. "Let's see what the polls say after the season."
"We moved up 106 places in the Division I baseball RPI in 2013, which was quite an accomplishment," Farley added. "We want to continue to move up in 2014, and being a new member of the BIG EAST will be an exciting challenge!"
The Bulldogs were scheduled to open up the season with a doubleheader on Feb. 14 against Wright State and Saint Joseph's in Cary, N.C., but winter weather conditions in that area cancelled the games. Coach Farley will look to fill the weekend void with an opponent, but no games have been scheduled at this time.