Men's baseball adjusts to lineup changes for spring opener

by Justin Kramer | 2/19/18 2:20am

021918_courtesy_of_dustin_shirley_2 named men's baseball co-captain Dustin Shirley '18 a top-10 Ivy League draft prospect for the 2018 season.

Source: Courtesy of Dustin Shirley

Last season, Dartmouth baseball finished 22-17-1 overall and 11-9 in Ivy League conference play, but the team understands that no success is guaranteed in the quest for its first Ivy League Championship since 2010.

“I try to always remind the players, you never pick up where you left off,” head coach Bob Whalen said. “You start at 0-0 from the beginning of the year.”

With most of its core returning and a strong first-year class, Dartmouth is poised for a successful season. The Big Green is predicted to finish third in the Ivy League Baseball Preseason Media Poll. 

Nonetheless, Whalen knows the team has have some work to do to replace its graduated class.

“You have to anticipate change in this business — there’s no free agency,” Whalen said. “Guys graduate and they move on, so you try to prepare for that to the best of your ability.”

The pitching rotation in particular took a blow with the losses of Ivy League Pitcher of the Year Beau Sulser ’16 and Michael Danielak ’16, both of whom were drafted by Major League franchises in 2017. Relief pitcher Chris Burkholder ’17 will be missed as well, as he collected eight of Dartmouth’s 11 saves last season.

“Those three guys ended up pitching just under 50 percent of our conference innings,” Whalen said. “To absorb that, you’re going to have to spread it around a little bit more.”

Team co-captain and top-10 2018 Ivy League draft prospect Dustin Shirley ’18 is confident that the team will naturally take care of their rotation vacancies.

“We’ve got a bunch of younger guys in the freshman class and guys that have been in the program for a while that can potentially step up and fill that void,” Shirley said.

Co-captain Cole O’Connor ’19 figures to head the rotation, having lead the team in innings pitched after Danielak. Beyond O’Connor, however, the rotation remains a question mark. 

“One of our biggest questions this year that has to play itself out is how you replace those innings,” Whalen said. “We’re going to try to identify our top five or six starters but not expect them to go that deep because they’re just not ready for that yet.” 

O’Connor and Shirley mentioned some players who are vying for primary rotation and bullpen spots this spring. 

“Jack Fossand [’18] threw a great game against the University of Central Florida who was rated [No. 26] last year when we beat them,” Shirley said. “He had a little bit of a setback, but he’ll definitely be in there competing and helping us win. Same thing with Clay [Chatham ’18]. He throws pretty hard, he can locate pretty well and throws offspeed for strikes.”

O’Connor added that a handful of first-years may have prominent roles this season. 

“We have some good power arms, big guys like Carson Seymour [’21] and Sai Davuluri [’21] will be out on the mound along with Max Hunter [’21] and some other guys,” he said. 

The departure of defense-first catcher Adam Gauthier ’16 adds another layer to Dartmouth’s pitcher-catcher batteries next year. For Whalen, finding the right fit at catcher is a top priority. 

“In our system, we ask a lot from the catchers, both mentally and physically, to work with the pitchers and try to understand what their strengths are and make the guy on the mound better that day,” he said.

The default option seems to be Kyle Holbrook ’18, who led the team with a .329 average last year as an outfielder. Still, as Whalen explained, catching three games in a week can be difficult, and Holbrook has hit better as an outfielder than as a catcher.

“It’s just a physically demanding and mentally demanding position behind the plate,” Whalen said. “How [the catching situation] plays out will in large part depend on how the other younger and new catchers develop.”

Dartmouth brought in two first-year catchers this season, Logan Adams ’21 and Bennett McCaskill ’21 and they have been performing well to this point, according to Whalen.

The other key lineup cog to graduate was last year’s team captain and first baseman Michael Ketchmark ’17, who led the team with a .527 slugging percentage and five home runs. 

Potential candidates to replace Ketchmark include Michael Calamari ’20, who held a team-best .446 on-base percentage last season, as well as versatile first-years Oliver Campbell ’21 and Ubaldo Lopez ’21, both of whom play outfield.

While the seven returning starting position players from last season are not guaranteed their positions, the rest of the lineup figures to look relatively similar. On the left side, Justin Fowler ’18 and Nate Ostmo ’19 look to build on their success from last year as the starting third baseman and shortstop, respectively. Shirley looks to regain his sophomore year form at second base, where he hit .301 in a team-high 166 at bats. 

“My junior year I stopped making self-oriented goals and said that ultimately I want to be the guy in the lineup who gets the job done to help the team,” Shirley said. “If it’s runner on second base no outs, hit a groundball to the right side. If I need to bunt, get the job done bunting.”

Matt Feinstein ’19 and Trevor Johnson ’20 are expected to maintain their every day starting spots in the outfield. Whalen projects both to ignite the offense this year. 

“[Johnson] had a fantastic first year last year,” Whalen said. “He’s a plus runner, a plus defender in center field and hit at the top of the lineup and was a huge contributor to our lineup and offense as a first-year player last year. [Feinstein] made a tremendous jump from his freshman year to last year.”

Infielders Blake Crossing ’20, Sean Sullivan ’19 and Steffen Torgersen ’19 have made strides this off season and are expected to push for more playing time.

“It isn’t just about stacking batting averages,” Whalen said. “You’re trying to create a lineup that has a flow to it and has some rhythm, and has the ability to get guys on, get them over and get them in.”

Whalen has placed an emphasis on making sure his team is well-rounded, realizing pitching, defense and offense are all needed in order to win an Ivy League Championship. 

“If you can pitch and defend, you always have a chance, but if you can’t score runs you can’t win,” Whalen said. “We don’t pride ourselves on one part of the game.”

O’Connor and Shirley detailed some other main philosophies that Whalen preaches in the clubhouse.

“He’s a pretty old school guy,” O’Connor said. “He wants us to play confident, play disciplined and be the toughest team out there to go battle and play well in the tough spots at the end of the game.”

Whalen underscores the importance of a strong work ethic and a devotion to success.

“Our mantra is, ‘Show up and work hard everyday,’” he said. “There’s no leap to greatness. We’re not in it to be a solid team. You show up every year with the objective and the goal of trying to win an Ivy championship. Part of your ability to have a chance to do that is to have a short term focus — let’s just get a little bit better everyday.”

The Big Green will start its spring season this Friday in a three-game series at the Georgia Institute of Technology.