Baseball prepares to kick off 2015 season in Texas

by Gayne Kalustian | 2/26/15 6:01pm

Two of Dartmouth’s starting pitchers are out with season-ending injuries.

It’s a season, for the baseball team, of opportunity. Without a doubt, the seven-time defending Red Rolfe Division Champions have a challenge at their doorstep. At the end of last season, the Big Green graduated co-captains Jeff Keller ’14 and Dustin Selzer ’14. Right-fielder Keller led the team in batting average (.308) and doubles (15), while Selzer — a two-time all-Ivy First Team first baseman — anchored the right infield for all but two games last season, batting clean-up for Dartmouth. The team, however, knew those departures were coming.

What the team was not prepared for were season-ending injuries for three of its starters: prospective co-captain Thomas Roulis ’15 and rotational pitchers Beau Sulser ’16 and Michael Danielak ’16. In the 2013-2014 season, second baseman Roulis (.300) had the highest number of at bats at 150, was second only to Keller in batting average and led the team in triples (4). Danielak and Sulser started a collective 14 games for the Big Green.

This is the situation Dartmouth is in as it heads down south to face No. 14 Texas A&M University today for its first series of the season, which will be broadcasted on ESPN 3. Losing a few starters to injuries is not as ideal as returning a healthy team, but it is not a death sentence. Many of the team’s other important, structural players are still in the mix as the team looks to piece together an eighth consecutive Red Rolfe Division title and, hopefully, the recently elusive Ivy League title.

Returning to lead the Big Green this year is Louis Concato ’14, who was selected by his teammates to captain alongside Roulis at the end of last season. In Roulis’s absence early this season, Concato said he has received incredible support from the other seniors who have taken strides to show leadership while his coach has instilled faith in him to get the job done.

Concato was in the pitching rotation last season, finishing out among the four starters with the second lowest ERA (3.60) after throwing 45 total innings for Dartmouth. He red-shirted as a freshman with a stress fracture in his right foot, he said, and knew he had the ability to take a fifth year if his academics allowed it. He is currently finishing his second major in economics.

“I was looking forward to coming back with a great group of seniors — a really strong team,” Concato said. “Our freshman class has done a great job so far, and I think we still have a very good team. It does hurt though, you know, losing [Sulser], Danielak and Roulis, who are all three guys who have contributed a lot. We’ve got a long ways to go.”

Also returning is his younger brother, Michael Concato ’17, who claimed a 3.81 ERA last season and the start in the team’s first game of the Ivy League Championship Series. Michael Concato kicked off his collegiate career against then-No. 18 University of Kansas last year, throwing eight innings against what was one of the most powerful offenses nationally, allowing two runs before handing off the win to teammate Duncan Robinson ’16.

Robinson, who pitched mostly as a closer or in long relief for the Big Green last year, accumulated the team’s lowest overall ERA, 2.96. Robinson is expected, head coach Bob Whalen said, to take one of the open slots in the starting rotation.

Robinson himself pointed to developing a third, off-speed pitch that he can pull out to keep hitters off balance. “[Coaches] can’t teach you how to throw it specifically,” Robinson said. “They say it’s a feel pitch. You need to figure out what works for you and work from that.”

His curveball, with its aggressive break, and fastball have been reliable in the past, but diversifying the types of pitches he can throw can keep him more competitive in longer outings that will be necessitated by a spot in the rotation. In establishing its rotation, Whalen said, the team is looking for players who can shorten the bullpen without putting themselves at risk. The final rotational spot is still open, he continued, though Adam Frank ’15 and a mix of freshmen are receiving looks, including Sam Fichthorn ’18, Clay Chatham ’18, Marc Bachman ’18 and Patrick Peterson ’18.

“You never know how quickly first-year players are going to come along,” Whalen said. “This whole crew, they will definitely be in the mix. How quickly they’ll come along, starter or reliever, that’s the part that we don’t know.”

Chris England ’15 and Adam Charnin-Aker ’16 are also in the mix, while Chris Burkholder ’17 is shaping up to be a critical player on the back end who can close out important games for the Big Green.

Positionally speaking, Dartmouth has a mix of old and fresh blood on the diamond. While all positions are considered open at all times, Whalen pointed out, “no one would be surprised if [Matt Parisi ’15] ended up on short stop…and if [Nick Lombardi ’15] ended up at third.”

The left infielders both appeared in all 39 games last season and served individual purposes offensively. Parisi, identified by Whalen as a “good leader,” started as a lead off man with his speed to get on base, but was moved to the bottom of the order as the line up was mixed up to generate more offense. Lombardi, the hard-hitting homerun and slugging percentage leader last season, has been at third since he arrived as a freshman, able to make quick plays for the out at first with the strength and speed of his arm. On the right side of the infield, there are open spaces for someone else to step up. On first base, the team is looking at Jay Graham ’15 — a “utility player” listed at 6’3” — Whalen said, recalling his few innings on the mound last season.

Also in the conversation are Michael Ketchmark ’17 and Joe Purritano ’16. Purritano has not shown much in the way of defensive play since he came to Dartmouth, instead occupying the role of the designated hitter, earning recognition as the League’s Rookie of the Year in his freshman season when he batted .343. As a sophomore, he batted only .265, but until the offense gets underway this season, it’s hard to peg his sophomore campaign as the exception or the rule — more likely the exception, though, as the entire offense spent a substantial portion of last season somewhat frustrated at the plate. Hitting, as Selzer pointed out after almost every game last year, is contagious.

To fill the void on second base left by Roulis, the team has been looking at Justin Fowler ’18 and Dustin Shirley ’18. Shirley, Whalen said, is unique among many freshmen fielders due to his ability to play around the bases.

“We’re trying to create some versatility along with some competition at these positions,” he said. “As a coach you always have to ask yourself, ‘What if [someone] got hurt or something happened and he couldn’t play for 10 days or two weeks?’ What would you do? You’re always trying to make guys feel comfortable that they have the ability to do more than one thing.”

Behind the plate, Dartmouth is returning all three of its catchers: Matt MacDowell ’15, Adam Gauthier ’16 and John Melody ’17. MacDowell will presumably take most of the starts, as he has since his sophomore year.

In the outfield, with the absence of Keller — the only starter last year not to commit an error — the team is looking at several players including Kyle Holbrook ’18, who also has been getting attention behind the plate but seems somewhat unlikely to end up there with the three other capable catchers on the roster.

In his final season at Dartmouth, two-sport varsity athlete Bo Patterson ’15, who plays wide receiver for the football team, could prove instrumental in fielding the long balls, Whalen said.

“Bo Patterson is in the mix…everywhere because of his athleticism,” Whalen said. “He’s got good competitive experience, not just baseball experience, which I love. I love guys that play football. They bring a real physicality and a mindset that most baseball guys don’t have.”

As expected as a face can be in an “every position is always open” mentality is Nick Ruppert ’16, who is slated to play in center field, as he did last year. Ruppert missed most of his freshman season with a hand injury.

Despite not returning all the players it had hoped to, the Big Green has a good mix of players it can rely on and players it is looking to develop, certainly helped along by the amount of playing time they will be able to get in preseason games. A blessing in disguise for this team is the amount of experience different players will get at positions, something typically not afforded to any but the best players in their freshman and sophomore seasons. It’s an opportunity for players to come out and earn a spot — in the order, in the infield, the outfield, even on the mound. The team has 17 games to play between this moment and the Ivy League opener against Columbia University, last year’s Ivy League Champions who defeated Dartmouth in New York but have since graduated both aces on their staff. In that time, Dartmouth is looking to shape itself into a team who can chase that eighth straight Red Rolfe Division Title and maybe, for the first time in the memory of any players now wearing the Green and White, go all the way and reestablish itself as the best team in the Ancient Eight.