February 17, 2010

Butler Baseball Preview - Part I

All of the returning players have another year of experience and seasoning. Add a mix of talented newcomers, and the Bulldogs are aiming to get back to their winning ways.
There are no fancy themes with the 2010 edition of the Butler baseball program. No mottos, no slogans. The message: compete every day, get back to winning and regain the respect Butler has built over the last 100 years.

"We need to get back to playing winning baseball," head coach Steve Farley said. "Having the indoor hitting facility complete has given our players a renewed sense of optimism about our program. Still, we have to go out and compete every day." 

It's no secret that the winter is no ally to college baseball in the north. That's why Butler has made the commitment to overcome that obstacle and give the Bulldogs a facility that puts them on par with any program in the Midwest. 

Despite the lack of success on the scoreboard last season, the 2010 Butler squad does have the advantage of playing at a school with a storied tradition of championships and NCAA berths. Farley, entering his 19th season with the Bulldogs and the longest-tenured skipper in the Horizon League, guided a program that won just 18 games in his first season at BU to a league championship just four years later and three more titles the following decade.

The following is a breakdown of the 2010 Butler baseball team:

PITCHERS

Butler saw four of its top six pitchers from last season graduate, but the Bulldogs have eight returnees and a top pitching recruit on the pitching staff.

The team's top arm from a year ago, junior Jared Wagoner, returns and is a team co-captain this season. Wagoner made 17 appearances last season, leading the team with a 5.59 ERA and striking out 46 in 58.0 innings of work.

BU's top recruit, freshman Kyle Kramp also figures to start a lot of ballgames in 2010. Kramp, who led Westfield High School to the 4A IHSAA State Finals, was named IHSBCA Player of the Year last year and was drafted by the San Francisco Giants.

Sophomore Mike Hernandez will also enter the season in the starting rotation. The right-hander had a stellar freshman season, leading the team in innings pitched (70.1), strikeouts (59) and wins (3). For his efforts, he was voted to the Horizon League All-Newcomer Team.

Senior Joe Ochs, the team's only lefty, is the fourth Bulldog to enter the season as a starter. Ochs battled through some injuries last season and is aiming to regain the form he had in 2008, when he went 3-1 and had 20 strikeouts against six walks.

Farley will be counting on seniors Jamie Feldheiser and Tyler Szymczak to handle the late innings. Feldheiser made 15 appearances last year and picked up a pair of wins. Szymczak tied for the team lead with 17 appearances (16 in relief) in 2009.

Other relievers returning include juniors Dom Slivestri and David Dennemann and sophomore Ryan Salvino. "Dennemann and Silvestri are capable of taking their games to the next level this season," Farley said. 

Salvino missed much of last season with injuries and made just six appearances last season, but should be ready to go this season.

The Bulldogs also have a group of talented freshmen pitchers who will see innings this season. The group includes: Jared Earle, Joel Leichty, Billy Laing and David Suffern. Farley also cites freshman walk-on Chase Byerly as having a good work ethic and that he will also compete for relief innings.

CATCHERS

The Bulldogs have three solid and capable players behind the plate in junior Michael Letzter and sophomore Nick Hladek and Brian Padove."All three of these guys have D-I arms and each player is capable of being a solid leader for us behind the plate," Farley said.

Letzter, who hit .289 with three home runs last season, enters the spring as the starting backstop. The junior scored 24 runs and drove in 20 more last year, but it's his improved defense that may prove most valuable. 

Hladek, who missed a lot of time last year as a freshman due to injury, shows great potential as a hitter. Padove appeared in 14 games a year ago and made great strides as the catcher for the summer national champion Crystal Lake Cardinals in Illinois.

"Mike has improved as a blocker, and Brian had a great summer as the catcher on a college summer team that won a national championship. With Nick back healthy again, we think we have three solid players at the catcher position."