Battle-Tested Leopards Eager to Start 2018 Season
EASTON, Pa. -- Lafayette baseball is looking to bounce back after an up-and-down 2017 season and they have a blueprint in place to do just that. With another year of high expectations, student-athletes returning from injury, and an excellent mix of experience and youth, head coach Joe Kinney, who enters his 18th year manning the bench, expects a much improved product on the diamond this season.
“Our expectations for this team are high every year,” stated Kinney. “We always want to be competitive in Patriot League play, transition that play into the tournament, and then ultimately, the goal is to always qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Coming into this season, my staff and the players want to prove we are a better team than what we showed last year. There were a lot of positives last season, and in the offseason we’ve focused on improving the things we can control so we can be better prepared for anything this season is going to throw at us.”
Kinney expects the class of 2018 to play a significant role in helping the Maroon and White reach their goals season, as the team features nine seniors, including team captains Luke Robinson and AJ Kloehn.
“Our nine seniors are all going to play significant roles and their leadership on and off the field is going to be key for us.”
Lafayette also owns a freshman class of nine players that includes four additions to the pitching staff. Mixing in the fresh arms is going to be key for the Leopards to compete for the entirety of their 51-game schedule.
“Our freshman pitchers have done well in the offseason and we’re excited to mix them in with our more experienced guys,” Kinney said. “Mike Dunn, Gabe Levine, J.P. Woodward and Tyler Faccenda have showed us a lot of positive things in fall ball and in practice. We’re going to look for them to carry that over into the season and really help us compete.”
The Leopards are taking on a challenging schedule once again, starting the year off on Friday, when they begin a three-game series with Davidson, which played in a NCAA Super Regional last season.
“Our schedule is challenging again this year, but that is nothing new for us,” Kinney said. “There are going to be times when we have to bear down and grind out some games, but that’s how you improve as a team, and I believe we have the right mix of guys to do just that.”
A positional preview can be found below.
Depth up the middle highlights the Leopards’ infield as the Maroon and White return both halves of their double play combo this season. Preseason All-Patriot League selection Steven Cohen returns to man second base, while junior Spencer Rouse looks to continue to hold down the shortstop spot.
After posting a .965 fielding percentage with 93 putouts last season, Cohen is back for his final season on College Hill. Offensively, the Newton Square, Pa. native finished 2017 with a .331 batting average and a team-high 36 runs scored en route to his third consecutive All-Patriot League Second-Team selection. Cohen looks to be the table setter for the Leopards batting order once again.
“Steve is our most experienced player in the infield and he’s going to anchor our lineup as the lead-off hitter,” Kinney stated. “We’re looking for him to run our offense and really solidify our defense up the middle.”
Flipping to the other side of the second base bag, Rouse returns after battling the injury bug last season. The junior was able to fight through injury, driving in 25 runs to go along with a .434 slugging percentage and 11 two-baggers.
“Spencer featured at short for us last season and fought through some injuries as a sophomore,” said Kinney. “He’s rebounded from those injuries and has looked good through the fall and our practices.”
The Leopards are looking at two players to compete for reps and provide stability at first base after graduating Alex Woisnki ’17, who finished fourth on the team with a .288 batting average and 13 multi-hit games. Kinney is expecting the combination of senior Patrick Nelson and Richard Villa to hold down the fort.
Nelson provides a left-handed bat in the lineup has the versatility to play in left field if required. Villa is another right-handed batter who notched 14 hits in 24 appearances last season.
“Patrick and Richard have cemented themselves as our options at first base through the offseason,” Kinney said. “Nelson gives us some added versatility with his ability to play left field, while both Villa and Nelson could see time at DH when they’re not in the field.”
Moving across the field to third base, the Leopards are going to use a platoon approach at the hot corner. Before going down with an injury near the end of the year, Dan Leckie played the majority of his 41 games at third base. The junior clubbed five home runs and eight doubles, compiling a .291 average at the plate. Sophomore John Marti will look to get some reps at third base as well, as he showed skill at the plate in limited appearances as a freshman, finishing with a .387 batting average in 31 plate appearances while knocking in four RBIs.
“Dan has played quite a bit for us the last two years and could see some time in the outfield as well,” said Kinney. “John has shown us some good things in practice and will get time at third base during the year.”
“Mark, Mike and Ethan are all going to see some time this year and provide us with depth and coverage in the middle of the infield,” Kinney said. “Bill is someone who can see time at first and third base, giving us more options as the year goes on.”
Behind the plate the Leopards are relying on Kloehn to manage the pitching staff this upcoming season. The Canton, Ohio native enters his third season as a starter after featuring in 28 games last season, 26 of which were starts. Kloehn has been a defensive catcher in his time on College Hill, and threw out five would-be base stealers last season.
“A.J. is going to be our primary starter behind the plate and lead our pitching staff through the season,” Kinney added. “We’re looking at him to use his experiences over the last three seasons to become more of a force in a lineup as well.”
Two out of the three outfield positions will be manned by seniors, as Quentin Bubb enters his second full season as a starter in centerfield, while Robinson enters his third season as an everyday starter in right.
Bubb played in all 52 games last season, finishing the year with a .285 batting average to go along with six doubles. The Germantown, Md. native patrolled the middle of the outfield well last year, amassing a .972 fielding percentage, finishing second on the team with 174 putouts.
“Quentin gained a lot of experience last season and we’re looking for him take advantage of that this season,” Kinney added. “We expect him to continue to improve and be a fixture in center field.”
Robinson returns as a captain in his senior season after clubbing a team-best six home runs last year along with 30 RBIs. The 6-2 right fielder recorded 10 multi-hit games at the dish, amassing .473 slugging percentage.
“Luke is going to anchor a spot in the middle of our lineup this season,” Kinney said. “He’s our second most experienced player in our lineup and we’re going to lean on him for leadership in the clubhouse this season.”
Sophomore Brandon Posivak will play in left field for the Leopards after seeing time in 36 games as a freshman.
“Brandon is someone who makes things happen for us on the basepaths,” Kinney stated. “As a staff, we like his speed and what he brings to our batting order as well as in the field, and we’re looking for him to play quite a bit.”
“Trey, Jake and Colin all add depth and competition to our outfield corps,” Kinney said. “From what we’ve seen in practice, Trey and Jake area also going to compete for DH at-bats.”
The Leopards are bringing back a wealth of experience on the mound, featuring five juniors and two seniors. Added into that experience are four freshmen who are all looking to make a significant impact.
“We’re excited about our pitching staff,” Kinney added. “A lot of our guys got unexpected experience last year and it’s going to pay dividends this year. We also have players returning from injury who are going to have a big impact for us this season.”
One of those players coming back from injury is 6-10 left-hander John Cain, who missed the entire 2017 season with injury. Dating back to his sophomore season, Cain posted 47 strikeouts in 44.2 innings of work.
“John has worked his way back from injury and we’re excited to get him back on the mound this season and see the impact he’ll have on our rotation.”
Jon Faraci is another pitcher Kinney is looking forward to having don the Maroon and White this season. The junior transferred in to the program from St. John’s last season and was out due to injury and NCAA rules.
“Jon came to us from St. John’s and had to sit out last season,” Kinney said. “He’s another guy coming back from an injury that we’re expecting big things from.”
Sophomore Brett Kreyer earned 10 starts as a freshman and is expected to return to a starting role this season.
“Brett threw some solid innings for us last year and he’s a left-handed starter which is great to have in our rotation,” Kinney said.
The class of 2019 forms the core of Lafayette’s bullpen. Connor Jones led the pitching staff with 27 appearances last season, while David Giusti appeared in 15 games, 11 of which were starts. Kyle Johnson is a lefty who can get outs versus both sides of the plate, while Andrew Marra will likely feature at the backend of the Maroon and White’s bullpen.
“Brian and Kenny are both in the mix for a starting spot whether it’s a Wednesday game or on the weekend,” Kinney stated. “They’ll also play roles in our bullpen throughout the year.”
Mark Anderson is a left-handed arm out of the bullpen the Leopards can lean on to eat up innings.
“Mark pitched a lot in relief for us last year and we expect more of the same from him this year.”
The Leopards aren’t putting the total workload on the upperclassmen, as Kinney has added four impact arms into the pitching stable. Dunn, Levine, Woodward and Faccenda have impressed the coaching staff throughout the offseason and will see opportunities this season.
“The group of freshman pitchers we added have really impressed our staff so far,” Kinney stated. “Mike, Gabe, J.P. and Tyler are going add a lot of depth to our pitching staff and raise the level of competition we have between our pitchers.”
The Leopards have 17 contests within the friendly confines of Kamine Stadium during the upcoming season and two neutral site contests that will feature the Maroon and White as the home team.
The highlight of the Maroon and White’s schedule comes on April 25, when they welcome Penn State to the Lehigh Valley in a game that will be played at Coca-Cola Park, home of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. The game will mark the first time the ball park has been the site of a Division I baseball game. Tickets for the contest can be found here.
The Patriot League schedule looks different this season than in year’s past. Patriot League teams will play each opponent five times for a grand total of 25 games. The schedule format features four three-game series, three four-game series and one mid-week game.
The Leopards get their season started with a southern road swing, as the Maroon White have two, three-game series with NCAA Tournament participant Davidson and the Virginia Military Institute to start the season. Lafayette opens up against the Wildcats on Feb. 16.
The Leopards travel to the Maryland-Eastern Shore for a four-game slate Mar. 3-4, before making their return home to host Fairleigh Dickinson on Mar. 6 at 3 p.m. The Leopards stay at home is short-lived, as they hit the road for a season-long nine-game road trip down south, this time at another tournament team in UNC Greensboro on Mar. 9. After taking on the Spartans in a three-game series, the Leopards have one-offs against Longwood (Mar. 13 at 5 p.m.) and Virginia Commonwealth on Mar. 14.
The Maroon and White visit George Mason for three contests Mar. 16-18, before traveling to Seton Hall to take on the Pirates on Mar. 21. The Leopards return home on Mar. 24 to host rivals Lehigh in a four-game set to open Patriot League play. They host Villanova in the Liberty Bell Classic on Mar. 27. That contest is scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. start.
Following the showdown with the Wildcats, the Leopards are on the road for an eight-game swing, taking on Navy on Mar. 31 and April 1, before heading to Bucknell for three games on Apr. 7 and 8. The Maroon and White close out the road trip on Apr. 10 against Rutgers.
The Maroon and White close out their season with a Patriot League doubleheader at Army on May 6. The Patriot League Tournament begins on May 12.