2016 Lafayette Baseball Season Preview
EASTON, Pa. – With over three weeks of practice in the books, Lafayette is set to get the 2016
regular season started Friday afternoon at VMI, with first pitch scheduled for 3 p.m.
The Leopards bring back six position starters and three of their four primary starting pitchers from a 2015 squad that came within one victory of reaching the Patriot League Championship series. Included among those returners are each of the Maroon and White’s First-Team All-Patriot League honorees in Campbell Lipe and Tyler Hudson, as well as Second-Team All-Patriot League and Freshman All-American shortstop Steven Cohen.
“This year’s team certainly has experience,” head coach Joe Kinney said. “We need to swing the bat with more consistency. We’re hoping to have a dynamic lineup that can find ways to score runs in a variety of fashions.”
Lafayette will have the luxury of bringing back four starters across the diamond this spring. Lipe, who saw the majority of his playing time at designator hitter in 2015, will begin the season as the primary first baseman. The senior co-captain led the team with a .324 average (.370 in conference games) and belted out a team-high 12 doubles.
Hudson, Lafayette’s other first-team performer and a fellow co-captain, will return to his familiar spot at third base after he hit .256 with three home runs and six stolen bases as a sophomore. Cohen (.281, 5 HR, .444 slg%) and Jackson Kramer make up the remainder of the starting infield. Cohen led the Leopards in home runs as a freshman, while Kramer, who started a team-high 39 games, maintained a .972 fielding percentage at second base.
Patrick Nelson returns for his sophomore season to back up Lipe at first base, while potentially seeing time as a designated hitter as well. A trio of freshmen in Spencer Rouse, Isaiah Berg and Richard Villa will additionally compete for playing time in the infield.
Lafayette’s least-experienced position heading into the 2016 season is behind the plate, with the Maroon and White searching to replace four-year starter Parker Hills, who appeared in 38 of the team’s 42 contests in 2015.
“Catcher is a position more than any other where we expect to play two guys somewhat regularly,” Kinney said. “Right now, a pair of sophomores in AJ Kloehn and John Selsor are in line to split playing time as we open up the season, and we’ll let their performances dictate where we go from there.”
Kloehn was forced to sit out last spring due to injury, while Selsor joins the Leopards as a transfer from the University of Washington. Sophomore Nick Shah and freshman Connor Macaulay will vie for the third catcher’s spot, and Villa also has the ability to catch.
Senior Michael Coniglio returns to man center field after posting career-high offensive numbers in 2015. Coniglio hit .293 while leading the team in hits (39), runs (26), walks (15) and stolen bases (8), and he is expected to slot into the top of the lineup this spring. Defensively, the Ridgewood, N.J., native was the only full-time starter in the field to record a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.
Senior Andrew Landolfi and freshman Dan Leckie will get the first opportunities to start on the corners. Landolfi has started 81 of the 90 games he has appeared in over his career on College Hill, and he will look to rediscover his freshman year form which saw him hit .272 with a .364 on-base percentage over 37 contests. Leckie, meanwhile, was a Mid-Atlantic Prep League First-Team player as a senior at Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, and he brings a large range of positional variety to the Leopards.
Other contenders for playing time include senior Alex Nickles and sophomores Drew Aherne and Quentin Bubb. Aherne tallied the most experience out of that trio in 2015, making starts in 12 of his 18 appearances. Sophomore Luke Robinson, currently recovering from an offseason injury, could also factor into the outfield later on.
Several players could see time at DH throughout the season, but most of the initial at-bats figure to go to a Preseason All-Patriot League selection in Alex Woinski. The junior Paramus, N.J., native, who has the ability to play in the outfield and at first base, belted four home runs and totaled 18 RBIs across 30 games last spring, and he hit .326 during his freshman season in 2014.
Junior right-hander David Bednar enters as the team’s unquestioned ace of the pitching staff. Bednar surrendered two or fewer earned runs in seven of his 10 starts last season, finishing the year with a 3.41 earned-run average and 70 strikeouts compared to only 18 walks.
“He’s a very talented guy who has a chance to be drafted down the road,” Kinney said. “He had a very good summer in the Coastal Plains League, and will move up to the Cape Cod League this summer. He’s going to give us a chance to win when he’s on the mound.”
Returning sophomore John Cain and senior Mitch Leeds are expected to slot into the next two spots in the rotation. Cain, a 6-10 left-hander, acquitted himself well as a freshman, registering a 4.20 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 45.0 innings pitched, while Leeds has started 22 games in his career, with a top ERA of 3.90 over 55 1/3 innings as a sophomore.
The final conference rotation spot will be a battle between senior Ari Kaufman and junior Trevor Houck. Kaufman saw an increased role towards the end of last spring, earning a key win at Bucknell. Houck, who joins Lipe and Hudson to make up Lafayette’s three captains in 2016, looks to get back to his freshman year form, where he delivered a 2.48 ERA across 32 2/3 innings.
“Connor and Ryan will be guys that we’re going to try to get to in key moments in the game,” Kinney said. “A big thing with them will be figuring out the best way to utilize them multiple times in a weekend series, but they both bring a lot of experience to the table.
“Coleman Stroehm took a big step forward in the fall, and he will look to fill the middle relief void for us,” Kinney continued. “Another guy who had a really good fall, and might be our most improved player overall after those workouts, is Conor Russell. He’ll compete for innings as well.”
David Giusti is one of several freshman who will fight for playing time to round out the bullpen. He brings versatility as a potential spot starter when the need arises. Joining Giusti are fellow newcomers Connor Jones, David George, Kyle Johnson and Andrew Marra.
Junior Rob Ewald, who is in the midst of an ongoing recovery from Tommy John surgery, could additionally add some innings to the bullpen later on in the season.
Lafayette finished 2015 with a 14-27-1 record, though that mark improved to 9-11 in conference play, sending the Leopards into the Patriot League tournament for the first time since 2012 as the No. 4 seed.
They then won the opening game at Navy in the semifinal round before the top-seeded Mids tallied back-to-back shutouts to avoid the upset. Patriot League baseball is notoriously unpredictable from season to season, and Kinney expects more of the same in 2016.
“It’s very competitive, and the margin is very thin for each place in the league,” he said. “Sustaining your concentration throughout the four-game series’ in conference play is key. The most important thing is to get into the playoffs, and from there anything can happen.”