Young Arms Look to Lead MIT to Postseason Play
March 15, 2007
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - After advancing to the NEWMAC Championship game in 2006, MIT enters the 2007 season with one goal on its mind: to get one step further and claim their first ever NEWMAC Championship. Led by a young and talented pitching staff, the Engineers will look to improve on last season's 21-14 record and continue to establish themselves as one of the top programs in the Northeast.
Young and talented. That is the best way to describe the 2007 MIT pitching staff. Losing only one arm to graduation, the Engineers will look to improve on an impressive 2006 campaign that saw several youngsters make sizable impacts during both the regular season and playoffs. Leading the way will be junior knuckleballer Jay Turner. Over his two-year career as a starter, Turner has put together a combined record of 10-3 and 4.15 ERA. Last season, however, Turner established himself as the staff ace as he picked up several key regular season wins versus conference opponents Clark, Coast Guard, and WPI. In the post-season, Turner took his game to another level as he again defeated both Coast Guard and WPI en route to the Engineers' first appearance in the NEWMAC championship game.
Filling the No. 2 spot in the rotation will be sophomore two-way standout Chris D'Annunzio. Although he will also serve as MIT's starting shortstop, D'Annunzio has shown that his biggest contributions may come on the mound. In 2006, Chris showed uncommon poise for a freshman as he regularly stifled opponents with an above average fastball and sharp curveball. With additional experience, there is little doubt he will develop into one of the top pitchers in the NEWMAC.
Matt Loper is another sophomore that made a huge impact in 2006 and will be counted on heavily this upcoming spring. Loper made a splash last year in the New England Division III scene as he had an unblemished record (5-0) heading into late April. The most impressive highlight during this run came in his first collegiate start as he shut down defending national champion Wisconsin-Whitewater over the course of six innings to pick up the win. Loper's only loss during the season was against nationally-ranked Wheaton College, a game in which he pitched well enough to win. Matt has all the tools to be a great pitcher, but needs to improve his command to see more consistent results and reduce his pitch counts.
Currently the No. 4 spot in the rotation is up for grabs. Freshman Kyle Adkins would have been the obvious choice for this role, but he is recovering from off-season Tommy John surgery. Undergoing the operation in February of 2006, Adkins made steady progress during the off-season and could be ready for game action sometime in mid-April. Another candidate for the role will be red-shirt junior Rich Kosoglow who during the stretch run last season developed into one of MIT's most reliable pitchers. A bulldog on the mound, Kosoglow loves having the ball in key situations and could be used in a variety of different roles.
Relief pitching should also be a strength for the Engineers. Lefty Mike Vasquez showed good command of all of his pitches during the abbreviated fall season and will once again be very tough on the NEWMAC's top lefty sluggers. One of the hardest workers on the team, Vasquez has perfected a new sidearm delivery and seems primed to have a breakout junior season. An interesting twist to the '07 bullpen will be the increased role of a group of talented sophomores. Thomas Phillips, like the previously mentioned Vasquez, has been working hard to develop a new arm slot. An imposing figure on the mound at 6'5", Phillips will be used in a variety of roles. Kevin Foley spent all of the 2006 season rehabbing an injury and unfortunately never saw game action. A command pitcher with a solid change-up that he consistently throws for strikes, Foley will try to stay injury free and make an impact this spring for the Engineers.
Joining these three talented pitchers will be two relatively inexperienced arms. Stephen Toth continues to progress in his development as a pitcher and could make a big impact if he continues to throw strikes. A hard throwing right-hander, Toth is by far the best-conditioned athlete on the team. Lastly, sophomore Steven Nunez will join the pitching corps and should throw some key innings for the Engineers.
Replacing seniors is always a key to manufacturing a successful collegiate baseball program. Wayne Duggan, Kyle Zeller, Greg Williams and Warren Bates were all four-year starters for the Engineers. Three of the four batted in the middle of the MIT lineup and had career batting averages that were close to the .400. Although there is no doubt that it is difficult to replace a starting catcher, shortstop, second basemen, and third basemen all in one season, it seems as if MIT's young and talented infielders are ready to embrace this challenge.
Although infield play will clearly be an important factor in the Engineers' success in 2007, the offense will be lead by a gifted group of outfielders. Leading the way will be three-year starter, centerfielder, and senior captain Jason Witzberger. Last season was a breakout year for Jason as he picked up regional and national honors for his performance on the field. Although he is arguably the top leadoff hitter in New England, Jason will move to the three-hole in `07 to help shore up the Engineers' middle part of the order. Joining Witzberger in the outfield will be sophomore left-fielder David Nole, who showed flashes of brilliance during his freshman campaign. A unique combination of power and speed, Nole started the '06 season on a torrid pace, but cooled as the spring went along to finish the year at a respectable .272 clip with 2 homers and 19 RBI's.
In addition to Witzberger, the middle of the lineup will be occupied by sophomore designated hitter Thomas Phillips. Phillips was a terror on pitchers during his freshman year batting at a .379 clip while starting in each of MIT's 35 games. A patient hitter who hits with power to all fields, Phillips will continue to be a rock in the middle of the lineup for the Engineers for years to come.
Junior Kevin Wheeler is another key returnee who will provide some serious offensive punch for the Engineers. Coming off a season in which he was named second-team All-NEWMAC, Wheeler has proven during his first two years as an Engineer that he has the ability to be a quality run producer. This season, MIT will look for big things from Wheeler as he moves into more of a leadership role. Wheeler will likely split time between third base, first base, and designated hitter. Stepping in at shortstop will be sophomore Chris D'Annunzio. A superb athlete, Chris will be counted on heavily as a key cog in the Engineers lineup. D'Annunzio will look to improve on a good freshman campaign in which his good defense was complemented by a .255 average and 2 homeruns. Second base this year will be manned by freshman Stewart Park (Brooklyn, N.Y.). Park comes to MIT from high school powerhouse Xaverian in New York where he started at second base for four years. The Engineers expect that Park will spark their offense from somewhere in the top of the lineup.
The catching position is, without a doubt, the biggest hole that the Engineers will need to replace in '07. Luckily, sophomore Steven Nunez seems ready for the challenge. A starting right fielder as a freshman, Nunez will be asked to assume full catching duties this upcoming spring. Nunez showed in the fall that he was fully capable of handling MIT's pitchers and developed a healthy rapport with all of MIT's young arms. Nunez batted near the bottom of the lineup during the '06 season, but because of his excellent bat control and the marked improvement during the off-season, he could find himself batting as high as leadoff this spring.
MIT enters the 2007 season with two fairly unsettled positions; one in right field and one at third base. However, there are several candidates that seem ready to take advantage of this playing time. In addition to Wheeler, Ben Bersanti will look to secure playing time at the hot corner. Bersanti is a scrappy player who has impressed the coaching staff with his attitude, work ethic, and hustle. Also looking to compete for playing time in the infield will be speedy freshman Deron Brown who won All-Region honors in the infield for Grayson County in Virginia. Although his natural position is second base, Brown may also get some repetitions in the outfield.
Also competing for playing time in the outfield will be sophomore Stephen Toth, junior Rich Kosoglow, and freshman Jason Rome. Toth is a hard worker with a good arm from the outfield who continues to develop offensively while Kosoglow showed flashes in the fall that he is ready to become a more regular contributor on the offensive side of the ball. Rome comes to MIT as a solid contact hitter with good outfield skills. With a productive off-season, Rome could also see himself thrown into the mix come spring.
Providing depth at the catching position will be junior Paul Groudas and freshman Eduardo Martinez. With the graduation of Zeller and the inexperience of Nunez behind the plate, both could find themselves in the lineup at any given notice. Groudas, in particular, has proven himself to be a more than capable defensive catcher. Finally, providing additional depth in the infield will be sophomore Matt Loper who showed some impressive power during his freshman campaign. He will likely make his biggest contributions offensively at either first base or designated hitter.