The baseball team's 2012 season begins on the road tonight as Bruno starts a three-game weekend series against Florida International. When the Bears take the field, they will look quite different from last year's squad, in terms of both personnel and strategy.
Head Coach Marek Drabinski said one of the biggest challenges this year is dealing with the loss of last year's strong group of seniors. "That whole class … you're talking about guys who, for the most part, made pretty big impacts from the day they arrived at Brown," he said.
Undoubtedly, the biggest loss from 2011 was starting catcher Matt Colantonio '11, Drabinski said. Colantonio — who had an .850 on-base plus slugging percentage last year — had been the starting catcher since his freshman year. Bruno will miss his contributions on both sides of the ball, Drabinski said.
After Colantonio, Drabinski named pitcher Matt Kimball '11 (3.74 ERA in 2011) as the graduated senior the team will miss the most, adding that the losses of third baseman Ryan Zrenda '11, first baseman Pete Greskoff '11 and outfielder and pitcher Josh Feit '11 were also tough for the team.
But the Bears still think they will be able to put a good team on the field, said co-captain Graham Tyler '12. "We've done a pretty good job of moving in a positive direction," Tyler said.
A number of rookies have already made good impressions on their coach. Nick Fornaca '15 is "going to make immediate dividends" at third base, Drabinski said, while Will Marcal '15 will probably be the starting right fielder and could even be used as a starting pitcher in conference games. Drabinski also named pitchers David St. Lawrence '15 and Ed Fitzpatrick '15 and likely closer Chris Smith '15 as potential impact players from the freshman class.
Drabinski added he is confident that a number of returning players will improve on their 2011 performances. The Bears had a 13-29 record in 2011, including a 9-11 conference record. "Disappointing seasons from upperclassmen and injuries … really led to our downfall," Drabinski said.
Drabinski said he is hoping for a healthy season from second-year senior Mark Gormley '12, who did not pitch well last year (10.80 ERA in 2011) while recovering from his 2010 Tommy John surgery, and a return to form for Kevin Carlow '13, who struggled in 2011 (6.42 ERA) after emerging as the team's ace as a first-year. He also named Tyler (.576 OPS), outfielders Mike DiBiase '12 (.805 OPS) and John Sheridan '13 (.664 OPS) and pitcher Heath Mayo '13 (3.06 ERA) as upperclassmen from whom he said he expects to see growth this season.
Drabinski is rethinking the team's approach to pitching, he said.
"We gave up way too many walks" in 2011, he said. Last year, Bears pitchers walked or beaned .67 batters per inning. "You just can't give up free baserunners like we did," Drabinski said. "You can't win that way."
As Drabinski decides who will be in the starting rotation for conference games — Mayo is the only pitcher who is guaranteed a spot — he will be looking primarily at who can consistently throw strikes, he said.
Seven pitchers started conference games for Bruno in 2011, and Drabinski said his goal this year is to not let that happen again. The best teams he has coached were the ones in which the rotation was stable, he said. "You knew who was pitching those four games every weekend," he said.
Outside the rotation, left and right field are "the two biggest spots that are open," Drabinski said. At this point, Matt DeRenzi '14 will probably start in left field. "He's been playing his butt off," Drabinski said, adding that Marcal is the favorite to play right field, though neither position is set, he said.
With 15 games against non-Ivy teams scheduled for the next four weeks, the coaches will have the chance to figure out the rotation and lineup before the start of the conference season. Bruno's pre-conference schedule is "by far the hardest in our league," Drabinski said. "It's a tremendous experience for the kids."
Expectations for the Bears are not high after they posted a losing record last year and lost a strong class of seniors, but Drabinski said he is confident in his team.
"I think we're going to surprise people," he said. "I think our two strengths are pitching and defense, and as long as you pitch and play defense … you've got a chance."