By Thomas Regan
Despite the recent cold climate, the MAAC men’s baseball season has already begun. If the weather cooperates, Rider will open up its season in Buies Creek, North Carolina, on Feb. 20-22 with matchups against Virginia Tech and Campbell. With powerhouse Canisius fresh off of its first-place finish in 2014, where it will likely finish yet again, here are the predictions for the rest of the conference.
1. Canisius (40-16, 20-4 MAAC)
Key Position Player: Senior corner infielder Connor Panas
Key Pitcher: Junior left-handed pitcher Alex Godzak
Coming off three straight seasons of a top-three finish in the MAAC, Canisius will look toward Panas to build off of his monstrous 2014 campaign, in which he batted .362 with 6 homeruns and 51 RBIs. Panas has already been named the 2015 MAAC Preseason Player of the Year and in his senior campaign, he should continue to anchor the offense. On the mound, Alex Godzak is coming off of a year in which he threw four complete games and pitched to the tune of 2.63 ERA. Godzak should help pitch Canisius to another first-place finish.
2. Fairfield (32-24, 15-8 MAAC)
Key Position Player: Senior catcher Sebastian Salvo
Key Pitcher: Junior right-handed pitcher Mike Wallace
While the case could be made for junior infielder Jake Salpietro as the team’s key player, Sebastian Salvo enjoyed a remarkable 2014 season, batting .354 in 29 starts and 33 games. Salvo played his best baseball in the final seven games, recording at least one hit in each and ending the season on a high note. If Salvo can build on his final seven games, this Fairfield team may have two stars in Salpietro and Salvo. In terms of pitching, Mike Wallace’s sophomore season displayed his pinpoint control, as he only issued 15 walks in 86.2 innings and posted an ERA of 3.32. After being named to the All-MAAC second team, Wallace will look to improve his already striking résumé.
3. Siena (27-33, 17-7 MAAC)
Key Position Player: Sophomore outfielder Dan Swain
Key Pitcher: Senior right-handed pitcher Ed Lewicki
In just his freshman season, Swain batted .293 with two homeruns and 27 RBIs to go along with 12 stolen bases in 15 attempts. The sophomore should show improvement in his second season and help soften the loss of Siena’s 2014 batting average leaders, Vincent Citro and Mike Allen. On the other side of the ball, Lewicki struggled mightily in 2014 with a 5.75 ERA and 37 walks in 76.2 innings. He will have to cut back on the free passes if Siena wants to end up at the top of the conference again.
4. Rider (16-33, 7-15 MAAC)
Key Position Player: Senior first baseman Justin Thomas
Key Pitcher: Senior right-handed pitcher Kurt Sowa
Despite the team’s struggles as a whole, senior first baseman Justin Thomas had a breakout campaign, leading the team in homeruns with four, batting average at .341 and RBIs with 45. If Thomas can continue last year’s success and senior pitcher Kurt Sowa can bounce back after a season that saw his ERA climb to 4.57 in 2014, the Broncs should be back near the top of the conference.
5. Quinnipiac (18-31, 12-10 MAAC)
Key Position Player: Senior infielder Vincent Guglietti
Key Pitcher: Senior left-handed pitcher Justin Thomas
Junior first baseman Vincent Guglietti raked in his third season as a Bobcat with five homeruns, 38 RBIs and a team-leading .341 batting average. Anchoring the pitching rotation, Justin Thomas pitched to a 4.20 ERA in 2014, but walked 30 batters in 70.2 innings. If Thomas can walk fewer batters, he may be able to lead the team to a better record than the 18-31 it achieved last season.
6. Niagara (20-31, 8-14 MAAC)
Key Position Player: Redshirt junior outfielder Taylor Hackett
Key Pitcher: Sophomore right-handed pitcher Liam Stroud
As a redshirt sophomore, Hackett hit .310 with a homerun and 22 runs batted in. His strong 2014 stats came in just 37 games played. A full season of their standout sophomore will work wonders for the Niagara offense. However, a lot of their success will hinge on the pitching performance of Liam Stroud, who struggled in 2014 with a 4.76 ERA and a 0-6 record. If Stroud can improve, the Purple Eagles may just move up in the MAAC.
7. Manhattan (17-33, 11-13 MAAC)
Key Position Player: Junior outfielder Christian Santisteban
Key Pitcher: Freshman left-handed pitcher Tom Cosgrove
With 17 doubles and two homeruns in 49 games in 2014, Christian Santisteban flashed some power to accompany his .314 batting average. However, possibly the most intriguing player on Manhattan will be 2015’s MAAC Preseason Freshman of the Year, who pitched to a 6-0 record with a 0.76 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 55 innings in his senior year at Farrell High School. If he can adjust to college ball, Manhattan may turn some heads in 2015.
8. Marist (17-32, 10-14 MAAC)
Key Position Player: Senior first baseman Steve Laurino
Key Pitcher: Sophomore right-handed pitcher Scott Boches
Senior first baseman Steve Laurino led the team in batting average in 2014 at .299 with 27 runs batted in and 10 doubles; he will likely have to produce even more for the Red Foxes to make the leap to the top of the conference. Sophomore pitcher Scott Boches enjoyed moderate success in his freshman campaign, but struggled with consistency and finished with a 4.72 ERA. However, if he can improve in his sophomore season and help lead the pitching staff, it will take some of the pressure off Laurino and the offense.
9. Monmouth (24-25, 12-10 MAAC)
Key Position Player: Sophomore infielder Grant Lamberton
Key Pitcher: Senior right-handed pitcher Chris McKenna
After graduating its four batting average leaders, Monmouth will likely not find the amount of success it had in 2014 when it finished fourth in the MAAC. Most of the offensive burden will fall on sophomore infielder Grant Lamberton. If he can build on a season where he batted .280, smacked one homerun and drove in 20 runs, the Hawks might have some hope for 2015. Chris McKenna led the Hawks’ pitching staff with a 2.93 ERA and 51 strikeouts in his 73.2 innings pitched. McKenna will likely need to repeat that success in 2015 to offset the offensive losses.
10. Iona (13-31, 9-15 MAAC)
Key Position Player: Senior outfielder Jimmy Guiliano
Key Pitcher: Sophomore right-handed pitcher Bill Maier
Despite a respectable .255 team average, the Gaels struggled to drive in runs, as they did not have one player who knocked in more than 20. However, Jimmy Guiliano will have to not only maintain his .336 average, but also find a way to generate some run support for his pitching staff, which will be led by Bill Maier. Maier had his ups and downs in his rookie campaign, but if he can improve on his 4.15 ERA and provide a stable force at the top of this staff, the Gaels may just find more success in 2015.
11. St. Peter’s (11-41, 6-17 MAAC)
Key Position Player: Junior outfielder Rob Moore
Key Pitcher: Junior right-handed pitcher John Leiter
Junior outfielder Rob Moore smacked five homeruns and drove in 30 runs to go along with a .307 average as a sophomore. Although the team struggled in the MAAC with just a 6-17 record, the offensive firepower of Moore and senior Chris Hugg may be enough to lead the Peacocks to a better finish in 2015. However, the duo will be unable to do much to help the team if John Leiter, the nephew of former major leaguer Al Leiter, can’t help them out on the mound. Leiter finished 2014 with a bloated 6.65 ERA, while the team pitched to a whopping 7.68 ERA. If the pitching staff does not show marked improvement over their 2014 season, Moore and Hugg’s offense will be little help.