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Predictions from the Broadcast Booth: Cornell Baseball 2014
Cornell baseball in 2014 is entering uncharted territory from a school history perspective: expectations have probably never been higher, as the dynamic between the players and their teammates and the sheer talent and depth of this team makes them a sure-fire contender in the Lou Gehrig division and the Ivy League as a whole. That being said, the landscape of college baseball can change drastically from one year to the next, and Cornell is looking to regain supremacy in the Ivy League, which was all but dominated in the final weeks of the 2013 season by the Columbia Lions.
This year, the Big Red have lost key contributors like second baseman Brenton Peters, outfielder Spenser Souza, and reliever Houston Hawley, just to name a few. However, the starting rotation remains fully intact and is as strong as it has been over the past two seasons (two seasons that have been defined by unprecedented Big Red success). So it’s time for the predictions for 2014. If the team is to reach its full potential, who will be at the center of its success? Here’s my take:
Most Valuable Player:Tom D’Alessandro- Last season was the first time D’Alessandro took over the starting shortstop role for the Big Red, inheriting the position full-time from Marshall Yanzick. I was personally extremely impressed by the range that he displayed and the effortless throw to first base from deep in the hole between second and third. I think he will come into his own even more at the shortstop position in 2014. But beyond his defensive capabilities, which cannot be overstated, D’Alessandro seems to be a prime breakout candidate for the Big Red this year. While his average was just over .250 in 2013, he had the second highest on-base percentage on the team for qualified candidates (.377), only trailing behind 2013 team MVP, J.D Whetsel (.402). His team leading 23 walks certainly contributed to this trend. Although he also led the team in strikeouts (31), D’Alessandro had the second highest hit total (33) and stole 11 out of 13 bases successfully. His all-around production and potential reminds me of what J.D Whetsel brought to the table in his breakout 2013 season, and I would not be surprised to see the same thing happen for Tom D’Alessandro this season.
Big Red “Cy Young”:Brian McAfee- He was the pitcher of the year for the Big Red in 2013; he was the epitome of consistency, and has all of the tools to repeat in 2014. McAfee posted a sparkling 2.28 ERA and walked only 8 batters in 55.1 innings pitched in 2013. The control that the right-handed junior displays along with his overall calmness on the mound makes it hard to vote against McAfee. That being said, it’s also hard to vote against a nationally regarded prospect in Brent Jones, one of the nation’s best pitchers in terms of hits per 9 innings in 2013 (Michael Byrne), and another pair of lefties in Nick Busto and Zach McCulley, who each showed signs of dominance when they were at their best last season. And I’m just scratching the surface; there is a slew of arms that this team can boast about, and it will be exciting to see who jumps to the top of the list this season.
Most Irreplaceable: J.D Whetsel- From one year to the next, Whetsel has gone from a candidate for “Most Improved” player to one of the most indispensable assets on the Cornell team. The threat that he provides on the bases, his ability to consistently reach in the first place in the leadoff spot, and his impressive defensive play in center field make Whetsel a player whose presence would be missed most if he were not in the lineup every day. Whetsel was the team’s only player to have a batting average at .300 and to start in all 40 games in 2013, and despite a slow-start in Fall scrimmage games, I have no doubt that he will take his success from last season and use it to his advantage this year.
Most “Improved” Player:Chris Cruz- Cruz has been set back and frustrated by a few injuries to his wrist over the past year. But the university’s single-season home run record holder (12) is primed to bounce back from a year defined by inconsistency at the plate, as Cruz finished with a .211 average, 4 HR and 11 RBI, playing in just half of the team’s games. Despite his limited play, Cruz was third on the team in extra base hits, including five doubles and an inside the park home-run. If the left-handed power threat from Bay Shore, New York can rebuild the strength in his hands and wrists enough to play on a consistent basis, he is going to regain his form as one of the more threatening bats in the Ivy League.
Look out for… Ryan Karl: A transfer from the University of Louisville, Karl brings an array of positive attributes to the team; for one, he is constantly smiling, always trying to learn, and has a massive amount of power from the left side of the plate. Karl’s role defensively is still up in the air- he can play first base, outfield, and has even been doing some work at third base. Wherever his glove ends up, Karl is sure to be inserted in the middle of the lineup, and if his power display in the Fall is any indication, he’ll be a new force to be reckoned with in the Ivy League