MIAMI SHORES, Fla. – In 2012 Barry University’s baseball team struggled its way to a 23-22 overall mark but did finish with a 13-9 record in conference play which was good for third in the SSC. A combination of a difficult road schedule, injuries and inexperienced players learning the college game all played a role last spring. Head coach Marc Pavao and his group of Buccaneers are confident that the adversity they faced last season will make them a stronger team for going through it.
Barry opens this season unranked, unlike last season where they opened up as the No. 5 team in the nation, but the Bucs are no strangers to the underdog role. Loaded with a roster of talented young players, Pavao and the Buccaneers are excited for the challenges that lie ahead this spring.
“Last season, we played some tough competition and many of those early games came on the road. We certainly had trouble scoring runs early, which is why we had that discrepancy,” Pavao said.
This season, the Buccaneers play 28 of their 50 games at Feinbloom Field including 15 straight regional opponents off the bat.
With a roster that holds a strong mix of upper classmen and newcomers, Pavao and his staff will look to some key returners to step in as the leaders of the team.
“We always look to our seniors and upperclassmen to take a leadership role. They know what we expect of them in the classroom, in practice and during the games,” Pavao said.
Among the seniors being looked upon to fill those roles are catcher Luis Arrizurieta, center fielder Michael Slabach, and right-handed pitcher Kevin Youst. The bullpen also boasts depth and senior leadership with the likes of Frank Szczepanick, Mathew Garlock, and Alex Decker.
“Some of our young players have shown tremendous work ethic throughout the fall and we expect them to lead by example as well. Adrian English (junior second baseman) is certainly one of those guys with plenty of experience,” Pavao said.
A two-year starter in the infield, English has cemented his role in the middle of the line-up and is projected to start at second base for the Buccaneers.
With a mix of graduating seniors and incoming players, Pavao looks for two key players to embrace a new role this season.
“Calvin Rayburn and Sheehan Planas-Arteaga are two guys who may see their role change as the other pieces fall into place,” Pavao said.
Rayburn, a right-handed pitcher who threw primarily in relief in 2012, may be called upon to enter the starting rotation, work in relief or even close games at times.
“Calvin’s versatility gives us options as to how we are able to use him. He’s evolved as a pitcher in his time here at Barry and is a weapon out of the ‘pen as well.”
“Sheehan’s role within the offense remains the same. He’s a gap-to-gap hitter, line-drive hitter, with power. We expect him to drive in runs. Defensively, he has made the transition back to the outfield from first base this fall, Pavao said.”
Planas started five games in the outfield last season but did play outfield in high school.
As for expectations from the newcomers, a pair of freshmen opened the coaching staff’s eyes this fall. Shortstop J.C. Cardenas and left-handed hitting outfielder Zach Burger proved they are ready to make an immediate impact.
“Cardenas is a defensive wizard. He’s one of the best defensive players we’ve had come through in a long time,” Pavao said.
With the team make-up rounding into shape the Buccaneers won’t look to rely on the long-ball this spring.
“We’ll swipe a lot of bags. We’ll pitch to our defense and we’ll dictate at-bats both offensively and defensively,” Pavao said.
Slabach led the Buccaneers with 16 of the team’s 56 stolen bases.
“We’re a deep pitching staff, not only in our rotation but in the bullpen as well, Pavao said.”
Youst headlines the rotation with newcomers Joeanthony Rivera, and Billy Atkins all vying for spots. Certainly someone like Rayburn is also in the mix as well which is why the Buccaneers staff is so deep.
Youst led the Buccaneers with a 3.49 ERA last spring and finished with a team-high 85 innings and 53 strikeouts.
The voids left by Jordan Wellander and Corey Witkowski, who finished second all-time in program history with 21 wins, will be filled by Rivera, Atkins and possibly Calvin Rayburn.
The bullpen boasts veterans such as Decker, Tyler Petsch, Garlock, Szczepanick and Rene Estrada, as well as freshmen Adrian Benitez and Tony Borges. The closing duties fall on three hard-throwing right-handers in Tyler Kinley, Tim Blackmon and Joe Iorio. The Buccaneers also welcome a former All-American closer from Tufts University, Chris DeGoti.
In just two seasons at Tufts DeGoti broke both the single season as well as the career saves record. His veteran experience and success at the college level is likely to earn him a prominent role within the bullpen.
Behind the dish, the Bucs return Arrizurieta who played in 44 games that included 38 starts at catcher last spring.
“Luis is our number one catcher. He proved last season he could take on the duties of every-day behind the plate. His hitting has really improved. He’s increased his bat speed and was hitting more line drives this fall. A big reason why he was able to put the ball in play much more has been his increased bat control. Defensively, he’s one of our best. His arm strength puts him as one of the top catchers in the conference,” Pavao said.
Sophomore Connor Oliveri and junior Jay Bellot will add depth behind the dish this spring.
Around the diamond, a pair of newcomers are slotted to anchor the corners for the Buccaneers. Iorio, a two-way player who could also see some time on the mound for the Bucs, could fill the role at third base. Tyler Kellman, a transfer from Lake Sumter C.C. has earned the starting nod at first base, but also has experience at the hot-corner. English is also an option to play third base for the Bucs where he started five games for Barry in 2012.
At shortstop, Pavao will look to Cardenas; a slick-fielding freshman who has earned the starting nod.
“Cardenas and English have gelled this summer and throughout the fall and developed great chemistry. They’re two special players up the middle who will really solidify our defense,” Pavao said.
A utility infielder in his first two seasons with the Buccaneers, English will have a more consistent role this spring at second base.
“English was plagued by injuries during the end of his freshman year and most of 2012, but he’s put in tremendous work over the summer and has come back a new man. His dedication to his offseason regimen is evident and he’s really embraced more of a leadership role on the team. He’s also taken J.C. under his wing as the freshman adapts to the college life,” Pavao said.
Although Kellman has the ability to play third base, for now he has earned the starting role as the team’s first baseman.
“Kellman’s a great baseball player. He understands the game, the strike zone, he’s our kind of guy,” Pavao said.
Also vying for time at first base will be Planas and junior Sam Halpern. Planas led the Buccaneers with a .319 batting average until he was sidelined with an injury after appearing in 30 games. Halpern belted nine doubles and two home runs in 29 games in 2012 and led the Buccaneers with 12 extra-base hits on the season.
Switch-hitting centerfielder Michael Slabach anchors the outfield after leading the Buccaneers with a .314 average to go along with 16 stolen bases.
“Michael is superb defensively and really gets after it. He’s a dynamic player with great arm strength, speed and is a guy that will likely get drafted at season’s end,” Pavao said.
In left field, the Bucs have a power and speed combination with Zach Burger and Michael Diaz. Burger is a left-handed gap hitter with plenty of power who will develop as he continues to grow and mature. Diaz has plenty of speed and has done a good job in the outfield throughout the fall. Diaz has the potential to develop into a top of the order hitter.
Planas is the leading candidate to start in right field, making the transition from first base. Tim Blackmon could also see sometime in right field while also making contributions as a designated hitter and at first base.
Blackmon led the Bucs with a .431 on base-percentage with 32 walks in 39 games while also belting five doubles and three home runs.
A solid group of returners and several impact newcomers lead the way for the Buccaneers in 2013. In the ever-so-tough South Region and Sunshine State Conference, it’s important for Barry to get off to a strong start in order to continue playing well into May.
“The schedule this spring is better than it was in 2012. Last season, it was ‘road-tough’ with several trips to South Carolina and Georgia where we played some really strong opponents,” Pavao said.
With a good mix of both road games and matchups at Feinbloom Field, the young Bucs can step into the 2013 season with confidence as they look to prove why they’re one of the strongest baseball programs around.