Sometimes, a coaching change is all it really takes.
There's been a lot of frustration over the past few years with the EMU baseball fan base with Jay Alexander as the head coach. After missing out on a second-straight bid to the MAC tournament with a 6-21 record against MAC foes in 2014, a change was made. Coming back to the EMU program is former assistant coach Mark Van Ameyde.
For those who don't know much about the pre-Alexander era, Jake Boss took over as the EMU head coach in 2008, bringing on Van Ameyde as an assistant to help out with the pitchers. That was the year the Eagles last won the MAC.
As far as a culture change goes, Van Ameyde brings a more optimistic approach to his team than these players have been used to.
"I've coached guys with far less ability, but who believe in what they do so well that they really played well, where what I see a number of guys who have the ability, but they don't think they have and maybe you don't quite have the confidence, and I think that's what happens when you've struggled for a little while. Nobody likes losing, but you almost get used to it."
This isn't going to be perfect (okay, it might be, who knows?), but if we're making the starting lineup for a game right now, then this is what the starting lineup may look like (1 through 9). If a player plays multiple positions, his primary position will be mentioned first.
|4||John Rubino||2B/SS||Sr.||.330/.375/.401, 70 H, 36 R, 34 RBI, 23 SB|
|28||Jordan Peterson||RF||Jr.||.358/.421/.526, 50 G, 68 H, 17 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR, 32 R, 27 RBI, 100 TB, 10 SB (Chandler-Gilbert CC)|
|44||John Montgomery||1B||So. (R)||.348/.444/.522, 17 G 8 H, 5 R, 7 RBI, 2 2B, 1 3B|
|23||Mitch McGeein||3B/1B||Jr.||.242/.326/.387, 30 H, 26 R, 22 RBI, 4 HR, 25 K, 17 BB|
|6||Adam Dennison||DH/C/OF||Sr. (R)||.207/.258/.234, 23 H, 16 RBI, 1 HR|
|30||Michael Mioduszewski||LF||So. (R)||.248/.308/.348, 35 H, 9 2B, 23 RBI, 18 R, 13 BB, 5 SB|
|8||Tony DiLeo||C||Jr.||.200/.442/.367 21 G, 8 K, 13 BB|
|11||Marquise Gill||SS/3B||Jr.||.170/.302/.245, 34 G, 9 H, 10 R, 10 RBI, 2 2B, 1 3B, 10 BB, 11 K|
|24||Austin Wilson||CF||Jr.||.227/.314/.279, 7 2B, 17 SB, 39 K|
And now, here's the rest of the position players for EMU.
|13||Joe Kennedy||OF||Fr. (R)||N/A|
|55||Jackson Martin||OF||Jr.||.188/.316/.188, 15 G, 3 H, 1 R, 2 RBI, 7 K, 3 BB|
Replacing Longo, Ott and Sonabend
Lee Longo won the MAC batting title last year with a slash line of .379/.448/.545 and played first base for the Eagles. He, right fielder Sam Ott and catcher Adam Sonabend (now in the San Francisco Giants organization) were all vital pieces to the EMU lineup as the 3-4-5 hitters for the bulk of the past two seasons.
Van Ameyde didn't have the opportunity to coach the three, and though they would've been nice additions to strengthen the lineup this year, he hints that not having them around won't really hurt the team. "Certainly, you look at the lineup and wonder who's going to replace that batting average or who's going to replace those RBI," Van Ameyde said, "but ultimately it comes down to wins and losses, and when you win six games in the MAC... it didn't help the bottom line, despite their numbers."
John Montgomery will be playing first base for EMU, showing off with "very impressive" fall and winter pre-season workouts to replace Longo.
Behind the plate, junior captain Tony DiLeo will be taking Sonabend's place on the field. "For whatever reason, he hasn't had much time here, but he's been unbelievable for us," Van Ameyde said. He and Adam Dennison will be sharing time at catcher this year.
Sam Ott's replacement is very intriguing. From Glendale-Chandler CC in Arizona, Jordan Peterson will be replacing Ott's role in right field. In high school, he was an all-conference honorable mention player after his junior year, then was a second-team all-conference player after an injury-plagued season that limited his year to only six games. "He's going to be a very good player."
Returning position players
Ultimately, the plan in this lineup is for second baseman John Rubino to be the no. 2 hitter and have either shortstop Marquise Gill or center fielder Austin Wilson step up and hone the leadoff role. "(Rubino) should be an all-conference second baseman, no doubt about it
Now without Nick Rotola to continue playing middle infield for EMU, Gill's offseason workouts were impressive enough to give him the starting role, despite the unpromising statistics that he put up in his first two seasons. "I think, and [the coaching staff] thinks he can make all of the plays," Van Ameyde said. "Whatever the past is, the past is."
Austin Wilson will still be playing center field with an opportunity to pitch, Mitch McGeein, led the Eagles with four home runs last year, will still be batting in the middle of the lineup and playing third base, and Mike Mioduszewski will be playing left field.
"I think, offensively, we've got a chance to be really good."
|14||Michael Marsinek||Jr.||6.25 ERA, (2-1), 12 app, 6 starts, 13/19 K/BB, .292 opp avg.|
|17||Charlie Land||Sr.||6.39 ERA, (0-6), 17 app, 1 start, 3 saves, 30 K|
|19||Matthew Beaton||So.||4.50 ERA, 4 app, 6.0 IP, 3 ER, 5 K, 2 BB|
|21||Devon Bronson||Jr.||10.34 ERA, (2-3), 18 app, 15.2 IP, 18 ER, 14/9 K/BB|
|26||Ryan Lavoie||Sr.||4.92 ERA, (2-4), 19 app, 7 starts, 1 save, 53.0 IP, .324 opp. avg.|
|27||Jake Andrews||Sr.||4.85 ERA, (3-5), 12 starts, 55.2 IP, 31/21 K/BB, .313 opp. avg.|
|38||Sam Delaplane||So.||8.49 ERA, (1-1), 17 app, 2 starts, 23.1 IP, 21/22 K/BB, .374 opp. avg.|
|46||Augie Gallardo||Jr.||4.19 ERA (3-6), 12 starts, 68.2 IP, 46 K (Mt. San Jacinto CC)|
|51||Ben Dartnell||Sr.||3.26 ERA, (1-0), 10 app, 19.1 IP, .307 opp. avg.|
"Two areas that have had the most emphasis are pitching and defense, two areas that the team has really struggled in... and that's how you win, no secret there," coach said.
Last year, the Eagles were 11th in the MAC in pitching with an ERA well above 5. Van Ameyde notes that his pitching staff is fairly thin for a Division-I school, says that having around 17 pitchers is a more desirable total for him. "I wanted to be deeper, we're bringing in more arms next year... we don't really have a lot of margin for error."
One tactic that Van Ameyde likes to do is setting clear roles for all of pitchers, for preparation's sake. "I'd like to clearly define the roles for the guys, but I don't know if we're quite there yet."
The three weekend starters are all seniors: Jake Andrews, Charlie Land and Ryan Lavoie. Senior leadership, especially for how thin the pitching staff is, is being stressed here. One guy that Van Ameyde is high on is Land, who transferred from Mesa CC after the 2013 season. "[Land] mostly pitched out of the bullpen last year. Well, I really like his stuff, so I see him more as a starter. I also like that he brings the 'senior experience'"
If things go too out of control, Sam Delaplane could be looked at to get an opportunity to start as well, even after a dreadful freshman year. "His stuff is tremendous but the numbers were awful. That shouldn't be."
Van Ameyde notes that there are two freshmen that could see a lot of innings in 2015: Brent Mattson and Matt Hornstra. Mattson, he says, might be a little bit further along and will be pitching a lot. "He's going to get a little bit of baptism by fire because he's a freshman, but he's good."
As for the closing role, two left-handed veterans in Michael Marsinek and Devon Bronson are both possible candidates for that role.
One notable position player that could see some time on the hill for EMU is Austin Wilson, the center fielder. Apparently, he was recruited as a two-way player and has been able to show the coaching staff what he could do as a pitcher from late fall all through the winter. "He just keeps getting better."
An early assumption is that this is a very top-heavy team that's going to rely a lot on its batting lineup. Having to fill Longo's shoes could be a big deal, but it doesn't look like that's going to be emphasized with this team, as it shouldn't. There's still plenty of firepower in this lineup to get runs on the board, especially with Rubino, McGeein (led EMU in home runs last year) and Mioduszewski all coming back. Two players I'm most intrigued in this season: CC transfer Jordan Peterson and Marquise Gill. My biggest worry is that fatigue will set in early during conference play and maybe the lack of experience coming from the bench could hurt this team down the stretch.
Van Ameyde is a pitching guy. That's good news for this team, given its recent history of how poor of job pitchers have collectively done under Alexander, who is not a pitching guy. Only 13 arms to start the season isn't good. If you have 13 pitchers to start the season off with, it should be because there are already a few players that hurt themselves over the winter, not because you're short-staffed. Starting pitching absolutely needs to go deep in games. Short starts with four arms out of the bullpen just to make it through nine innings will not cut it.
The Eagles' will start their season with a 3-game road trip to Arizona, who finished 22-33 last season but received preseason votes in Baseball News' preseason Fab 40 poll. EMU's home opener will be from March 20-22 when they host the Akron Zips to begin in-conference play.