Feb. 14, 2012
PITTSBURGH — Despite having been projected to finish eighth in the Big East Conference in a vote by the league’s 12 coaches, the Pittsburgh Panther baseball team is set to take on the season with the same attitude and expectations of a year ago—a season in which they finished 33-23, placing them third in the conference. Head coach Joe Jordano praises the team’s “dedication to the entire process,” and believes that the Panthers are “mentally and physically prepared” for the opener.
Jordano is in his 15th season at Pitt and has won 399 games with the program, making him the second winningest coach in school history. The program’s emphasis on focus and dedication has allowed for their “growing presence on a national level,” as exemplified by the four votes the team received in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 Coaches’ Preseason Poll.
Pitt begins its season on Friday, Feb. 17 when it travels to St. Petersburg, Fla. to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes to start off the Big East/Big Ten Challenge. The team is optimistic for the new season and hopes to make a strong stand this spring. According to assistant coach Tom Lipari, “this team is a very close team that is unique in their own way. On the mound and at the plate, we will be very competitive. We’re not going to back down.”
Associate head coach Danny Lopaze feels that the team is well “balanced with solid range, good foot speed, and strong arms.” The players have developed a cohesive chemistry to compliment their polished skills heading towards the opening days of the 2012 season.
Senior Matt Iannazzo will be the ace of the Panthers’ pitching staff
The Pittsburgh Panthers have excellent depth in their pitching staff, and have several dominant arms that they can rely upon throughout the regular season. Senior Matt Iannazzo will be leading the way on the hill this season after putting together a very strong showing in 2011 (2011 statistics: 14 G, 8-3, 2.73 ERA, 102.1 IP, 62 SO, 1.11 WHIP, .241 BAA). Iannazzo was selected to the Preseason All-Big East First Team for the second straight year, and is listed among the top starting pitchers in the Big East by College Baseball Insider (who also deem him one of the most underrated pitchers in the conference). Iannazzo is currently ninth in school history in games started (32) and second all-time in wins (21)—three shy of Corey Baker’s record set from 2008-2011.
“Matt Iannazzo epitomizes what you look for out of a pitcher,” says Lipari. “The leadership he brings from his experience and attitude helps not only our pitching staff, but the team. When Matt’s on the mound, you know you’re going to get everything he’s got, which wills him to pitch deep into ball games.”
Sophomore Ethan Mildren is another arm that will log an extensive amount of work this spring. In 2011, Mildren was second on the team in innings pitched (71.0) and recorded 49 strikeouts and only 6 walks. Mildren has been praised for his maturity, in addition to the confidence he brings when batters step up to the plate, and will be a key contributor returning for the Panthers this season. Matt Wotherspoon, a sophomore, will also play a key role in the rotation. Wotherspoon posted a 3.78 ERA in 15 games as a freshman, going 5-2 with 31 strikeouts. Redshirt freshman Luke Curtis will be making a return to the mound this year, and will help round out the team’s starting rotation. After having missed significant time in 2011 due to injury, the coaching staff is grateful to have him back on the hill.
Anchoring the bullpen for the Panthers will be junior Alex Caravella and redshirt sophomore J.R. Leonardi. In 25 appearances, Caravella went 4-3 with a 2.81 ERA in 57.2 innings of work in 2011, striking out 55 batters and holding his opponents to an impressive .233 BAA. Leonardi, who is back and healthy after missing 2011 due to injury, is considered the team’s “bulldog.” He is the type of pitcher that wants the ball whenever he can get it, and the coaches believe that he is set to be just as effective as he was his freshman season.
Redshirt freshman Joe Harvey, who also missed all of 2011 due to injury, is set to be a big part of this year’s pitching staff. Harvey has worked hard in getting his body to full strength for the 2012 season and looks to put to work his exceptional arsenal against opposing hitters.
Sophomore Luke Novosel and junior Jeff Kelly will also be given multiple opportunities out of the pen after having seen limited action in 2011. The two have made major strides heading into 2012 and have significantly matured in their approach on the hill.
This year’s freshman class is comprised of some very talented arms. Left-handed pitcher Pete Macke will be inactive in 2012 as he recovers from an injury he sustained in high school, but left-handed pitcher Dave Yakopec and righty Tanner Wilt will be helping the squad in several ways this season. Yakopec and Wilt both have tremendous upside in what they can do now and in what the coaching staff believes they can accomplish in the future.
An assortment of capable position players leads to competition in the infield
Of the team’s infielders, senior first baseman Rick Devereaux has proven to be one of the strongest bats in this Panthers’ lineup when looking at his line from 2011—a season in which he batted .290 in 48 games with two home runs, 20 RBI, and also a .397 slugging percentage and .390 on-base percentage. Devereaux’s versatility as a player could allow for him to be placed in a variety of roles, as the transfer from Duquesne University (2010-2011) has experience catching and can also fulfill the requirements of a designated hitting role.
Other options at first base include freshman Eric Hess and junior transfer Sam Parente. According to associate head coach Danny Lopaze the team sees that they “have three guys who are all very capable of seeing time at first base. Rick (Devereaux) has swung the bat as well as anybody and Eric (Hess) had a great fall at the plate and is great around the bag. Sam (Parente) has power to all fields and is one of the strongest guys we have on the team.”
The Panthers have three other returning infielders set to see some action in 2012, aside from Devereaux. Derik Wilson, who started at shortstop much of last season, is now adapting to a new position at second base. He is the only returning starting infielder this season, and looks to be making a comfortable transition. In 46 games in 2011, Wilson batted .241 with 20 RBI and a .327 on-base percentage. Junior transfer Kevin Johnson is now seeing time at shortstop, and has been credited with having “great hands, great range, and loose actions” at the position. Freshman Dylan Wolsonovich will be contributing to the infield as well.
Players looking to earn time at third base include juniors Evan Oswald and Ronald Sucre. In 2011, Oswald batted .233 with seven RBI and a .327 on-base percentage in 25 games. Sucre batted .213 with eight RBI and a .269 on-base percentage in 21 games. Both players have been praised for their persistence in addition to their defensive abilities.
Starting behind the plate will be the switch-hitting freshman Elvin Soto, who enters his collegiate career after having been one of the top high school prospects in New York City last year. Junior Jonathan Danielczyk will also be molded into the catching scene throughout the season, in addition to senior Anthony Defabio (who transferred to the University of Pittsburgh in 2010-2011 from Duquesne University).
Excellent offensive ability and “championship speed” define the Panthers’ outfield
After the departures of Zach Duggan and John Schultz this past year, the Panthers moved into a transitional stage that renewed their outfield identity. As far as the outlook for the 2012 outfield goes, sophomore Casey Roche will surely head it. Roche solidified his role in the starting lineup as a freshman due to his great playmaking abilities and offensive skills set. In 37 games, Roche batted .345 with 19 RBI, in addition to having a .445 slugging percentage and a .398 on-base percentage.
Defabio may also see some time in the outfield, after having worked occasionally in left field this offseason. Defabio is primarily a catcher, but can be used by Jordano in a variety of ways to fill particular needs in the team’s lineup. Last season, Defabio batted .337 in 38 games with one home run, 25 RBI, a .413 slugging percentage, and a .435 on-base percentage.
In center field, sophomores Michael Douglas and Stephen Vranka will be competing for playing time. Both players were given an opportunity to play in 2011, and they have been doing a nice job in the outfield this offseason with the ability to cover a lot of ground.
Junior transfer John Peluso (from Lackawanna College) and redshirt sophomore Steven Shelinsky, Jr. will also be competing for starting roles in the outfield. Peluso has the right tools required of a productive outfielder and Shelinsky, Jr. is now healthy and swinging the bat better than ever before. Freshman Nick “Boo” Vasquez is another name to keep an eye out for. Vasquez has progressed nicely with his defensive abilities and came out of the fall workouts as one of the team’s hottest hitters. The Panthers will look to all of the above-mentioned names on many occasions to provide for the team’s offensive and defensive approach.