LANCASTER, Pa. - Expectations are high in Lancaster for the 2012 Franklin & Marshall baseball team after a solid 22-18 campaign last spring. With a wealth of returning experience, a strong group of newcomers and depth both on the mound and in the field, the Diplomats are primed for an exciting 2012 season.
Fourth-year head coach Adam Taylor welcomes back 10 field players with significant starting experience, seven pitchers that have recorded innings for the Diplomats, and a host of talented newcomers to a squad that finished third in the 2011 Centennial Conference (CC) regular season.
Year in and year out, coach Taylor and the Diplomats expect to be in the mix for the CC crown. This season is no exception, as Taylor believes his squad is one of the deepest and most versatile in the conference.
"We have expectations to be there in the end, competing for a conference championship," said Taylor. "Staying healthy is the most important thing. If we can avoid injuries, I anticipate another strong season. "
Headlining the returning starters are senior captain J.T. Triantos and sophomore Will Benenson, both First Team All-CC performers a season ago. Triantos will once again hold down the first base spot for F&M after batting .314 with 22 RBIs last year. Benenson is back at the designated hitter spot after bursting onto the scene his freshman year with a .323 batting average along with a team-high 26 RBIs. He will also see some time at third base this season.
For the first time in four years, the F&M middle infield will be without Matt Will. Replacing a four-year starter, three-time All-CC selection and holder of numerous school records is never an easy task, but the Diplomats have the talent to supplant the loss.
After playing primarily second base last year, junior Alex Vescera will slide over to shortstop this spring. Vescera started 27 games last year with a .279 batting average and 14 RBIs.
At third base, junior Kevin Shields is back following a productive 2011 season. Shields is the returning team leader from a season ago in home runs (2) and slugging percentage (.460) and notched a .322 average at the plate with 16 RBIs.
A trio of players will battle for the starting catcher position, with Taylor feeling comfortable with any of the three in the lineup. Junior Josh Mendelson and sophomores Joe Gallitto and Patrick Andrews are each in line for time behind the plate this season.
The outfield will feature several familiar faces along with a freshman looking to make an instant impact at the collegiate level.
Seniors Andrew Conlan, a left-handed hitter, and captain Connor Devlin, a righty, will compete for the right field spot, giving Taylor the flexibility to adjust his lineup card based on pitching matchups. Devlin has more experience between the two as he started 22 games a season ago, recording a .290 batting average to go with 19 RBIs. Conlan tallied three hits and four RBIs in limited action last year.
At center field, freshman Brian Erb will start right from the get-go and is a player whose potential Taylor is excited about, particularly with his speed and ability to cover the gaps in the outfield.
Sophomore Avery Attinson is set to start in left field after seeing action in 24 games with 16 starting nods a season ago. Attinson batted .308 with 14 RBIs in his debut season. Sophomores Mike Giannone and Tyler Veterano will also be in the mix for playing time in left.
At designated hitter, Taylor has several options in addition to Benenson. Senior captains Blue Wells and Devlin could also fill that role this spring. Wells has the ability to add some pop to the F&M lineup as he posted a .435 slugging percentage last year to go along with seven doubles and one home run.
While F&M returns a quality group of field players, the pitching staff will also be a strong point of the squad. Seniors Matt Valente and Evan Lang, junior Brendan DeMond, and sophomore Rob Anderson will make up the starting rotation for the Diplomats.
Valente, a captain, has the most starting experience of the group with seven starts and 44.1 innings pitched last year. He tallied a 3-2 record with a 4.06 ERA and 16 strikeouts. DeMond saw starts in four of six appearances in 2011, posting a 2-2 record with a 5.06 ERA while fanning 19 batters. Lang and Anderson will convert from primarily relief roles into the rotation. Lang notched a 3.42 ERA, two saves and 21 strikeouts in 23.2 innings on the mound last year, while Anderson pitched 22.1 innings and also struck out 21 batters.
Long relievers who will also have an opportunity to compete for starts include senior Eric Herbst, sophomore Alex Guerra and freshman Brett Klatsky. Herbst held opponents to just a .173 batting average and notched a team-best 2.30 ERA in 15.2 innings in 2011.
Freshman Paul Giulio will likely take over the closer role for the Diplomats. Other pitchers that will contribute in relief include senior Collin McCune and freshmen Chris Mathewson, Andrew Green and Chris Haylon.
F&M will open its campaign the weekend of Feb. 25-26 with three games at the Hampden-Sydney Tournament, before hitting the road for three additional contests prior to its spring break trek to Florida. The annual trip down south will feature 10 games in seven days and will provide a good early test for the Diplomats. F&M will play at home for the first time on Sunday, March 25 with a doubleheader against Keuka and will open CC play two days later at Gettysburg.