Our 2014 Charlotte 49ers baseball preview continues with a look at the infielders and catchers. If you missed yesterday’s installment (pitchers), you can read it here.
Who’s gone: The most noticeable absence from the infield this year, and perhaps from the team as a whole offensively, is Justin Seager. Seager put together a season to remember in 2013: .351, 40 RBI, 30 walks, 79 hits (22 doubles) and just 28 strikeouts (in 228 at bats–just one K per every 8.1 AB) en route to A-10 co-player of the year honors. He was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 2013 MLB Draft, later signing with the organization and suiting up for their short-season A club in Everett. (Brother Kyle Seager plays third for the big club). Also gone: Shane Basen (.307, 49 RBI, 4 HR), a reliable part of the lineup that led the team in RBI last season; ironman Justin Roland, who would have become the team’s all-time leader in games played if not for a hand injury in late April that sidelined him for the remainder of the year (he ironically had to redshirt his freshman season due to injury before his streak); and Tony Montalbano, who came back from injury later in the season and put together his best performance hitting-wise of his career (.338).
Who’s back: Fortunately, the Niners have some bats they can rely on to pick up the lost production, and at the head of the line is junior Brad Elwood. The preseason all-C-USA selection was third on the team in batting average (.343), second in RBI (41), struck out only ten times in 233 at bats and stroked three home runs in 2013. Someone who can not only step up, see the ball well and get on regularly without striking out, but can drive in runs as well, is an asset to any team, and Elwood is just that. He did commit 16 errors, though (tied for a team-high), but it’s important to note that he had to leave the outfield and take over at second due to some players going down (he struggled at second defensively in his freshman season before ironing things out).
Another member of the infield to watch is Brett Lang. The redshirt sophomore had an electric start to his career before cooling off to end up with a .289 batting average, 56 hits (fourth on the team) 40 RBI and four home runs in his first collegiate action on his way to freshman All-American second team honors. He missed two weeks toward the end of the year, so he could have conceivably been the team’s RBI leader. We’ll see if Lang can develop further in his second season of action and become a top player in C-USA; if his first year was any indication, he should have no trouble doing so.
Senior Grant Dunnegan is back as well. He only hit .226 in 2013, but brought in 20 RBIs, showed some pop by hitting a pair of home runs and put together some stretches of strong hitting throughout the year. Derek Gallello, a junior, is another decent RBI man, driving in 21, including converting seven of nine opportunities with a runner at third with less than two out; he only struck out 13 times in 141 at bats in 2013. Sophomore Nick Daddio provided another viable option off the bench as both a catcher and a DH in his freshman season; look for both him and redshirt junior catcher Patrick Raley to contribute in their own ways in 2014. Sophomore depth catcher Patric King is back, as are redshirt senior and elder stateman of the infield Corbin Shive, who’ll see time both in the infield and out of the pen, and redshirt freshman Matt Creech, granted a redshirt after appearing in just seven games before suffering a season-ending injury last year.
Who’s new: JUCO transfer Mikal Hill, who played his high school ball at Mallard Creek here in Charlotte, joins the Niners and should provide some immediate offense. The junior hit .304 with 42 hits (two doubles) and 19 RBI in 2013 with Miami Dade CC. He’ll be joined by Zach Jarrett and T.J. Nichting, as well as two-way pitchers/infielders Jeremy Schellhorn, Logan Sherer and Brandon Vogler. Jarrett, Nichting, Schellhorn, Sherer and Vogler all were named Rawlings All-American honorable mentions in their respective regions, while Nichting, a .400 hitter as a junior, is a two-time Perfect Game regional honorable mention.