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Brodey Heaton, Belmont (Belmont athletics)

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Fall Scoop: Georgetown, Belmont, Gardner-Webb, Oakland

Fall Workouts

Fall workouts are still in full swing across the country, and while we have fall reports coming on more than 80 teams, we also have plenty of nuggets on other programs.

This week, Joe Healy has the inside scoop on programs such as Georgetown, Belmont, Gardner-Webb and Oakland.

Let’s get to the scoop …

Georgetown

Georgetown took a massive step forward in 2022, going 32-24 overall and 11-10 in Big East play in coach Edwin Thompson’s second season at the helm. It was the first time the Hoyas have finished over .500 overall or in conference play since 1986. 

Georgetown Position Players

Georgetown returns a lot of key pieces in the lineup, including junior outfielder Jake Hyde (.354/.442/.679, 19 HR in 2022), fourth-year junior shortstop Andrew Ciufo (.297/.382/.474, 9 HR), sophomore catcher Owen Carapellotti (.282/.396/.552, 8 HR), sixth-year senior outfielder Ubaldo Lopez (.264/.385/.624, 19 HR), junior first baseman Christian Ficca (.279/.402/.456) and sixth-year senior third baseman Cam Meyer (.269/.372/.517, 9 HR). 

Georgetown

When you add to that position group potential impact transfers in Zaid Walker, a toolsy player from Michigan State who can handle center field, and Austin Kretzschmar from Stanford, who can play any position on the infield, the Hoyas have, on paper, a position player group that looks poised to help them take another step forward. 

In an exhibition on the road against VCU several weekends ago, Hyde and Lopez picked up where they left off last season, as each hit a long home run and Lopez added a hard-hit double off the left field wall. Both of those guys should be on any short list of preseason Big East player-of-the-year candidates. 

Georgetown Pitchers

There is some rebuilding to do on the mound, however, after the departures of the top two starters in Carter Bosch (to Notre Dame) and Nolan McCarthy (to graduation), plus key reliever Angelo Tonas (to Virginia), who led the team in appearances last season. 

Sophomore righthander Matthew Sapienza (6.45 ERA, 60 IP), sophomore lefthander Andrew Williams (5.16 ERA, 29.2 IP) and sixth-year senior righthander Collin Garner (5.40 ERA, 41.2 IP) are the three most prominent returning pitchers among those who earned significant innings last season, and all three saw mound time against VCU. 

Sapienza, who has an athletic frame at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, was mostly 88-89 with his fastball with a low-80s slider and changeup. Last season, his fastball topped out at 92 and his slider was his best swing-and-miss weapon, as it had a 35% whiff rate. Williams was 87-89 with the fastball with a high-70s slider and low-80s changeup. Like Sapienza, his slider has historically been his best weapon, as it had a 45% whiff rate last season. Garner was 86-87 with the fastball against the Rams. 

Georgetown also brought in a big class of transfer pitchers who will factor in. That group includes righthanders Jordan Yoder and Jake Bloss from Lafayette, righthander Cody Jensen from Stanford, righthander Alex Fenton from Davidson, righthander Garret Keough from Holy Cross, lefthander Cam Guarino from Division II New Haven (Conn.) and righthander Tyler Mead from Division II Biola (Calif.). 

Of that group, Bloss stands out for having a big arm that last season ran his fastball up to 96 mph and Mead provides a unique look with a fastball in the low 90 and a big curveball that occasionally spun at over 3,000 rpm in his outing against VCU. 

Georgetown has a projected lineup that should score enough runs to keep it in games against anyone in the Big East. How far the pitching staff comes along, however, is likely to be the key in whether the Hoyas can take another step forward in 2023 and how big that step ends up being. 

Belmont

Belmont

Coming off of going 39-20 overall and 18-6 in the OVC, its best season in the conference since its inaugural campaign as a member in 2013, Belmont is preparing to take a step up as it joins the Missouri Valley Conference alongside Illinois-Chicago and Murray State next season. 

Belmont Pitchers

Certainly, the Bruins have to feel good about how they will be able to compete on the mound, as they bring back as good a one-two rotation punch as the league will have in fourth-year junior lefthanders Andy Bean (9-1, 4.64 in 2022), last season’s OVC pitcher of the year, and Jalen Borders (5-2, 3.04).

Belmont LHP Andy Bean (Photo courtesy of Belmont)

Potential breakout returners on the mound to create depth around those two include junior righthander Will Jenkins (6.44 ERA, 29.1 IP), who had 37 strikeouts and held batters to a .225 average a season ago, sophomore righthander Caleb Guisewite (6.43 ERA, 7 IP), who is coming off of a standout summer in the Cal Ripken League, and two-way player Ethan Harden (3.14 ERA, 14.1 IP), a second-year freshman lefthander and outfielder who was one of Belmont’s best relievers early last season before going down with injury. 

Sophomore Auburn transfer Cade Granzow, a strong-bodied righthander at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, will challenge for innings right away, and coach Dave Jarvis sees him as having the type of mentality to handle high-leverage spots out of the bullpen. Junior college transfer righthander Jett Thielke also has the kind of repertoire that collects swings and misses in bunches and therefore could be a fit in that type of role. 

Jarvis also really likes his freshman class of pitchers and expects righthanders Joe Ruzicka, Will Pryor, Jake Timbes, and Dalton Wasson to be in the mix. 

Belmont Position Players

In the lineup, the top returner is fourth-year junior first baseman Brodey Heaton (.325/.376/.597, 13 HR), who has been an impact bat from the day he stepped on campus. He’ll be the centerpiece around whom the rest of the lineup will be built. 

Otherwise, there’s a lot of competition to be found in the field, because of the 18 departures—most of them to graduation—after last season, many of the most impactful came on the position player side. 

One of the biggest losses was catcher Jackson Campbell due to his steady presence as a solid defender, but Jarvis is confident in what sophomore Blake Barton (.290/.389/.323) brings to the table at that position as an offensive threat as well as a capable defensive player. 

For Belmont to have an effective position player group, newcomers will have to step in right away, and there are clear candidates to do so. 

Junior Holy Cross transfer Sam Kirkpatrick (.283/.332/.340) has had a good fall and projects to hold down a middle infield position. Junior college transfer outfielder Jackson Jarvis, the latest son of coach Dave Jarvis to come through the program after Logan Jarvis graduated last season, has a physical frame at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds and has the double-digit home run power to match. Similarly, junior college transfer outfielder Sam Slaughter has extra-base pop, and Max Blessinger, another junior college transfer outfielder, has impressed early with his hittability and consistency. 

Belmont looks ready to compete right away in the always-tough MVC, but how high it climbs in the standings in its first season in the league will likely be determined by how its rebuilding project in the lineup turns out.

Gardner-Webb

Gardner-Webb

Going into the 2023 season, Gardner-Webb fourth-year coach Jim Chester has what he describes as arguably as good an offense as he’s ever coached, and it’s easy to see why when you look at the returning production. 

Gardner-Webb Position Players

The Running’ Bulldogs bring back two players who could end up in the mix for Big South player of the year honors in fifth-year senior first baseman Alec Burns (.311/.438/.647, 15 HR in 2022) and sixth-year senior outfielder Curtis Robison (.298/.428/.491, 27 SB). 

Gardner-Webb first baseman Alec Burns (Photo by Jeff Sochko/GWUPhotos.com)

Other regulars back in the lineup include fifth-year senior Jacob Marcos (.299/.393/.362, 30 SB), who doubles as an excellent defensive center fielder, junior second baseman AJ Jones (.257/.332/.374) and junior utility man Pete Capobianco (.240/.369/.405, 7 HR). 

A breakout player to look for among position players is sophomore outfielder Nate Anderson. He batted .194 in 31 at-bats last season, but he’s coming off of a strong summer in the Appalachian League, where he batted .333/.431/.462 with 37 stolen bases. 

It also never hurts to have depth at the catcher position and Gardner-Webb has it in spades. Fourth-year junior Humberto Torres batted .222/.371/.333 last season but also missed significant time. Now healthy, he’ll go into next season as the incumbent. Also back is fourth-year junior Bo Rusher, who hit better than .300 in the Coastal Plain League over the summer, and third-year sophomore Wake Forest transfer Mark Black, who projects to be a middle-of-the-order bat whether he’s behind the plate or elsewhere. 

Another newcomer, fifth-year senior Jacob McCaskey, a Division II All-American at California University of Pennsylvania, should be exciting to watch in 2023. He projects to play shortstop for the Runnin’ Bulldogs and close out games on the mound, where he can run his fastball up to 94 mph. 

Gardner-Webb Pitchers

Elsewhere on the pitching staff, Gardner-Webb has a solid one-two punch in the rotation in third-year sophomore righthander Bobby Alcock and sophomore lefthander Tyler Switalski (5-5, 4.12 ERA). Alcock was limited to just three games last season, but he has good stuff, including a fastball from 93-95 mph, and he got a taste of the Cape Cod League over the summer. Switalski took the mantle of staff ace last season and ran with it using a three-pitch mix of a fastball from 89-91 mph, a good breaking ball and a changeup. 

Other rotation options behind those two include junior righthander Casey Young (7.83 ERA, 46 IP), who had a 2.08 ERA in the Coastal Plain League over the summer, and junior Virginia transfer righthander Joe Miceli.

Sixth-year senior Michael Portela (4.45 ERA, 58.2 IP), a 5-foot-7 righthander who has good feel for his breaking ball that he pairs with a low-80s fastball, will return to an important role in the bullpen, but he’ll have help from sophomore righthander Connor Maggi (6.52 ERA, 48.1 IP) and third-year sophomore righthander Dalton Strickland, who is back healthy after missing most of last season with injury, plus a group of transfers that includes fifth-year senior righthander Grant Vera from Kent State (5.00 ERA, 9 IP), fifth-year senior righthander Dalton Wood from Rice (7.36 ERA, 7.1 IP), sixth-year senior lefthander Brendan Bean from Pennsylvania (4.97 ERA, 12.2 IP) and junior college transfer righthander Kazuya Kojima, a native of Japan. 

Gardner-Webb has been extremely effective in recruiting through the transfer portal over the last couple of years and the transfers it brought in as it builds the 2023 pitching staff will have large bearing on how things go next season. 

Oakland

Oakland made huge strides last season by going 31-27 overall and 18-11 in Horizon League play. The win totals of 31 and 18 are respective program records going back to the Golden Grizzlies moving up to Division I in 1998. It was also the first time they have finished above .500 overall as a Division I program. 

Oakland

The next step is trickier on two fronts. First, it’s one thing to have a breakthrough season and quite another to win consistently. And second, with Wright State continuing to hum along at the top of the Horizon League, the jump from solid to championship level is bigger in this mid-major conference than most others given how dominant the Raiders have been. 

Oakland showed that it’s getting a lot closer to the top by beating Wright State four out of five times during the regular season, but we also got a glimpse of how far is still left to go when it was outscored 38-3 in two losses to the Raiders in the conference tournament. 

As Oakland looks to make that next jump, coach Jordon Banfield is confident in his team’s pitching depth. 

Oakland Pitchers

It starts with the healthy return of its Friday starter in fifth-year senior righthander Bryce Konitzer (3.50 ERA, 18 IP in 2022), who didn’t pitch after March 18 last season and who underwent a UCL repair shortly thereafter. He’s not yet at 100%, but he has looked good on the mound this fall and well on his way to returning to his 2021 form, when he was a workhorse in the rotation. 

Also in position to occupy a rotation spot is fourth-year junior lefthander Travis Densmore (5-3, 6.32), who led last season’s squad in strikeouts with 58 in 62.2 innings of work. 

A wild card to watch on the pitching staff is junior righthander Brandon Decker (4.83 ERA, 50.1 IP), who could end up holding just about any role. As one of Oakland’s best arms, it would be tempting to use him as the third pitcher in the rotation. But on the other hand, he pitched well out of the bullpen last season and the coaching staff likes the way he bounces back to throw multiple times in a weekend. 

His stuff improved in 2022 as the season wore on, with his fastball going from 88-90 mph early in the season to 91-93 by the time the conference tournament rolled around, and then he held those velocity gains through a strong summer in the Appalachian League. He’ll pitch impactful innings, but when those innings will come may very well be determined more by how well other pieces fall into place on the pitching staff next season. 

Other impact arms to know include sophomore righthander Hunter Pidek (5.94 ERA, 33.1 IP), who had a 4.41 ERA in the regular season before a tough outing in the conference tournament ballooned his overall ERA, junior college transfer righthander Sean Fekete, who spent time this summer pitching for the Hungarian national team, and junior college transfer righthander Noah Stants, who touched 96-97 mph with his fastball on Scout Day with a slider in the high 80s.

Oakland Position Players

There are some key pieces to replace in the lineup, none bigger than first-team all-conference shortstop Brad Goulet, but in sophomore Brandon Nigh, Oakland still has a catalyst who can make the offense go. He batted .327/.459/.579 with seven home runs last season, which was enough to earn him Horizon League freshman of the year honors despite missing significant time in the second half of the season with a staph infection. He was also ticketed to be the team’s closer last season and finished with a 4.26 ERA in 6.1 innings before being shut down, so expect him to be in the mix to earn important innings as well. 

Also returning to the lineup is the top-of-the-order duo of fifth-year senior Gabe Lux (.271/.449/.371, 14 SB), the team captain and an on-base machine, and fifth-year senior Jared Miller (.299/.435/.486). In addition to being quality offensive players, both also have defensive versatility. 

Junior catcher Brandon Heidal (.278/.369/.305) is back as well, and that’s no small thing, as Banfield sees him as the Horizon League’s best defensive catcher. The coaching staff is now looking for him to make more of an impact at the plate. 

Returning from missing all of last season with injury are third-year sophomore outfielders Drew Collins, who hit .300 in a part-time role as a freshman in 2021, and Reagan Paulina. Both are athletic players who could be impact bats from the left side. 

Speaking of the outfield, freshman Reggie Bussey is already making a splash. Banfield calls him the most athletic outfielder he’s ever coached and he ran a 6.3-second sixty-yard dash on Scout Day. He’s made big leaps with the bat just in the span of fall practice, so while he might be more of a name to file away for the future, if he continues to improve this rapidly, he may also prove to be a name to know for the present. 

The process of building up a mid-major program often isn’t linear, so it’s no guarantee that Oakland wins as many games in 2023 as it did in 2022, but regardless of what the record shows, there’s forward momentum in this program for the first time since it moved up to Division I and it’s worth watching to see what’s next. 

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