In a recurring theme for the 2018 season, fans at St. Bonaventure baseball games this spring will likely need to grab a program to see who is manning the infield at Fred Handler Park.
At no other place are the losses from last season more evident – the entire starting infield is new this spring. At first base, the combination of Aaron Phillips and T.J. Baker was lost to the MLB Draft and graduation respectively, though Baker remains with the program in an assistant coaching role. The two combined for 56 RBIs and Baker drove six homers.
At second base, Jared Baldinelli graduated after hitting .296 with 20 RBIs. The left side of the infield is gone to the pros as well – All-Atlantic 10 selections Cole Peterson and Bubba Hollins are now playing affiliated baseball as Peterson was drafted by the Detroit Tigers and Hollins signed to play in the Miami Marlins organization following last season.
Those departures pave the way for a group of newcomers this spring.
The spot most up for grabs is at first base where the Bonnies enter their spring trip to Florida looking to likely platoon three players. Against lefties, senior Matt Eastman will get the first crack in his fourth season with the program. When right-handers take the mound, sophomore Casey Vincent and freshman Matthew Williams figure to man the position.
Vincent, who will likely be the team's Saturday starter in conference play, will pick up a bat on days where he isn't on the mound. Though he had just four at-bats as a freshman, he hit .482 with a .750 slugging percentage as a senior at Eisenhower (Pa.) High School. Williams, a product of Sayre, Pa., hit over .400 during his high school career at Sayre Area High.
"First base is the only position in our mind that is undecided going into spring," St. Bonaventure head coach Larry Sudbrook said. "Losing Baker and Phillips were two guys who could hit and were plus defenders for us. We feel this group will be good defensively, but we will see if someone takes the job and runs with it at the plate."
Two newcomers to the program bring impressive resumes up the middle.
Junior Mike Magnanti begins the season as the starter at second base after joining St. Bonaventure from Finger Lakes Community College where he was an American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) NJCAA Division III Gold Glove award winner last year and also earned NJCAA Second Team All-America honors after hitting .451 with a .526 on-base percentage as well as a .963 fielding percentage.
Fellow junior college transfer Brandon Henshaw likewise was an NJCAA Division III All-American, taking First Team accolades after hitting .447 with 42 RBIs last year at Genesee CC. Following his freshman season he was also named the regional Player of the Year.
Magnanti has played shortstop throughout his career, but moved to second during fall ball due to the plus arm strength Henshaw boasts.
"(Baldinelli) had a great year for us last year, but Magnanti is very solid. We feel good about him offensively and defensively," Sudbrook said. "At shortstop, it isn't fair to compare Henshaw to Cole (Peterson) because Cole was the best defensive shortstop in the history of the program. Still, we feel solid about what Brandon brings us and what he will do here."
At the hot corner, the Bonnies will begin the season with another transfer starting as sophomore Jeff Palczewski makes his Bonnies debut after playing one season at the University at Buffalo. He played in 22 games last year as a second baseman for the Bulls. "JP played third his whole life before going to UB and he's looked very good at third defensively. He's right where Bubba was defensively," Sudbrook said.
Also in the mix for playing time at one of the corner infield positions is redshirt freshman Jake Miknis. "He's a guy that somehow, someway has got to play at some point," Sudbrook said. "He has so much skill, great bat speed, throws 91 across the infield. He has all the tools and it is just finding a key to the tool chest and finding the right spot for him on the field."
Redshirt junior Ryan O'Connor will again fill a utility role, having the ability to play all over the diamond while bringing speed and another option for a bat off the bench. Sophomore Alexander Ferlenda also worked his way into having a chance to get playing time after earning All-Star honors in the New York Collegiate Baseball League this past summer.
While the coaching staff has high hopes for the newcomers, Sudbrook knows the adjustment for junior college players to Division I pitching can take time.
"The question with the new guys is the adjustment to Atlantic 10 pitching and how long will it take them to adjust," he said. "They have the ability, but often it takes time."
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