Point Park University Baseball: 2014 Season Outlook & Head Coach Interview
Feb. 20, 2014 at 3:00 p.m. ET
Point Park head coach Loren Torres in a 2014 preseason interview Feb. 13, 2014.
PITTSBURGH -- The Point Park University baseball team opens the 2014 season ranked No. 19 in the NAIA Top 25. And although a place among the NAIA's top teams has become familiar territory for the Pioneers (39-16, 14-6 KIAC in 2013), it's a new year with a new team that will need to etch its own spot in the upper tier of NAIA baseball.
The Pioneers have been to the NAIA national tournament each of the last two years and have been ranked in the final NAIA Top 25 Poll each of the last three seasons. Point Park still even has several players from the 2012 team that finished fifth in the NAIA World Series.
But each year brings new challenges and a new road to pave. The initial challenge for the 2014 Pioneers will be to replace eight seniors -- five of which were in the starting lineup when Point Park took the field for the 2012 NAIA World Series opener -- but the roster does not lack experience.
"We had a good fall and winter," said Pioneers head coach Loren Torres, who is in his fifth year. "It's always an opportunity for guys to earn a role in the team. We feel good about how it went and are excited to get going. It's difficult to replace a large group of eight seniors. But we do have a lot of seniors who were juniors last year, and we've also brought in some transfers who are upperclassmen to compliment those returning guys."
Point Park's roster is once again stocked with experienced upper classmen, and that experience is a mix of returning veterans and also several transfers who will come in and help out right away. Point Park has 11 of its 21 players as seniors, and the Pioneers will lean on that group to lead the way.
"Every year is different. This team is going to have to prove that they can compete nationally again," said Torres. "We have recruited well and prepared well, but it's important that we stay humble and hungry and take this year as a new experience and go into it with our same goals but knowing that at the end of the day, we need to play well between the lines because our history won't help us this year."On the mound, the Pioneers return 3 of 4 starting pitchers. At the plate, Point Park led the NAIA in team batting average at .341 last year and although it has 4 of 9 players returning to the batting order, the five starters it must replace all hit over .300.
Point Park welcomes back 10 of 19 letter winners overall. The Pioneers are the defending KIAC Tournament and Regular Season champions, and they are picked as the preseason conference favorite in this their second year in the league.
"Our standards are high, we want to compete for a national championship each year, and so the goal remains the same," said Torres. "We want to stand tall at the final out. We will have to go one step at a time, do well this weekend, then in conference play then at the end of the year, hopefully we have a chance to compete in the national tournament and for spot in Lewiston, Idaho, at the NAIA World Series."
"Our identity will be determined once we start playing. We are going to find out who we are and the process and the road we are going to take. But we are going to control what we can control, which is to be ready on Day 1."
Point Park opens the season Feb. 21-22 with a four-game series at NAIA Bryan (Tenn.) College. Other early dates are Feb. 23 at preseason No. 8 Tennessee Wesleyan and Feb. 24 at West Virginia Tech. The Pioneers head south a second time for 12 games at the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational March 1-7. The home opener is March 11 versus Clarion at Point Park Field at Green Tree Park.
The following is a break down of Point Park's pitching, hitting and defense:
Point Park's most notable strength among the returners lies in the pitching staff, where three of the four weekend conference starting pitchers return. The ace of the staff is senior Manny Perdomo, a right-hander from Miami, Fla., who was 6-3 last year and led the starters with a 2.47 ERA. A two-year starter who was All-KIAC First Team last year, Perdomo is 13-3 with a 2.16 ERA in his Point Park career.
Also returning to the pitching staff is senior right-hander Isaiah Marsh, a native of Clear Brook, Va., who was 4-2 with a 3.50 ERA last year, his first season in the the conference starting rotation. He has been a key part of the Pioneers' staff both of his years on campus, and Torres feels he is ready for a big senior year.
The third returner to the starting staff is junior left-hander Nathan Sphon, a native of Greensburg, Pa., who was 4-4 with a 5.11 ERA last season. Although he had an off year in 2013 numbers-wise, he is still 12-5 with a 3.59 ERA in his career. Torres feels he is ready to return to the form of his 2012 season of 8-1 with a 2.45 ERA.
With Perdomo and Sphon, the Pioneers have two of the four starting pitchers they sent to the mound in the 2012 NAIA World Series, and Marsh even worked an extended relief outing holding No. 2 Lee (Tenn.) to two hits in four innings.
A newcomer to the starting rotation will be sophomore right-hander Alex Mateo, a native of Miami, Fla., and a transfer from Broward (Fla.) College. The former All-Miami Dade County performer at Monsignor Pace (Fla.) High School had a 1-1 record with a 4.50 ERA as a freshman reliever at Broward College, and Torres sees his best success as a starter in the rotation.
The bullpen must replace a very reliable duo of set-up man Josh Brooks (4-0, 0.77 ERA) and closer Ryan Loutsenhizer (3-0, 0.79, 6 SV), who were two of the eight seniors lost to graduation. Those two were practically the entire bullpen down the stretch run of 2013, and Point Park has two players in mind to take over for those roles to start the year.
Veteran Jon Corcoran, from Fox Chapel High School, has been a member of the bullpen for three years and will take on an expanded role as a senior. Corcoran has appeared in 22 games in his career -- all in relief -- and has good numbers with a 1-0 record, 3.34 ERA and a .254 opponent's batting average in 32.1 innings pitched.
Slated as the closer is senior right-hander Toby Eigner, a native of Marathon, Fla., who is in his is second year with Point Park. After transferring from Southeastern (Iowa) CC, Eigner was 2-1 with a 5.33 ERA in 11 outings last year. Torres is confident that Eigner is ready to be the key part of the bullpen due in part to his familiarity with the team in his second year. Eigner's good stuff was shown when he threw a one-hitter in one of his two starts.
The rest of the pitching staff is made up of young players who are in their first year on the roster. That group, which will see time as starters and relievers, includes righty Jarrad Brown, a sophomore from Erie, Pa., and a transfer from Penn State-Behrend. The other pitchers are all two-way players: freshman Jake Horew (RHP/SS), from Chartiers Valley HS, freshman Stefan Mrkonja (LHP/OF) from Hopewell HS and junior Zach Zimmerman (RHP/2B) from Hempfield HS and a transfer from Westmoreland County CC.
The Point Park infield has returning starters at third base and second base and new faces at shortstop and first base for the 2014 season.
Junior third baseman Jordan Crowell is a 2014 NAIA Baseball Preseason All-American and returns for his second year with the Pioneers. He transferred from Northwestern Ohio last year, led the NAIA in batting average at .441 and was the 2013 KIAC Player of the Year, an NAIA Honorable Mention All-American and Team MVP.
Crowell did not begin the 2013 season as a starter but became the No. 3 hitter in the Pioneers' order after two weeks. With a full season as a starter, Crowell will once again be a middle of the order threat for Point Park looking to build on his 40 RBIs and team-high slugging percentate (.531) and on-base percentage (.520) of a year ago.
Senior second baseman Tom Birko is another returning starter on the infield. A starter his whole career, the two-time all-conference selection hit .364 with a career-high 41 RBIs last year. A very productive player, Birko is hitting .338 with 156 hits and 102 RBIs in 146 career games. A good everyday glove at second base, he has a .955 career fielding percentage.
Shortstop is in the hands of Michael DeJesus, a transfer from NAIA St. Thomas (Fla.) University. He spent three years at St. Thomas with his best season producing a .243 average and 18 RBIs in 38 games. The native of Miami, Fla., is replacing Chaz Russo, who is redshirting following a 2013 campaign of .362 with 33 RBIs.
First base has a few transfers battling for the top spot. Junior Oscar Romero, from Miami, Fla., is a transfer from St. Thomas (Fla.) in the mix. He hit .268 with 15 RBIs in his best year at St. Thomas and has the ability to be a middle- of-the-order performer with more at bats. He will look to duplicate the path of last year's starting first baseman Marlon Leyva, who hit .322 and led the Pioneers with 7 HR and 50 RBIs. Leyva also transferred from St. Thomas, where his best year was .291 and 10 RBIs.
Another player at first base is transfer Kasey Clinton, a senior from DuBois, Pa., although he is more likely the designated hitter. Clinton put up big numbers at Alleghany (Md.) College the with 22 home runs and 95 RBIs combined over two years there.
Senior Jonathan Tasis is on the depth chart at first base, but start the year in left field (see below).
Depth in the infield includes Jake Horew, a freshman pitcher/shortstop from Chartiers Valley HS and Zach Zimmerman, a pitcher/second baseman from Greensburg, Pa., and a tranfer from Westmoreland County CC.
Senior catcher Ossie Alfonzo, from Miami, Fla., is the fourth and final returning starter to the Pioneers' lineup. He has played in 108 games -- mostly as the starting catcher -- the last two years. Alfonzo is hitting .281 with 65 RBIs and a .922 fielding percentage in his Point Park career. A highlight was when he was named the catcher on the 2012 NAIA World Series All-Tournament team when he hit .529 in four games.
Tyler Cattapan is a senior from Aurora, Ontario, and the backup catcher. He is in his third year with the Pioneers, and he hit .344 with 15 RBIs in only 64 at bats last year. A career .318 hitter, Cattapan will find his way into the lineup as DH at times, as will Alfonzo, when they are not catching.
Point Park's biggest hole to fill this year is in the outfield, where the Pioneers must replace all three starters. Not only did RF Don McDuffee (.379, 38 RBIs), LF Rob Novia (.408, 32 RBIs) and CF Tom Pasinski (.307, 35 RBI) start the last two years, they were also very good in the field and at the plate.
Senior Javy Marticorena, from Miami, Fla., is back for his third year in the program after starting out at NAIA St. Thomas (Fla.). He was the designated hitter last year but will take up the right field position as a senior.
Marticorena was the team's Offensive MVP his first year on campus of 2012 when he hit .384 with 7 home runs and 34 RBIs in just 37 games. But a knee injury in April 2012 ended his season. He had a down year as the starting designated hitter in 2013 while still recovering (.289, 35 RBIs), but Torres says that Marticorena is ready to get back to his ways of 2012.
Jonathan Tasis is a senior outfielder/infielder from Miami, Fla., who will be an everday player for the Pioneers and one of the new starters. He is in his fourth year with the Pioneers although he's been a backup. Tasis has proven his hitting capabilities with a career .366 average and 30 RBIs in just 112 at-bats. He will start the year in left field although he is also on the depth chart at first base.
Senior Yuliecer Arias, from Caracas, Venezuela, will be the Pioneers' starting center fielder. The transfer from Indian Hills (Iowa) CC is a very talented short stop by trade, but he will play center field by necessity as probably the best overall athlete on the roster. He was an all-region player at Indian Hills CC, where he hit .330 with 61 RBIs in 104 games over two seasons.
The top sub in the outfield is sophomore Shane Conley, a transfer from NCAA DII Seton Hill. He is a very speedy player who was a two-time WPIAL all-section player at Carlynton High School. Freshman Stefan Mrkonja provides depth in the outfield. He hit .400 with 10 HRs in his career at Hopewell High School and is also on the Pioneers' pitching staff.
A final thought from coach Torres in the preseason came on the Pioneers' preseason No. 19 ranking in the NAIA Top 25. He appreciates the recognition from NAIA coaches but knows it won't help the Pioneers on the field.
"We want to make our own breaks," said coach Torres. "We have to win our conference tournament -- that is the first goal if we want to compete nationally. It is nice to be thought of in the rankings, but it's like an award or trophy. It's a reward and you feel good about it. But that's where it ends, and you have to play well on the field."
To hear coach Torres' entire preseason comments, view the video clip on the Point Park athletics YouTube channel above.Follow the Pioneers on Twitter @PointParkSports and @PPUBaseball