By Greg Gulas
Heading into his fifth season as YSU’s baseball coach, Rich Pasquale has a cautious optimism as his team eyes its Feb. 17 opener against Canisius College in Cary, N.C.
With five players either drafted or signed to professional contracts over the past two seasons, he told the Curbstone Coaches at Monday’s weekly luncheon meeting that his program has made great strides, but it’s now time for that breakout season.
“We’re definitely excited about our chances this season, especially in conference play,” he said. “Last season we won two playoff games and were literally an inning and a half away from playing for the Horizon League championship.
“We felt like we had an excellent recruiting class, bringing in 14 new players to complement the 20 players that are returning. While we are relatively young, we can still rely on much needed upperclass leadership as well,” Pasquale said.
Outfielder Tommy Clayton was the Horizon League player of the year two seasons ago, while pitchers Aaron Swenson and Phil Klein were the top pitchers in 2008 and 2009 respectively.
Klein, who at 6-foot-7 is the tallest Penguin pitcher in the school’s 58-year history, was drafted last season by the Texas Rangers. In 2010, pitcher Eric Marzec was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers, shortstop Jacke Healey was chosen by the Houston Astros, Swenson was tabbed by the Baltimore Orioles and Clayton ultimately signed an Independent League contract.
“That shows that we are developing our players,” Pasquale said. “It really takes some time to develop consistency in recruiting. Our last couple classes have evolved slowly as we have watched those players over several years.
“We’ve have been very selective, looking at many factors before offering a player a scholarship. We don’t want to rush the process, instead opting to see players multiple times before making a decision.”
Academics remain paramount for Pasquale. His teams have posted a combined 3.08 grade point average the past two seasons with five players posting 4.0 GPAs last fall.
The addition of the WATTS indoor facility has been a plus, Pasquale said.
“To be able to practice indoors when the weather is challenging outside, especially with a full infield and regulation outfield has been a most welcome change for us,” he said. “We held a camp over the Christmas break and over 40 youngsters attended. We were able to videotape them and they even got to hear words of encouragement from former Cleveland Indians star Tito Francona, and Brian Graham, the head minor league coordinator for the Baltimore Orioles.”
Graham was the Indians’ first base coach under former manager Mike Hargrove (1998-99) while his son, Jack, is a freshman on YSU’s team.
Jeremy Banks, a first baseman from Steubenville, and David Leon, a designated hitter/third baseman/shortstop from Hermitage, Pa., are the lone senior holdovers while transfers Patrick O’Brien, a pitcher from Boardman, and catcher Jake Kucek of Canfield are expected to make an immediate impact.
O’Brien transferred from Bowling Green and Kucek’s father, Jack, played seven seasons with the Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays.
“Both a very familiar with each other and we are expecting big things from both players this spring,” Pasquale said. “In conference play you always want to get that first win in a series so we are looking at Patrick as being our Friday night guy this season.”