Leading up to the college baseball season, we will preview each of the Atlantic Coast Conference baseball teams. You can view all of our team previews to date here. Today’s preview features the Boston College Eagles.
Correction: Virginia Tech baseball coach Pete Hughes was the former head baseball coach at Boston College, but he was not an alum of BC. He graduated from Davidson in 1990.
Last season, Boston College finished 22-33, including a 10-20 record in ACC play. The program is on the rise thanks to third-year head coach Mike Gambino, and 2013 offers plenty of promise.
Gambino took over the coaching duties at his alma mater in 2011. During four seasons as an assistant at Virginia Tech under former BC head coach Pete Hughes, Gambino helped improve the team’s batting average forty points and led the Hokies to the NCAA Tournament in 2010. Gambino hopes to bring similar success to Chestnut Hill, where the Eagles have reached the NCAA Tournament twice since 1967.
The Eagles feature one of the ACC’s more explosive offensive players last season in junior outfielder Tom Bourdon. Bourdon was a .324 hitter last season, with 18 doubles and 10 home runs, one of only ten ACC players with at least 10 homers. However, Bourdon also tied for sixth in the ACC with 53 strikeouts, nearly one per game, as well as grounding into seven double plays (also tied for sixth in the ACC). The Eagles would gladly give up some points on that batting average to get more productive outs.
Bouldon, along with pitcher Hunter Gordon and starting catcher Matt Pare have been named team captains. Pare will also have another special honor for Boston College, as he will wear the number eight jersey this season.
Each season, Gambino selects one player to wear No. 8 for Boston College in honor of former Eagle Peter “Sonny” Nictakis. Gambino and Nictakis were teammates at Boston College, and Nictakis was the team captain in 1998 and 1999. Nictakis lost his battle with Hodgkin’s disease in 2000, and his No. 8 was effectively retired by Boston College until Gambino’s return as head coach, when he instilled the tradition of giving the jersey to the player who has, “battled adversity and represents the best qualities of BC Baseball.”
Pare was drafted in the 26th round of the 2009 draft by the Houston Astros, but signed with Boston College. He’s been a starter for the Eagles since arriving on campus, first as a designated hitter before assuming the catcher role as a sophomore. Pare was sidelined for half of the 2011 season with a knee injury, but rebound in 2012 to start 58 games for Boston College, hitting .258 and leading the team in on-base percentage (.411).
Boston College does lose some key contributors in their lineup, including shortstop Anthony Melchionda (.310 batting average, 17 doubles, 6 home runs), taken in the 15th round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. However, Gambino brings in a talented crop of freshmen for 2013 to hopefully fill some of those holes.
Highlighting that group is Chris Shaw of Lexington, Massachusetts. Some believe Shaw had enough talent to go in the first ten rounds of the 2012 MLB draft, but new rules implemented by Major League Baseball to curb spending on draft picks and Shaw’s desire to go to school lowered his stock.
Ultimately, Shaw was drafted in the 26th round by the New York Mets, ensuring he would go to Chestnut Hill. The Eagles expect Shaw to play first base and outfield, and scouts remarked on his smooth, yet powerful left-handed swing that allowed him to maintain a .500 batting average with 20 RBI and seven home runs as a senior for the Minutemen of Lexington High.
Boston College is also bringing in some talent on the mound. Michael Clouthier pitched for the Canadian Junior National Team. His best pitch is a 91-mph slider, which had national team director Greg Hamilton raving. Playing with the CJNT allowed Clouthier to face talented hitters around the world, which should help with the transition to ACC competition.
Left-hander Austin Solecitto was featured on the NBC Nightly News in May, overcoming deafness to lead his Indian Hills Braves on the mound. He combines a low 90s fastball with a low 70s curveball to keep hitters off balance. In 2012, he struck out 77 batters in 46 1/3 innings, finishing with a 5-1 record and a 0.45 ERA, finishing second for New Jersey Player of the Year. During BC’s Fall World Series, Solecitto struck out three of the 12 batters he faced.
And if there’s one thing Boston College needs most, it is pitching. The Eagles return 12 pitchers from last season, including rotation pieces junior Eric Stevens and the senior Gordon. However, BC was last in the ACC in earned run average (5.35), opposing batting average (.283), strikeouts (343), and walks allowed (259). For the Eagles to fare better than their preseason prediction (last in the Atlantic in the ACC coaches’ poll), their pitching will have to improve considerably from 2012.
In Gordon’s first year in the rotation, he was 2-8 with a 6.10 ERA. Stevens was 5-3 with a 5.64 ERA. Stevens also had a 5.15 ERA pitching for the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod League in 2012.
The Eagles do not believe in surrendering outs on the basepaths. Boston College has been last in the ACC in steals each of the last two seasons, but led the conference in stolen base percentage in 2011 and were middle-of-the-road in 2012. Sometimes, a lack of steals suggests a lack of team speed. However, the Eagles have also been last in sacrifice bunts during that time.
Best Case Scenario: Due to the ACC’s strength, at least half of the conference is a lock to make the NCAA Tournament most seasons. So if the Eagles, which are starting to bring in more of Gambino’s recruits to fit his system, improve their pitching some, have some strong performances from freshmen like Solecitto and Shaw … they could finish in the top eight, or even top half, of the conference, right? If they can do that, they could make the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Gambino, and anything after that is gravy. People might even start joking about them being better than the Red Sox!
Worst Case Scenario: They finish last in all those important pitching categories, can’t fill the hole left in the offense by Melchionda’s departure, struggle to find roles or provide immediate impact for the new talent, and finish below .500 and last in the ACC.