2018 Baseball Season Preview

Senior captain Robert Erickson and the rest of the Panthers are ready to open the season on Saturday at Stevens.
Senior captain Robert Erickson and the rest of the Panthers are ready to open the season on Saturday at Stevens.

The Middlebury baseball program that welcomes back numerous pieces of a team that was just one win away from a NESCAC Championship a season ago. The Panthers finished with a 22-16 record in 2017, including a 9-2 mark at Forbes Field, and will look to push toward a NESCAC crown again this spring.

The Panthers lost just five players to graduation following the 2017 season, as head coach Mike Leonard returns to the bench following a solid first season. Headed into 2018, the Panthers' roster features a great mix with seven seniors, seven juniors and 11 sophomores in addition to a talented first-year class. Middlebury returns depth both in the field and on the mound from a squad who saw an 11-game improvement from the previous year.

Up the middle of the infield, several players will be competing for playing time. Sophomore Brooks Carroll was a mainstay at shortstop as a rookie, starting 33 contests with a .274 batting average. He finished the year with three home runs, 15 RBI, 26 runs scored and 15 walks in addition to nine stolen bases. Defensively, his 104 assists paced the Panthers.

Classmate Justin Han anchored the second base position much of last spring. He posted a .319 average with 38 hits, including a team-high four homers, to go along with 20 RBI and 15 walks. Also competing for innings in the middle of the infield will be sophomore Hayden Smith, who could also see some time at third base.

Behind the plate, sophomore Gray Goolsby along with senior captain Sebastian Sanchez and junior Phil Bernstein provide the Panthers an experienced trio. Goolsby hit .276 in 22 games last spring with 13 RBI while not committing an error, catching every inning of the Panthers' NESCAC Tournament run. Sanchez and Bernstein both saw significant time a season ago both at and behind the plate.

On the corner infield positions, sophomore Kevin Woodring will vie for time at first base, while classmate Andrew Hennings and senior Raj Palekar will battle for time at third. Woodring played in 21 games in 2017 with 20 starts and batted .281 with two homers, 13 RBI and 14 runs scored as well as 10 walks. Hennings saw a majority of his time at third base last season with a .388 average, smacking five doubles along with nine RBI, while leading the team with a .507 slugging percentage. Palekar recorded six doubles and had 13 RBI in 2017, and will battle with Hennings for innings at the hot corner.

In the outfield, junior Sam Graf and sophomore Alan Guild each return with experience. Graf produced a solid second year for the Panthers, hitting .323 with three home runs to go along with 30 RBI, 11 doubles and a team-best 17 walks along with 26 runs scored. Guild, who saw action in 20 games mainly in right field, hit .288 with two triples and 12 RBI in addition to drawing 12 walks.

Battling for a starting spot along with Graf and Guild will be sophomore Grant Elgarten, along with seniors Drew Coash, Andrew Corcoran and Brendan Donohue. Elgarten hit .269 with 12 RBI and 11 runs scored, while also logging some innings on the mound. Coash, Corcoran and Donohue return to add experience for the Panthers.

On the mound, the Panthers will have some experienced arms returning, including senior captain Robert Erickson, along with junior captain Colby Morris and classmate Colin Waters, as well as sophomore Spencer Shores.

Morris appeared in 13 games last season with 12 starts, hurling a team-high 68.2 innings to rank second in the league. He tied for the league lead with four complete games, striking out 39 and walking just 13 to go along with a 4.46 earned run average and a 6-4 record.

Erickson was both a starter and reliever a season ago, appearing in 11 games with five starts. The tall right-hander logged 38.1 innings pitched last spring with a 3-2 record, 3.99 ERA and 22 strikeouts. Waters posted a 3-3 mark during his first year, pitching 43.1 innings with 23 strikeouts. Shores saw innings in 11 games with eight starts, tallying a team-high 42 strikeouts in 45 innings with a 4-1 record.  

Junior Conor Himstead will anchor the back end of the bullpen after a stellar sophomore season. He set a number of program records, including the standard for single-season appearances (18) and saves (8). He led the NESCAC in saves and earned run average, finishing with a 1.64 ERA.

Sophomore Andrew Martinson is a versatile arm for the Panthers, logging three starts in addition to six appearances out of the bullpen during the 2017 season. He struck out 17 batters in just 21.2 innings last spring.

The Panthers' schedule is daunting early in the season as the blue and white will play their first 18 games on the road. A majority of those games for the Panthers will take place during their spring break trip to California, concluding the voyage with a three-game NESCAC West series against Williams. After a NESCAC West three-game set at Wesleyan the first weekend of April followed by a single game at Trinity, Middlebury will open its home season on April 10 with a game against Southern Vermont.