2019 Baseball Season Preview

Junior captain Hayden Smith and the rest of the Panthers are ready to open the season on March 9 at Stevens.
Junior captain Hayden Smith and the rest of the Panthers are ready to open the season on March 9 at Stevens.

The Middlebury baseball program returns nearly every piece from a season ago, including the NESCAC Pitcher of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. The Panthers finished with a 16-16 record against a tough schedule with just eight home games in 2018 and will look to push toward a NESCAC crown this spring.

The Panthers lost just seven players to graduation, as head coach Mike Leonard returns to the bench for his third season. Headed into 2019, the Panthers' roster features a great mix with six seniors, 11 juniors and eight sophomores in addition to a talented first-year class. Middlebury returns depth both in the field and on the mound.

Up the middle of the infield, several players will be competing for playing time. Junior Brooks Carroll was a mainstay at shortstop and the NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2018, adding a .299 batting average. He finished the year with seven doubles, 15 RBI, 26 runs scored and 14 walks in addition to 17 stolen bases. He committed just five errors on 136 chances (.963), finishing the season with 43 putouts while turning 11 double plays.

Junior captain Hayden Smith returns as a starter at third base, while classmates Alan Guild and Kevin Woodring along with sophomore Ryan Hanrahan will battle for time at first base. Smith played in 28 games for the Panthers a season ago, leading the team with 22 RBI and ranking second with his .364 batting average. He also smacked six doubles and swiped nine stolen bases. Guild, who saw action in 26 games both in right field and at first base, led the Panthers with a pair of homers to go along with five doubles, 18 RBI and 13 base on balls.

Woodring was limited to nine games last spring due to injury, hitting .357 with seven RBI, while Hanrahan hit .313 with three doubles and four RBI in just 16 at-bats. Classmate Andrew Hennings, who saw time at third base and DH last spring, had four doubles along with eight RBI in 20 games played.

Behind the plate, junior Gray Goolsby along with senior Phil Bernstein provide the Panthers an experienced duo. The Panther tandem didn't commit an error between them with 77 and 70 putouts, respectively.

In the outfield, junior Justin Han along with senior Sam Graf and sophomore Henry Strmecki will battle for the spots. Han makes the move to the grass after playing second base each of the last two years.  A First-Team All-NESCAC selection in 2018, he led the NESCAC and set a Middlebury single-season record with 22 stolen bases, while pacing the league with a .528 on-base percentage and was second with 31 walks. Han was sixth in the league with a .369 batting average, pacing the Panthers with 33 runs and seven doubles. 

Graf, a three-year starter, returns to center field for Middlebury after ending 2018 with a homer, six doubles, 17 RBI, and 14 walks to go along with a perfect 12-12 in the stolen base category. Strmecki hit .278 in his first collegiate season with two triples, five doubles and 12 RBI to go along with 16 runs scored.

Battling for a starting spot in the Panther outfield will be junior Grant Elgarten, along with sophomore Jake Dianno. Elgarten played in 24 contests with 12 RBI and eight walks, while Dianno hit .308 in 18 games with five RBI and seven runs scored.

On the mound, the Panthers will have some experienced arms returning, including senior captain Colby Morris and classmate Colin Waters.

Morris, the reigning NESCAC Pitcher of the Year and a D3baseball.com All-New England Region Third-Team selection, was tied for league lead in wins (5), while pacing the NESCAC in complete games (4), innings pitched (64.1) and ERA (1.68) last spring, to go along with 53 strikeouts. Through three seasons at Middlebury, he is already the school's all-time leader in innings pitched (184) and games started (29).

Waters was both a starter and a reliever a year ago, appearing in nine games with six starts. The tall right-hander logged 32.2 innings pitched last spring with a 1-3 record and 24 strikeouts.

Senior Conor Himstead and sophomore George Goldstein will anchor the back end of the bullpen. Goldstein hurled 21.2 innings in 12 contests with a pair of starts, tying for the team lead in appearances. He went 2-1 with a team-best 1.66 ERA and two saves, striking out 26 while walking just 12. Himstead set a number of program records as a sophomore, 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.

The Panthers' schedule is daunting early in the season as the blue and white will play their first 20 games on the road. A majority of those contests will take place during their spring break trip to Florida, concluding the voyage with a three-game NESCAC West series against Hamilton. After games at Norwich, Tufts and Plymouth State, Middlebury will open its home season on Forbes Field April 9 with a game against Northern Vermont-Lyndon.