UB baseball is back
The team looks to continue past success despite losing seven starters
Baseball head coach Ron Torgalski expects the Bulls to go through a season of growing pains.
Buffalo finished last season with a 26-26 record, including 13-13 in Mid-American Conference play. The team also finished fourth in the MAC even with one of the best group of seniors that ever graced a Bulls uniform.
But with the new year also comes a much different roster. The Bulls lost seven of their nine regular position starters and two rotation pitchers. The team also welcomed 11 new players to the team, including eight freshmen. Although the team’s faces have changed, Torgalski said he doesn’t think it will drastically change the direction of the program.
“It’s going to be an interesting season,” Torgalski said. “We’re going to have some growing pains early on. We have a lot of guys that haven’t gone through the grind that the seniors have gone through. But a few of them got some good at-bats last year. That young talent will surprise a lot of people.”
But Torgalski said there’s one player in particular that will be “near impossible” to replace: pitcher/infielder Mike Burke.
Burke was dominant for Buffalo on both the mound and at the plate. He finished his senior season with a .324 average with three home runs and 20 RBIs. He also compiled a 6-5 record with a 3.33 ERA as Buffalo’s “Sunday starter.” Burke was drafted to the Baltimore Orioles in the 30th round of last year’s amateur baseball draft.
“There’s no replacing Burke,” Torgalski said. “He’s not a guy that you can replace easily. He hit .330 for us and held down the Sunday starter responsibilities. He had a tremendous career and he will surely be missed.”
Senior pitchers Mike McGee and Anthony Magovney will be the team’s 1-2 punch at starting pitcher, but Torgalski is unsure who will replace Burke as the Sunday starter.
Sophomore infielder Chris Kwitzer is projected to replace Burke at third base. He hit .219 in just 64 at bats last season, but has been training all offseason to get ready for the role, including staying in constant contact with Burke.
“In the offseason, I worked on a ton of mental training,” Kwitzer said. “[Burke] gave me a ton of hints and tips last year on playing third. He got me into the mental training. It’s a good guy to work with on third base.”
The Bulls also have to replace production from a talented Bulls’ senior outfield last season. The unit featured Jimmy Topps and Matt Pollock, who combined for nearly 25 percent of Buffalo’s total RBIs, and were vocal clubhouse leaders, according to Torgalski.
Topps finished with a .296 average to go along with a team-leading 44 runs while holding down the leadoff spot for the majority of the season. Pollock had a .324 average with 61 hits as the starting left fielder.
Junior outfielder Nick Sinay is the only starting outfielder from last season to return to the team this season. He is expected to succeed Topps as the starting center fielder after starting all but one game in right field last season.
Sinay led the team with 31 steals and 45 runs while batting in the seven-hole. Torgalski said he expects Sinay to produce much more this season as the team’s primary leadoff man.
“Nick had a phenomenal summer in the valley league,” Torgalski said. “He hit .340 and stole over 50 bases in a really competitive league. He’s going to carry that into his junior season because he’s been excelling as of late. I’m excited to see what he can do for us this season.”
Sophomore infielder/outfielder Vinny Mallaro played in 35 games last season, splitting time between the outfield and first base. Mallaro wasn’t considered for a starting outfield position because Torgalski wants him to fill the void at first base.
Tyler Mautner – the team’s starting first baseman last season – left the team with two seasons of eligibility remaining after being drafted in the 14th round by the Minnesota Twins. He led the team with a .337 average and 52 RBI’s last season.
Despite limited time at first, Mallaro spent the entire summer playing the position and said he is ready to take the position.
“I played some really good competition [last summer], facing some guys from Texas, some from LSU – all those big schools,” Mallaro said. “I’m up for the challenge.”
Rounding out the outfield is sophomore Brent Cleland and junior Mike Abrunzo. Cleland pitched in 11 games last season, but will be assuming a larger role as an everyday player. Abrunzo – a transfer from Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania – finished last season with a .370 batting average and is expected to assume left field responsibilities.
Sophomore reliever Mike Kaelin will continue his dominance in the bullpen. He threw for a team-low 0.82 ERA last season in 16 appearances.
Torgalski said he understands it will be a different season than last year. But Torgalski said the success of a team isn’t based on the talent of the players. Rather, it is the team’s chemistry.
“The fact that we are a team, that goes a long way,” Torgalski said. “This is a great group of kids that come to work every day. They know when they have their time to screw around and have their fun. But when they step on the field, they’re serious about getting better.”
The team begins its season on Friday against James Madison in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, followed by games on Saturday and Sunday against Gardner-Webb. Friday’s game is set for noon.