Sailfish Baseball Squad Looks for Positive Start to 2009

Written By: Michael Brown, Palm Beach Atlantic University SID

Joaquin Valdes (Pictured) Is Poised for a Big Senior Season After Hitting 11 Homeruns as a Junior in 2008. Photo Courtesy of: Michael Brown. Joaquin Valdes (Pictured) Is Poised for a Big Senior Season After Hitting 11 Homeruns as a Junior in 2008. Photo Courtesy of: Michael Brown.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.- After a tough start to last season, the Palm Beach Atlantic University baseball team got back on track in the second-half and will be looking to use that momentum to start the 2009 campaign with similar results. Returning some solid corner-pieces as well as a host of newcomers looking to make an immediate impact on the diamond, Sailfish baseball appears poised for a solid run.

Adding to this year’s baseball coaching staff is the addition of new assistant coach Ryan Holmes to a staff that includes holdovers Noah Hartmetz and Rich Cook under fourth-year head coach Rob Avila.

Below is a breakdown of the Sailfish position-by-position as they get set to begin the 2009 baseball season on Sunday, February 1st as they take on The Master’s College at 2 pm at Palm Beach Gardens High School.

Pitching

An area of increased depth in 2009, PBA returns five arms that all received considerable time on the mound last season while also bringing in a talented class of fresh faces to fill in the gaps.

Buddy FisherJunior right-hander Buddy Fisher (Pictured, Right) returned to the hill in 2008 after missing the previous season with injury and by the second-half of the season regained the form that made him one of the brightest young pitchers in the region. He finished the season with a team-high 11 starts while compiling a team-best five wins and two complete games. Logging over 52 innings last season, Fisher will headline a staff that features a number of other potential standouts.

Taylor McBath, a 6’7” right-hander out of Orlando, Florida, appeared to gain confidence with experience as a true freshman last year and will once again be counted on to hold down a starting spot in the regular rotation.

Joining Fisher and McBath as front-end of the rotation starters will be freshman Logan Thomas who capped an outstanding career at Melbourne High School with a decision to sign with Palm Beach Atlantic. Blessed with a solid arsenal of pitches, Thomas has looked strong this spring as he has prepared for his first collegiate baseball season.

“We really like the way our rotation is starting to come together. Buddy gives us a quality arm that will hopefully log a lot of innings atop our rotation plus the maturation of guys like Logan and Taylor will really be key in us being successful,” said head coach Rob Avila.

Other players that could potentially fill a role in the weekend rotation or midweek include junior college transfer Martin Suarez of Owens Community College as well as Dan McIldoon, a 6’2” right-hander from Toronto, Canada. Both players with previous collegiate experience, these two right-handers could log some important innings as they get adjusted to their time with the Fish.

Coming out of the bullpen this season appears to be a group that is not only talented but also versatile in the roles they eventually could fall into.

While only freshmen, right-handers Carlos Hechavarria and Aaron Rodewald have made their impact felt already and will be looked upon to get big outs in late-inning situations. Grahm White, another young hurler from the left-side will also be a possibility in the later innings.

Billy Schmidt, Dustin Ducasse, and Oscar Cuevas all return as valuable members of last year’s regular bullpen with all capable of logging multiple innings. Newcomer Chad Volbert adds to the mix in the bullpen as a pitcher with potential to give the Sailfish some quality time on the mound.

“Our bullpen is definitely deeper this season and I think that will help our overall pitching staff tremendously. We expect some guys to step into more defined roles as the season goes along and establish themselves as ‘go-to’ guys out of the pen,” said Avila.

Infield

A solid group in 2008, Palm Beach Atlantic must replace the likes of Zach Grau, Mariano Jimenez, and Billy Falconio from their starting infield last season but feel comfortable with the group they have suiting up in 2009.

Looking to make an immediate impact both with his bat and his glove is junior college transfer Vasilios Mila. A second-baseman and top-of-the-order presence, Mila is expected to contribute right away and provide big results for the Sailfish. Joining Mila as a regular double-play partner is former Master’s Academy standout Jeff Moyer. A shortstop with good hands and a left-handed bat, Moyer will be counted on to provide stability up the middle.

Senior Nick Norley, of nearby W.T. Dwyer High School, returns as a shortstop candidate as well although the versatile Norley could also see time in the outfield. A strong throwing arm from whatever position he handles, Norley is a veteran presence in the field and in the lineup for the Sailfish.

Joaquin ValdesAt the corner infield positions will be a number of players poised to lead the team from an offensive perspective. Senior Joaquin Valdes (Pictured, Right) came to PBA last year after a solid junior college experience and seemed to get better and better as the season progressed. The 6’4” third-baseman finished the 2008 season with a team-high 11 homeruns while also adding in nine doubles and 45 runs batted in.

Sophomore Jesse Gibbs gives the Fish another experienced returnee who has big offensive potential in his second season in a Sailfish uniform. Gibbs batted .299 last season with 12 doubles and 33 runs batted in 35 games played. An ability to handle first-base or a corner outfield spot, Gibbs could be used in a number of different roles.

“We will look to Joaquin as one of our main leaders this season, both on and off the field,” said Avila.

“His presence in the lineup along with what we expect to be some strong play from Mila and Livelsberger will be big on the rest of our lineup,” continued Avila.

Behind the plate the Fish will be counting on the experience junior Tony Livelsberger made during the fall as the veteran player made the move from first-base to catcher. An offensive standout in his first two seasons as a Sailfish, Livelsberger is coming off a solid 2008 campaign that witnessed him hitting .326 with a team-high 13 doubles while also drilling seven homeruns and 33 RBI’s.

Adding into the mix behind the plate is transfer Keith Clabaugh. A product of Tallahassee Community College, Clabaugh comes with a strong set of defensive skills and a potential to give the team a solid bat in the lineup as well. Freshman newcomer Justin Sizemore will provide depth as well to the team behind the plate.

Other players looking to make their mark are utility player Michael Kutch, Stephen Fowler, and Marwin Briessen. Each player has the ability to play multiple positions and give the Sailfish a valued player off the bench or see some time as a platoon player. Junior Mike Eissey will be another player who can be utilized in late-game situations as a pinch-hitter and solid glove man at second-base.

“We have some young talent in our infield this season after losing some upper classman from last year. Players like Jeff (Moyer), Jesse (Gibbs), and Keith (Clabaugh) will be counted on to step up and make contributions on a daily basis,” said Avila.

Outfield

The Sailfish outfield returns nearly a full cast from a year ago while also adding a number of potential standouts.

Scott UrbanekScott Urbanek (Pictured, Right) will be looked upon to continue to roam centerfield and bat at the top-of-the-order as the junior gives PBA a valued weapon with his speed in the outfield and on the base-paths. Urbanek finished the 2008 season with a solid .305 batting average and 18 stolen-bases as he will be counted on even more in 2009.

“Scott is a game-changing player with his speed and skill-set. He has great instincts in the outfield and his improvements offensively and on the bases make him a great asset for our ball club,” continued Avila.

Holding down the corner outfield spots will be a position battle with a number of players having the opportunity for playing time.

A key addition to this year’s team from Chandler Gilbert Community College is 6’4” right-fielder Neil Hardon. A player with power-potential, Hardon is expected to provide the Fish a potent bat in the middle of the lineup that will contribute right away.

“The addition of Neil to our lineup gives us another player with great college experience already and a bat we feel could be huge for us in the middle of our order,” said Avila.

Norley and Gibbs as mentioned previously will once again be utility players that could see considerable time in the outfield and infield. John Marks is a newcomer this season who gives the Fish a left-handed bat off the bench as well as the ability to handle multiple positions in the outfield.

Schedule

Now in their second season as a full NCAA Division II program, the 2009 Palm Beach Atlantic University baseball schedule is packed full of tough competition including
17 home dates and a number of key road weekend series.

Of the nine current Sunshine State Conference institutions, the Sailfish will take on eight of them including home and home dates with rivals Lynn University, Nova Southeastern University, Barry University, and Florida Tech. The Fish will also take on the likes of traditional foes such as St. Thomas University, Northwood University, and Florida Memorial University.

As is traditionally the case, many northern universities will take on the Sailfish as a part of their spring break plans such as Felician University, Pace University, and the University of New Haven.

PBA will open up their 2009 slate on Sunday, February 1st against The Master’s College at 2 p.m. at Palm Beach Gardens High School.

One key addition to the coverage of PBA baseball and softball this spring is adding in live statistics and live broadcasts of nearly every PBA home game. For more information on the newly created Sailfish Radio Network, Please Click Here.

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