TAMPA SPARTANS (47-12)
When a school has five players selected in the MLB draft and another signed as a free agent, it’s usually an indicator that the team could be in for a rebuilding year – even if the club just won the national title. However that isn’t the case in Tampa. The Spartans only further cemented itself as one of DII baseball’s perennial powers and with another influx of talented transfers and recruits, UT will once again be a favorite to leave Cary with the championship trophy in hand.
The Spartan offense, which hit .321 as a team with a .469 slugging percentage a year ago, could be even better this season. As an indicator of how well Tampa can hit, returning senior shortstop Jacob Tillotson, who finished second on the team in batting at .360 last spring, usually hit in the nine slot of the UT batting order. UT returns it’s leading hitter for average from last season, Tyler Ding, who raised his batting average over .100 points from his sophomore season to finish the year with a .378 average. If he continues to play for Tampa for another six seasons with similar increases in his average he’ll finish the season near 1.000 which would set all sorts of batting records and he’d also probably get his name in the paper. Connor Obrochta may be the team’s best all around hitter and has been an All SSC selection the past two years. Obrochta earned conference first team outfield honors last year after winning a Rawlings South Region Gold Glove while batting .330 and compiling a team leading 70 runs scores with 15 stolen bases. Michael Danner also received gold glove and All SSC honors for his play in the outfield. He batted .344 with 24 extra base hits to conclude the year as Tampa’s total bases leader. He also had 37 walks to help push his on base percentage to .442. Tampa will also have another pair of big bats added to the roster for 2014 via transfers. Giovanny Alfonzo was an important part of Florida State’s lineup last season, making 59 starts and finishing the season with a .263 batting average. Catcher Nick Tindall was the GLVC Player of the Year at Quincy where he hit .372 with a .620 slugging percentage. The slugging catcher was second in the GLVC in home runs with nine, third in the league in slugging percentage and fifth in batting average.
The Achilles’ heel for Tampa headed into season will unquestionably be their pitching. Tampa does have a number of experienced arms back on the mound from last season; however their All American ace, Mike Adams, and three experienced starters from last year have all moved on. David Heitnz and Brad Hencke both were integral parts of the staff last spring who excelled both out of the bullpen and during the occasional start. Heitnz was 4-0 with a 2.22 ERA and struck out 24 batters in 28.1 innings with only three walks. Hencke was 3-1 with a 2.50 ERA and had the team’s only complete game. Michael Calkins put up impressive numbers his freshman season and could be the breakout hurler the team needs to repeat. In nine appearances last season Calkins had a 2.70 ERA in 16.2 innings of work. Big things are also expected from former Troy pitcher Jimmy Hodgskin. Hodgskin redshirted in 2013, but in 2012 with the Trojans, Hodgskin made seven starts and struck out 32 batters in 36.2 innings. Another DI transfer Trey Oest from Virginia, could step into be a dominating pitcher out of the gate. Oest was 5-0 with a 4.28 ERA for the Cavaliers last season