Looking around the diamond and it's easy to see the depth for the Golden
Griffins and Mike McRae. The
ninth-year coach has a number of options at every position on the field.
The Griffs return their top two starters at catcher in senior Brooklyn Foster and sophomore Mike Booth. Both backstops are in their second year in Buffalo with Foster transferring to Canisius after two years at Cochise Community College.
Foster started and ended his 2012 season strong, hitting a homer in his first career at-bat in the Blue and Gold and then earning All-Tournament Team honors at the MAAC Championship after going 6-for-14 in four postseason starts. Foster made a team-high 39 starts at catcher and threw out 25 percent of base runners. Booth made 21 starts as a freshman as the No. 2 catcher. In his last eight starts, Booth hit .455 with six runs scored and five RBI.
"I expect to see the two-headed monster similar to last year with Foster and Booth," McRae said. "Mike has shown considerable improvement and is much more comfortable all around."
"Brooklyn is comfortable as well in his second year. They will probably split the doubleheaders but I have no clear path on a rotation. I want to make sure they are fresh late in the season."
The only graduated position player for the Griffs comes in All-MAAC Second-Team selection Drew Pettit. The three-year starter at third base steadily improved defensively at a tough position, posting a .952 fielding percentage last season to go along with a .298 batting average and a team-best 39 RBIs.
Junior Jimmy Luppens will start at first base after a breakout sophomore season. Luppens led the team with a .346 batting average, 13 doubles and a .503 slugging percentage. The Wading River, N.Y. native had 15 multi-hit games in his last 38 starts.
"Jimmy is the incumbent starter at first base and will see the majority of the time," McRae said. "He plays hard and competes at the plate. I think he is starting to mature as a hitter and he is a very competent defender."
McRae plans on using a trio of players up the middle in
juniors Jose Torralba and Ronnie Bernick to go along with senior Manny Hernandez. Torralba will be
either at second base or shortstop, with Bernick starting at shortstop against
right-handed pitchers and Hernandez starting at second base against southpaws
and Torralba shifting to shortstop.
Torralba made a team-high 57 starts in 2012, hitting .277 with a team-high 17 multi-hit games. He finished third in the MAAC with 42 runs scored and had one error in the final 29 games of the season. No one had a bigger hit than Torralba's walk-off single in the win over Fairfield in the MAAC Championship.
Bernick made a team-high 38 starts at shortstop, finishing strong by earning All-Tournament Team honors at the MAAC Championship. The Pittsburgh, Pa. native was hit by a pitch 17 times, the second-highest single-season total in program history, en route to posting a .423 on-base percentage. Hernandez made 25 starts in his first season as a Golden Griffin, hitting .325 with 14 RBI.
"Jose will be the mainstay, flipping back and forth between the positions. We tried him at shortstop in the fall, and I have felt for awhile that he is one of the better defenders in the league," McRae said. "Manny is more comfortable defensively and is more natural at second base. I also want to get some time for freshman Anthony Massicci, depending on how long it takes for him to make the adjustment to college baseball."
At the end of the 2012 season, it was extremely difficult to keep the hot bat of Connor Panas out of the lineup. In his last 17 starts, Panas hit .420 as the Etobicoke, Ontario native made 19 starts at first base, eight starts at third base and four at DH. Panas will get the first crack at taking over the third base position with fellow sophomore Jesse Puscheck and possibly Bernick also seeing time.
"I expect Connor and Jesse to continue to grow," McRae said. "Connor was one of our top hitters at the end of last season, and I expect bigger and better things from him."
The depth is even more apparent in the outfield with seven
or eight options available to McRae. Sophomore Mike Krische took over the center field spot down the stretch and
will open there. Krische hit .340 with 15 runs scored and 10 stolen bases in 14
games in the month of May. In Krische's 15 starts in the leadoff spot, the
Griffs went 11-4.
Junior Ryan Coppinger saw a lot of success at the plate in the later half of the 2012 season as the Dover, N.H. native hit .407 with 16 runs scored and 14 RBI in his last 20 appearances of the season. Coppinger is the most flexible of the outfielders, being able to man any of the three spots.
"Mike has a much better understanding of what it takes to be successful, and I hope he can build on the end of his freshman season," McRae said. "Ryan came on strong at the end of 2012. His ability to play all three outfield positions makes it easy to keep him in the lineup."
Two other returners for the Griffs are senior Chris Gruarin and junior Shane Zimmer. Gruarin made 51 starts last season and had nine outfield assists. The Niagara Falls, N.Y. native had a strong start to 2012, hitting.330 through the first six weeks of the season.
"We hope to see the return of Chris Gruarin that we had at the beginning of the 2012 season," McRae said. "He could be someone who can really produce some power for us if he starts swinging the bat well."
Zimmer showed a very patient eye at the plate, leading the team with a .473 on-base percentage and ranking 38th nationally in the category. He shattered the program record with 54 walks, breaking the previous record of 39 set by Kevin Mahoney in 2009.
"Shane is more inclined to be a designated hitter. We have a lot of good defenders where he doesn't need to be in the outfield," McRae said. "His patience at the plate is a real asset in getting us runners on base."
In left, the first two options will be junior Jesse Kelso or freshman Brett Siddall. Kelso made 42 starts in left field last year and hit .340 in conference play, settling into the No. 2 spot in the order. Siddall comes to Canisius with a lot of experience, having played for Team Canada in the 18U World Championship in Seoul Korea and also earning All-Tournament Team honors at the Americas World Junior Tournament. Siddall also could see time at first base and DH as McRae tries to get his bat in the lineup.
"Brett has earned some opportunities to be in the lineup and he will either be in left field or as designated hitter," McRae said. "We will have to work to find some combination of Brett, Jesse Kelso, Shane and Jesse Puscheck to give our lineup balance."
Two other options for the Griffs in the outfield are senior Christian Segar and freshman Auston Ingram. Segar will get some opportunities against left-handed pitching, and if he is able to get on base, will be another disruptive force on the base paths.