(Photo credit to Penn State University’s baseball site, GOPSUSPORTS.com)
The 2017 that was…
The Penn State Nittany Lions can only look up after their dismal 2017 campaign. A season filled with a lot of disappointments, heartbreaking injuries, but also promise. The Nittany Lions from Happy Valley ended the season with an 18-37 record while going 4-20 in conference games. Both records landed them in last place in the competitive Big Ten conference. It was a combination of their hitting and pitching that resulted in the Nittany Lions struggles, with their team batting average sitting at .234 and their earned run average at 5.96. It’s going to be unbelievably tough to win baseball games if those numbers remain consistent.
Here Comes the Cavalry
Penn State knew they needed to drastically improve these numbers, so they took their nose to the grindstone and started fixing their problems in-house first and foremost. Their first transaction was the hiring of Josh Newman to the assistant pitching coach position. Newman was drafted in the 19th round of the 2004 Major League Baseball Draft and spent his MLB tenure with the Colorado Rockies and Kansas City Royals. Afterwards, he went back to his alma mater, The Ohio State University, and under his guidance, the Buckeyes team ERA dropped 1.70 runs to 3.24 over a span of two seasons. With his experience and guidance, the Nittany Lion rotation looks to get their roar back this 2018 season.
As with great pitching, you need great hitting, and Penn State may have found their answer in the clubhouse.
Andre Butler, their volunteer assistant coach from two seasons, has been promoted to assistant coach this season and will work in the lead role with the team’s hitters and outfielders. Last season, Butler’s outfielders were Penn State’s standout position players.
Freshman outfielder Braxton Giavedoni was the team’s batting champ, Jordan Bowersox was batting a team-best .333 through 33 games before an injury ended his season, and another true freshman, Mason Nadeau, batted above .300 during an injury-plagued 35-game season for him. With Butler at the helm and these three returning for another tenure, Penn State’s offense will be a retain some pride.
2018: The Year of the Roar
2018 shows a lot of promise for the Nittany Lions and here are some players to watch for this upcoming season:
Penn State has a core they can build around heading into the 2018 season. Braxton Giavedoni led the way, who had a slash line of .287/.355/.410. The most impressive part? He was only a freshman.
Jordan Bowersox, unfortunately, had an injury-shortened season but still batted .333/.418/.480 through 33 games with 41 hits and 9 SB. He’ll look for a consistent bounce back or possibly even better. Mason Nadeau hit .308 through 35 games with 10 stolen bases, will look to rebound from an injury-shortened season. If those numbers are any indication, Mason can surely be a threat on the bases again in 2018, even more so than 2017.
Conlin Hughes was tied for team lead in total bases with 77 in 2017 and can surely surpass that this season. Lastly the senior of this group, Nick Distasio, the closer for the Nittany Lion squad who had 50 strikeouts in 45 innings in 2017. Any pitcher who has more strikeouts than per innings pitched is someone to keep your eye on and this season. Distasio looks to be an unbreakable force at the back end of a promising Penn State pitching rotation.
New Kids at the Plate
Penn State has some strong talent coming in 2018. On the offensive side of the plate, the Nittany Lions were able to find some gems that can prove key to their production at the plate in 2018. Parker Hendershot, the 2nd best ranked 3rd baseman and the 9th best overall player from the state of New York according to USA Today, is bringing his talents to State College after a stellar high school baseball career. Parker hit .645 as a senior and holds high school records in hits (164), average (.521), hits in a season (49, twice), doubles (45), RBIs (125), runs (154), and OPS (1.899). Hendershot can provide that boost in offense Penn State was looking for from their infielders last season.
Derek Orndorff, a freshman from Mill Run, Pennsylvania, comes in as a utility man who has the ability to absolutely rake at the plate. Ranked as the second best outfielder in Pennsylvania, Derek hit .542 his senior season with six home runs and was also named the 13th best player by Perfect Game.
Another outfielder joining the crowded and yet, extremely talented Penn State outfield this season, is Curtis Robinson from Dillsburg, Pennsylvania. Curtis is a speedster who loves to hit. Robinson batted .455 overall after his sophomore season, which includes a .488 clip his senior year. He also swiped 21 bases in 2016 and will prove to be a deadly weapon on the base paths for the Nittany Lions who need a kid that can move on the bases and score runs. Penn State surely reloaded for the upcoming 2018 season on offense, as these key signings can help the core returning from 2017, and turn the 2018 Nittany Lions into a force to be reckoned with.
New Kids on the Bump
Possibly the most urgent need for improvement on the Penn State squad. They knew they needed to bolster their rotation if they were going to have any hope of competing this season and they went out and got it done. Mason Mellott, a right-handed pitcher from State College, Pennsylvania, turned it up a notch for his final two seasons of high school, striking out 55 batters during his junior season and then 78 the following year in his senior season. He totaled three wins during his junior campaign and five wins in 2017. Lastly, his ERA was an impressive 1.50 for his junior year and 2.00 his senior year. Mason brings depth and talent to a Nittany Lion rotation desperate for help.
Conor Larkin from Royersford, Pennsylvania was ranked the seventh-best right-handed pitcher in Pennsylvania and 15th best overall and it was easy to see why Penn State fell in love with him. He posted a 6-2 record as a junior with a 1.01 ERA and 73 strikeouts. Then for an encore, he went 7-1 with a .80 ERA and 86 strikeouts his senior year. Larkin has the ability to become the ace of Happy Valley.
Lastly, you must have a left-handed pitcher, so why not go out and get the number-one ranked left-handed pitcher in all of Pennsylvania, Jeff Taylor. Taylor brings ace type of material to the Penn State rotation. He now owns Penn Manor’s record for wins at 21 and had 114 strikeouts in 2017 alone. If that doesn’t impress you, his ERA hasn’t climbed above 1.00 in three years. Penn State has a lot of promise on the mound heading into 2018 and should be very confident of their chances to compete with the beasts of the Big Ten.