Youth is being served this spring for the Princeton University baseball team.
Saying goodbye in 2013 to a large senior contingent together with junior star Mike Ford, the Ivy League Player and Pitcher of the Year, Princeton replenished its roster by bringing in nine freshmen.
“That group of senior talent played a lot, along with Mike Ford, they had 90 percent of the at-bats and innings pitched,” said Tiger head coach Scott Bradley, whose team dropped three games at UCSB in its opening weekend of the season before splitting four games against Michigan at Port St. Lucie, Fla. from March 13-15.
“We had to recruit a good class. We felt like we got a good class but you never know until they get out on the field.”
Based on the early returns, Bradley attracted a very good class. Over the first two weeks of the season, Tiger freshman stars Nick Hernandez and Danny Baer have been the Ivy League Rookies of the Week. Through seven games, Hernandez led Princeton in hitting at .400 with Baer next at .360 and classmate Paul Tupper third at .348.
“I was impressed by how they looked against UCSB and this past weekend they looked even better,” said Bradley.
“The big thing is that as a group, they are big, physical guys. When you are recruiting it is hard to find guys for the middle of the order. Hernandez, Baer, and Tupper started well and that gives young players the confidence they need.”
The freshmen group has also made an impact on the mound as newcomers Keelan Smithers and Bryce Keller combined for a 6-5 win in the Michigan set with Smithers going five innings in the start and Keller handling the final four innings.
“They made progress between their first and second outings, things were going a little fast for them the first time out,” said Bradley, whose freshman hurlers also include Chad Powers and Luke Strieber.
“Powers is playing third and pitching. I am expecting to give Strieber a start. Keller is very talented. He pitched four innings against Michigan and gave up an unearned run in 4 innings. We will stretch him out.”
A senior, Michael Fagan, has emerged as the ace of the Princeton rotation.
“When he came back to campus last fall we could see that he was more confident and composed,” said Bradley of Fagan, who pitched brilliantly in winning the opening game against Michigan, striking out 10 in six innings of work in the 7-3 triumph.
“He has became a leader. He had good numbers in his first two starts but he really showed composure. He had some wacky things happen and he got out of jams.”
Bradley is looking for good things on the mound from sophomore Cameron Mingo and senior Jonathan York.
“Mingo had a phenomenal freshman year,” said Bradley. “We have been a little cautious with him. He had a little dead arm so we held him out against UCSB and pitched him two innings against Michigan. We will ease him back, I expect him to be one of the best pitchers in the league this year. Jonathan York is interesting. He has been a position player for three years and never pitched. He came in against Michigan and pitched three strong innings. He throws strikes and has a live arm.”
After dealing with rain and sloppy fields in the opening set at UCSB, the Tigers got into a groove against Michigan.
“Being at the Mets complex and getting good weather was great,” said Bradley.
“We were able to do batting practice and infield everyday and get into a routine. We played well defensively. While we don’t put much stock into the record at this point, it was was nice to get some wins this early. It was important for a young team.”
With Princeton heading south for its annual spring break trip this week, Bradley is hoping for nice weather and some more wins.
“It is the same thing like every year, we hope the weather cooperates so we can get in a lot of games,” said Bradley, whose team topped UNC-Greensboro 11-1 last Sunday to improve to 3-7 and will play at Duke on March 19, face Maine on March 20 at Annapolis, Md. before playing a pair of doubleheaders at Navy on March 22-23. “We want to get guys experience and put them in different situations. We want to stretch out the pitchers.”
Upon returning from the trip, Princeton will be starting Ivy League play by hosting doubleheaders against Harvard on March 29 and Dartmouth a day later and Bradley will get a better read on whether his freshmen can handle the pressure situations they will face in league play.
“It is too early to tell,” said Bradley. “I am pleased with the young players; it helps for their confidence to start out well. I think the league is going to be very good. Yale beat LSU; Columbia is playing people tough as usual.”