Posted: Feb 07, 2018
PASADENA (Feb. 7, 2018) – The evolution of the Caltech baseball team reached new heights in 2017, the likes of which had not been reached in nearly 30 years.
Late-game heroics from rising sophomore Alex Corado (San Diego, Calif. / Scripps Ranch) and a sound pitching performance from now-junior Jonah Krop (Santa Monica, Calif. / Santa Monica) on March 31, 2017 earned the Beavers their first SCIAC victory since 1988 in a 4-3 walk-off win over Pomona-Pitzer Colleges. The victory snapped a 29-year winless streak. The Beavers went on to win one more SCIAC game at Whittier College, a 13-12 victory
Fast-forward one year and Head Coach Matthew Mark and his team are looking forward to building upon last year's momentum, fostering the evolution of Caltech's baseball program.
"Good teams evolve and it's up to us this year to adapt, and continue to set the bar high," Mark said.
Mark and his assistants Wayne Edwards and Mark Davis will be tasked with finding new players to fill the roles of the departed seniors.
"I think it goes without saying this group is unburdened," Mark said. "There's no more out there as far as bad streaks for us. You just get to move forward and it's nice to not let history define our approach and to move forward."
At the dish, the Beavers will be returning the meat of their order, many of whom have shown a propensity to hit for a high average. Senior Chris McCarren (Kenilworth, Ill. / North Shore Country Day) is coming off a career year where he led his team with a .374 batting average, good for fifth among SCIAC players. Perhaps just as notably, McCarren finished the season as the only SCIAC player with at least 10 stolen bases to have a perfect steal percentage. He also finished eighth in on-base percentage and 12th in assists, establishing himself among the conference's top two-way shortstops. Junior catcher Mark Burleson (Ladera Ranch, Calif. / Tesoro), like McCarren stepped into a leadership role last year but relied more on his power than finesse, finishing the season with 10 doubles to tie four other players for the Caltech record as well as a team-best four home runs while still maintaining a .317/.365/.476 triple-slash line. Another junior, Connor Moffatt (Charleston, W.Va. / George Washington) is expected to split time between second and third base as has been the case in recent years. He also brings with him two of the Beavers' six returning home runs from the prior season. Senior Garrett Levine (Columbus, Ohio / Columbus Academy) provided Caltech's sixth home run from a season ago and will return to his role as an enforcer on the mound and in the batter's box. Fellow senior David Watson (Windsor, Colo. / Windsor), meanwhile continued to benefit from his improved defense as a junior and should once again be a fixture in the middle-back end of his team's batting order as a near-every day first baseman and one of the team's three senior cornerstones.
"We have three seniors that have been everyday players for us outside of injury for the better part of four years," Mark said. "These are the guys I had the opportunity to go see and work with through the entire recruiting process. Now we have two Watsons on the team and we have people who come from all over to play for us. But between McCarren, Levine and David Watson they are the first three that kind of set things in place. Last year's class was special and these three are continuing examples of our movement forward and upward."
Back on the mound, the Beavers seem to have two of their three rotation members figured out. Returners Jonah Krop and Cortland Perry (New York, N.Y. / The Dalton School) established themselves as stabilizing members of last year's rotation, with pure pitcher Krop being one of two pitchers to exceed 80 innings and dropped his ERA down by more than double his freshman total while leading the team in starts (14), strikeouts (48), WHIP (1.62) and wins (4). Perry, meanwhile had his usage varied between being Caltech's third starter and being a difference maker atop the order as a middle infielder. His versatility allowed him to finish in the top five of 18 statistical categories, though his experience pitching against SCIAC competition could incur more mound usage.
Another pure pitcher, sophomore Grant Messner (Lake Forest, Ill. / Lake Forest), boasts perhaps some of the best arm talent on the team and has the stuff to be among the SCIAC's top arms, depending the way Mark chooses to deploy him. As for the third starter slot, the versatile Levine could be tabbed to handle the role at some point but primarily operated in a multi-inning relief capacity in 2017, leading the team with two saves. Another option might be freshman Dillon Holder (New York, NY / Horace Mann). Holder, like Levine and Perry profiles as a two-way player, the type of player Mark likes to have for flexibility purposes. Returner Alex Corado, who saw several starts in the outfield last season could have the opportunity to work in, as well as sophomore Marcel Griffioen (Sarasota, Fla. / Pine View School).
"I think it'll be mostly freshman and sophomore that will take up Kai's innings," Mark said. "Historically we have seen our biggest performance gains come between freshman and sophomore year. Messner, Holder, Corado will be a core part of what we do. Thankfully we do have guys like Krop, Levine and Perry who are coming back with defined roles. Levine is our utiilityman. He can do some good things for us on the mound and in the batter's box so I'm excited to see the year he has."
Caltech is also welcoming in freshman corner infielder Mitchell Watson (Windsor, Colo. / Windsor), catcher Ari Rosner (Edgewater, Md. / Georgetown Day) and another freshman, Dominic Catanzaro (San Diego, Calif. / Cathedral Catholic). Watson, the brother of the Beavers' senior first baseman, brings with him a legitimate offensive prowess in addition to power from the right side of the plate. His presence will be especially crucial on days where otherwise everyday infielders like Levine and Perry are required to pitch. Rosner could prove valuable on days where Burleson needs a breather or is asked to DH.
"We won't have as many freshmen in the lineup compared to previous years and that's the way most programs are," Mark said. "The best of the best will play with freshman will push the upperclassmen and it's up to older players to answer that call."
The returning group also includes sophomores David Adams (Atlanta, Ga. / Holy Innocents' Episcopal School), Minjae Kim (Busan, South Korea / West Vancouver Secondary School) and Alex Wuschner (Farmington, Conn. / Farmington), all of whom will be competing for time in the outfield. Each of these players came to Caltech with impressive resumes and benefited from playing time. It would be no surprise if one or several players from this group takes a leap forward in 2018, especially with the Beavers looking to improve on their win total.
"I'm really proud of the effort they put in the offseason," Mark said. "Our focus is all in and all out for whatever it takes. It's not a quantity thing, it's 100-percent effort on any play that's asked of you."
Mark and the Beavers will open 2018 with a three-game homestand against visiting Providence Christian College. The opener will be on Friday, Feb. 9 with a doubleheader to follow on Saturday, Feb. 10. SCIAC play opens on Friday, Feb. 16 at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges.