Spring Preview: Baseball


Fordham Baseball will have to replace some key pieces in 2019. (Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram)

By Jack McLoone

The 2018 season was big for Fordham Baseball, but ultimately ended in disappointment. The Rams finished 35-19-1, their most wins since notching 35 in 2007. However, they only won their first game of the Atlantic 10 Championship before being knocked out by back-to-back losses, ending their 2018 season on a sour note. Head coach Kevin Leighton credited the team with accepting a mindset he had been trying to push for a while for the sustained success.

“I thought we did a good job last year — it’s kinda cliché, but — taking it one game at a time,” said Leighton. “We had a motto of ‘1-0 today.’ I thought the guys bought into that, they didn’t start looking too far in the future.”

Despite the disappointing end result, the season as a whole was a success for the Rams. After a number of seasons wallowing at the bottom of the country in terms of offensive numbers, they finally were able to hit for country-average in most categories. They also led the country in steals by a wide margin, an aggressive mindset that Leighton expects to carry into this season, thanks to the Rams returning the vast majority of their starting lineup.

“Not only did they buy in last year, but they really saw the results of it,” said Leighton. “It led to wins, so it’s a much easier pitch to new guys. There’s no real kickback on it. That’s our style, that’s how we want to play.”

One man subtracted from the Rams’ standard starting lineup is Reiss Knehr, who logged 81 at-bats and hit for a career-high .259 batting average. Knehr was drafted in the 20th round by the San Diego Padres after wrapping up his junior season.

But where Knehr will be missed most is on the mound, where he was the Rams’ lead starter, leading the team in innings pitched, posting a 2.40 ERA and finishing his career tied for second all-time in career strikeouts with 218.

The Rams will also be without their number two starter, lone starting senior and captain Ben Greenberg, who had the best season of his career by also posting a 2.40 ERA. In A-10 play, that ERA shrunk to 2.12. He graduated from Fordham and is using his redshirt season to play at St. John’s.

The only starter remaining of last season’s triumvirate is senior Anthony DiMeglio. In his first full season as a starter, he had an ERA of 3.40 and struck out 95 batters over 82 innings. He led the team in pitcher wins, if that interests you, with eight.

Leighton is still unsure who will fill in the rotation behind DiMeglio and expects to use the early season to figure that out. Redshirt junior Mike Cowell made four starts last season in 16 appearances, though he posted a 4.26 ERA. Sophomore Matt Mikulski made five starts as a freshmen, the most of the non-top three, but had a 5.18 ERA, the highest of any pitcher on the team with at least 10 IP. Juniors Kyle Martin, Brian Weissert and Alvin Melendez all had great seasons in 2018, but worked primarily out of the bullpen, with Weissert the only one to make even a single start last season. Adding into those options are three freshmen, Cory Wall, Garrett Crowley and Michael Ghiorzi, all of whom he praised for their work in the fall. Overall, Leighton is happy with his options.

“I think we have a talented pitching staff,” said Leighton. “The freshmen have looked pretty strong, and some of the guys coming back as returners have impressed this fall. We’ll see what they can do early on.”

The lineup, however, will come into the season more or less unchanged. It will be headlined by senior catcher Justin Bardwell, the only senior position player on the team. He was named to Collegiate Baseball’s All-American Third Team, and is coming off a year where he had career highs in almost every statistic and led the A-10 in doubles with 20. He has also been on the Johnny Bench Award watch list for the nation’s top catcher two years in a row and will surely be on it again this season.

“He’s got a lot of games under his belt,” said Leighton of his catcher. “I think of him as another coach on the field.”

The Rams are going to have a tough lineup to crack for a newbie. Besides the spot that Knehr leaves, every other starter is returning, and doing so after a mostly solid season. Even junior Jake Baker, who usually batted ninth, hit just .249 and had an on-base percentage of just .300, still provided value by hitting 10 doubles and finishing as one of four Rams with 20 or more steals (he had 21).

Leighton thinks junior third baseman Matt Tarabek could be in-line with a breakout season similar to that of Brian Goulard’s in 2018 (which Leighton predicted in this space last year). He hit .265/.324/.390 with 10 doubles, three triples and three home runs last season, but was streaky in terms of consistent performance. If he starts stringing together longer stretches of success, he could elevate to one of the top offensive weapons.

If Leighton and his staff can identify the right starting pitching pieces quickly, the rebuilt offense should be able to provide them the support they need to build on last season’s regular season success. Things are looking legitimately optimistic at Houlihan Park for the first time in a while, and with good timing: the A-10 Championship will return to Fordham this season.

The Rams will kick off their season on Feb. 15 with a three-game series against perennial powerhouse Texas A&M University, with their first home games coming in a doubleheader against Iona College and Hofstra University on Friday, March 8 in the Fordham Round Robin. Their first A-10 matchup comes later that month on March 22 at home against St. Bonaventure University.