Rutgers Baseball Trending Up


Vitaly Jangols
PBR NJ Advanced Scout

Looking ahead: Rutgers baseball

 

Coach Steve Owens and staff have been able to make considerable strides with Rutgers baseball in just two years. This should come as no surprise after seeing the rise of the Bryant baseball program under their tutelage. While at Bryant, Owens led the Bulldogs to four 40-win seasons, eight regular season titles and three NCAA regional berths. That is now the goal for this Rutgers program which has not gone to a regional since 2007. 

In this new regime’s first season, which was the 2020 COVID shortened season, they led Rutgers to a 6-9 record. The record doesn’t speak to the direction this program was headed towards. This included a hard fought 2-1 loss at #3 Miami on opening day, followed up by the program’s first 3-game sweep in eight years, capped off with the program’s first EVER victory over a PAC-12 club (Washington State). 

The 2021 campaign included more bright spots, and a clear upward trajectory. The Scarlet Knights finished 21-23 in an all-Big Ten schedule. Their 8th place finish was the best finish they have had since joining the Big Ten, and would have led them to their first conference tournament had the Big Ten elected to have one. Rutgers actually led the conference in road wins with 13. At one point last season, Owens' program was garnering some hype for an at large bid. 

Heading into the home stretch in May, Rutgers was 17-13 and had just rattled off five consecutive victories over ranked opponents. This included the last two games of a series vs. #17 Michigan and then a clean sweep of #19 Nebraska, who went on to become the Big Ten champions. Rutgers then hit a rough patch, dropping six straight and finishing below .500. 

You could not have expected the Scarlet Knights to become a top Big Ten team overnight, but the pieces are in place for continual growth. The offense blasted 48 homers, good for 6th best in program history. Meanwhile, the pitching staff recorded the third most saves in Scarlet Knights history to go with top 10 program history finishes in strikeouts and least amount of walks. 

Rutgers will be bringing a ton of talent to campus this fall that includes nine freshman, one JUCO guy, and six transfers (three grad transfers). Six starters are returning as well, so this fall will have some healthy competition between old and new. All in all, there is a lot of excitement around this program and the next big steps they can make. 

Reconstructing the Pitching Staff

This fall will be an important one for pitching coach Brendan Monaghan. There are a lot of new faces and plenty of roles to fill. The 2021 rotation was led by SR LHP Harry Rutkwoski and a pair of grad transfers, Brent Teller and Ben Wereski. All three are gone now, as Rutkwoski signed a free agent deal with the Blue Jays while Wereski and Teller were 5th years and both signed professional contracts in Independent leagues. This means this coaching staff needs to construct an entire rotation from scratch. 

One big arm that returns is redshirt junior LHP Dale Stanavich. He had a strong spring, recording five saves to go with a team best 3.13 ERA. He maintained his momentum through the summer, where he was the go to guy for the Cape Cod League Champion Brewster Whitecaps. Stanavich recorded eight saves in 19.2 IP while recording 36 strikeouts. He does not have the most imposing frame at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, but he can run it up to 95-96 MPH from the left side. 

Some other arms who were solid and had sub 4.00 ERA’s this past spring are redshirt juniors Jared Bellissimo and Nate McClain. Bellissimo is another LHP who may serve a bigger role after showing some good numbers in limited innings in 2021. Nate McClain is a tall, physical RHP who led the bullpen in innings pitched. Consistent arm with a quality 12/6 breaker, has continually got better. 

In addition, the Rutgers staff will look to some guys to step up their game and help solidify this staff. Redshirt sophomore RHP Jayson Hoopes is a high ceiling arm who transferred from Virginia last year but only threw one inning due to injury in 2021. True sophomore LHP Justin Sinibaldi served a hybrid role for the Scarlet Knights this past year but will try to earn a weekend spot this coming spring. He’s a projectable arm that can touch low 90’s, still young and maturing. He got 31 innings under his belt as a true freshman. 

Another route they can go is to follow last year’s model and fill in gaps with experienced arms. The Scarlet Knights are bringing in three transfer RHP’s who all have plenty of experience. The big name is Sam Bello, who served as the closer for the University of Maryland last spring. He’s a strong, durable guy at 6-foot-3, 225-pounds. In 2021 he was 4th in the BIG-10 with 7 saves to go with a 3.52 ERA. Bello is a plus arm and routinely runs it up in into the mid 90’s. Showed an improved breaker this past spring as well. He has proven success as a closer but will have the opportunity to earn himself a starting role this fall. 

The other arms the Scarlets Knights acquired from the transfer portal are grad transfers Jared Kollar from Division II Seton Hill University and Nathan Florence from Hartford University. Kollar recently led his squad to the DII World Series in Cary, N.C. He had a year to remember, going 5-0 with a 1.19 ERA while picking up 59 strikeouts in 37.2 innings. He’s a guy who will log innings and throw strikes, no matter his role. Nathan Florence comes to Piscataway with plenty of high-level experience, having thrown in a regional and spending two summers playing in the Cape. He actually won the Cape league championship in 2018 with Brewster, and then pitched in Orleans this past summer. He will be coming to campus after a strong summer, having only given up 1 earned run in 11.2 innings for Orleans. 

There are a slew of HS arms joining this squad, all from New Jersey. According to PBR rankings, their highest ranked arm is RHP Matthew Rowe, and he looks like the guy to make the greatest impact from the get go.  High spin rate fastball, works upper 80’s to low 90’s, has been up to 93 MPH. Shows a quality two plane slider to pair with his fastball, and figures to be a guy who will either fit right into their bullpen or will become a midweek starter in his first year. Another impressive jersey arm is LHP Joe Mazza. Stands at 6-foot-4, projectable frame with a whippy arm. He will work in the upper 80’s, touching 90-91 MPH on occasion. Coach Monaghan and staff will be excited to watch his development as he has the potential to progress into a future frontline starter for the Scarlet Knights. 

Lineup Looks to Stay Intact 

Rutgers baseball will not need as much reconstruction on their lineup as they do on their pitching. This is because they will return seven guys who were mainstays in the everyday lineup, and figure to be right there again. There are a ton of veteran guys from this offense who will continue to try and build off of this past spring, catapulting Rutgers baseball to new heights. 

5th year senior Mike Nyisztor figures to be the table setter for this lineup after a monster 2021 campaign. He ranked fourth in the Big Ten in batting average (.351), fifth in OBP (.456) while statistically being the toughest hitter to strikeout in the entire conference. Not sure how it is possible but, Nyisztor had a total of two, strikeouts looking the entire year. He’s not a huge power threat, but has uncanny barrel awareness and always finds himself on base. Nyisztor will figure to be a utility guy in the field again, who made starts at first base, left field, as well as DH. 

Another impact bat who returns for his last season is OF Richie Schiekofer. A top of the order bat, Schiekofer had a great 2021 where he batted .316. Moved around between CF and RF defensively, will figure to do the same or stay in RF primarily. He will be a key cog in the wheel that is this Rutgers offense. 

Coach Steve Owens expressed his excitement last fall about incoming freshman OF Ryan Lasko, and Lasko did not disappoint in his first season for the Scarlet Knights. Started 40 out of 44 games as a true freshman, including 30 in CF. The Jackson, New Jersey native led the team with 11 homeruns. Finished with a .231 batting average, which is not indicative of the type of season he had. Lasko was still hitting in the .300’s going into May but had a tough couple weeks to cap off the season. He went on to became the first Rutgers player in the Big Ten era to garner any sort of All-America Honors, as he was named to the Collegiate Baseball Freshmen All-American Team. He was a huge impact freshman who will look to build upon a monster rookie year. 

The left side of the infield figures to remain the same with Chris Brito and Danny DiGeorgio returning. DiGeorgio is a big, tall athlete at 6-foot-5, 210-pounds. Quality 2021 season, slashing .299/.369/.496 with six homers. Has held down the SS position the past two years, looks to do the same this year. Chris Brito transitioned smoothly into the third base role, starting 44 games there. Stellar 2021 season, batted .302 and had 10 home runs while being the only guy to start every single game of the season. Earned himself All Big Ten Third Team honors. Stayed hot through the summer, batting .304 for the Mystic Schooners of the NECBL. Will play a huge role in this Rutgers offense looking towards 2021. 

Another key part of the offense will be OF Evan Slight. Played his first season of college baseball in 2021 after redshirting due to injury at Virginia in 2020. Was a big get for Owens and staff last year after a being a national level prospect out of HS in 2019. Batted .268 with four bombs last spring, looks to be the everyday LF this upcoming season after making 35 starts there this past year. 

This coaching staff also got some position players in the transfer portal who will look to find themselves a role in this lineup. Tony Santa Maria is an INF from Iona College who has three years of eligibility remaining. Iona only played 14 games in 2021 but Santa Maria still slashed .286/.383/.367. Plus defender who will be competing to start at second base. Another guy coming in from the MAAC is Nick Cimillo, a 4th year junior C/OF who was a career .319 hitter in three years at Manhattan College. The last addition is grad transfer OF Garret Callaghan from DIII Ithaca College. Had a monster senior year, batting .375 with 9 homers. 

A couple freshman will look to insert themselves into everyday roles this upcoming year. Danny Rogers is ranked as the 3rd best IF from the state of New York who might be in the mix to start right away. Interesting prospect, lefty hitter who is able to create some power from an athletic frame. Last guy we’re taking a look at is catcher Jason Shockley from Delaware. Top ranked backstop in the state. Solid receiver, has a quick exchange with some carry on this throws to bases. 

You can already tell there will be excitement surrounding this group as they head back to campus in the next few days. There is a strong core group of experienced talent on both sides of the ball to go along with some new, talented faces. We will have to head out to Piscataway in the upcoming weeks to see how the roster is shaping up during fall practices and scrimmages.