Ivy League Preview

Image credit: (Sam Rubin/Yale Sports)

Team to Beat: Yale.

Coming off a season in which it won both the Ivy League championship and qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993, Yale seems poised for yet another strong season in 2018. The Bulldogs went 16-4 in Ivy League play a season ago and won 34 games in total — eventually advancing to the Corvallis Regional final as a No. 3 seed against Oregon State. Now, coach John Stuper’s squad returns nearly all of its pitching staff, led by Friday night starter Scott Politz.

A 6-foot-2 junior righthander, Politz (11-2, 3.23) should be once again joined on the weekends by senior righty Eric Brodkowitz (6-3, 5.50), who was a consistent cog in the Bulldogs’ rotation a season ago. In the bullpen, junior righthander Griffin Dey (6-0, 2.70) returns after making a team-high 19 relief appearances a year ago and allowing just 21 hits in 30 innings. Dey is also a force at the plate, where he led the team with 10 home runs and 20 extra-bast hits in 48 games.

In support of Dey’s power, junior outfielder Tim DeGraw (.343/.428/.439) and junior second baseman Simon Whiteman (.311/.367/.410) provide excellent contact skills and speed in the lineup, combining to steal 28 bases in 34 attempts a season ago. Sophomore shortstop Dai Day Otaka (.245/.272/.305) pairs with Whiteman to provide solid defense up the middle for the Bulldogs, who are trying for back-to-back Ivy League titles for the first time since 1993-94.

Player of the Year: Randell Kanemaru, INF, Columbia.

The reigning Ivy League player of the year, Kanemaru was far-and-away the conference’s best hitter a season ago and should be the odds-on favorite to take that crown again. A 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior, Kanemaru hit .395/.435/.625 in 2017, which was good enough for the sixth-best batting average in all of college baseball. He also ranked inside the Ivy League’s top five in RBI (42), hits (60), doubles (14), slugging percentage (.625) and home runs (7). Seemingly capable of playing all over the diamond, Kanemaru has spent most of his time at second base, where he is a strong defender, but he could also be an asset at either shortstop or third base, if needed.

Pitcher of the Year: Scott Politz, RHP, Yale.

Politz returns for his junior season just one year after spearheading Yale’s rotation to a conference championship as a sophomore. Politz was a first-team all-Ivy League selection in both his first two seasons at Yale. The Austin native finished third among all NCAA pitchers a season ago in both wins (11) and starts (13), while leading the Ivy League strikeouts (75). For his career, Politz is 17-5 with a 3.42 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio better than 3.5-to-1.

Freshman of the Year: Jake Boone, 2B, Princeton.

The son of former three-time all-star Bret Boone, Jake Boone is a 5-foot-10, 165-pound infielder from San Diego who could immediately jump into a starting role for the Tigers. A 38th round pick by the Washington Nationals this past June, Boone instead decided to enroll at Princeton, where he entered the preseason as the favorite to be the starting second baseman come Opening Day. A two-time captain at Torrey Pines High, Boone hit .353 with a .427 on-base percentage as a senior and was named the team’s offensive player of the year.

Notable Storylines:

The days of two, four-team divisions, previously known as the Red Rolfe (Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale) and Lou Gehrig Divisions (Columbia, Cornell, Pennsylvania, Princeton) are officially gone in the Ivy League. Prior to the 2018 season, the conference announced that the league would do away with the division structure from years past, when teams would play four games against intra-division rivals but only two games a year against teams outside their division. This year, the Ivy League will adopt a true round-robin format, where each team is scheduled to play the other seven teams in a three-game weekend series. This also slightly alters the Ivy League postseason, which previously pitted the two division winners against one another in a best-of-three series to determine the conference champion and automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. Now, the two teams with the best regular season records will meet in the same best-of-three format for the conference title.

The defending champions of the now-extinct Lou Gehrig Division, Pennsylvania will look to get back to the Ivy League championship series just one year after being swept by Yale. The Quakers will do so by returning most of their starting lineup from a season ago, with the exception of Tim Graul, who was a two-time first-team All-Ivy League section and the 2016 conference player of the year. Junior first baseman Sean Phelan (.323/.383/.473), as well as senior outfielder Andrew Murnane (.292/.373/.370), will look to replace much of Graul’s production, which will be vital for a team that is losing most of its top pitchers from a season ago. On the mound, Pennsylvania will likely rely on senior lefthander Gabe Kleiman (3-0, 4.23) and sophomore righty Mitchell Holcomb (1-1, 4.60), who are the only two Quakers returning with any starting experience.

Columbia was right on the cusp of advancing to last year’s Ivy League championship series, but — after finishing with identical 12-8 conference records — the Lions lost to Pennsylvania in a one-game playoff to determine the Lou Gehrig Division champion. Although Kanemaru is the headlining returnee in the Columbia lineup, the Lions also welcome back designated hitter Liam McGill (.338/.461/.466), outfielder Julian Bury (.333/.408/.427) and first baseman Chandler Bengston (.302/.390/.603). In all, Columbia returns four of its top five hitters from a season ago, as well as sure-handed shortstop Joe Engel (.246/.353/.321). The Lions pitching staff, which ended the year with a 6.07 ERA, must improve for Columbia to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Senior righthanders Ty West (2-3, 4.32) and Harrisen Egly (2-3, 7.32) will likely lead the way for Columbia, which will also need sophomore Ty Wiest (2-3, 4.32) to be even more productive than he was during a strong freshman year.

Championship Series: Two teams, best-of-three series, May 19-20 hosted by the higher seed.

Top 10 2018 Draft Prospects
1. Randell Kanemaru, INF, Columbia
2. Patrick Robinson, OF, Harvard
3. Jesper Horsted, OF, Princeton
4. Scott Politz, RHP, Yale
5. Ben Gross, RHP, Princeton
6. Reid Anderson, RHP, Brown
7. Patrick McColl, 1B/OF, Harvard
8. Griffin Dey, 1B/RHP, Yale
9. Jake Nelson, RHP, Pennsylvania
10. Harrisen Egly, RHP, Columbia

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