2020 Ivy League College Baseball Preview
For the first time since the 2005 season, Harvard won the Ivy League regular-season title, clinching it with a 7-2 win against Brown on May 6. Following that win, the Crimson defeated runner-up Columbia in the championship series in consecutive games to earn another milestone—the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2005 season.
It was a huge step forward for coach Bill Decker and the Crimson program as they try to wrestle control of the conference away Columbia, which won four Ivy League regular-season titles in the decade.
This year, Harvard’s biggest test will be Pennsylvania, a talented squad that returns the Ivy League pitcher of the year Christian Scafidi, and brings back the unanimous Ivy League rookie of the year, shortstop Josh Hood. The Quakers have the talent to win the conference and advance to regionals for the first time since 1995, if they can get past some tough opponents. It will be a three-team race at the top between Penn, Harvard and Columbia to see which team can take the first step forward in attempting to own the next decade.
Player of the Year: Jake Suddleson, OF, Harvard.
Suddleson was the conference’s top hitter in 2019 and earned player of the year honors, and there’s every reason to believe he will do so again this season. Suddleson comes off a campaign where he hit .372/.423/.651 with 11 home runs and 53 RBI to lead the Crimson to the NCAA Tournament. He became even more comfortable at the plate during conference play, leading the league with eight home runs and 36 RBI. With three years of experience under his belt, Suddleson could become the first Harvard player in program history to win back-to-back player of the year honors.
Pitcher of the Year: Christian Scafidi, RHP, Pennsylvania.
Scafidi came into his junior season having struggled periodically in his first two years for the Quakers. As a freshman he posted a 0-1, 6.92 mark and followed that up with a 3-4, 4.52 campaign in 2018. Everything changed for him last season. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound righthander dominated Ivy League hitters en route to pitcher of the year honors. He went 6-1, 2.62 and struck out 59 batters in 68.2 innings. He was even better during league play, posting a 2.16 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. Just like Suddleson, this award is Scafidi’s to lose as a senior.
Freshman of the Year: Seth Werchan, OF, Pennsylvania.
Although lefthander Owen Coady was the team’s top recruit, it could be tough for him to get many opportunities with four returning starters in the rotation. Werchan, meanwhile, takes over the starting job in left field for the Quakers. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound outfielder will have heavy protection in the conference’s most talented lineup, and history is on his side. The last two players to win Ivy League rookie of the year were Penn position players and Werchan could make it three in a row.
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Predicted Order of Finish (2019 record)
1. Harvard (27-16, 14-7)
Harvard lost eight position players who appeared in 20 or more games last season, including leading hitter and home run threat Patrick McColl, outfielder Ben Skinner and two-way player Hunter Bigge. Fortunately, Ivy League player of the year Jake Suddleson (.372/.423/.651, 11 HR) returns and could become the first Harvard player to win back-to-back player of the year honors. He’s joined in the lineup by senior shortstop Chad Minato (.289/.363/.365), sophomore second baseman Hunter Baldwin (.248/.311/.355) and sophomore third baseman Logan Bravo (.182/.274/.345) as the only returning players who had at least 50 at-bats in 2019. The good news is that junior righthander Buddy Hayward (4-1, 4.13) returns to lead the rotation. Hayward is the league’s top draft prospect and should compete with Scafidi for pitcher of the year honors. The losses of Bigge, Ian Miller and Kevin Stone will be difficult for the rotation, but the emergence of junior righthander Enzo Stefanoni (5-1, 2.82) last season should help soften the blow. Senior closer Kieran Shaw (1-3, 3.96, 13 SV) returns as the league’s top reliever and will need to be even better for the Crimson to stay at the top of the Ivy League standings.
2. Pennsylvania (23-17, 11-9)
No team in the conference returns more of its core from last season than the Quakers. Shortstop Josh Hood (.331/.411/.580, 8 HR) returns following his unanimous Ivy League rookie of the year campaign to build on an impressive first-year season. He will bolster a lineup that was far-and-away the best offense in the Ivy League, finishing first in most categories including average (.334), runs (354) and slugging percentage (.497). Junior catcher Jackson Peterson takes over the starting catching job for Matt O’Neill, who was drafted in the 20th round by the Mets. Sophomore Craig Larsen (.322/.402/.517, 44 RBI) takes over full-time duty at first base for departed Sean Phelan. The Quakers shouldn’t miss a beat, however, considering Larsen set the school record for most RBI by a freshman. Junior second baseman Eduardo Malinowski (.354/.419/.585, 4 HR) and senior third baseman Chris Adams (.371/.426/.419) are back to fill out an outstanding infield. Peter Matt (.328/.391/.456, 14 SB) will be joined in the outfield by center fielder Tommy Courtney (.316/.396/.437) and freshman left fielder Seth Werchan to round out what should be the top offense in the Ivy League once again. On the mound, senior righthander Christian Scafidi (6-1, 2.62) has a good chance to repeat as Ivy League pitcher of the year, and he will be joined by returning starters Mitch Holcomb (6-1, 3.76), John Alan Kendrick (0-2, 3.07) and Joe Miller (4-1, 4.76). The biggest question mark is in the bullpen, but projected closer Brandon Bean should have every opportunity to bounce back after making just four appearances in 2019. With a potent offense and experienced rotation, the Quakers are poised to take a step forward in the standings.
3. Columbia (19-23, 13-8)
Losing shortstop and first-team all-Ivy selection Joe Engel will certainly hurt. So will the departures of first baseman Chandler Bengston, who finished second in the Ivy League with 11 home runs in 2019, and Friday starter Joe Simpson. Yet if any team has shown the ability to remain consistently competitive from year to year, it’s Brett Boretti’s program. Second-team all-Ivy selections Liam McGill (.299/.395/.439, 4 HR) and Julian Bury (.314/.356/.415) return, as do junior second baseman Jack Chernow (.250/.340/.341), junior third baseman Josh Nicoloff (.313/.374/.419, 8 SB) and AJ DiFillipo, giving Columbia both quality and experienced bats in its lineup. Freshman Weston Eberly will slide behind the plate, allowing McGill to serve as the team’s DH. With Simpson gone from the mound and junior lefthander Ben Wereski (4-3, 4.18) out for the season, the Lions’ most experienced returning starter is sophomore righthander Sean Higgins (1-5, 11.77). Sophomore Saajan May could take on a bigger role after making four starts as a freshman. Lanky 6-foot-5, 200-pound freshman righthander Michael Ozymy is the team’s highest ranked recruit out of Coppell, Texas, and could be thrust into the action early. Senior righthander Dan Harrington (1-3, 4.78, 3 SV) took on a bigger role as the season went on in 2019, and he will be the club’s closer this year. If the pitching clicks, the Lions could make a return to the top of the Ivy League standings.
4. Yale (18-23, 12-8)
Yale had one of the better lineups in the conference in 2019, but the offense could take a big step back without the team’s top two hitters in Griffin Dey and Simon Whiteman. Mason LaPlante (.326/.423/.404, 28 SB) had a strong freshman season and is the team’s leading returning hitter. Sophomore catcher Jake Gehri (.309/382/.530) hit seven home runs as a freshman and is the team’s top power threat. Senior infielder Brian Ronai (.227/.314/.426, 9 SB) is the only other returning player who hit multiple home runs for the Bulldogs last season. The team’s rotation had similar turnover. Scott Politz and Kumar Nambiar, two of the team’s top three starters from last year, graduated at season’s end. Senior righthander Alex Stiegler (6-4, 3.52) will undoubtedly lead the rotation this season, but there are few other options behind him. Sophomore lefthander Rohan Handa (0-3, 6.75) saved three games last season, but could also be asked to start this year. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, with their aggressive style on the basepaths (114 stolen bases), they should put themselves in position to score runs.
5. Princeton (14-26, 8-12)
The last three seasons have not been kind to Princeton, but that could change in 2020 with one of the more veteran lineups in the conference. Outside of catcher Max West, Princeton returns its top seven hitters, a group that includes junior shortstop Jake Boone (.312/.342/.393) and junior third baseman Taylor Beckett (.288/.390/.388). Senior outfielder Chris Davis (.281/.360/.407) and sophomore outfielder Nadir Lewis (.266/.361/.380) also return, as does leading home run hitter David Harding. Second-team all-Ivy selection Andrew Gnazzo (4-4, 4.33) slots in as Princeton’s Friday starter, but the rotation could face some uncertainty without starters Ryan Smith and James Proctor. Sophomore lefthander Reece Rabin (3-3, 6.42) made five starts as a freshman and could step up for a bigger role in 2020. Although senior righthander Conor Nolan pitched just 7.1 innings last season, he did convert five saves and should be asked to finish out games again this season.
6. Dartmouth (15-26, 8-13)
Even without its four leading hitters from last year’s team, Dartmouth returns an intriguing lineup this season. Sophomore catcher Ben Rice (.278/.346/.431) has a big arm behind the plate and will likely hit in the middle of the lineup. Seniors Michael Calamari (.246/.276/.351) Blake Crossing (.243/.374/.271) and Trevor Johnson (20 RBI, 9 SB) provide leadership and experience, which will help younger starters like freshman left fielder Kolton Freeman, sophomore third baseman Justin Murray (.125/.417/.125) sophomore shortstop Bryce Daniel (.195/.340/.220) and sophomore right fielder Kade Kretzschmar (.132/.258/.151). Murray (2-5, 5.93) will also function as the team’s Friday starter. A strength for Big Green will be junior lefthanded closer Max Hunter (1-0, 3.98), who is one of the better relievers in the conference. Hunter proved hard to hit last year, with opponents batting just .165 against him, and he could be an all-Ivy selection for the first time this season.
7. Brown (12-27, 9-12)
Brown is led by one of the best players in the conference in sophomore center fielder Joe Lomuscio (.339/.385/.483), who brings solid defense to the position and could make a case for player of the year honors. He’s joined in the lineup by key pieces, including senior catcher Parke Phillips (.293/.391/.388), senior left fielder Garett Delano (.289/.354/.458, 6 HR) and glove-first senior shortstop Rich Ciufo (.168/.283/.294). The problem for the Bears will be scoring enough runs to help out a pitching staff that posted a 6.99 team ERA in 2019, especially after losing leading home run hitter Mark Sluys and Willy Homza. Delano (3-5, 4.83) returns as the team’s No. 1 starter, and junior righthander Colin Garner (3-5, 5.29) joins him to provide some continuity. But finding that same continuity in the bullpen will be a tough task, especially with Will Tomlinson (1-6, 6.33, 4 SV) working primarily as a starter. It will be on freshman righthander John Torroella and second-team all-Ivy selection and projected closer Dustin Baird (1-1, 4.42) to step up and preserve leads. For Brown to compete, its pitching must improve this season.
8. Cornell (14-24, 8-13)
Cornell returns the top closer in the Ivy League in first-team all-Ivy selection John Natoli (5-2, 1.73, 7 SV), but producing runs for Natoli and the rest of the pitching staff could be tough for Big Red. Cornell finished last in the league in almost every offensive category in 2019, including runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Big Red comes into this season without its two leading hitters from last year’s team in Adam Saks and Will Simoneit. Senior utilityman Matt Collins (.217/.314/325) will have to pick up some of the offensive slack after finishing as one of two players with multiple home runs in 2019. Senior infielder Alex Carnegie and junior outfielders Nicholas Binnie and Ramon Garza will also be expected to take steps forward. The pitching staff will certainly be the strength of the team, and not just because of Natoli. Sophomore righthander Jonathan Zacharias (1-3, 2.83) and senior righthanders Colby Wyatt (2-6, 3.68) and Jeb Bemiss (2-3, 5.68) all return after making at least six starts last season, but the struggle to manufacture runs could lead to a second straight last-place finish for Cornell.
Top 2020 Draft Prospects
1. Buddy Hayward, RHP, Harvard
2. Jake Boone, SS, Princeton
3. Jake Suddleson, OF, Harvard
4. Christian Scafidi, RHP, Pennsylvania
5. Peter Matt, OF, Pennsylvania
6. Liam McGill, C/DH, Columbia
7. Kieran Shaw, RHP, Harvard
8. Max Hunter, LHP, Dartmouth
9. Joe Lomuscio, OF, Brown
10. Alex Stiegler, RHP, Yale