2022 Ivy League College Baseball Preview
After two long years, the Ivy League will return in 2022. The Covid-canceled season was followed by a decision to postpone the 2021 campaign as well, meaning the last conference game was played back in 2019.
This means that the league has draft-eligible juniors that have played just a few games for their programs, as well as two new classes that are eager to step out on the diamond. It makes for a fascinating conference schedule, as there’s so much unknown outside of the players that have stuck around since then. The Ivy League has had plenty of players enjoy successful summer league seasons when they could play, but the gap between real college games means that could be far from predictive.
So, with that in mind, here are five questions facing the conference after an extended layoff.
Is Pennsylvania the team to beat?
Handicapping a conference race in which just one team—Penn—has played any games over the last two years is nearly impossible. But the Quakers, who sporadically played a few games against local opponents in 2021, could be seen as a favorite for precisely that reason. Penn played nine games against La Salle and totaled five games against Villanova and Delaware, so the roster has more experience than the rest of the conference. The Quakers’ pitching staff is arguably the best in the league, too, and the lineup has several key pieces.
Righthander Kevin Eaise (2-0, 2.42 ERA) was impressive during the shortened schedule and is likely a favorite for pitcher of the year. He’s likely to be joined by southpaw Joe Miller (0-3, 9.00) and righthander Brian Zeldin (2-0, 3.24) in the rotation. Miller struggled mightily with command in the shortened season, walking 14 in 15 innings, but reduced his walks per nine innings to just 3.6 on his way to Coastal Plain League pitcher of the year honors this past summer. The star of the staff might just be Owen Coady, though. The southpaw was lights-out in the Cape Cod League this summer, registering five saves for Harwich with a 22-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13.2 innings. Another reliever, Brendan Bean, didn’t allow a run across 11 innings in 2021, while Danny Heintz (1-0, 9.86) is a 6-foot-6 sophomore righthander with a mid-90s fastball.
Penn’s capable pitching staff will be supplemented with a lineup heavy on third-year players, including third baseman Wyatt Henseler (.365/.452/.539) and center fielder Tommy Courtney (.323/.373/.403, 6 SB). Catcher Jackson Apel (.273/.429/.409) was the Futures League's defensive player of the year award winner, while Andrew Hernandez (.237/.254/.373), Ben Miller (.268/.333/.342), and Seth Werchan (.231/.311/.410) round out the notable returnees. Freshman Cole McGonigal is one to keep an eye on, too, as the lefthanded-hitting outfielder has a good bat and is quick on the base paths.
Will Columbia return to its championship-winning ways?
Penn’s biggest competitor may very well be Columbia, which won three straight titles from 2013 to 2015, then won again in 2018 and finished as runner-up in 2017. The Lions will play a challenging out-of-conference schedule again this season, but it could shape a veteran group that were primarily freshmen when the season was shut down.
Four position players return, with first baseman Tyler MacGregor (.364 in 2020) leading the way. MacGregor had a .404 on-base percentage across a 28-game stint in the Northwoods League this summer. After MacGregor, the returnees all finished with six or fewer hits in the eight-game 2020 campaign. This includes outfielder Josh Solomon (.231), catcher Weston Eberly (.211) and shortstop Andy Blake (.133). It’s been a while since they’ve played for Columbia, so it’ll be interesting to see how they developed during the time off. Youth will be the name of the game with the rest of the lineup, whether it’s second-year outfielder Cole Hage or infielders Anton Lazits and Griffin Palfrey. One thing is for certain, the Lions should have a stout defense backing up the pitching staff.
The rotation will be led by righthander Billy Black (0-2, 5.91), who made his Columbia debut back in 2018 but has started just three games over that time. Primarily a reliever in his first two years on campus, Black will assume a larger role in 2022. Sean Higgins (0-1, 18.00) was hit hard as a true freshman in 2019, but showed control improvement in the Northwoods League this summer, while Justin Tucker should start his debut season in the rotation. Lefthander Nate Beimel (1-0, 9.00) is the top returnee in the bullpen as Columbia will be relying on new faces. If some of the first-year pitchers—like righthander Andy Leon or southpaw Will Parkinson—can settle in, the Lions could have a strong season.
Can Yale make a run in John Stuper’s final year?
After 33 years in charge, John Stuper will end his tenure at Yale after this season. Stuper, who led the Bulldogs to four conference championships and two regional appearances, guided Yale to a 53-27 Ivy League record over the four seasons prior to 2020. The Bulldogs went 3-7 in the shortened 2020 campaign but return a veteran group and could have the pieces to end Stuper’s career on a high note.
On the mound, it’s the righthanded duo of Ben Gibbs (0-1, 2.70 ERA in 2020) and Grant Kipp (1-0, 3.18) that anchor the rotation. Kipp impressed this past summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, posting a 39-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio across six starts for Valley. Another righthander, junior Mike Walsh (0-2, 15.43), is the projected Sunday starter. He had a cup of coffee on the Cape this summer, striking out three in two scoreless innings. The bullpen is where things get interesting for the Bulldogs, as they’ll primarily lean on pitchers who haven’t appeared in a collegiate game yet. These include freshman righthander Mark Capell and sophomores Clark Klitenic and Reid Easterly.
In the lineup, Yale returns a quartet of bats that have stuck around after two years off. Center fielder Teddy Hague (.364/.404/.659) and third baseman Carson Swank (.342/.429/.439) led the team in hitting during the shortened season, while catcher Jake Gehri (.286/.362/.595, 3 HR) has some pop and shortstop Mason LaPlante (.297/.458/.378) has a good eye at the plate. Those are veteran contributors that could help Yale enable Stuper to retire in style.
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Does Harvard have enough to continue its rise?
Bill Decker’s first season in Cambridge—back in 2013—saw the team manage just 10 wins, but the next six full seasons were an exercise in program building. The Crimson won 11, 18, 17, 19, 22 and 27 games, and in 2019 finally cleared the .500 mark that had eluded it since 2007 and won its first conference title since 2005. Harvard lost a lot of talent entering the pandemic-canceled season—and even more during the absence—but returns in 2022 with an intriguing roster. It might not be enough to defend its title, but at the least the Crimson should be among the top four and could challenge for a postseason appearance.
The lineup is a capable one, headlined by a core group of juniors. First baseman Logan Bravo, center fielder Hunter Baldwin and third baseman Will Jacobsen, who also pitches, are expected to have big seasons. Bravo had a terrific two summers in the Futures Leagues since his last Ivy League game, hitting 14 home runs this year with a 1.040 OPS. Outfielder Ben Rounds enjoyed similarly strong summers, racking up 41 RBIs in 2021 and 17 RBIs in 2020 with the Futures League’s Brockton. Catcher Zach Brown brings experience behind the plate, while the likes of Jake Berger, Chris Snopek, and Sean Matson will be making their Ivy League debuts.
The rotation is completely overhauled from 2020, but that’s not to say there's not potential. Righthander Adam Stone will lead the rotation after becoming Harvard’s first selection to the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. Stone hasn’t thrown a pitch for Harvard yet—Tommy John sidelined him out of high school—but he throws in the mid 90s and figures to be one of the conference’s top pitchers. Righthander Jaren Zinn has thrown just four collegiate innings but enjoyed a strong summer in the NECBL and slots in as the Saturday starter, while Chris Clark has yet to throw for the Crimson but impressed in the Futures League. The bullpen has more experience, whether it's Jacobsen, who threw on the Cape, or the duo of Jack Mahala and Joseph O’Connell. Both have plenty of experience and add stability to the roster.
Who are the player of the year candidates?
This may seem impossible to predict now, but there’s definitely a short list of players to keep an eye on. Harvard’s Logan Bravo was named the Futures League top prospect after displaying plenty of pop and could be poised to keep the Ivy League's player of the year award in Cambridge after Jake Suddleson won it in 2019. Penn third baseman Wyatt Henseler is another likely favorite after enjoying an excellent 14-game stint during the abbreviated 2021 schedule and following it up with a .326/.414/.539 slash line and seven home runs across 40 games in the Coastal Plain League this summer. Harvard teammates Will Jacobsen and Ben Rounds could have big seasons as well.
Another name to keep an eye on is Yale’s Mason LaPlante. A second-team all-Ivy selection in 2019, LaPlante was off to an excellent start in 2020—11 hits and nine walks in 10 games—before the season ended. A speedy middle infielder, LaPlante could steal 30-plus bases with a high average and make a strong case. LaPlante’s teammate Jake Gehri and Columbia’s Josh Solomon, who finished tied for the 2020 lead with three home runs apiece, could make some noise as well.
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