A significant crop of Yale baseball players took advantage of the summer months and competed in collegiate leagues across the nation in preparation for the 2016 campaign.
From California to Cape Cod, 10 players participated in eight different organizations and produced impressive statistics along the way. The Orange County Collegiate League, based out of Tustin, California, saw three Bulldogs suit up together as members of the NLB Waves. Right-handed pitcher Chasen Ford ’17, joined by another hurler in Tyler Duncan ’18 and the potent bat of Harrison White ’17 demonstrated the sort of productivity head coach John Stuper hopes can carry into the season.
“Summer ball provides the opportunity to completely focus on baseball without the academics and extracurriculars of the school year,” Ford said.
Ford notched a 3–1 record in 16.2 innings of work, limiting baserunners at an impressive rate throughout the dog days of summer. Serving as a reliever, the powerful righty posted a stellar WHIP of 0.96 and maintained a 3.24 ERA, in addition to striking out 19 batters while only conceding four walks.
Duncan, meanwhile, made the majority of his appearances as a starter. While his control left a bit to be desired, walking 17 and hitting five batters in 36.2 innings, Duncan excelled at minimizing the damage. The sophomore registered a respectable 3.44 ERA while winning five of seven decisions for the Waves.
Backing up the two Elis likely to play a critical role in Stuper’s rotation was White, who batted .364 while slugging at a remarkable .621 clip to lead the team. Of White’s 24 base knocks, 11 went for extra bases — a promising sign as White hopes to return to and solidify his spot in the middle of Yale’s lineup.
“Top of the lineup guys need to get on base, middle of the lineup guys need to be able to drive in runs, and bottom of the lineup guys need to do a little bit of both for a team to be successful,” White said. “For me, it doesn’t really matter where I hit because I know that my job will be dictated by my position in the lineup and switching that up a bit from time to time keeps things fresh and interesting.”
Elsewhere, Yale pitching was busy racking up innings in hopes of improving a staff that allowed a league-high 7.53 earned runs per game. Crucial to any such improvement will be ace Chris Lanham ’16, as the outcome of his senior season may very well go hand-in-hand with how the Bulldogs perform as a unit.
Lanham took the bump 10 times for the Holly Springs Salamanders, an expansion team in the Coastal Plains League, tossing 54 innings while striking out 39 batters and allowing a 4.67 ERA.
“The biggest thing I gained from the summer was more experience against quality competition,” Lanham said. “Facing guys from all across the country presented new challenges and forced me to make in-game adjustments, which is a big key for success and an area of my game in which I am really trying to improve.”
While Lanham and Ford will serve as experienced veterans on the staff this year, young arms in addition to Duncan will provide much-needed depth. Right-handers Eric Brodkowitz ’18 and Drew Scott ’18 each proved effective this summer in stints in the Cal Ripken League and Valley Baseball League, respectively.
Yet another young hurler, All-Ivy Honorable Mention recipient Mason Kukowski ’18, shone this summer, beginning his season with a 24-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio as the closer for the Sag Harbor Whalers of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League.
Kukowski’s summer did not end there, however, as he moved on to what is considered the premier league for collegiate players, the Cape Cod Baseball League. Kukowski received an offer to cap his summer with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, where he struck out six batters without having to walk in any of his three appearances.
The Red Sox went on to win the prestigious CCBL championship.
Kukowski was not the only Bulldog represented at the Cape, as infielder Richard Slenker ’17 also played for the Red Sox. Slenker was able to build upon an impressive sophomore campaign, starting every game in addition to leading the club in steals and doubles.
While Slenker only saw action in two games early on in the Cape season, he made his presence felt closer to campus as he played for the Mystic Schooners of the New England Baseball Collegiate League. The Schooners came an extra-innings loss shy of claiming a championship of their own and were lifted all season long by the play of Slenker.
“I try to get as many reps as possible against the best competition possible and hopefully be successful enough to get noticed by Major League scouts,” Slenker said. “Almost every night I was facing a pitcher from a power conference.”
The versatile infielder excelled, finishing second on the team with a .325 batting average and third in RBI with 17 during the regular season before extending his hot hitting into the playoffs, where he drove in eight runs in just seven games.
Outfielder Tom Ruddy ’18 and catcher Alex Boos ’18, a pair of position players, hope to expand upon their freshmen contributions. Ruddy joined Brodkowitz in the Baltimore-based Cal Ripken League while Boos remained near his midwest home of Indianapolis as he participated in the Metropolitan Collegiate Summer Baseball League of Illinois.
Ruddy ran away with the batting title on his Silver Spring-Takoma T-Bolts thanks to a .351 clip while Boos managed an unheard of .500 batting average to go along with a ludicrous 1.275 on-base plus slugging metric with the Des Plaines Patriots in an admittedly small eight-game sample size.
While these statistics may mean little for the Bulldogs’ Ivy title prospects come spring, Stuper and his coaching staff should be encouraged by the production of the team’s returning players.
Additionally, some time off from baseball can also be beneficial as has been discussed recently in baseball circles following Major League great John Smoltz’s Hall of Fame induction speech in July, in which he implored parents to understand that baseball is “not a year-round sport.”
“As soon as our season ended, I had to take a step back not only because of how physically taxing it is to play two double-headers every weekend and then a game or two during the week, but also because last season was pretty taxing mentally for our team,” White said. “I took a few weeks off and just focused on physical fitness, which, for me, is almost therapeutic.”
No championship is awarded to the team with the best offseason, but the Bulldogs are off to an optimistic start with the 2016 campaign creeping ever closer.