This article previews the Hornell Dodgers, members of the N.Y. Collegiate Baseball League, where two Newberry College players (Anthony Dillenger and Jared Locke) are honing their skills in summer ball. Fielding and hitting are previewed, and we expect pitching to be covered in an upcoming article.
HORNELL, N.Y. - It's been less than a week since the Hornell Dodgers have commenced practicing for the 2005 New York Collegiate Baseball League season, but so far everything looks to be on track to make a run at a fourth consecutive Western Division title.
The Dodgers will look a lot like the past few seasons, even thought there is just one returning player on the team, with a mix of speed, power and athleticism in the field and at the plate.
"I like them, I really do," said Dodgers' head coach Todd Interdonato after just two days on the field with his team. "When the kids come in for summer ball they have their own systems, but they've really bought in and have really worked hard."
One of the big question marks the team has right now is how well the players adjust to hitting with a wood bat after playing the entire collegiate season with an aluminum bat in their hands.
"I really like our infield defensively and I like what I've seen on the mound," Interdonato added. "At this point it's a little too early to see how we are going to hit with the wood bat."
Jason Dana, the coach of the past two NYCBL teams in Hornell, put together a team that could find the gaps, lay down bunts, advance runners and, occasionally, hit the longball and that's exactly what Interdonato, who coached with Dana at Fort Scott Community College in 2004, has done with this year's team.
"We're going to be crazy," said Interdonato of the offense. "We are going to play small ball. I think that's the only way to play the game right. That's the way I was brought up. The people that have been successful that I've been around, that's the way they've ran it. We're going to bunt, we're going to hit-and-run, we're going to hit behind runners and we are going to steal bases. I expect everyone in our lineup, one through nine, to be able to lay down a bunt at anytime."
Despite the fact that Interdonato has put a team together to play "small ball," he does expect a few of the new Dodgers to posses the power to hit the ball out of the park, especially with some of the smaller parks in the division.
"I think our power numbers are going to come from our corner infielders and maybe a little bit from the outfield," said Interdonato. "Most of those guys are going to be hit-and-run guys and stealing some bases. There are some guys in the lineup that can bang it and we are going to let them swing."
Every good offense, however, needs a solid defense to support it. Here's a look a what to expect in the field.
The Dodgers' defense will be anchored by the middle of the infield this season, especially when/if Angel Cabrera (Connors State) gets into town. Cabrera, a shortstop, was drafted in the 40th round (No. 1,201 overall) of the MLB First-Year Player Draft on Wednesday by the Cincinnati Reds, but is expected to be in the Maple City soon.
"Angel is probably going to be our biggest prospect in terms of the Major League Draft," said Interdonato. "The kid can really run and is suppose to be mid-90s across the infield and is a 6.5-(second) runner. Angel is such a good athlete that he will play in center field as well and I expect him to be in the top of our lineup."
Anthony Dillenger (Newberry College), Chaz Ebert (Murray State) and Ian Kowalchuk (USC-Aiken) will also man the middle infield positions and each possesses great defensive ability.
"We are real strong in the middle with Chaz, Anthony and Ian," said Interdonato. "We had good reports on them coming in, but they far exceeded my expectations for what they are going to be able to do up the middle. That's really going to solidify us as good as those guys are defensively."
Kowalchuk and Ruben Rivera (Abiliene Christian) will see time at third base, giving the Dodgers several different lineups to play with throughout the season in order to get each guy the at bats he deserves.
"Ian has the ability to flop over to third base and he plays third base just as well as he plays anywhere else," said Interdonato. "Ruben is a real good defensive third baseman too. Right now I like him."
There is also some flexibility at first base. Bubba Mauldin (Jacksonville State) is the only guy on the roster that is a regular first baseman, but all three catchers - Ryan Eigsti (Bradley University), Brendan Monaghan (St. John's University) and former Hornell High School standout Kevin Rollins (Mansfield University) - will also see time on the right corner of the infield.
"Bubba is still new," said Interdonato. "He's a redshirt freshman and I think he is still getting a feel around the bag, but he seems like he knows what he's doing. The guy hasn't play a college baseball game yet. I would really be curious to see what he is going to do at the end of the summer when he gets a feel for the wood bat."
Normally, three catchers on the roster would be overkill, but for the NYCBL it's almost needed, especially with the schedule expanded by five games to 47 over a period of time less than two months.
"We've got three guys behind the plate and the way we wanted to set it up is that we wanted an offensive catcher, a defensive catcher and one that is half and half," said Interdonato.
Monaghan, a member of the Red Storm team that advanced to the NCAA tournament, is one of four Dodgers that have yet to get into town because of his extended season, leaving Interdonato to judge him based on reports.
"Monaghan is not here yet," said Interdonato. "I don't know much about him. I know he's played in the Big East and was just in a regional. He plays one or two games a week and that's behind a guy that was All-Big East last year. I'm excited to see him get here because I know he's going to be able to play."
Until Monaghan gets into town, the Dodgers will rely on Eigsti and Rollins to complete the battery, which is all right with Interdonato.
"Eigsti is definitely a defensive catcher," Interdonato said. "When he was throwing (Tuesday) he was very impressive. He is suppose to be 1.8-1.9 (seconds) to second base and I believe he's every bit of that. He receives the ball really well, he blocks the ball really well and throws the ball really well. He's actually surprised us offensively how well he's done so far."
"Kevin has been in the bullpen a couple times and I'm getting a good feel for him," said Interdonato of the hometown catcher. "He's seems like he's going to be able to handle our staff defensively and offensively he's a little bit above what I expected. He had a couple good rounds of BP and I like his balance between offense and defense."
The Dodgers' biggest prospect in the outfield was taken in the MLB draft as well as Elvin Vargas (Connors State) was taken in the 23rd round (No. 693 overall) by the Baltimore Orioles. Vargas could give the Dodgers what they need offensively to put Interdonato's worries about the offense to rest.
"The one thing that we definitely have in the outfield is that we have guys that can throw and we have guys that can run," said Interdonato. "The one thing that I'm not real concerned about, but I'm looking at right now, is how much offensive production we are going to get out of the outfield."
"Bubba has definitely shown a lot of bat speed so far," he added. "I think he's going to run into a few this summer. I know that Ruben has got some juice in his bat, Anthony hit seven home runs at his school, but Elvin is going to be the big one. He hit 12 home runs in a wood bat league and junior college."
Until Vargas gets into town, the Dodgers will have three guys to use, but Interdonato doesn't know where to use them yet.
"Outfield right now is going to be our biggest question mark," said Interdonato. "Not necessarily because we don't have any talent, but because we have to find out who will fill what role."
Jason James (Lindenwood University) will most likely fill the center field position while former Hornell High School standout Jamie Rose (LeMoyne College) and Justin Greene (Francis Marion University) will play the corners.
"When James gets here, he's probably going to be our everyday center fielder," said Interdonato. "I know Jason is a typical one-, two- or three-hole hitter and it looks like Justin and Jamie can really run and be able to cause some problems for other teams on the bases.
"I think Justin Greene is a very talented kid. He can run, he can really throw, but we need to work on his swing and get it more consistent. I think Justin is a really good project."