At the end of last season, I ranked Kennedy as the favorite in Class A for 2013. Well, we’re going to have to scratch that one. The Gaels have been bumped up to Class AA.
“It’s a challenge,” senior RHP Schuyler Bates said. “I think we’re up to it. Last year and all the years before that, we’ve been facing AA competition, and we’ve held our own.”
Kennedy’s bump up will surely result in headaches for many teams in Class AA, while providing a sigh of relief for many contenders in Class A. It will likely make it more difficult for the Gaels to win a section title, but they’re still a threat. Their new league (which features John Jay-East Fishkill, Ketcham and defending section champ Arlington) will be a great gauge for whether or not this team can win a championship in the big boy class.
“No question about it, but I think if you look at the game, pitching is everything,” coach Bob Fletcher said when asked if its going to be more difficult for his team to compete for a title. “Last year you had a boy like (Harrison’s Max) Bruckner, and he probably could have won in AA.”
• Speaking of Bruckner, it was the reigning Westchester/Putnam player of the year who derailed Kennedy in the Class A semifinals last season. Bates was on the mound that day, and said the loss has not be forgotten. “I wanted that game really bad,” he said. “It was tough coming back on two day’s rest, but it was the same thing for him. We wanted that game, it just wasn’t working, but I do have a bitter taste. ”
• Bates returns as one of the true aces in Section 1. He’s coming off of a tremendous junior season and is committed to Penn State. “We’ve been fortunate since I’ve been here,” Fletcher said. “We’ve always had that No. 1 guy, and again we’ve got Schuyler, who has been on the team since he was a freshman. He’s going to get all of the big games, and it’s kind of nice to know that you have somebody to rely on and expect a good game from. It’s a real comfort for the team.”
• Bates is a big righty who can really bring it and throws a variety of pitches for strikes. He said his focus this offseason was on improving his mechanics to make sure that all of the moving parts are in order throughout his delivery. “I have long limbs, so my arm tends to stay behind my body a lot,” he said. “I had to keep it in tune with my body, so wherever my body goes – my arm, my head – everything has to go. I’ve been working on releasing the ball out in front to basically deceive the hitter’s eye. They say every foot is three miles per hour to the hitter’s eye.”
• While Bates is a proven commodity, the Gaels lost their No. 2 and 3 starters to graduation, Oscar Giret and Erik Bauer, respectively. That leaves a few question marks in the rotation, but Fletcher always seems to find live arms. “I’ve got Matt Kern who is a senior who has always come out of the bullpen, but he’s going to start this year,” Fletcher said. “And then we’ve got Joe Drpich, who is a big right-hander. He plays first base, but he’s a very good strike-thrower, and he throws pretty hard – in the mid-80s.”
• Kern is a reliable option, but Drpich seems to have the most upside. The junior right-hander didn’t pitch last season, but apparently started over the summer and has really impressed the coaching staff. I saw him throw a bullpen today, and Fletcher wasn’t kidding when he called him a strike-thrower. “Joe came out of nowhere for us,” junior catcher Jason Agresti said. “He pitched a little bit over the summer and did a nice job, and he’s looking really good for us. He’s throwing really hard and his offspeed is looking great.”
• The strength of this team will undoubtedly be its battery. Agresti (pictured to the right) may have been the most impressive sophomore that I saw all season last year, and he’s already verbally committed to Binghamton. “It’s always been great,” Agresti said. “Schuyler is a great pitcher who works hard out there. His intensity is fantastic. We’ve always worked well as a pitcher-catcher duo, and I’m excited to be back out there working with him this year.”
• Fletcher told me that Agresti will hit in the 3-hole again, as he is considered the the best hitter on the team. It’s well known that he can bring it with the bat, but he talked a lot about working on his defense this offseason. He’s an ultra-motivated kid. “Throughout the whole college process, I’ve always heard that I have a little bit of a weaker arm, and that’s only been motivation for me,” he said. “That’s really been what I’ve focused on this offseason – strengthening that arm. Of course, at the plate, I’m always trying to get better, but I feel like I’ve improved as a catcher as a whole – calling games, being a captain out there and with my defensive skills.”
• The guy who will likely protect Agresti in the lineup is Drpich, who committed early to Siena. He also hit in the middle of the order as a sophomore, giving Kennedy two presences who will be around for two more seasons. Fletcher has shown that he’s willing to give young guys with talent a shot, and he’ll be doing more of that this season. At the moment, he’s projecting sophomore Gavin Garay as his starting shortstop and freshman Alex Vulpe as his starting third base man. “They’re both very good players, and big kids,” Fletcher said. “You wouldn’t think they’re young. They’re both 6’2”, 6’3”. Our infield should be strong.”
• The outfield is a bit more uncertain at this point. Seniors John Brabazon and Chris Gillen are expected to start, but Fletcher said he’s still trying to figure out what to do in right field. “Our outfield is where we’ve been hit the hardest,” Fletcher said.
• If Drpich pitches as well as he is expected to and the young position players seize their opportunities, the Gaels look like they have a complete team on paper. Whether or not that’s good enough to compete for a title in Class AA remains to be seen, but Fletcher seems to feel comfortable with the team he’s putting out there in most facets of the game. “I think our pitching should be good, and our hitting should be good,” he said. “I’m concerned about our speed. We have some guys who can pound the ball, but we don’t have the speed.”
File photos from The Journal News