SMITHFIELD, R.I. – The Bryant University baseball team opens its 2015 season with a three-game series against UTSA beginning Friday, Feb. 20 in San Antonio, Texas.
One of the Bulldogs’ biggest strengths heading into the 2015 season will be their infield. Bryant returns all four starters and every key reserve to a team that posted a .966 fielding percentage and turned 56 double plays a year ago.
“To not lose one infielder is remarkable,” head coach Steve Owens said. “They are all quality infielders that are game proven and are very mature. We have depth at each position and versatility that will allow us to deal with set-backs or injuries.”
The Bulldogs will look to senior captain John Mullen (Walpole, Mass.) to lead the way. Mullen is coming off the most consistent offensive season of his career in 2014, hitting a career-high .308 with 11 doubles, four home runs and 37 RBI. He also set career highs in walks (18), stolen bases (15), OBP (.383) and slugging (.423). Mullen enters his final season as the active leader in hits (168), doubles (38), home runs (10), RBI (118), runs scored (91) and stolen bases (32).
“John looks great, is healthy and we are excited for him to have a great senior year,” Owens said. “He can steal bases, hit for power and there is no question that he is the leader of our baseball team.”
Across from Mullen on the diamond will be junior first baseman Robby Rinn (Warwick, R.I.). A First Team All-NEC selection last spring, Rinn returns for his third year as Bryant’s starter at first. After proving himself to be an elite defender as a freshman, Rinn exploded offensively as a sophomore, hitting .302 with 13 doubles, two home runs, 36 RBI, 37 runs scored and a team-leading 30 walks. One of the toughest outs in Bryant’s lineup, Rinn was also hit by a pitch 17 times and posted a .432 OBP. Defensively, he committed just five errors in 520 chances for a .990 fielding percentage.
“Robby is a really good defender and a quality presence in the middle of our lineup,” Owens said. “He is ready to play every day, is a solid leader and has good quality at-bats every single game.”
Up the middle, the Black and Gold will welcome back junior shortstop Dan Cellucci (Sudbury, Mass.) and the second base duo of sophomores Cole Fabio (Mahwah, N.J.) and Brandon Bingel (Peabody, Mass.). Cellucci took over as Bryant’s starting shortstop last spring and proved himself to be one of the top defensive shortstops in the region. He improved with the bat as well, hitting .249 with 12 doubles, two home runs, 27 RBI and 26 runs scored.
“Dan won the position last year and he continues to improve his body, his defensive consistency and his ability to swing the bat,” Owens said. “He’s our best infielder and he can play flashy or consistent.”
The real intriguing part of Bryant’s infield is at second base. After splitting time as freshmen, Fabio and Bingel will once again split time this spring, but both are more than just second basemen. Fabio will see considerable time in the outfield and Bingel is expected to earn meaningful innings as a starter and reliever this year. The two combined to post a .964 fielding percentage at second, committing just 10 combined errors in 279 chances. Offensively, Fabio hit .337 with 16 RBI and 12 stolen bases, while Bingel finished at .241 with 18 RBI and just 11 strikeouts in 108 at-bats.
“Cole and Brandon are very good and different in their own ways,” Owens said. “Cole is fast, dynamic and can steal bases, while Brandon has gotten much stronger and should hit for more power this spring. This a fun problem to have.”
Bryant’s real strength, however, is the depth it has in the infield. Sophomore Jacob Marotta (Bridgewater, Mass.) could be the Bulldogs’ most versatile infielder with the ability to play short, second and third equally well. He appeared in just 23 games as a rookie but should see increased playing time this spring.
“Jacob’s gotten stronger and has the potential to have the strongest arm of our infielders,” Owens said. “He’s an excellent fielder, a good runner and he has worked extremely hard to evolve into a real quality hitter.”
The Black and Gold will also look to seniors Matt Zanotta (Schenectady, N.Y.) and Colin Walsh (Tewksbury, Mass.) and sophomore Zane Smith (Ilion, N.Y.) for contributions this spring. Zanotta provides the Bulldogs with a veteran presence that can play first or third and has been a great team guy. Walsh has swung the bat extremely well during the preseason and could be used in key spots and Smith has really improved as a hitter. He hit .323 in 31 at-bats last season and could find his way into the lineup.
“Our goal is to improve our team defensively and I think we have done that,” Owens said.