The Saint Leo baseball program just experienced its first losing season since 2012 — a mark newly named head coach Rick O’ Dette looks to quickly reverse.
Throughout the 2016-2017 season, the Lions fared well at the plate (.320 team batting average, 6.6 runs per game), but struggled mightily on the mound (6.56 team ERA, 73 home runs allowed).
The Lions’ 23-26 record (8-16 Sunshine State Conference), can partially be blamed on a rash of injuries and a lack of depth.
“Obviously, last year they had a lot of injuries on the mound, so we’re just trying to evaluate the health of each guy, and then our needs. So, getting the pitching staff healthy and adding some depth to it is our first priority,” O’ Dette said, analyzing last year’s team.
Besides strengthening the pitching staff, creating positional stability — particularly at catcher— is another initial focus for O’ Dette and his new staff.
“There’s only one catcher on the roster, so our next thing is to find two catchers that can come in. Ideally, one older, transfer type guy and one high school type,” he explained.
Just a few reinforcements could make a drastic difference, considering the team lost five games by just one run.
Saint Leo appears to have a workable nucleus, led by outfielder/third baseman Dylan Harris, a Land O’ Lakes High School graduate who paced the team in batting average (.448), on-base percentage (.472), hits (99) doubles (20) and stolen bases (15).
Other expected key returnees on offense include rising juniors Brett Coffel (.297 average, seven home runs, 28 RBIs) and Derek Gibree (.323 average, 23 RBIs, nine steals), and seniors Lane Stancil (.317 average, eight doubles, 17 RBIs) and Chase Turner (.323 average, seven doubles, 23 RBIs).
Moreover, the pitching staff — if healthy — has a decent base, and figures to be anchored by a pair of seniors in lefty Tyler Bauman (4.75 ERA, 81 strikeouts in 85.1 innings) and righty Oscar Gordillo (4.26 ERA, 25 strikeouts in 31.2 innings).
An early signing recruiting class highlighted by former Land O’ Lakes High ace McCabe Sargent should help, too.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound right-hander displayed one of the top arms in Pasco County last season, recording a 1.97 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 67. 2 innings; he also exhibited an elite bat, posting a .455 batting average with four home runs and 28 RBIs.
Meanwhile, O’ Dette will look to bolster Saint Leo’s roster by pursuing prospects from the high school and junior college ranks, as well as utilizing the Division I and Division II transfer market.
Though much of his recruiting ties span major cities such as Chicago and Indianapolis, and states including Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, O’ Dette will first strive to make inroads within the Tampa Bay region — a collective “hotbed” of baseball talent.
“Our goal is to try to get the best player we can out of that area at first, and then try to expand if we need to get the rest,” he explained. “There’s a lot of really good baseball in (Florida), and we’re excited to get with those guys.
“We’re going to use every resource we can, no matter where they’re from,“ he added. “The idea is we can sell the weather; the next step, obviously, is to sell the education and the baseball.”
Once on campus, the Lions’ new skipper will meet face-to-face with current players, and begin to lay the groundwork for his program, which emphasizes a team-based culture.
Perhaps more than ever that can be a challenge, especially with the proliferation of travel ball, baseball showcases, social media and other distractions.
“You’ve got to care about who else is on your team, before you can win,” O’ Dette explained. “I think if you put (players) in the right setting and they trust the coaching staff, you can get them to buy into what you’re trying to do from a team concept; I think kids will do anything you ask them to do, if you get them to trust you.”
He added: “If you put some structure up there and get them to work within some guidelines, usually you’ll have some success.”
Historically, O’ Dette’s rosters at Saint Joseph’s College of Indiana featured “an exciting style of play” predicated on pitching and being “middle strong” defensively — largely the catcher, second base, shortstop and center field positions.
“You’ve got to be able to pick the ball up, and you’ve got to be able to throw strikes,” he said.
“We like to run when we have the right team, and we’ll make adjustments as needed, to make sure that we’re not stuck in one system with the wrong type of player, especially in the first couple of years.”
Published June 28, 2017