|R.J. Hall was an All-NESCAC first team pitcher in 2018.|
MEDFORD – For the first time since 1987, the Tufts University baseball team will open a new season in New England as the Jumbos are scheduled to play Brandeis on Monday at the New England Baseball Complex (NEBC).
Tufts started taking its spring trip south in 1988 and has been opening its schedule in locations such as Washington, D.C. and Hampton, Virginia for the past 31 seasons. The turf field at NEBC will allow the Jumbos to play close to home and take stock of a new-look lineup before hitting the road for the spring trip later in the week.
In 2018, Tufts graduated the last two New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Players of the Year in Malcolm Nachmanoff and Nick Falkson, as well as Tommy O'Hara, who was one of the top offensive players in team history. The three 2018 graduates combined for 242 total bases and 126 runs batted in during Tufts' 37 games last season.
Though the pitching staff is in varying degrees of health as the new season looms, the Jumbos have their top three starters from last season back. Shortstop Will Shackelford, who has an All-Conference honor on his resume, and outfielder Casey Santos-Ocampo lead the returnees to the line-up.
While the Jumbos have some power returning – senior catcher Harrison Frickman hit three home runs last year and freshman infielder Ryan Daues two – head coach John Casey's Jumbos could be more of a team that relies on defense and base-running this spring.
"We should be fine defensively," said Casey, who enters his 37th season as the leader of the Jumbos. "We're probably going to try to be more aggressive running the bases because we have good athleticism. Those are our strengths and we'll need to capitalize on them."
Shackelford and Santos-Ocampo both finished among the top 12 in NESCAC for on-base percentage last year with .451 and .441 marks, respectively. Both also topped 30 runs, two of only 10 conference players to do so. They will be key performers in Tufts' opportunistic offense, as well as providing solid up-the-middle defense. Now in his junior season, infielder Elias Varinos has the potential for similar numbers. Junior outfielder Justin Mills was a great addition to last year's line-up after he was called up from the JV, hitting at a .360 clip.
Day and Daues are the Jumbos' top hopes for middle-of-the-order production. Both have shown flashes of providing punch, but will need to be able to do it every day. Frickman is coming off an excellent junior season when he hit .322 and slugged .492.
Giving the Jumbos great depth behind the plate, junior Eric Schnepf is a good defensive catcher who did not make an error last year. Junior J.P. Knight and sophomore Brandon Bay in the outfield, and junior Harrison O'Brien, sophomore Kyle Cortese and sophomore Will Burgess in the infield are returnees with opportunities to earn playing time this year.
R.J. Hall was one of two pitchers on the All-NESCAC first team last spring after finishing with five wins, a 2.88 earned run average and 8.19 strikeouts per nine innings. Both Spencer Langdon (5-0, 2.00 era) and Brent Greeley (5-3, 2.56) were pleasant surprises earning weekend starting roles a year ago. Both were among the NESCAC top five for wins and era last year and both are back this spring.
There's no question freshmen will also play a part on the 2019 Jumbos as there are 13 on the 32-man roster. Coach Casey mentioned a few have showed the talent to contribute right away.
The NESCAC champions in 2016 and 2017, Tufts played in the conference final for the third straight season last spring. The Jumbos' five titles and 11 championship game appearances are the most among conference teams. The young Jumbo team may take some time to come together this spring, but will look to be in the picture once again when May and the conference championship come around.