Baseball season preview: New bats improved player safety
The less springy BBCOR bats are now required for high school play. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Look out for ...
Gabe Dwyer (Sr.)
Dwyer hit .306 last year with 19 RBI and a .425 on-base percentage. The Illinois-Chicago recruit also possesses a lightning-quick release behind the plate and figures to be vital in working with a Vikings staff which lost James Fuller, last year’s No. 1 starter, to graduation.
Kyle Colletta (Sr.)
The Northern Kentucky recruit will move to shortstop this season following the graduation of Kevin Ross. Colletta is entering his fourth season starting on varsity. “I feel that Kyle will be one of the top players to ever play at Niles West,” Wolves coach Garry Gustafson said.
Danny Rafferty (Sr.)
Rafferty, a sweet-swinging lefty, will likely hit in the middle of the Ramblers’ lineup and play outfield when he’s not on the mound. Last year, the Wilmette resident showed just how effective he can be when he allowed zero earned runs over seven innings in a 3-1 victory over then-No. 1 Mount Carmel. Rafferty is a Bucknell signee.
Brad Margolin (Sr.)
Margolin will serve as a jack-of-all-trades player for Glenbrook North this spring. He figures to be one of the Spartans’ two-best pitchers — senior Jake DeRousse is also in that conversation — and also will play catcher and in the outfield. Margolin is slated to play catcher at Washington University in St. Louis.
Anthony Mroz (Jr.)
Like his older brother Pete Mroz did last year, Anthony Mroz has made the transition from a starring role on Ridgewood’s basketball team to a starring role on the Rebels’ baseball team. Anthony Mroz, who hit cleanup for Ridgewood each of the last two seasons, will try to help the Rebels bounce back from a 13-21 campaign.
Updated: April 15, 2013 10:12AM
It’s been a little more than 14 months since the IHSA made the use of BBCOR bats mandatory.
The BBCOR bats, as teams across the state quickly learned last season, have a smaller sweet spot than composite bats and decrease the velocity of the ball leaving the bat. The risk of playing baseball still remains, but the coaches of four of the CSL’s top programs — Glenbrook North’s Dom Savino, New Trier’s Mike Napoleon, Maine South’s Bill Milano and Niles West’s Garry Gustafson — all agree the change has made baseball safer.
All four also agree that using BBCOR bats has altered how the game is played.
“The game was definitely dramatically changed,” Gustafson said. “I feel, in some way or another, it’s changed everyone’s outlook on how you’re going to attack people offensively.”
Among the CSL’s top teams in 2012, Gustafson’s squad was arguably the most impacted by the switch to BBCOR bats. The Wolves’ lineup featured a slew of power hitters, and was headlined by Kevin Ross. Ross, an eighth-round selection by the Pittsburgh Pirates last year, hit just two or three home runs last season, according to Gustafson.
In Gustafson’s opinion, Ross would have reached double digits before the BBCOR rule was implemented because he was “as strong and had as fast a bat speed as anyone who’s ever come through here,” he said.
But, as Milano noted, what would have been a home run two years ago with the more potent bats often turned into a double or a triple with a BBCOR bat.
Since the switch to BBCOR bats, it has became even more important for pitchers to be accurate and keep ball down in the strike zone, in Savino’s opinion.
“I think what the BBCOR bat lends itself to is you have to be able to work down in the strike zone, whether it’s a fastball, changeup or breaking ball,” Savino said. “The further and further you work up in the strike zone, the better you’re going to make the opposing hitter.”
Glenbrook North and Maine South — last year’s CSL North and CSL South champions, respectively — have both made teaching pitchers to effectively use off-speed pitches a point of emphasis in recent years. The ability to mix a fastball with an accurate off-speed pitch is something which has typically equated to success on the high school level, regardless of what bat is being used.
But it appears to be even more crucial now, especially for pitchers who aren’t overpowering.
The changeup “is even more important now because when you get somebody on their front foot, there’s nothing behind the new bats,” Maine South pitching coach Jason Marsicano said. “That ball’s going nowhere.”
All four coaches agreed that offensive and defensive fundamentals remain vital. They also agreed that their team’s personnel — not the bats — will largely dictate their style of play.
Although Niles West was affected by the rule last year, Gustafson has been happy with the change.
“The kids were using big-barrel bats that were full of life ... and they could whip those big barrels around. It was like having a missile hit back at you,” Gustafson said. “I think it’s definitely a safer game.”