Army continues to dominate the postseason appearances in the Patriot League, having won three consecutive AQs. That said, Lehigh led the way with 17 league wins in 2021. And Navy put together outstanding seasons in 2019 and 2020, including their astounding 14-1 start in the pandemic-shortened season. All in all, Army enters 2022 as the clear favorite to win the Patriot League. The Black Knights are proficient on both sides of the baseball, and their winning culture is a separator.
*Teams are listed in order of projected finish. 2021 regional teams in bold.
|School||2021 CONFERENCE||2021 OVERALL|
Projected regional team (1): Army
Player of the Year: Chris Cannizzaro, OF, Bucknell
Pitcher of the Year: Luke Rettig, LHP, Lehigh
Freshman of the Year: Rafe Perich, 2B, Lehigh
Projected regional team: Army
Army has secured the last three automatic bids for the Patriot League. And they will be favored to make it four in a row in 2022. Head coach Jim Foster brings 14 years of head coaching experience, and nearly made it to the College World Series as the Associate Head Coach for the 2016 Boston College squad that played in game three of a Super Regional. Foster produces consistent winners, and the track record is impressive.
Three of Army’s top four hitters have graduated, along with right-hander Ray Bartoli, who led the club in innings pitched (59.1). While those are viable concerns, this program seems to reload as well as anyone in the league. Hunter Meade projects to lead off. The senior left-handed hitter is a plus defender in center field who is also capable of playing second base. Meade was outstanding in 2021, hitting .351 with an .894 OPS and 14 stolen bases. His speed sets the tone at the top of the order.
Sophomore Sam Ruta earned Freshman All-American honors in 2021, and he is back to anchor the middle of the order. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound left-handed hitter out of the Philly area led Army in RBI (40) as a true freshman. He is slotted to play third base, where his defense continues to improve, but the outfield is another option. Ruta’s premium bat speed is important to this offense. Junior Ross Friedrick is yet another left-handed hitter for the Black Knights, and he led the club in hitting (.322) and OPS (.927) last year. Friedrick was a breakout player in 2021, and his all-fields approach makes him very difficult to pitch to. He is a plus defender at first base as well.
A deep weekend rotation looks to be an area of strength for Army. Anthony LoRicco made 11 starts a year ago, leading the staff with 65 punchouts. The senior right-hander features three pitches for a strike. LoRicco brings a wealth of experience to the table, having made 34 career appearances and 17 starts. Sophomore left-hander Connelly Early slots in as the Saturday guy. He was outstanding in a relief role last year, posting a 2.23 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 36 innings and an .185 BAA. Early shows excellent feel for spinning the baseball, and he is a natural strike thrower. Junior Patrick Melampy rounds out the rotation, and he may have the best pure stuff of this starting group. The right-hander pitched to a 3.29 ERA over nine starts in 2021.
Keep an eye on
Lehigh lost pitchers Mason Black (3rd round, Giants) and Matt Svanson (13th round, Blue Jays) to the draft, and that is more confirmation of the upper trajectory of this program. The offense will be a year older in 2022, and that should be the carrying strength of this club. In fact, the Mountain Hawks will deploy a lineup with as many as four legitimate Patriot League player of the year candidates. The pitching staff has plenty of talent but the names are not as familiar.
Several freshmen hitters showed well in the fall, and within that group, Jake Whitlinger could start in center field and lead off from day one. Whitlinger, who was one of Lehigh’s top recruits, shows plus speed that plays on both sides of the ball. Senior right fielder Casey Rother enters 2022 as the reigning Patriot League Player of the Year. The 6-foot-5 right-handed hitter nearly won the league’s triple crown, finishing in the top four of each category. Rother, who walked (22) more than he struck out (15), could hit for more power than his already impressive .916 OPS speaks to.
Junior catcher Adam Retzbach may be the best catch-and-throw backstop in the league. Double digit home runs are in play for the 6-foot-4 right-handed hitter. Switch-hitting first sacker Gerard Sweeney led the league with seven home runs a year ago. The 6-foot-3 senior brings 105 career starts to the party, making him one of the most experienced players in the league. Senior third baseman Joe Gorla broke out in 2021 (.322/.420/.510). He is an outstanding defender and another top of the league caliber player. Keep an eye on freshman second sacker Rafe Perich. The 6-foot-4 switch-hitter brings unique physicality to the middle infield.
On the mound, senior Luke Rettig graduates to the Friday night role after having served as the Sunday starter last year. He is a low-90s left-hander with a four-pitch mix. Rettig punched 62 hitters in 62.1 innings and pitched to a very respectable 3.59 ERA. Junior Carlos Torres factors into the weekend rotation as well. Torres missed last season due to injury, but he was up to 98 this fall. Pitchability left-hander Matt Stamford filled a key swing role last year, logging 40.1 innings over six starts and 12 appearances total. The 6-foot-3 senior mixes well with a mid-80s fastball, and he finished fourth on the staff in innings pitched. Right-handers Tyler Thompson (0-0, 1.64) and Will Grisack (3-0, 3.26) return to lock down the back of the bullpen.
Navy returns eight members of the everyday lineup from a year ago. While the offense should be formidable, there are more question marks on the pitching staff. Those new faces on the mound fared well in the fall, so that is a first step in the right direction. Navy dominated the Patriot League from 2014-2018, finishing first in the standings all five years. There is a path back to the top of the league for this proud program, and it begins with this very experienced lineup.
Sophomore center fielder Zane Raba leads off, and he led the Midshipmen with six steals a year ago. The left-handed hitter earned second team All-Patriot League honors with a very productive season (.288/.414/.350). Senior catcher Christian Policelli anchors the middle of the order. He earned first team All-Patriot League honors and finished second in the league in hitting (.340). Policelli will serve as a team captain, and he enters the year with a career OPS of .874. Senior first baseman Zach Stevens provides more thump in the middle of this order. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound right-handed hitter enters the season with 89 starts and a career OPS of .966. Navigating the duo of Policelli and Stevens will be no fun for opposing pitchers.
Third baseman Logan Keller is another player coming off an excellent 2021 campaign. Keller earned second team all-league honors (.320/.365/.472), leading Navy with 35 RBI. Colin Smith, Alex Smith, and Joe Simorian are three more upperclassmen who add to this very deep lineup. This trio adds another 136 career starts to a position player group steeped in at bats.
Junior right-hander Nate Mitchell projects as the Friday night arm. Mitchell looks the part at 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds. He has proven to be a quality strike-thrower in limited action, walking just three hitters in 16 career innings. Junior Reece Early struggled last season (7.88 ERA) but he was brilliant in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, pitching to a 0.82 ERA over three starts. Somewhere in the middle of those two seasons should work just fine pitching behind this position player group.
Sophomore right-hander Zach Powers finished second on the team with a 1.64 ERA. Powers pitched in relief a year ago but should step into a starting role in 2022. Senior left-hander Colin Jones shows as much swing-and-miss stuff as anyone on this staff, compiling 27 strikeouts over 23 career innings. 2021 was a struggle but Jones was excellent in 2020, pitching to a 4.30 ERA with 15 strikeouts and just 3 walks.