For the 2016 Boston College baseball team, balance and depth is going to be a key strength. Without Chris Shaw anchoring the lineup in the cleanup spot, the Eagles will rely more on their ability to generate offense than they will on any one big bat. Defensively, they've managed to transition players to new roles, helping to assist through graduations and forming the core of a unit that will be able to play together for the next few seasons.
BC returns virtually every infielder from last season. It starts with Joe Cronin, the team's captain, who transitioned from middle to corner in 2015. In 2014, Cronin made 53 starts for the Eagles, 45 of which came at the shortstop position. After starting '15 at third baseman, the emergence of Jake Palomaki forced Mike Gambino to get creative with one of his team leaders; that's when Cronin traded in his infielder's glove for one with some bigger webbing and moved across the diamond to first. 28 starts later, BC had its replacement for John Hennessy, who started 50-plus games at the position in '14.
The emergence of Palomaki last year allows the BC coaching staff to have flexibility in its other positions. He started 35 games at the hot corner, setting an Eagles program record for walks in a single season with 46. One of the team's most complete players, his .447 on base percentage was best on the team. If he's able to make a jump to his sophomore year, he'll provide a foundation defensively through the middle of the infield while providing a rock in the lineup from which to build around.
With Cronin potentially playing first and Palomaki on the left side, that leaves the middle of the diamond for Mike Gambino to be creative. Johnny Adams started all 54 games at short in '15, recording 168 assists and 39 double plays in the process. That leaves a number of athletes, including freshman Jake Alu, to vie for the final spot at second base.
That depth will be something that will aid BC through a long season and beyond. Palomaki was one of the real underrated players in college baseball last season, and Cronin's willingness to do whatever's asked makes him a prime candidate to move around as the season calls for it. Adams is a stalwart in the middle of the infield. And that's not even including senior Gabriel Hernandez, who made 47 starts in his sophomore year (including 33 at third base), but who transitioned to the outfield and is now listed as a utility player for the Eagles.
Beyond the bigger names people will recognize, there's always a few names and faces that could break out. Chris Balogh, a 6'4" junior out of Allen, Texas, is a true first baseman, as is 6'5" sophomore Mitch Bigras. Of the duo, Bigras saw time in 14 games last year, half of which were starts, recording a .286 batting average in conference play. Anthony Maselli is also in the mix, having seen time at first during last season.
Throughout the season, BC will face a number of teams with hotter-named prospects. They'll face teams with better profiles, better resumes, and more publicity. But this is one of the better cores of the conference, one that Mike Gambino's spent the past few years assembling. In 2016, this is the unit to watch, one built around chemistry, teamwork, and fundamentals for the next couple of seasons.
At the same time, this is a unit that we'll likely see Mike Gambino begin recruiting heavily for the next couple of seasons. The 2016 Eagles are loaded with position players who are extremely flexible in their abilities, meaning they didn't need to go out and grab two or three players for their classes this year or next. With five players entering either their junior or sophomore year, BC is bringing in only one player this year (Jake Alu) and next year (Brian Dempsey).
But in 2018, the first year after the departure of Adams, Balogh, and Bigras, BC is already bringing in two freshmen. When it comes time for the Class of 2019, BC will likely heavily recruit the position again. There's a delicate balance that Mike Gambino needs to work towards, one where he can develop players without rushing them into the lineup but at the same time bringing in players who are talented enough to play if called upon. So we're likely to see a couple of lighter classes at certain positions as it begins to even itself out.
That's not to say BC won't recruit someone if the right player crosses their wake. But there's a plan in place, one that can be seen in future rosters. Unlike other schools, the Eagles recruit with purpose. As the season begins, that's something to keep an eye on: their targets moving forward as they work to continue achieving roster balance.
Futures Depth Chart:
|Joe Cronin (Sr.)||Johnny Adams (Sr.)||Anthony Maselli (Sr.)|
|Johnny Adams (Jr.)||Chris Balogh (Sr.)||Jake Palomaki (Sr.)|
|Chris Balogh (Jr.)||Mitch Bigras (Sr.)||Jake Alu (Jr.)|
|Mitch Bigras (Jr.)||Anthony Maselli (Jr.)||Brian Dempsey (So.)|
|Anthony Maselli (So.)||Jake Palomaki (Jr.)||Brandon Stone (Fr.)|
|Jake Palomaki (So.)||Jake Alu (So.)||Johntyler Clark-Chiapparelli (Fr.)|
|Jake Alu (Fr.)||Brian Dempsey (Fr.)|
|Gabriel Hernandez (Sr.) - Utility|