Feb. 1, 2013
Boca Raton, FL - Three returning starters from last season's Sun Belt Conference regular-season championship team will make the infield a key component for success by the 2013 Florida Atlantic University baseball team.
As the spring season approaches, FAUSports.com takes a look at the infielders and catchers. The pitching staff was examined in an earlier segment, which you can read here.
This year's infield is led by a senior first baseman and catcher, while having a shortstop that started 50 of the team's 54 games during his freshman season.
Senior Mark Nelson (pictured left) started every game at first base a year ago and earned preseason All-SBC honors by Perfect Game. The Orlando native tied for team-high honors with seven home runs, led the team with 45 runs batted in and posted an impressive .290 batting average. He legged out 12 doubles and scored 33 runs. After the season Nelson went on to earn Most Valuable Player honors at the Florida Summer Collegiate League's All-Star Game.
"Mark is the anchor for the other players around him," said John McCormack, entering his fifth season as FAU's head baseball coach. "People never give credit to a good-fielding first baseman. Mark is the anchor for the other players around him. The other infielders know that Mark will come up with the play. He also adds a lot to our team's offensive attack."
Other two-way threats in the infield lineup are catchers Mike Spano and Levi Meyer. Spano earned second-team all-conference honors last season by league coaches after hitting .291 with three home runs and 22 RBIs. The third-year player started 43 games last year in catching a pair of all-league starting and relief pitchers on a staff that compiled a 4.33 earned run average.
Meanwhile, Meyer helped lead Iowa Western Community College to a junior college national championship, earning all-region honors in the process.
"We're fortunate to have two of the best catchers in the league on the same team," said McCormack. "Mike has worked hard and cares about winning. He lets his presence speak for itself on the field, and that has earned him admiration by his teammates and coaches. Levi is a vocal leader. They will both see playing time behind the plate this season."
On the left side of the diamond, sophomore shortstop Mitch Morales (pictured left) earned valuable experience last spring and ranked second on the team with seven stolen bases last season.
"Mitch started a lot of games as a freshman last year and had a really strong fall," noted McCormack. "He is running better, swinging the bat better and is more confidence in his skills."
Two key positional battles were shaping up this spring to round out the infield, according to McCormack. Second baseman Robert Buckley and third baseman Ricky Santiago played on last year's title team, but are being challenged by newcomers to the program. Transfer Sean Murrell is pushing for playing time at both positions after having a strong career at Palm Beach State College. Junior Nicholas Worrall and freshman Cain Spangler provide depth to all of the middle infield positions.
"Competition is bringing out the best in each player. We have good battles underway for playing time at second base and third base. Robert Buckley and Ricky Santiago played on last year's title team, ," said McCormack. "Ricky had a strong fall offensively and Robert is playing healthy after being hurt for most of last year."
The Owls open the season against the University of Cincinnati on Friday, February 15 at 6:30 p.m. from the FAU Baseball Stadium, 777 Glades Road. Live audio and statistics of games will be available here. Season tickets are available by contacting the FAU Ticket Office at 1-866-FAU-OWLS.