Baseball Prepares For 2001 Season

John Rosner, an All-MCC First Team member in 2000, and the Flames are busy preparing for the upcoming baseball season which starts Feb. 9.
John Rosner, an All-MCC First Team member in 2000, and the Flames are busy preparing for the upcoming baseball season which starts Feb. 9.

Jan. 24, 2001

As the UIC baseball program continues preparation for the 2001 season, which gets underway on Feb. 9, head baseball coach Mike Dee is dealing with a problem.

But it's a problem he doesn't mind it one bit.

Dee believes that he has enough talent to fill out two entire lineups, but the problem lies with only 10 players - including the designated hitter - being able to take the field.

"One of the strengths of this team is that we have a lot of versatility with our position players," Dee said. "We have probably half a dozen guys that can play multiple positions and I see that as a strength."

Dee, a two-time Midwestern Collegiate Conference Coach of the Year, will tinker with his lineup to see what will best suit his team early on in the season.

"How we start out the year in terms of batting order, pitching rotation and all sorts of things can sometimes change dramatically as the season goes on," Dee said. "We're going to use the early part of the season to evaluate our team and find out what is our best group.

"What are the roles that are best suited for certain people?" Dee continued. "Until you go out and experiment and put them in different situations to see how they react, it's hard to predict that."

As UIC advances deeper into the season, Dee believes that the Flames will be able to adapt quickly to their opponents and look towards their second straight MCC regular season title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

"I think that we're going to be able to having a batting order based on who's pitching against us and as that changes in the game - we'll be able to make changes," Dee said. "We have the potential to have six or seven left handed bats in the lineup. That will make it difficult somewhere down the line for a team to match up with us."

I would be surprised if there weren't 13 or 14 guys contributing on a consistent basis positionally," Dee continued. "I think that there will be 10-11 guys making contributions on the mound and that will have to be our strength - the depth of our team."

That depth will be put to the test as the Flames lost their entire middle infield from last season in second baseman Eric Duke and shortstop Sean McNichols. Duke, a first-team All-MCC selection in 1999, garnered second-team honors in 2000 and led UIC with 45 RBI. McNichols, a first-team All-MCC selection in 2000, started all 55 games that he appeared in and led the Flames with 70 hits for a .352 batting average.

Dee, however, believes that he has two individuals that are more than capable of playing those positions in junior John Rosner and freshman Mike Bruszer. Rosner, a first-team All-MCC selection in 2000, will make the move from first to second base. Last season, Rosner batted .333 and swiped 18 bases.

"We lose obviously the experience factor with (Duke and McNichols)," Dee said, "but I think that there are some things that John and Mike do pretty well and I don't compare them to Sean and Eric."

Returning for their second year with the Flames are sophomores Weber Bowen, Curtis Granderson and J.P. Moran. All three individuals were selected to the MCC All-Newcomer team last season.

Bowen led the team last season with a slugging percentage of .526 and was second on the team with six home runs.

"Weber has improved tremendously defensively and is an outstanding offensive player," Dee said. "He will continue to develop as a player and should be in the middle of the lineup everyday whether as a catcher, outfielder or as a designated hitter."

Dee believes that Granderson and Moran have worked hard in the off-season to become better all-around players. Last season, Granderson led the Flames with seven homers and 51 runs scored while Moran topped the squad with a .358 batting average and 17 doubles.

"They both have a great work ethic," Dee said. "I thought they'd both be great players last season, but I don't know if anybody could predict how consistent a true freshman could be."

Dee was pleasantly surprised by the duo's performance last season.

"Curtis was consistently outstanding defensively last year where J.P. was consistently outstanding offensively," Dee said. "I think the two of them have taken what they haven't done as consistently last year and turned them into consistent skills."

Sophomore Kevin Nelson should also see some time at catcher this season. Last year, Nelson committed only four errors for a .980 fielding percentage behind the plate. Freshman Andy Marin will also compete for some time at catcher after a successful fall campaign.

"He has really turned himself around," Dee said of Marin. "He could be a legitimate factor this season. He was easily the biggest surprise of the fall."

Third baseman Bob Rosinski is one of three seniors on Dee's young squad. Rosinski earned All-MCC second team honors last season with a batting average of .319 and struck out a mere 19 times in 191 at-bats.

"He's a solid fourth year player," Dee said of Rosinski. "He's a tremendous third baseman. He can play third, first or catch. He's a solid player middle of lineup and he can do a lot of good things for us."

The other seniors, pitchers Steve Carlson and Nick Worm could swap places this season. Carlson could see some time in the starting rotation after coming out of the bullpen last season. In 28 appearances last spring, Carlson recorded seven saves and a record of 6-3 with a 5.01 ERA while Worm tossed 100 innings and was 8-6 as a starter with a 4.59 ERA.

Junior Gene Rausch gives Dee the opportunity to have three left-handers in the starting rotation. Last season, Rausch started in eight games and came away with a record of 5-2. Others expected to compete for a spot in the rotation include Kevin Ryan, Larry Banks, Eric Carlson, Scott Anderson and Brendan Aubin.

Adding to an already strong pitching staff is the return of left-hander Wes Gilliam and right-hander Jaime Velasquez. Both individuals missed last season due to rotator cuff problems.

"There is no question that I am excited about having Jaime and Wes back and back at 100 percent health," Dee said. "They both have improved tremendously and matured as people. I'm excited about the potential that they bring to our team. There is no question about that."

Redshirt freshmen Mark Homco and Chris Kerpan will provide most of the depth for the Flames. Homco can play all four infield positions while Kerpan can play the outfield as well as first base.

Dee will also find a way to insert junior infielder Andy Deahl into the lineup.

"He always gives 100 percent at the plate," Dee said. "He is capable of giving a lot of quality at bats."

Sophomore Mike Lorenzo will give the Flames the rare option of having a pitcher that can hit.

Lorenzo's classmate, Chuck Peters, will also have a chance to contribute this season defensively as an outfielder. As a freshman, Peters appeared in 30 games as a designated hitter and batted .333 in MCC action.

"Chuck has done a nice job with his bat this fall," Dee said. "He has improved defensively more than anybody and the fact that he's left handed is a big plus for us."

Others expected to compete for playing time include outfielders J.P. Carey, Wesley Peete and Kyle Robinson, infielder Nelson Gord and catcher Mike Hughes.

Dee knows that the 59-game season will be filled with peaks and valleys, but the third-year skipper knows that his squad will be a team to reckon with in May.

"I think we have a chance to be a very, very good team at the end of the year."