Jorge Arenas was the starting shortstop in 2018, when the Stetson Hatters became regional champions for the first and only time in program history.
Arenas was Stetson’s starting shortstop before that, in 2017, and since then, in 2019 and 2020. In fact, he has started an astonishing 189 games at Stetson, including 165 at shortstop.
The Stetson record of 245 career starts is within Arenas’ sights, by the way.
Yet, when the season starts, he may find himself at second base, which speaks to how talented the Hatters are for 2021.
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Stetson coach Steve Trimper, who recently agreed to terms on a contract that will keep him with the Hatters through at least the 2024 season, said he has four players who would be outstanding at shortstop: Hartford transfer Jackson Olson, who is the frontrunner for the job; Kyle Ball, likely the third baseman; Camden Traficante, a talented freshman whose time is coming; and Arenas.
“I don’t take it personal with any decision that’s made,” Arenas said when asked about a possible move to second. “It’s about fitting guys in the best way possible.
“As long as I can help the team win, I’m happy. As a leader, I have to bring the guys together.”
That type of maturity is reflective of this roster. Arenas is one of several fifth-year seniors, a list that includes Olson as well as outfielders Andrew MacNeil and Hernan Sardinas.
“This is the first time in 28 years of coaching that I’ve had a college team this old and experienced,” Trimper said. “These are very professional guys who just go about their business.
“It’s unique for me. I don’t have to rah-rah them. They just want to play.”
Trimper said he has no plans to make any cuts despite Stetson’s massive roster that includes 31 returners, 13 freshmen and five transfers.
After all, in the era of COVID-19, depth is king.
“If everyone remains patient, especially the younger guys who need to develop, it will bode well,” Trimper said. “But yes, this is more depth than I’ve ever seen. We’re using two full locker rooms.”
Of those 49 players, 14 are from South Florida — and seven of those, including Arenas, are from Miami, which is a four-hour drive from the Stetson campus.
Arenas is always ready to rep his hometown.
“The guys who are not from Miami wish they were,” said Arenas, who is working on his Master’s degree in business administration. “We give our teammates (stuff) because they’re from little towns.”
That little bit of friendly rivalry aside, Arenas said he’s jacked to start 2021.
“This is the best team I’ve been a part of — by a long shot,” Arenas said. “The lineup is by far the best we’ve had, and the pitching staff is deeper.
“We want to be playing in the College World Series against the biggest teams in the nation. We have tons more talent than we’ve had, but college baseball is about pulling it all together, and I don’t want to speak too soon.”
The Hatters are 113-79 in four years under Trimper, including 11-4 in the abbreviated 2020 season. That 2018 season was Trimper’s best as the Hatters went 48-13.
Stetson’s identity is pitching. Former Hatters Corey Kluber and Jacob deGrom have each won two Cy Young awards, and Logan Gilbert, a Seattle Mariners first-round pick in 2018, is now 23 years old and moving his way up the minor leagues.
In 2020, Stetson kept up with the tradition, leading the Atlantic Sun Conference in ERA (2.61).
“A lot of credit should go to our pitching coach, Dave Therneau,” Trimper said. “When I got the job, (previous coach Pete Dunn) said, ‘If nothing else, make sure you retain Dave Therneau.’
“It was the greatest advice I ever got. Dave knows how to teach and how to motivate. He’s got one of the best baseball minds around, he gives all that knowledge to our pitchers and catchers.”
Stetson’s pitching staff is also helped by a large ballpark. Melching Field (in DeLand, Fla.) is 335 feet down the lines, 375 in the alleys and 403 to center, but the prevailing winds make it play even bigger.
Arenas said the wind at Melching rarely helps a pull hitter go to left.
“The park plays 20 feet farther than it is,” Arenas said. “You see guys from the visiting team get a hold of balls in batting practice, and they don’t even make the warning track. They shake their heads.”
Trimper said the Hatters recruit to the dimensions of their park, stockpiling outfielders who can go get the ball, sure-handed infielders and pitchers who throw strikes.
“We try not to give away free stuff — walks and errors,” Trimper said. “Our M.O. is not to put an average defensive player in the outfield in the hopes he can go 2-for-4 with two homers. We play it so that you have to hit three straight singles to score on us.”
The Hatters have two capable catchers in Christian Pregent, who is so respected that he was named a captain as a true freshman in 2020; and Gio Lorenzo, who was Stetson’s cleanup hitter for 75 percent of the games this past spring.
Pregent has very good power and a 1.9 pop time on throws to second base, evidence of his plus arm strength.
Lorenzo, a switch-hitter, makes good contact from both sides and is a good receiver. His tools — power, speed, arm — don’t measure up to Pregent, yet Lorenzo will be in the lineup as a backup catcher and possible DH.
First baseman Brandon Hylton, who missed 2019 due to a knee injury, rebounded in 2020 by leading the team with a .357 batting average. A lefty swinger, Hylton moves well for his size (6-7, 230 pounds) as he showed by going 2-for-2 in steals in 13 games. He hit no homers, but the Hatters are sure the power is there.
“This program is built around Brandon Hylton,” Trimper said. “He can hit for power and average, and if you put a big shift on him, he will bunt for a hit.”
Jorge Arenas, if used at second base, can be a weapon because of his “plus-plus arm”, Trimper said. Trimper said coaches put Arenas on the mound in the summer, and he threw 92 mph with little training.
If Arenas moves, the shortstop figures to be Jackson Olson, who made first-team All-America East Conference last season.
A lefty hitter, Olson started 146 games at Hartford, leading the school to its first conference title in 2018. His career numbers at Hartford: .288 batting average, four homers and 57 RBIs.
Kyle Ball is Stetson’s best defensive player, and he’s especially good at third base. Improving offensively after hitting .276 in 2020, Ball will likely hit in the middle of the lineup.
Infield depth will come from second baseman Banks Griffith and shortstop Camden Traficante, who are both good enough to start.
Griffith, in fact, was the starting second baseman at Furman the past two years but was forced to transfer when the program was shut down. His identity is as a defender and contact hitter.
“The Furman coach called me,” Trimper said. “He said Banks was the greatest player he has coached in terms of character and talent.”
Traficante, a true freshman, is a switch-hitter who has pop from the left side. He was impressive this fall.
From left to right, the outfield could feature Andrew MacNeil, Dylan Brazil and Hernan Sardinas.
Brazil, a true freshman, is a plus runner with 6.5 speed. He’s also an excellent bunter and a good contact guy who should make an impact as a prototypical leadoff hitter.
“He’s that guy that when he comes up the other team says, ‘Not this guy again’,” Trimper said. “I love his tenacity. He will drive pitch counts up and get pitchers’ attention on the basepaths.
“The best way to describe him is that he plays baseball as if it were football. If you drive it to the fence, he will go through that fence.”
Sardinas, a transfer from Maine, is a power bat and a very good defender in right field. Sardinas, who has the best power on the team — slightly stronger than Hylton — was Trimper’s last recruit at Maine before he was hired at Stetson.
MacNeil, who has 6.5 speed to match Brazil, figures to start in left and bat second. His .423 on-base percentage was third on the team in 2020.
In addition to those three, Nick DiPonzio, Mark Townsend, Anthony DeFabbia, Connor Kehl and Jake Murphy could all get starts if they get hot.
DiPonzio, who started 16 games over two years at Wake Forest, made his Stetson debut in 2020, posting a .736 OPS. His calling card is his blazing speed.
Townsend, the starting left fielder last year, will need to hit more to get back in the lineup, but he has always tantalized with his big raw power. He hit .234 in 2019 and .204 in 2020, starting a combined 51 games.
DeFabbia, who also pitches, is a true freshman with a bright future.
“He is the son of a coach,” Trimper said, “and he has the best baseball IQ on our team.”
Kehl had an .890 OPS as a junior-college sophomore cleanup hitter in 2019, but he missed last season due to hand surgery.
Murphy, who hit .313 last season in 10 games, including five starts, is a super-sub who can play the outfield and the infield.
“Jake showed up as a true walk-on, and he has become our best defensive outfielder,” Trimper said. “He flies everywhere.”
The Hatters slugged six homers in 2020, and four of them were by Eric Foggo, who also hit .316. The 6-5, 260-pounder can play the corner infield spots and has added right field to his tool box. He projects as a draft choice in the top 15 rounds.
The Hatters lost star right-hander Robbie Peto, who signed with the Dodgers as an undrafted free agent. Peto went 3-0 with a 1.78 ERA in 2020, firing one-hit shutouts against Hartford and Air Force and then striking out 11 Ohio State batters in his final start.
Still, even without Peto — the team’s only significant departure from 2020 — the Hatters believe they have three big-time starters for the new year.
Nick Durgin, who went 2-0 with a 1.63 ERA in four starts as a true freshman last season, heads the rotation. He has great command of his fastball (89-91), a swing-and-miss curve and a good changeup.
Left-hander Daniel Paret, whose curve is just about as nasty as the hook Durgin possesses, posted a 3.61 ERA in 2019, when he became the first freshman in Stetson history to record 100 strikeouts. He pitched seven scoreless innings in 2020, striking out 11 while allowing just one hit.
LSU transfer Chase Costello, who had an 8.72 ERA on the Bayou, impressed this fall with a swing-and-miss changeup and a power curve.
Costello, draft eligible this year, also has the best fastball on the staff, according to Trimper. His heater (92-95 mph and up to 97) drew the attention of scouts as nearly a dozen of them were present for his every bullpen this fall.
“Some scouts told me Chase has the best fastball in the state, which is a bold statement,” Trimper said. “(Therneau) has really helped him with his command. His walk rate at LSU wasn’t great, but I had a long talk with the (Tigers coaches), and they think really highly of Chase. I just think Chase wanted to be closer to home (South Florida).”
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Beyond that big three, a pair of left-handers — fourth-year senior Chris Gonzalez and true freshman Anthony DeFabbia — will battle to start mid-week games and also work in relief.
Gonzalez, who had a 4.61 ERA in 27 innings last season, locates well and can throw any of his pitches for strikes, no matter the count.
DeFabbia has similar mound presence.
“He pitches like a college senior,” Trimper said, “even though he’s a freshman.”
The closer could either be fourth-year junior Garner Spoljaric or true freshman Jovan Gill, who is Stetson’s highest-rated recruit.
Spoljaric last season went 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA and Stetson’s only save, striking out 15 batters in 9.2 innings. Trimper said Spoljaric has the staff’s best slider, but the reliever has also had some fastball-command issues.
Gill, who fills the strike zone, has the best changeup on the staff, and it’s so wicked it has Therneau raving.
In the set-up role, Danny Garcia had a string of 10 consecutive scoreless innings last season, finishing with a 3.15 ERA. The previous year, he made Freshman All-America lists by posting a 5-1 record and a 1.22 ERA in 59 innings.
Nick Long, who got little mound time in two years with the Florida Gators, had a 0.00 ERA in 6.1 innings for Stetson last season. His velocity (92-93) is top three in this bullpen.
For lefties out of the bullpen, look for Nick Chiseri and Jonathon Gonzalez (Chris’ brother).
Josh Plummer, a Tennessee Volunteers transfer, has hit 94 mph, but he has been troubled by shoulder tendinitis.
Two pitchers will miss the 2021 season due to injuries: Kyle Yeoward and Seth Klaiber. However, true freshmen Austin Amaral and Jon Velasquez showed tremendous potential this fall, and they can make up the difference.