BY CANDACE MARTINO
After winning the 2015 Division II Baseball National Championship, the Tampa Spartans enter the 2016 season not only as a heavy favorite to win the Sunshine State Conference (SSC) but also as one of the top contenders for taking the College World Series for a second straight year.
With only a handful of days left before the season opener, the Spartans are gearing up for what could be their eighth national title in school history. Let’s take a look at this year’s probable lineup and roster review.
- Casey Scoggins, CF
- Kevin Santa, SS
- Laz Rivera, 2B
- Adrian Chacon, 1B
- J.D Osborne (D.H), C
- Matt Piatt, LF
- Zion Bell, RF
- Mike Kleinman, C
- David Heintz RHP
- Kevin Martin LHP
- Michael Calkins LHP
- Brett Morales RHP
Tampa, who finished second in the SSC last year, will face one of their toughest schedules to date. The season slate consists of seven nationally ranked non-conference opponents, including Georgia College, West Florida, and a home battle with Catawba, a rematch of last year’s national championship game. The Spartans the clear cut conference favorite, but face stiff competition from their highly ranked in-state rivals, Florida Tech (7), Nova Southeastern (17), and Lynn (20).
The Spartans return only two offensive starters from last season: outfielder Casey Scoggins and third baseman Cody deNoyelles. Scoggins, who hit a whopping .352 , can also play defense. Last year, he was the winner of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award and named National Defender of the Year. DeNoyelles was awarded honorable mention in the All-South Regional games and first-team All-SSC. Both returners will be a major component for the Spartans as they look to provide leadership and experience.
“We have to tell the guys this is how it goes and what to expect. Some kids get caught off guard by the way things work around here. So we have to make sure that by the time season starts we are ready to go and on the same page,” Scoggins said.
Looking to fill the infield void will be shortstop Kevin Santa along with second baseman Laz Rivera. Santa recently transferred from Chipola College where he had a successful short-term career hitting a .381 batting average that included three home runs. Rivera, also a Chipola College transfer, tallied five home runs, 42 runs batted in, and posted a 20-game hitting streak last season.
The two newcomers will play a vital part in powering the Spartan’s high-octane offense replacing many graduated hitters.
“Our lineup is strong enough to where we can pick each other up and perform as one. I’ve been improving on my swing working with our staff and feel as my job to our team is to be a consistent hitter throughout the year,” Rivera said.
University of Florida junior transfer Brett Morales, a right-handed pitcher, is also hoping to make an impact. Morales was drafted directly out of high school by the Cincinnati Reds but deferred the offer in order to play collegiate baseball at UF. Morales came to Tampa looking to make an immediate impact in the pitching rotation and will soon be ready to step up.
“I believe the pitching staff has an opportunity to be really great. We have a lot of good arms and if everyone is able to stay healthy, it’s very possible to make a run at winning it all again. That’s what I came here to do, to help this team win,” Morales said.
One familiar face that will help reinforce a solid pitching rotation is senior left-handed pitcher Michael Calkins. Calkins was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player in the 2015 National Championship game where he threw a complete game four-hitter to seal the national title. Calkins will lead the way on the mound for the Spartans entering the season with nothing but pride in his team.
“I’m more confident than ever pitching this year thanks to our defense.” Calkin said. “We’ve got some great players in the field and that makes it much easier.”
The Spartans take the field this Friday at 6:00 pm against Bentley College at Sam Bailey Field on campus. Admission is free for students.