BY GABE COHN
On Friday, Jan. 28, the Spartans began their 2016 regular season campaign against the Bentley Falcons at Sam Bailey Field, defeating them soundly 7-2. Prior to the first pitch, five players stood with their hats tipped for a beautiful ceremony under the Tampa sunset as they were honored for being drafted in the MLB First-Year Player Draft this past June. Former Spartan shortstop Giovanny Alfonzo, third baseman Nick Flair, outfielder Stephen Dezzi, OF Andrew Amaro and relief pitcher Dylan Barrow were recognized for their accomplishments at UTampa and their strong results in the draft.
UT has had a strong track record in the MLB First-Year Player Draft over the last five years including a five-player draft class last year, a six-player draft class in 2013 and a school record nine-player class in 2010. The nine players drafted in 2010 ranked sixth amongst all colleges represented; an incredible feat for any school, let alone a Division II program.
The main reason for the draft success has been the team’s recent championship success: four national Championships in the last 10 seasons (2006, 2007, 2013, 2015). Along with the four championships, the Spartans have racked up three 50-plus victory seasons (2006, 2007, 2014) and five 40-plus victory (2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2015) in the last ten seasons.
Spartans head coach Joe Urso, along with associate head coach Sam Militello (a former New York Yankees pitcher) have developed an exemplary program at UT which has attracted talented players from across the country. Urso explained why his players are having so much success in the draft and how the program has helped guide them.
“Our practice program mirrors a pro baseball practice plan which prepares our players for a future in pro baseball,” Urso said. “After our players get drafted, a lot of scouts are pleasantly surprised because of just how ready players are for baseball beyond college.”
Throughout the offseason and regular season, MLB scouts are in constant contact with head coaches from colleges across the nation, asking them their opinion on players from their teams and hoping to get a gauge on a player’s ability and personality.
“Because of [Miritello and I’s] background, we know what it takes to play at the pro level,” Urso said. “So, when we talk to scouts they ask us for our advice throughout the scouting process, and since they trust our judgment, it helps get our players drafted.”
With a new season comes new potential draft selections for the Spartans. To be eligible for the draft, players must be at least 21 years of age or be of at least junior status. According to Urso, here is a list of players who could potentially be selected in the 2016 MLB first-year player draft:
Brett Morales, RHP, Jr.
Kevin Martin, LHP, Sr.
David Heinz, RHP, Sr.
Michael Calkins, LHP, Sr.
Chris Williams, RHP, Jr.
Casey Scoggins, OF, Sr.
Cody deNoylles, 3B, Sr.
Kevin Santa, SS, Jr.
Laz Rivera, 2B, Jr.
Adrian Chacon, Jr.
Casey Scoggins and Cody deNollyes are the only two offensive starters remaining from last year’s championship team and are continuing to build a stronger draft resume. Last season Scoggins, along with winning a Rawlings gold glove and becoming the National Defender of the Year, hit an outstanding .352, scored 59 runs and stole fifteen bags in 55 games. DeNollyes, who was awarded an honorable mention in the All-South Regional games and a first-team All-SSC spot, hit .367, scored 47 runs and hit nine home runs in 55 games. The rest of the list provided is filled with talented transfers looking for a greater opportunity and the core four that make up the Spartans starting rotation.
Along with the opportunity to play in front of scouts during their DII schedule, the Spartans will also get another chance to play the Philadelphia Phillies in an exhibition game on Feb. 29. This game will again give players the chance to get their name out there and potentially increase their draft stock. Last season, former Spartan shortstop Giovanny Alfonzo hit a grand slam against the Phillies in a winning effort (fourth college to beat an MLB team).
“I think it may have given me some exposure to some scouts or teams that didn’t know who I was,” Alfonzo said. “I received quite a few calls after that game and all the scouts that I spoke to afterwards mentioned the grand slam and how my name was now on the map, which was pretty cool.”
These potential draftees will have plenty of opportunities this season to get scouts’ attention and gain teams’ interests as the Spartans try to go for back-to-back championships and three in four years.