FAU freshman shortstop Mitch Morales started 50 games this season. (Owl Access photo)
Grew up in a hurry
Many FAU underclassmen received more playing time than expected this season, which should help the Owls in 2013.
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The Florida Atlantic baseball team accomplished one of its goals and fell short on another in 2012.
The Owls went 32-22 and won the the Sun Belt Conference regular-season championship, but didn't make it to the NCAA Regionals.
Neither of those facts will lead directly to the Owls having a successful 2013 season.
However, how the Owls won that championship could help them next season.
Injuries forced many players into more action than they might have seen otherwise.
“I think going into the year we had expectations and despite all the injuries we had, for these guys to win a championship in a good league like the Sun Belt is really impressive,” McCormack said. “And we have a lot to build on with a lot of those guys coming back.”
It certainly wasn't by plan.
But after injuries sidelined outfielder Alex Hudak, outfielder Nathan Pittman and infielder Robert Buckley, many younger players received valuable playing time.
“That's going to be huge down the road,” McCormack said. “I look at a guy like Rickey Santiago, who had 87 at bats as a freshman. That's more than a lot of guys got when they were freshman.”
On the mound pitcher Kevin Alexander had a solid return after a elbow soreness and Bo Logan showed some promise, as did Jake Meiers, who struggled early but settled down toward the end of the season.
“We had guys that even though they didn't have great years, showed they could pitch,” McCormack said.
Mike Albaladejo and Alex Hudak were the only starting position to exhaust their eligibility, but third baseman Kyle Newton became a 19th round selection this week and that will likely be enough to prompt the junior to turn pro. Friday starter Ryan Garton also graduated, and FAU fans have sadly seen the last of Ahmed Garcia's quirky but surprisingly effective delivery. R.J. Alvarez, a junior, was a thrid round draft choice of the Angles and is not expecting to return to FAU.
However, after seeing their potential replacements play this season, McCormack is confident about the program's direction.
“I think we are going to be better off for it,” McCormack said. “And the best part about is that we played a lot of young guys and we still won the conference.”
2012 Season Reload
Season highlight: Dominance over FIU.
FAU started the year off right by sweeping Alabama in Tuscaloosa, but the season sweep of Florida International proved even sweeter. The Owls opened Sun Belt play by taking three from the Panthers in Miami, then clinched the regular season title by taking two more from FIU to end the regular season (the final game was rained out). If you don't make the NCAA tournament, there will rarely be a bigger highpoint than winning the conference title while your rival watches the celebration.
Biggest disappointment: Missing the NCAA tournament.
The Owls won the regular season Sun Belt title, but were eliminated in pool play after one loss. A double-elimination baseball tournament has it's flaws – most notably that it requires a lot of pitching – but even that seems better than a system that allows the No. 1 seed to be bounced after one loss. FAU is home for the summer. The pool play system for the Sun Belt baseball tournament is up for a vote in a couple weeks. Early indications are that pool play will be scrapped.
Team MVP: 2B/C Mike Albaladejo
R.J. Alvarez was lights all year and nothing was more entertaining than watching the scouts raise those radar guns to clock pitches in the upper 90s. However, this award can't go to a player who participated in three innings per week. Albaladejo has been the heart of the Owls for the past three seasons. Playing in every game, he lead the Owls with a .358 average and provided big hit after big hit. Three Owls were drafted this week, but no one was more important to this club.
Newcomer of the yea: SS Mitch Morales
Morales struggled at times defensively and his bat disappeared during the tournament, but he still played shortstop in all but three games for the Owls as a freshman. That's a mighty feat. He'll certainly continue to improve in the off-season and gives FAU coach John McCormack a player to build around in the coming years. Among pitchers, Austin Gomber stepped into the Sunday starter role and went 3-4 with a 3.82 ERA despite tiring down the stretch. He, too, will continue to improve.
Comeback player of year: P Kevin Alexander
Coming off Tommy John surgery, Kevin Alexander stabilized the weekend rotation in conference play. Alexander missed a few starts when his elbow acted up, but he showed the potential to be a top of the rotation starter next season.