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Stony Brook baseball seeking help from lots of newcomers

Infielder Evan Goforth (foreground) makes a relay throw in practice on Wednesday, Jan. 24. Goforth is a transfer from Indiana who is likely to be a starter on the Stony Brook baseball team this year. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

Coming off one of its most disappointing years ever, the Stony Brook baseball team is looking to get the bad taste out of its mouth. After finishing last season 23-29 overall and 14-16 in Colonial — now Coastal — Athletic Association (CAA) play, the Seawolves suffered even more losses in the offseason. Several star players and long-tenured veterans either graduated or transferred, leaving many big holes for head coach Matt Senk and his staff to fill.

Senk cast a wide net while recruiting this offseason and brought in 20 new players — 10 through the transfer portal and 10 freshmen. With this vast crop of newcomers, the Seawolves will hope to get into the 2024 CAA baseball tournament.

A handful of these new faces are likely starters, or at least top options off the bench.

Evan Goforth spent his first two seasons at the University of Indiana in the Big Ten Conference as a utility infielder. In 2022, Goforth played all four infield positions for the Hoosiers and batted .283 with a .404 on-base percentage in 46 at-bats, earning a spot on the 2022 All-Big Ten Freshman Team. He took a step back in his sophomore year, going just 3-for-20 with his first career home run before spending the summer in the transfer portal.

After playing for the Keene Swamp Bats in a collegiate summer league with left fielder Matt Brown-Eiring, Goforth opted to join Stony Brook. Now, he is an early frontrunner for the starting third base position.

At the plate, Goforth will provide the Seawolves with good discipline and gap power which he is looking to build upon.

“I think I’ve done a really good job over the past two years, both in collegiate seasons and in summer ball seasons, being more selective at the plate and getting on base of time,” Goforth said in an interview with The Statesman. “Definitely looking forward to getting in hitters counts, and then doing more damage.”

Though Goforth is a Power Five transfer, most of the other acquisitions from the portal come from schools below the NCAA Division I level. Eight transfers all spent last year playing college baseball in either Division II, Division III or at the junior college (JUCO) level.

Senk is not trying to be cute by bringing in sub-Division I recruits. Simply, he thinks they are good enough to contribute to his team.

“There are late bloomers,” Senk said. “They end up going to [Division] II’s and III’s and they have outstanding careers. Then, they go out and play summer ball against some of the best Division I players in the country and more than hold their own. We’re very comfortable that we went out and evaluated these guys … and we think they are going to help us be successful.”

One of those four guys is a top candidate to crack the opening day starting lineup: outfielder Rob Taylor. The fifth-year player spent his first four seasons raking at the Division II level with the University of New Haven, where he posted a .342/.396/.526 slash line and batted .373 last year. He has good speed and stole 21 bases in 2023 while only being caught once.

Taylor is also a fundamentally sound defender and his speed allows him to play center field, where he will likely start. This helps the entire defense, as it will allow Senk to keep second baseman Evan Fox in his natural position, rather than bounce him between center field and the middle infield from game to game.

Despite the disparity in competition level between Divisions I and II, Taylor remains confident that his strong numbers will translate to success this year.

“New Haven really helped me shape the player that I am now,” Taylor said. “Bringing it to a higher level here at Stony Brook … I feel like I have a lot to rely on. I think I’ve set a good base for myself with what I’ve learned and the skills that I’ve adapted to and developed.”

While the catcher situation will likely be a battle between returners Ryan Micheli and Chris Leone, Stony Brook also brought in Nick Solorzano: a switch-hitting backstop from the junior college level. In two years at Cosumnes River College, he slashed .336/.458/.504 with 17 doubles, eight home runs and 65 runs batted in (RBI).

Solorzano gives opposing pitchers a new slugger to deal with in the middle of the Seawolves’ lineup. As a switch hitter, Solorzano also provides Stony Brook with a newfound offensive versatility.

“It almost feels like an extra guy off the bench,” Solorzano said. “Instead of having just one right-handed hitter or a left-handed hitter, I feel like I can fill both roles and help out in multiple ways.”

Right-handed pitcher John Rizzo is also another new face. After spending two years in the starting rotation at Adelphi University — a Division II school — the Seawolves brought him in to try and rebuild their pitching staff.

Rizzo went 8-4 with a 3.70 earned run average (ERA) in his freshman year across 15 outings and nine starts. He earned a selection to the 2022 All-Northeast-10 Third Team that year along with the conference’s All-Rookie team. Last year, his ERA ballooned to 5.74 due to an uptick in walks and home runs, although he still averaged only three walks per nine innings. However, his peripheral numbers were very good, as he held opponents to just a .234 batting average while posting a 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings rate across 69 innings.

However, Rizzo’s status is unknown to the public, and he may not pitch this year. He is recovering from an unspecified elbow surgery that he underwent in July. However, he will have at least another year of eligibility (two if he sits this year) to showcase himself in the future.

The final lower-division transfer is corner infielder Cal Parillo, who primarily plays third base. He was a full-time starter for three years at the Division III level with Rhode Island College, where he slashed .387/.455/.558 with 35 doubles. He also had the same number of walks (51) as strikeouts.

Parillo only has 12 career home runs in 462 at-bats, but he has shown the ability to shorten up and drive runs in when his team needs it. Parillo averaged more than an RBI per game in all three years of his career in his last stop, driving in 141 runs in 116 games. However, he struggles with the glove, but he still may see time at third base and as a designated hitter.

The other five transfers are currently not listed on Stony Brook Athletics’ website: outfielder Cam Santerre and right-handed relief pitchers Ty Saunders, Tyler Stout, Alex Jankowski and Jacob Pedersen.

Santerre is a fifth-year player who batted .367 with a .508 on-base percentage at the Division III level. Speed is his game, as he has totaled eight triples and 103 stolen bases in just 111 attempts. He is also not afraid to get hit, as he has been plunked 45 times over the last three years, including 19 in each of the previous two. His speed and knack for reaching base have him in the running for the starting job in center field.

Saunders is a Swiss Army knife. He plays the left side of the infield and switch-hits to go along with his pitching. He spent the first four years of his career at the University of Portland, but did not find much success on the field on either side. He will only be used on the mound this year.

Stout is a graduate student who began his career in the NJCAA at Modesto Junior College before spending the last two years at the University of the Pacific. However, he struggled there, pitching to a 9.85 ERA and a .379 batting average against.

Jankowski is a junior who began his career at Radford University and pitched to a 9.90 ERA in 20 innings, but opponents hit only .240 against him. He spent last year with Gaston College at the JUCO level and posted a 5.40 ERA, a 1.54 walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP) and a 9.26 strikeouts per nine innings rate.

Pedersen is a transfer who is now a junior from Division II Adelphi who is currently ineligible to play, as this is just his first semester enrolled with Stony Brook. Pedersen is a hard thrower, but he pitched to just a 5.54 ERA, a .298 batting average against and a 1.62 WHIP in 65 innings across two seasons.

Of the 10 freshmen, Senk highlighted several potential difference-makers. One of the early favorites to win the right field job is Chris Carson — a left-handed power bat.

“Great athlete, great size and you know, he might be a freshman that put himself right in the mix to start,” Senk said.

Also among the freshmen are a pair of left-handed pitchers who figure to be integral parts of Senk’s staff right away. Erik Paulsen — seen by many as the prized signing of the offseason — is a two-way first baseman/pitcher combination with a lot of power at the plate and plus stuff on the mound.

Despite a strong fastball, Paulsen will look to get outs with the help of his defense. 

“I’m definitely a ‘pitch-to-contact’ guy,” Paulsen said. “Every one of my pitches move … I try to locate and have quick and efficient innings.”

Senk spoke highly of the lefty’s maturity as a pitcher at such a young age. 

“He really does a lot of things well on the mound,” Senk said. “He’s probably sitting 88 [miles per hour] and he shows a couple of good breaking balls, some offspeed stuff.”

Paulsen is not the only freshman southpaw that will get meaningful innings this year. Nick Rizzo — John’s younger brother — is another first-year who Senk is bullish on.

“He could potentially be a weekend guy,” Senk said. “He’s an ultra competitor.”

Another freshman who may see the field is yet another two-way: infielder/right-handed pitcher Matt Jackson. He provides power as a left-handed bat and a lot of speed on the basepaths. He has played both second and third base during preseason practices, but the coaching staff is still looking to find him a specific position. As for his pitching, he is not expected to get a lot of innings as he continues to develop from there.

Though Jackson is still learning, Senk sees a lot of potential in him — especially with his bat.

“When he’s on the barrel, I mean, the ball just explodes off his bat,” Senk said. “Coming out of the left side of the batter’s box, he flies down the line. But you know, he’s a little inconsistent right now.”

The other two freshman hitters — outfielder Ben Bolhouse and catcher Scott Gell — are currently blocked by returning veterans. Righties Eric Mohr, Zion Fraser, Ty Panariello and lefty Conor Flynn round out the large class of freshman pitchers.

Though none of these guys — transfers or freshmen — have the experience of being full-time players at the Division I level, Senk will give all of them shots to prove themselves this year.

“Winning is the expectation of the program, and you are here to meet those expectations,” Senk said. “We’ve always thought of our program as a meritocracy. If our freshmen are our best players … we play freshmen.”

If Stony Brook is to have a bounce-back season, it will need production from its new cast of characters. The Seawolves will unveil their new core on Friday, Feb. 16 in Sugar Land, Texas when they take on Purdue to open their season.

Mike Anderson also contributed reporting.

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