Silver Knights already shaping up for 2014

Makeovers have been the fashion rage over the years, but they often apply to sports teams, too. And a team you’d least expect to have one has just finished a remarkable transformation – the Nashua Silver Knights.

What? Didn’t the Futures Collegiate League’s top franchise win two FCBL titles and finish just shy of winning a third, reaching three straight championship finals? Yes, but that nucleus has eroded due to players wrapping up their eligibility, so Silver Knights Vice President of Player Personnel B.J. Neverett had to go to work.

The result? The 2014 Silver Knights may take the Holman Stadium diamond in early June with as many as 19 new players. That, by far, is the biggest turnover the team has had as it looks way ahead to Year Four.

“A lot of guys used up their eligibility,” Neverett said. “There’s a couple that still had time that we made decisions to go in a different direction. But part of the direction is the way the league is going.”

And that direction is to try to secure Division I players if possible. The off-season roster for the Silver Knights has 21 players from Division I schools, where in their inaugural year there were only a handful, if that.

“Now the Division I kids are coming around (the college coaches) are starting to send them here,” Neverett said. “It’s really hard not to take those kids. We have new schools we’re dealing with now.”

They include the University of Connecticut, St. John’s, Appalachian State, and Santa Clara, to name a few.

“We’re starting to branch out and get kids from other places,” Neverett said. “But we’re still getting our UMass-Lowell kids and we have a great mix of young kids from our area which we’re excited about. We don’t have as many as we’ve had, but it’s always been a priority for us to have as many local kids as we can that we feel can play in this league.

Most of the returnees are on the pitching staff, even though there are nine new pitchers. The arms returning are Nashua’s own Jake Mellin (Hartford), Merrimack’s Tom Hudon (St. Anselm College), Tom Baroni (Bates), Londonderry’s Geoff Fisher (UMass-Lowell), Cole Warren (Southern New Hampshire), Matt Tulley (Virginia Tech), Dan Kinnon (Southern Maine and Londonderry) and Tim Cashman (Merrimack College). Baroni and Fisher, of course were big setup relievers and Hudon (4-1, 1.49) and Mellin (4-0, 2.01) look to be at the top of the Silver Knights starting rotation next summer.

But if you’re looking for position players, the only ones on the off-season roster are first baseman/outfielder Jimmy Ricoy, DH Matt Mottola and outfielder Matt Sanchez (all UMass-Lowell).

“I’ve been taking emails since August and there’s been tremendous interest in the league, compared to even last year,” Neverett said. “If you think about it, we’re going to have 10 teams in the league, we’re going to have 300 kids in this league. That’s not even close to how many aren’t going to get in the league because we won’t have any room for them. People are noticing.”

The FCBL still competes with the New England Collegiate League for players, as the NECBL certainly has agreements with several schools. Those bonds stay firm, but a lot of Division I colleges are sending their freshmen – and, as Neverett noted, no red shirt freshmen.

“We want them to have played in the spring,” Neverett said, “and come here ready to play.”

Last year the Silver Knights were last in the FCBL in hitting at .249 and hit only 15 home runs all summer. No player hit more than two.

“We have some guys coming in that do have a reputation for hitting for power,” Neverett said. “Guys that will be in the middle of the order for their college teams.

“We’re hoping we can have a little more power on the field this year. These new kids coming in, we feel pretty good about their bats.”

Here’s a look at some of the newcomers, who have signed commitment agreements with the team:

OUTFIELD

Possible center fielder Griffin Garabedian is a freshman at the UConn, is 6-5 with speed and said to have the Huskies’ best arm. Carson Helms is a 6-3 sophomore out of Southern New Hampshire who transferred in from Virginia Tech and whom the Penmen project as their starting right fielder. He was red-shirted last year at Va. Tech after hitting .216 in 22 games as a freshman.

Scott Braren is a high school senior at Madison, Conn. and is assigned to the Knights by Boston College, which has done that in the past with Johnny Adams and Chris Shaw.

INFIELD

This is where a lot of the power resides.

Mike Pierson (short, second or third) is a sophomore this year, a middle of the order hitter at Applachian State. In the New York State Perfect Game League last summer he hit .400. “He’s a legit stick,” Neverett said. “He’s supposed to be a tremendous athlete.”

Middle infielder Riley Warnock (6-0, 170) is a freshman at the University of Rhode Island, a First-Team ESPN-All State player from Massachusetts (Andover). Kyle Czaplak, a true freshman at Santa Clara, is set to be that school’s starting shortstop and according to Neverett is “lightning”. “He’s probably going to be our leadoff hitter,” Neverett said.

“If he does really well we’re going to try to have him in Nashua for a couple of years. He’s a solid player.”

Harry Oringer (second or third base) is said to be Endicott College’s best overall player. Last spring he led the Gulls with 56 hits, batting .362 with a team-high on base percentage of .470. He also drove in 33 runs, stole 13 bases in 15 attempts, and had six doubles and a team-high four triples. He was a first team Commonwealth Coastal Conference player, making just seven errors at second.

Finally, Ed Paparella is a 6-3 switch hitter battling to be the St. John’s starting third baseman as a freshman. “I like big tall kids at the corners,” Neverett said. “He’s got good power from the left side.

“We’ve got some athletes.”

CATCHER

That’s obvious at catcher, where it will be all new. Pat Florence, a sophomore, is projected as the starting catcher at Merrimack College. Joey Scambia is a freshman at Northeastern, said to have a strong bat. Both are lefty hitters, Florence being more of a defensive player while Scambia can also play first and DH.

A UConn freshman, Trevor Holmes, who could be the Knights new closer this spring, can also catch, Neverett said, and could get at-bats as a DH.

PITCHERS

Pitching was never the problem for the Silver Knights in their first three seasons, but this year’s staff has been revamped in some ways.

“The new guys we’re adding are power pitchers,” Neverett said. “Some may hit 90 miles an hour, and a couple of guys may do better than that. One of things I wanted to upgrade was guys who throw harder. Martha’s Vineyard (who beat Nashua in the finals) had a staff of power guys who could get the ball up there. We’ve improved a lot there.”

Start with 6-3 righty Sam Nepiarsky, who threw 87-89 during UConn’s fall season as a freshman. Holmes this fall was a surprise for the Huskies, Neverett said, and could throw as hard as 88-90.

A.J. Gale is a 6-1, 205 pound righty freshman from St. John’s. Two other St. John’s pitchers are lefty freshman Alec Brown and 6-3, 205-pound junior Shawn Heide.

Other new pitchers are Northeastern freshman Dustin Hunt (6-4, 180 righty, the No. 1 starter for St. John’s Prep last year); righty Ryan Moloney (Londonderry, UMass-Amherst) and former Trinity standout Carmen Giampetruzzi (Boston College).

The only local newcomer is Nashua North alum Mike Robert, who threw hard for the Penmen of SNHU in the fall. “They’ve been raving about him there,” Neverett said. “He’s 6-4. “When all is said and done, people will notice that we’re going to be physically big. It’s a good looking group. I’m pretty happy with it.”