Baseball Preview: Blanchard's senior leadership guides Bucs' infield heading into 2017 season

Baseball Preview: Blanchard's senior leadership guides Bucs' infield heading into 2017 season

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern baseball begins this weekend as the Buccaneers host Delaware State at the CSU Ballpark on February 17-19. The Bucs open the season with 11 of their first 12 games at home before traveling to Florida International on March 9-11.

The Bucs enter their first season under the helm of interim head coach Adam Ward and will host 29 games at the CSU Ballpark in 2017.

The CSU Sports Information Department introduced the catchers on Monday (read here) and the pitching staff on Tuesday (read here). The season preview will conclude tomorrow with the outfield.

Charleston Southern Infielders
ReturnersNate Blanchard, Brandon Gragilla

NewcomersKyle Vesnesky, Alex Andronica, Jason Miller, Tyler Kinney, Justin Dahill, Aaron Miller, Ryan Stoudemire, Dan Vaughan, Isaiah Dean

Blanchard returns as one of CSU's top hitters in the lineup as one of three Buccaneers to post a .300 batting average in the 2016 season. The corner infielder also doubled as CSU's leadoff man for a majority of the year and is the only returning player to play in all 53 games last season. Blanchard finished second on the team with 64 hits and added 10 doubles, two home runs, and 22 RBI.

Gragilla started 14 games and appeared in 29 games as a designated hitter and pinch-hitter in his first season with the Buccaneers. He connected on a pair of home runs and added five doubles from the left side of the plate. He added three multi-hit games, including a 3-for-5 effort in a 17-5 win at Winthrop this past May.

Notes about the CSU Infield

  • Blanchard had 21 multi-hit games in the 2016 season, good for second-most on the team
  • Charleston Southern's infield welcomes four transfers to the 2017 roster in Kyle Vesnesky (Broward College), Jason Miller (USC Sumter), Tyler Kinney (Sante Fe College), and Isaiah Dean (South Florida St. College)
  • Among the infielders, three Bucs hail from the Palmetto State with Jason Miller (Summerville), Aaron Miller (Summerville), and Ryan Stoudemire (Pomaria) all representing South Carolina in the infield
  • Four CSU freshmen were recognized among Perfect Game's top 1,000 prospects in the country with Alex Andronica, Justin Dahill, Ryan Stoudemire, Dan Vaughan all receiving recognition
  • Vesnesky hit .259 at Broward College in 2016 prior to transferring to CSU this past year. The junior transfer added nine doubles and 10 stolen bases in his sophomore season.
  • Andronica was a Perfect Game Preseason All-American and All-Region honorable mention selection in 2016 at South Forsyth High School
  • Jason Miller paced USC Sumter with a team-high .413 batting average last season on his way to leading the Fire Ants in hits (76), triples (4), and home runs (5)
  • Kinney saw action in 45 games last season at Sante Fe College, hitting .288 with eight doubles and five home runs with the Saints. Kinney contributed to the Sante Fe team advancing to the Division I NJCAA World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.
  • Dahill was a three-year varsity letter winner and starter at St. Petersburg Catholic High School earning All-District honors twice with the Barons
  • Aaron Miller, a true freshman from Ashley Ridge High School, Miller earned All-Region 8-AAAA honors and All-State honors during his playing career with the Swamp Fox
  • A three-time All-Region selection, Stoudemire will potentially see time at both first base and on the mound in the 2017 season. He was also named the Most Valuable Pitcher in the 2015 American Legion State Tournament
  • Vaughan was a four-year letter winner and starter at South Dade High School and was a key member of South Dade's FHSAA State Championship team in 2014
  • Dean was third on the South Florida State College team in stolen bases with 16 and finished the 2015 season with 26 hits and 20 runs scored

Ward on the CSU Infield
"We lost three starting infielders to graduation from last year's team, so a big priority in our recruiting was finding players to replace those departing infielders. I think we did that by bringing in several very talented freshmen and a few quality junior college transfers. Nate Blanchard is our lone returning starter and he will be counted on to be our leader in the middle of the infield." - CSU interim head coach Adam Ward on the infield.

Q&A with senior infielder Nate Blanchard
All this time and preparation for the 2017 season and you're less than a week away from first pitch. What goes through your mind as you continue to prepare for the 2017 season?
"We just have to stay on the grind and stay focused on the main goal of winning games. I'm trying to look past last year and not even think about it. This year we've got a new head coach, new assistants, new volunteers, new freshmen coming in; it's a big change of pace. We'll have a lot of freshmen contributing to the overall picture of the team this year and I'm just getting prepared for the season."

As one of three seniors on the team, how have you seen your leadership skills develop over the fall while working with the team and heading into this week?
"One of my goals back in the fall was to work with the freshmen and have them realize how important they are to the team and that I love them already. Being a senior, you want guys to understand they are important and key to the success of the team. Regardless of what the role is, whether it's chasing a foul ball, painting the lines, raking the bases between innings or making the play in a big situation, everybody has a role and is important to the overall picture and success of the team."

You were one of just three players on the roster last season to play in all 53 games. How do you mentally and physically prepare for each game?
"I try to get my work in every day. It's about getting in the cage early and taking the ground balls and just embracing the grind of the season. I realize that I'm not going to be at my best every day, especially as I've gotten older. Stuff starts hurting a little more every day, but just have to stay on top of yourself and continue to work with the younger guys to keep every body's spirits up and get the positive vibes up."

A lot of home games early in the season are good for a team to relax and get on a roll. What are you most looking forward to the early schedule?
"I'm definitely looking forward to just being able to get the Bucs baseball name out there again. Last year we started at The Joe, which is cool because it's a minor league stadium, but playing at 11 a.m. was not ideal. Being able to start at home and winning at home early will definitely increase our fans when it comes to conference games. Home games and home wins are huge."

Any series, dates you are most looking forward to this season?
"Spring Break is going to be a fun trip this year going down to FIU. Also, through playing summer ball I've got a lot of guys that I've gotten to know from Presbyterian and Liberty. Clemson and South Carolina will be fun again this year too. If I had to circle one, though, it would be the final home weekend against Air Force. That will be cool getting to play against future servicemen. The conference tournament for sure."

What do you have to say to encourage fans to come out to the Ballpark and watch the Bucs this season?
"To quote Mike Sconzo, 'You've got to bring the juice!'. It'll be a good season and we're looking to have a lot of fans coming out to support us at the Ballpark this year. Go Bucs."