The first pitch for Rutgers Baseball is right around the corner and the team is gearing up for what it hopes will be another historic campaign.
The Scarlet Knights finished 44-15 last season, 17-7 in the Big Ten. They fell short in the Big Ten Championship Game to Michigan. Coming into the season, Rutgers is ranked 29th in the nation, according to a December College Baseball Preview.
With the season scheduled to begin on Feb. 17 with a three-game set against Campbell in Buies Creek, NC, we will breakdown each position group that Rutgers will go with this year.
Nick Cimillo, a 16th-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates, led the Big Ten with a .385 batting average last season. Now, as he chases a dream at the next level, Rutgers will feature a new backstop for the 2023 season.
Andy Axelson leads a group of returners. He made 21 appearances last season, including 12 starts, and slashed .279/.415/.419. Danny Melnick transfers in after three years at Quinnipiac. The junior was named First Team All-MAAC and ABCA/Rawlings Northeast All-Region First Team after logging a .344/.422/.656 slash line.
Melnick hit 11 home runs and totaled 33 RBI while throwing out 13 runners from behind the plate as well. Rutgers has Melnick listed as a catcher/outfielder on its roster page but could see the transfer take over behind the dish on a consistent basis.
Another catcher/outfielder on the roster is freshman Hugh Pinkney. The Toronto product was drafted in the 17th round by the San Diego Padres but Pinkney decided to honor his commitment to Rutgers. Pinkney was part of the Canadian National Team in the 2022 U-18 Baseball World Cup. He is likely to get time behind the plate and in the outfield from time to time.
Sophomore Jason Shockley returns after a year when he appeared in 16 games, making five starts. He hit .217 with three RBI.
With Cimillo moving onto the big leagues, the Scarlet Knights will have plenty of options to replace him. Pinkney and Melnick have a chance to produce at multiple positions. It will be interesting to see if head coach Steve Owens decides to use a platoon at catcher or hands someone the full-time job.
Axelson will also be in the mix as the main returner who was in Piscataway last season. If Rutgers gets consistent production from its backstop, it will be a huge boost for the offense.