Observer Sports Writers | Thursday, February 14, 2013
Notre Dame has a handful of talent returning for the 2013 season, but no one has garnered as much national attention as junior third baseman Eric Jagielo. He led the Big East with 13 home runs in 2012 to go along with a .310 batting average and 43 RBIs. Jagielo batted .291 with 13 home runs in the Cape Cod League this summer and has been tabbed by many as a potential first-round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft.
Notre Dame has one of the best closers in the nation in junior Dan Slania. He’s available to come in and shut the door on opponents as long as the Irish can maintain a lead late into ballgames. The righthander led the Big East in saves (12) and appearances (31) in 2012. While there were talks of moving Slania to the starting rotation, Irish coach Mik Aoki said he will remain in his closing role for now. Whatever role he’s used in, Slania will be a key contributor in 2013.
The number three has become an intriguing theme for Notre Dame in 2013. In his third season as skipper, Aoki leads the Irish, predicted to finish in the No. 3 spot in the Big East by the conference’s coaches. He will rely on a trio of third-year players, Eric Jagielo, Dan Slania and Trey Mancini to live up to their selections on the preseason all-Big East team. With a successful season, the Irish could be in contention for an NCAA tournament appearance, the third in school history.
Junior catcher Forrest Johnson will step into the starting role behind home plate, filling the void left by Joe Hudson, who was taken by the Reds in last year’s MLB Draft. Notre Dame will rely on Johnson, who has appeared in just one career game, to handle Notre Dame’s veteran pitching staff. That will be no easy task, but the Irish coaches were unanimous in their praise for Johnson, who all agreed he is Notre Dame’s most improved player entering the season.
Jagielo and fellow junior Trey Mancini made for a formidable one-two punch in the middle of Notre Dame’s order in 2012, and Irish fans can expect that same power this season. Jagielo and Mancini combined for 25 home runs in 2012, helping Notre Dame lead the Big East in that category. Aoki said he expects both Jagielo and Mancini to be generating quite a bit of buzz come the June MLB draft.
We see the Irish in Omaha this summer as they “establish [themselves] as a Big East contender and an NCAA contender,” Aoki said. To do this, Notre Dame needs to win the midweek games and compete for all five games of the week at a high level. The Irish have a deep enough lineup of proven veteran talent and new young guns to do so.
Notre Dame continues to struggle with confidence issues and gets overwhelmed by its schedule. The Irish have the toughest schedule in the Big East, with harsh non-conference games and road trips to co-Big East Champions Louisville and St. John’s. Notre Dame will play 11 games against teams that reached the NCAA tournament, seven of those against teams that advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals or College World Series.
Notre Dame (31-27, 14-13 Big East) had promising moments last season, but hit a mid-season wall that took too long to overcome, Aoki said. “I think our confidence eroded sometimes when we lost a couple of tough games on the road or in the conference and then lost a game that on paper we weren’t supposed to lose,” he said. Notre Dame made it to the semifinals of the Big East tournament, but a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to St. John’s ended its run.
Series to Watch
There will be a wait for this series, as it takes place on May 11 and 12, but the wait will be well worth it. Last season in conference play, St. John’s swept the Irish at Eck Stadium in a three-game series, 6-4, 6-4, 3-1 respectively. When the two teams met again in the Big East tournament, the Red Storm routed the Irish in the first round 12-2. After advancing through two elimination games against Rutgers (9-0) and Seton Hall (4-3), Notre Dame was once again shut down by the Red Storm 2-1 in the semifinals and was eliminated from the tournament. St. John’s won the Big East last year and advanced to the Tuscon Super Regional, finishing with a 40-23 record. The Irish will seek vengeance against St. John’s at Jack Kaiser Stadium in Queens, N.Y. in May.