YBL Team Previews:
Al Thomas As – The Athletics closed out the 2016 season on the biggest YBL stage, ultimately falling to the Alibrandis in the Championship Series for the second time in 3 years. A perennial run-scoring machine, the As should make another strong move in the postseason but it looks to be a more difficult road than in recent seasons. The As have always had good pitching, but have relied on the bats in the fruit of their order to lift them to a spot among the YBL elite. 2017 will present another challenge as the green machine has lost two of their top three starting pitchers. Willie Archibald is gone due to career responsibilities, and Bobby Freeman will be maintaining his arm strength by chucking balls into the ocean in his new uniform as a member of the US Coast Guard. The ATBC will be bringing in a class of rookies that includes their first legacy, Lloyd Hill from Bentley. Additionally, the status of break-out RBI king Matt Rodriguez is up in the air, so the As were proactive in adding 2015 Silver Slugger Marty Dunlap to shore up the backstop and give the lineup yet another big stick. Perhaps most impressively, 2017 will be the first year that the Al Thomas Baseball Club will be awarding its first annual Alfred D. Thomas Baseball Scholarship. On May 30, the team will present this scholarship to a member of the Milton High Baseball Team, and will look to build on that in the years to come.
Brighton Black Sox – The 2017 season will mark the 10th year for John Griffith as franchise holder of the Black Sox. After a 1st-round exit at the hands of the A’s last year, the black and white look to return to the playoffs with most of their core intact and bringing on some new weapons. With 4-time Gold Glove winner Matt Nicholson anchoring the rotation and the hopeful return of healthy arms Joe Shebertes and JT Ross, the Sox have a good shot at improving on last year’s 4.08 team ERA. On top of that, they bring in Mickey Donnelly from Rider to hopefully replace the bulk of Rooney’s lost innings. On offense, Brighton loses Rob O’Neil but will be getting back the services of Collin Geagan and Aqib Shah who both spent last year in boot camp. The Sox will play the majority of their home games at Brandeis University again this year.
Brighton Braves – Los Bravos have made the playoffs the last two seasons, most recently losing to the As in the 2016 semifinals. Barring unforeseen changes, the majority of last year’s team should be back. Team ace (and arguably the league’s ace) and dual-threat Mike Smith will continue to do his thing, and the Braves have strong wings behind him in Sam Kennedy Smith, Richard Arms and Greg Sherman. They also possess plenty of offense to keep them in any game with Alex Joyce, Billy Uberti, Stephen Robb, and 2016’s YBL steals co-leader Alex Lee. And never sleep on Ted Tracy, who enters his 14th year in a Braves uniform and averaging almost 80abs over that stretch. The Braves are never shy on talent and will likely go through one of their typical stretches where they run off wins in 10 of 11 games. A likely playoff contender, they’ll need a hot streak in the playoffs or another piece added to the puzzle to have a legitimate shot at the YBL crown.
Charlestown Townies – The new kids joined the YBL in 2016, a league that expected them to struggle while they acclimated themselves to the talent level. And struggle out of the gates they did. They lost their first 8 games, and started out winning only two of their first thirteen games (thanks to the benevolence of the Savin Hill Dodgers). But they soon found some firm footing and went 8-11 the rest of the way, including two wins apiece over the Black Sox and Knights. Then there was the 1-0 shutout over the Beacons, 8 innings and 33 combined strikeouts that let the league know that these kids will likely only get better. With Noah Zavolas at the top of the rotation, a couple more pieces and a season of experience could propel them to a sophomore surge and a playoff berth.
East Boston Knights – A powerhouse for most recent seasons, the Knights struggled a little last year and ended up in the bottom half of the playoff field with a sub-.500 win percentage. They still feature a long list of strong fixtures in their lineup with Jose Paulino, Kenny Polanco, Wilson Mercado and Kenny Polanco. Perhaps the most interesting thing to see is whether or not Victor Lebron will return to his 2014 form. Last year he was solid, hitting .316 with 18 stolen bases. But 2014 Lebron was an entirely different animal who won a handful of games on his own. A couple big losses to the rotation as well as their primary backstop, the Knights will need everything they can get out of their top dogs to hopefully return to making noise late in the playoffs. On the bright side, the last-minute acquisition of Lionel Danielson from the Beacons could bring a much-needed boost. Wins for Eastie typically turn into Santarpio’s and YooHoo courtesy of Mr. Soohoo (and if there’s no Yoohoo, there should be), and they should put together enough wins to have some playoff pizza.
Malden Maddogs – For the Maddogs, consistency is the name of the game. When at full strength in 2016, the Dogs could compete with the tops of the league, as proven with wins against finalists Al Thomas and Somerville. But when their skeleton crew showed up, it was a different story. Key returners Geoff Lopes and Pete Maltzan lead the charge and are the two on-field leaders the Maddogs hope to build around. This offseason, head ‘Dog Nick Venocchi sought to supplement the foundation of the team with a few more committed players. In 2017, the main cog in the Maddog wheel will be their rotation. They are excited to bring back both McLeans, mainstay Kendall Chaves, and last season’s big addition Nick Berger. Blaine McLean led the staff last year with four wins and 72 innings pitched and a 3.11 ERA. The new additions of Anthony Pisani and Xavier Faria make the Maddogs feel that they have the right mix of guys to keep the other team off the scoreboard. It is obviously early, but the 2017 version of the Maddogs looked primed to at least field a consistent team, which should give them a chance to build on their few successes of last season. The Dogs have also worked out a sponsorship with Dockside Restaurant in Malden; visiting teams should be circling Friday night games in Malden on their schedule for some post-game shenanigans.
McKay Club Beacons – Following a tough 2016 campaign, the Beacons are hoping to bounce back this year with one of the leagues youngest squads. While there is surely some turnover with the amount of new faces to the team, the biggest loss could be the reported move of Lionel Danielson within the league. But they will still have 2016’s CY runner up, Joe Skoczylas, anchoring the rotation after a huge rookie season where he posted a 1.05era over 60 innings. McKCB will be much deeper on the mound, enhancing their youth movement with 5 new collegiate pitchers, including Ryan Schaefer from the 2016 Alibrandis championship team. At the plate, the Beacon offense has added Romell Peguero and Francis Reyes from last year’s Astros, and hope their biggest bat in Sean Ryan will build off of what could have been a monster year had he not been held to 10 games due to injury. Look for the Beacons to start working their way back up the standings and potentially grab a playoff spot for the first time since 2011.
Revere Rockies – After a trip to the championship series in 2013, the Rockies have fallen in the YBL Playoff semifinals in the past 3 seasons. A perennial contender, the Rockies will be losing Alex Wong’s services on the mound for the 2017 season as he rehabs from surgery. With that arm currently amputated and packed in ice, Alex will still be in the middle of the lineup as their DH and the Rockies’ offense should be as stout as ever. Revere has also lost a spark plug in Andrew Billig, now swallowed up by rural America after moving to CT with his three supervisors. The Purple Machine has added Jon Shepard from the EB Knights, lefty closer Evan Mackintosh (from UMass Amherst), and lefty outfielder Kevin Brown who has spent time in the Chicago Cubs’ farm system. They led the league in run production in 2016 and look to get back to the ‘ship stronger than ever.
Savin Hill Dodgers – Since the 5-game 1st round war against the As in 2014, the Dodgers have regressed with the retirement of several long-time players over the last couple years. Manager Rizzo has been rebuilding the team with an enhanced recruiting effort to surround the young foundation of Cady, Whittle and Yee. The outlook for the black and blue is bleak at the start of the season, with a short roster after losing a few players including vets Eddie Samp and Dave Clarke. Not only are they losing El Sampo’s career 2.46era, but they will sorely miss one of the deadliest outfield arms with Clarke no longer lurking in the right field forest at McConnell. If Rizzo can bring on some additional talent and they get a strong year out of Brendan “Big Canada” Huber, the Dodgers will battle every night and win some games.
Somerville Alibrandis – Winners of the last seven YBL Championships (and 16 of the past 18), the Red Army will be without Colonel General Bernie Driscoll leading the way for the first time in a long time. The departure of Bernie has sent the team in an offseason tailspin with no manager and a lot of questions on the roster. This team is perennially stacked, but Bernie has been the glue that has kept this team focused and ready. Fortunately, a treaty has been signed between team ownership and new franchise holder Sean Sullivan to keep the platoon together at the eleventh hour. Chuck Erickson has moved over from East Boston to add another solid arm and stem the loss of Chris Foundas who has relocated to Pennsylvania, and will be somewhere in the middle of the order which will be tough from top to bottom as always. As of now, the biggest obstacle for the Alibrandis will be how they handle themselves in the post-Driscoll era. As always, they feature a lineup with multiple past MVP and Cy Young award winners. Smart money is on them to make another trip to the Championship round, but the chasm between them and the rest of the league has narrowed to make this a bit more interesting than in prior years.
South Boston Saints – South Boston has been a stable team with a stable core for many years, and have made trips to the playoffs each year since 2012. But every ‘stable’ team tends to get older, and the Saints are going to be adding some youth serum for 2017 with new college players from Clarke and Brandeis, plus some Babson alums. They will also be shaking up management of the team with Pete McAuliffe taking over game-day duties, and the legend Jon Tenney stepping back into a part-time role. Their roster isn’t the only thing getting some rejuvenation for the Saints, as their home field Ronan Park has been updated with new seating and netting, plus a lovely green hairpiece for the formerly skin infield.
South End Astros – 2017 will represent a rebirth for the Astros. For the past handful of years, the South End team has been a total wild card. Tons of talent, seemingly ready to make noise as a top-5 team in the YBL. Wings, bats, speed, leather, they’ve appeared to have it all. Come the end of the season, they haven’t met expectations. Enter Brad Presler, the bearded baseball wing nut. Brad has taken over the reigns of the team, and is putting together a squad that promises to be an almost entire turnover from 2016. Essentially an expansion team under the Owen Carlson umbrella, they’ve got their work cut out for them as they will likely be the youngest team in the league. But since Brad has had his kids taking hacks at Jim Rice Field since Thanksgiving, look for a scrappy team that is going to show up every day, ready to go.
Stoneham Sabers – The Stahls continue to make the playoffs every year since their sophomore season, but are still searching for their first crack at the title. Stoneham will have essentially their entire pitching staff back, while supplementing it with a couple new wings in Patrick Kraft (Vincennes U. and U. of Indianapolis) and Lyndon Brundige (Newbury College). There will be some changes at the dish, with the Sabers potentially losing 2 catchers in Quezada and Adams. Travis Adams was last seen whacking softballs with former Saber Peter Creamer in Texas. Who knows whats up with that guy. Filling the pads will be the return of Jon Chapman who missed all of the 2015 campaign with an ACL injury. Since the team’s inception in 2011, Colucci, Flanagan and Cummings are the only players still with the team.
Good luck to all teams for a successful and healthy 2017 season!