Baseball 2016: Staples The Favorite In A Deep And Pitching-Rich League

Nate Panzer (4) and Staples hope to have postseason titles to celebrate this spring.

Nate Panzer (4) and Staples hope to have postseason titles to celebrate this spring.

To call the FCIAC loaded with baseball talent this spring is to call Donald Trump….OK, you get the point. The league has been deep for several seasons, bucking the trend as a number of talented athletes have been headed to the lacrosse fields.

Staples, Norwalk and Fairfield Warde right now appear to be top 10 teams in the state. The Wreckers are coming off a 22-win season and appearances in both the league and state finals. The roster resembles an All-Star team. The Bears caught fire in the state tournament, reaching the semifinals, and should experience carryover. The Mustangs are bristling from what they believe was a year where they underachieved. Interestingly, the teams worth keeping an eye on all failed to qualify for the league playoffs a year ago.

Meanwhile, next weekend should be festive with the FCIAC-SCC Challenge, which is not getting the same hype as the football version that went on for two years but should be no less compelling on the diamond.

The Favorites

Staples. The FCIAC is deep at the top this year, but right now it is impossible not to single out the Wreckers as the team to beat. In shortstop/pitcher Ben Casparius and centerfielder Nate Panzer, the Wreckers arguably have the league’s two best players. Catcher Noah Yokoi and first baseman Mike Fanning round out a fearsome top four spots in the order. Former Westport Little League World Series star Chad Knight, a freshman, has played so far to rave reviews from his older teammates and will be at third and pitch. Opponents looking to avoid the ace in the rotation are in trouble with a staff that features Casparius, Ryan Fitton, Fanning, Knight and George Goldstein. At this week’s FCIAC Baseball Media Day, Yokoi was asked about Staples’ biggest strength. He started to discuss the offense. When he was done he said maybe it is the pitching. Throw in that Staples fell short in the league and state finals and thus are hungry rather than sated and you have a dangerous combination.

John Natoli is part of a strong Fairfield Warde pitching staff.

John Natoli is part of a strong Fairfield Warde pitching staff.

The Contenders

Norwalk. The Bears were a postseason darling after a Class LL Final Four run and have many of the key contributors back. Mike Gonzalez is an outstanding hitter, while shortstop Eddie McCabe and third baseman Eddie O’Hara are elite on the left side of the infield. Gonzalez and Ryan Searles are part of a solid rotation. Coach Pete Tucci said one preseason concern is throwing strikes. Walks are his kryptonite.

Fairfield Warde. The Mustangs are another team with a chip on their shoulders after early exits from both postseason tournaments. In Reece Maniscalco and John Natoli, there is a strong 1-2 punch on the mound with future Division I players. Clay Curley is a solid No. 3 in the rotation, while the return of Giacomo Brancato in centerfield bolsters both the defense and hitting. The Mustangs have the pieces to take home a championship.

The Sleepers

Trumbull. The Eagles failed to qualify for the FCIAC Tournament a year ago, which happens very infrequently. Don’t expect them to sit out the dance for a second straight year. Joe Nemchek and Chris O’Brien are solid pitchers and there is a strong junior class looking to make an impression.

St. Joseph. The Cadets also missed the conference playoffs, but will be on the rebound behind the bats of Matt McKernan (.378), Neil Velasquez (.385) and Dave Cappella. Connor Hurley and Mike D’Agostino are solid on the mound.

VIDEO: The Ruden Report FCIAC Baseball Preview Show

Ridgefield. The theme of teams that failed to earn league playoff spots making climbs up the standings continues with the Tigers. They will ride the arm of ace Collin Lowe and the bat and glove of leftfielder AJ Fabbri. The key will be how fast youth and experience meshes.

Westhill. Another outsider from a year ago that now gets thrown into the mix with the addition of Anthony Frangiose, who transferred this week from King and is immediately one of the league’s best hitters. Frangiose batted cleanup as a 15-year-old for the Stamford Senior Legion team last summer. He will join four-year starter Johnny Spoto, one of the league’s premier shortstops. If the pitching comes around, the Vikings at the very least are city favorites.

Catcher Marco Monteiro is one of a number of returning starters at Norwalk.

Catcher Marco Monteiro is one of a number of returning starters at Norwalk.

30 To Watch

Giacomo Brancato, Fairfield Warde

Matt Burger, New Canaan

Ben Casparius, Staples

Eric Cerno, Danbury

Dillon Daine, Trinity Catholic

Jay DeVito, Stamford

Staples' Ben Casparius is one of the leading candidates for FCIAC Player of the Year.

Staples’ Ben Casparius is one of the leading candidates for FCIAC Player of the Year.

AJ Fabbri, Ridgefield

Mike Fanning, Staples

Ryan Fitton, Staples

Anthony Frangiose, Westhill

Mike Gonzalez, Norwalk

Colin Kelly, Greenwich

Robby Jones, New Canaan

Dillon Lifrieri, Wilton

Collin Lowe, Ridgefield

Eddie Magi, Fairfield Ludlowe


Reece Maniscalco, Fairfield Warde

Eddie McCabe, Norwalk

John Natoli, Fairfield Warde

Joe Nemchek, Trumbull

Eddie O’Hara, Norwalk

Chris O’Brien, Trumbull

Nate Panzer, Staples

Ryan Searles Norwalk

Reid Singewald, Norwalk

Johnny Spoto, Westhill

Neil Velasquez, St. Joseph

Andrew Winsch, Darien

Kevin Woodring, Greenwich

Noah Yokoi, Staples

The Lineups

Darien: SS Richard Bremerton, 3B Jamie Schofield, 1B Casey Brown, P Andrew Winsch, OF Tyler Grant, UT/P Peter Marren, OF Mark Schmidt, OF/P Justin Jordan, C/DH Sean O’Malley, OF Danny O’Boyle, IF Chris Drake, IF Matt Drake, C Cord Fox, IF/DH Brian Peters.

Fairfield Ludlowe: RF Mike Bernstein, RF Jack McGuire, CF Dan Paglialunga, CF Connor Devaney, LF Tripp McGarrie, LF Matt Landry, 3B Patrick Calabrese, 3B Connor Cronin, SS Sean Gutierrez, SS Ryan Devaney, 2B Mike Ghiorzi, 1B John McMillan, 1B/P Eddie Magi, P Matt Kubel, P John Bookas, P Matt Grabovski, P Chris Huzil.

Fairfield Warde: 1B/P Reece Maniscalco, 2B Alex Steele, SS Jack Myers, 3B/P John Natoli, C Danny Dibartolomeo, LF Joey Deutsch, CF Giacomo Brancato, RF Bobby Lazar, DH/1B Xavier Spinel, P  Clay Curley, P Zach McKay, P Mark Garcia, P Owen Buhrendorf.

Greenwich: 1B Kevin Woodring, SS Colin Kelly, OF/DH Eric Mini, P/OF Anthony Ferraro, RF Paul Williams, P Conner Langdon, P Henry Quinlan, Andrew Desino, P John Adamari, C Marco Pastore, CF Ryan King.

Brien McMahon: C Anthony Socci, 1B/P Matt Galyas, 1B/P Andrew Matthews, 2B Wady Almonte, SS Chris Giordano, 3B Mike Claps, 3B Chris Druin, LF Richard Clemens, OF Hunter Dumas, OF Griffin Root, OF Ari Lander, OF Jomar Marte, P Jeff Vitiate.

New Canaan: C Matt Burger, 1B Mike Pelli, 2B Chase Casali, SS Troy Dunnam, 3B Patrick Diamond, OF Lucian Tamburro, OF Tom Reynolds, OF/P  Robby Jones, 1B Thomas Williams, IF Nate Bozzella, OF Griffin Arnone, P Jack Havard.

Norwalk: P Michael Gonzalez, P Ryan Searles, P Issac Kehn, P Jack Potochney, P Amby Liriano, C Marco Monteiro, 1B Alex Barone, 2B Tom Benicaso, SS Ed McCabe, 3B Ed O’Hara, OF Matt Arduino, OF Mo Ortiz, OF Reid Singewald, P Max Berman.

Ridgefield: P/RF Collin Lowe, P/RF Alex Price, P/1B Mike O’Brien, C Nolan McDonald, 2B Harry Porter, SS Matt Colin, 3B Colin Motill, DH John Passman, LF AJ Fabbri, CF John Thrasher.

St. Joseph: 1B/OF Matt Mckenna, 2B Dave Cappella, P Connor Hurley, P Mike D’Agostino, SS Neil Velasquez, P Al Paolozzi, P Ben Talbott, OF/C Jake DeLeo, 1B/P Jim Evans.

Stamford: 1B Christian Vasquez, 2B Mark Serricchio, SS/P Jay DeVito, 3B Danny Collazo, C Nico Kydes, LF George Nikolopoulos, CF Nick Frattaroli, RF Ruben Rodriguez, 1B Lucas Beldotti, 3B Jorge Lopez, UTL Aaron D’Annolfo, C Justin Weller.

Staples: CF Nate Panzer, P/SS Ben Casparius, C/DH Noah Yokoi, 1B/P Mike Fanning, 3B/P Chad Knight, P/1B Ryan Fitton, 2B Mike Cusa, 2B Max Popken, OF Jon Dedomenico, OF Max Richly, P George Goldstein, 1B/OF Matt Brown, P Rob Stone, C Matt Stone.

Trinity Catholic: 1B Dillon Daine, CF Dan Bernard, P/OF John Hazard, C John Farrell, C Dom Svrcek, 1B/OF Thomas Chiappetta, 1B Nico Morse, IF/P Trey Donoghue, IF/P Marco D’Elia, IF Mikey Riddle, IF Jake Levato, IF Chris Radauzzo, IF/P Matt McDonald, IF/P Zach Hurd, OF Jonmichael Bivona, OF/P John Petrizzi, OF/P Jack Morris, OF Tyler Austin.

Trumbull: P Joe Nemchek, P/OF, Chris O’Brien, C/OF Alex Rauso, OF Justin Waldek, C/3B Kris DiCocco, P/OF/IF Jack Lynch, IF Danny Ruchalski, 1B/DH Robert Olah, P/3B Andrew Lojko, IF/OF Dustin Siqueira, 1B Vinny DeRubeis, P/OF Tyler Zikias.

Westhill: SS Johnny Spoto, P Blake Newcomer, P Michael Lisinicchia, P Rhett Hopkinson, P John MacDonald, 2B Dean DePreta, 1B Hunter Semmel, OF Michael Tufano, OF Tyrone Geronimo, C Joey Skarad, OF Anthony Frangiose.

Wilton: 2B Colin Kahal, SS Dillon Lifrieri, OF Henry Stremeki, 1B Hery Holland, P Ben Rusin, P Jack Mastriani, P Billy Black, P Ryan Gabriel, P Matt Delisa, P Glenn O’Brien.

(Teams missing did not reply to requests for information.)