Twenty-two newcomers join the Redmen club this season to add a tremendous amount of depth to all positions and primarily the pitching staff.
“With the people that we have coming back, and the addition of some key freshmen and obviously the addition of Jordan Baker, we're still waiting on his clearance (from the NAIA), but if he gets cleared, I think we've got potential to be a very sound and strong offensive club,” Warnimont said.
“Much like what we were last year, maybe with a little bit more power, with the addition of some transfers and quality individuals and with the addition of a lot of young, quality arms.”
Rio returns five hurlers from a season ago in which they finished with a 30-22 overall record and a 15-8 third place finish in the American Mideast Conference South Division. Seniors Dustin Gibbs (Vinton) and Brent Watterson (Palmetto, Fla.) will anchor the starting staff. Gibbs was 6-5 last year with a 6.14 earned run average with 54 strikeouts and the lefty Watterson posted a 4-3 mark with a 4.34 ERA with 55 strikeouts and 19 walks.
Also returning in the starting rotation is junior Nate Chau (Lockbourne). Chau, a southpaw, posted a 5-5 record with a 5.43 ERA with 47 strikeouts and 31 walks in 61 innings.
The bullpen looks to be an area of strength as well for the Redmen with a pair of sophomores who will be key at the back end of games in Chris Brown (Bidwell) and Kenta Sato (Fukuoka, Japan). Brown, a former standout at River Valley, went 4-1 with one save as a freshman last year and Sato was 1st Team All-AMC South as a closer with six saves and a 1-3 record in 18 appearances.
Thirteen new faces will challenge for innings this spring, five of the newcomers pitch from the left side of the rubber. The top newcomer is lefty Chris Stewart (Dublin), Ryan Dwyer (Lucasville), who pitches both right-handed and left-handed, lefty Mickey Robinson (Canal Winchester) and lefty Josh Ousley (McArthur) should all get a significant chance to pitch. Ousley will see time in the outfield.
From the right side, Warnimont will have plenty of arms to choose from his freshman class. Justin Gregory (Tokyo) heads the list along with Ryan Bloomfield (Franklin Furnace), Kevin Hoover (Sardinia), Justin Albert (Huntington, W.Va.), J.W. Miller (Chillicothe), Cory McKnight (Proctorville) and Nick Stanovich (Lima).
Brandon Russell from Wheelersburg will red-shirt this season.
Warnimont has accomplished one of his goals, to have depth in his pitching staff and the Redmen also have a surplus of a valuable commodity, left-handed pitching. “That's a good thing,” Warnimont said of his dearth of southpaws. “Not many people see many left-handed pitchers and even for right-handed swingers, they have their number a little bit.
“Our depth in the ‘pen this year will be much better than last year,” Warnimont added. “We're very pleased to have the depth we do, we've got 16 arms that we can run out there, where we may have been an arm or two short last year I think this year is going to be a year that we're going to be able to go the ‘pen quite often and hopefully our offense will pick it up like they did last year and carry us.”
Senior Jorge Morales (Miami, Fla.) returns as the number one catcher. He was 2nd Team All-AMC South Division a year ago, batting .292 with three home runs and 22 RBI in 42 games. Junior college transfer Kyle Wells from St. Catherines (Ky.) provides depth and is expected to have an immediate impact. Senior Dan Crabtree (Gahanna) is back and should provide depth and leadership. Mike Nyitrai (Toledo), a transfer from Northern Kentucky, will red-shirt this season.
Rio Grande returns its' entire starting infield from last year. Senior Mike Branon (Wheelersburg) is back at first base. Branon hit. 358 with nine long balls and 49 RBI least season. Chau will also see some time at first and in the outfield when not pitching. Freshman J.P. Keefe (Newark) will also see time. Keefe led his Hebron Lakewood High School team to a state championship with a walk-off home run. Matt Smith (Dublin), a transfer from Southwestern (Iowa) CC, is also in the mix at first base.
All-AMC and All-NAIA Region IX performer Mike Golom (Homer Glen, Ill.) returns at second base. Golom set school records in doubles in a season (21) and slugging percentage (.747) last season. Golom also earned NAIA honorable mention All-American honors last season. Sato will also see time at second base and in the outfield. Freshman Cody Kelly (Hollywood, Fla.), one of the top newcomers in the infield, should also challenge for playing time at second base.
Senior Matt Martin (Cleveland) is back for his second season as the starting shortstop. Martin was honorable mention All-AMC South last year, posting a .314 batting average. He also swiped 23 bases and had a .950 fielding percentage, all the while anchoring an infield that turned 49 double plays. Freshmen, Bloomfield and Hoover will also challenge for playing time at shortstop when not pitching.
Senior Kevin Dolan (Newark) returns at third base after hitting .322 with 18 RBI in 2005. Backing up Dolan will be a pair of freshmen, Ken Amsbary (Pomeroy) and Jimmy O'Brien (Wadsworth).
In the outfield, Rio Grande returns two starters in Chau and junior Michael Warren (Gallipolis). Chau batted .326 with 22 RBI last season while spending time in the outfield, at first base and on the mound. Warren was 1st Team NAIA All-Region IX as a designated hitter with a .369 batting average with six home runs and 31 RBI.
Junior Bobby Jones (Gallipolis) will get a chance to play everyday in right field after hitting .241 with a, team-leading, 29 stolen bases a season ago.
The X-Factor is Jordan Baker (Chillicothe). After two seasons playing in the Florida Marlins organization, Baker sat out last season to meet amateur status reinstatement requirements with the NAIA. Rio is still waiting for final clearance on Baker. If Baker is reinstated, he will have a profound impact in center field and should be able replace the departed Scott Peterman without a lot of difficulty.
Golom could play in center field if Baker is not cleared to play. Also adding depth in the outfield from the returning roster is senior John Combs (Hillsboro) and sophomore Josh Cooper (Chillicothe).
Top newcomers in the outfield are Smith, Ousley, McKnight, Tyler Clagg (Gallipolis) and Jarrod Swords (West Portsmouth).
Warnimont was quick to point out that the defensive club that can he run out on the diamond will be pretty good also. “We're real pleased with the defensive club that we can put out there,” Warnimont said. “Along with the offensive combination.”
Rio has a tough pre-conference schedule leading up to the always rugged AMC slate. Rio opens with three games with Bryan (Tenn.) College, February 10-11 and then tangles with Tennessee Wesleyan and NAIA No. 5 Lee University on Feb. 12-13. The Redmen will travel to Athens to tangle with Ohio, March 5 and will also face NAIA No. 2 Embry-Riddle, March 15 on their spring trip.
Rio also travels to Bluefield (Va.), Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) and Pikeville College (Ky.).
Missouri Baptist, Huntington (Ind.), West Virginia Wesleyan, WVU-Tech and St. Francis College will provide competition for the Redmen on their spring venture to Ormond Beach, FL. Rio will play Fisher College at Siena Heights, April 16.
“We've challenged our team,” Warnimont said. “Last year was a little misleading, we were 30-22, but we played two (NCAA) Division I's and six NCAA Division II schools, so six of those losses were against pretty stiff competition.
“It should be a very, very competitive schedule,” Warnimont added.
Non-conference home games will have Bluefield College, AMC North foe Saint Vincent, Ohio Valley College, Pikeville College and Salem International (W.Va.)
The regular season home opener is scheduled for February 24-25 with a pair of doubleheaders versus Saint Vincent.
AMC South road games will include trips to Shawnee State (March 3), Cedarville (March 23), Urbana (April 8), Tiffin (April 14-15) and Ohio Dominican (April 22). Home games against the AMC South are versus Shawnee State (March 5), Cedarville (March 25), Urbana (April 7), Ohio Dominican (April 23) and Mount Vernon Nazarene (April 28-29).
Warnimont believes the season will be a success if “our young pitchers can mature on the mound,” he said. “If Jordan Baker gets cleared by the NAIA, I think those are the ingredients.
“I think it's going to be a situation where I can sit back and coach and just let us roll out the balls and play,” Warnimont added. “My biggest challenge with this team is don't over-coach.”
On the flip side, Warnimont said the season would be a disappointment if “some of our upperclassmen don't come through,” he said. “I think that would be the biggest thing, like last year, we got fat and happy, we popped into the rankings and brought our C-minus game a couple of outings.
“I think that's one of the things that we're targeting right now is our big opponents, the people picked ahead of us in the conference and that's Mount Vernon and that's Ohio Dominican,” Warnimont added. “We got it done with Dominican last year, we did not get it done with Mount Vernon, six of those eight games are at home, a four-game set with Mount Vernon and by golly, if we can't get it done on our own home turf, then we don't deserve to do what we need to do at the end of the season.
“Our expectations are very high, we're working the kids hard and we'll see how it all plays out.”