NU baseball season preview: Huskies look to prove CAA preseason ranking correct


Riley Robinson

The baseball team looks on from the dugout during a game against Holy Cross last season.

Jordan Baron, news staff

After finishing a game under .500 in the 2019 regular season, the Northeastern University baseball team has a completely changed dynamic.

The Huskies adopted eleven new freshman in preparation for the 2020 season, including North Andover local and 2020 CAA preseason freshman of the year Sebastian Keane, a starting pitcher who was drafted in the 11th round by the Red Sox but instead decided to take his talents to Friedman Diamond.

Junior DH Ian Fair will look to build upon his 2019 CAA batting title performance, a season in which he hit for a whopping .357 average with eight home runs and 33 RBI. And with the natural leadership presence of longtime veterans, redshirt senior starter Kyle Murphy and senior outfielder Kyle Peterson, the Huskies could be a threat in the CAA.

NU received two first place votes and a total of 54 points in the pre-season polls, ranked second only to the reigning champion UNCW Seahawks, who garnered an impressive 63 points riding seven first place votes.

“Considering we were picked second, I just talked to the guys briefly about the expectation with that kind of pick,” said head coach Mike Glavine. “It’s kind of fun this time of year for everybody, so we’re excited that we have a pretty good ballclub on paper.”


The Huskies are ready and poised to strike offensively.

Ian Fair will be the name to watch for the Huskies. Fair was a hitting machine in 2019, with his .357 average leading the CAA to go along with an even more impressive .939 OPS. He also led the Huskies in home runs while swiping eight bags. In the CAA tournament, he hit .500 and knocked in three runs.

Despite the impressive 2019 performance and preseason recognition, Fair is focused completely on a successful 2020 run.

“I mean it’s always nice to get recognized,” he said. “The thing with the preseason awards is they don’t mean a whole lot because we haven’t done anything yet, so I mean all that matters is what happens during the regular season.”

Glavine praised Fair’s work ethic and added that he brings leadership and poise to the table.

“Ian Fair is someone that the guys look to, just a positive kid and works really hard,” Glavine said.

Senior second-baseman Scott Holzwasser, who was picked for the All-CAA preseason team, is another name to watch. Although his .254 2019 batting average sticks out like a sore thumb, the snappy infielder gets on base. A lot. He posted a .394 OBP in 2019, good for a .796 OPS. He also stole an impressive 27 bases, and was only caught four times.

The Huskies running-game does not stop with Holzwasser. Junior outfielder Jeff Costello stole 19 bases in 2019 while hitting .267 with 10 doubles on the season.

In total last year, the NU squad stole 101 bases and were only caught 40 times, compared to their opponents who only swiped 62 against the Huskies. The team had an average OPS of .733 and an impressive .353 average OBP. That means the Huskies will be getting on base a lot in 2020, and with the return of Fair, Holzwasser and Costello, the run-game will be very important to a successful season.

The loss of first-basemen Jake Farrell, who started all 56 games for the Huskies in 2019, leaves a significant stain on predicting whether or not the Huskies can remain successful at the plate. Filling a hole that used to be charged by a .322 average, a .963 OPS, 51 RBI’s and 10 home runs will not be easy. Look for one of the newcomers like Zack Bailey or Matt Lord to try and fill Farrell’s spot.

Pitching and defense:

The loss of starting pitcher Sean Mellen, who posted a 3.10 ERA and 112 strikeouts over 90 IP in 2019, to the Dodgers system leaves a gaping hole in the Husky rotation.

A large question mark in Northeastern’s rotation will be the performance of seniors Kyle Murphy and David Stiehl. Last year, Murphy posted a not-so-good 4.66 ERA and 1.41 WHIP, while Stiehl was at 4.89 and 1.57. Steihl, however, was able to keep his walks down over more innings pitched, only giving 32 opponents the free-pass over 70 IP.

It will be interesting to see how the Huskies decide to use Brandon Dufault, the junior flamethrower with a fastball that tops out in the high 90’s. Dufault made 8 starts last season, but appeared in 14 other games as a reliever. Over 55 IP, Dufault walked 35 batters and gave up 33 earned runs. If he can reduce his walks and work on controlling his cannon of an arm, Dufault could establish himself as one of the more dominant members of the Husky bullpen.

The brightest spot of the NU off-season was the addition of freshman pitcher Sebastian Keane. Keane was drafted in the 11th round by the Boston Red Sox in the 2019 draft, but instead chose to come to Northeastern to pursue academics.

“[It’s] a lifelong dream of being drafted in the MLB but we decided for me and my family that the best decision was to go to college,” Keane said. “We’re big on education and Northeastern just fit that. There is nothing wrong with this school. I love everything about it and I can’t wait to get started with the season.”

Keane sported a 0.51 ERA on 11 wins for North Andover High School, throwing a no-hitter and striking out 128 batters over the course of the season to lead his team to a Super Eight championship. He holds the all-time career record for strikeouts at North Andover, racking up 272 Ks over a career smattered with state awards.

Since arriving at NU, however, Keane has begun to realize the difference between high school and college ball.

“It’s definitely the tempo,” he said. “In high school you can get away with blowing away a 90 mile per hour fastball around any hitter, didn’t have to throw any off-speed, but here it is all about command, throwing your off-speed pitches for strikes, it’s just a whole different tempo, it’s crazy.”

The team will go all in on Keane to fill the hole in the rotation left by Mellen.

“Sebastian Keane is someone that we are going to rely on heavily this year and he’ll be starting for us, a super talented kid and a great competitor,” said coach Glavine.

The Husky infield will need to put some work in to make sure their errors decrease in 2020.

Holzwasser and senior infielder Jake Rosen combined for 21 of the Huskies’ 52 errors last season. Still, NU’s opponents were much worse defensively, combining for 90 total errors.

Again, the loss of Farrell at first will prove to be a question-mark for the Huskies going into 2020. On 432 put-outs, the now-Yankee minor leaguer only committed one error.

Looking ahead:

NU dropped 10 of their first 16 games in 2019. According to Glavine, that slow start to the season is something that needs to change to ensure a productive 2020.

“I think last year we were slow out of the gates to start the season so that’s definitely something we want to improve upon,” he said. “Just play better baseball to start the season. I think we played our best baseball at the end of the season last year which was fun, but we want to try to be more consistent from the start.”

The Huskies will start the first month of their season on the road, first with a three-game-set against Alabama starting this weekend, before heading down to Spring Training for their yearly exhibition game against the Red Sox on Friday, Feb. 21.

The Crimson Tide were 30-26 last season, and 7-23 in the SEC. NU has not played Alabama once in the past four years. The Huskies will look to capitalize down south against an opponent none of their players have ever competed against before.

They’ve dropped their first two games of the series, 10-0 and 8-0, but still have another chance to avoid the sweep with a win tomorrow at 1 p.m.