This is the first of a four-part series previewing the 2019 Bryant University baseball team. BryantBulldogs.com will preview the Bulldog infield on Tuesday, the outfield on Wednesday and the pitching staff on Thursday.
SMITHFIELD, R.I. – The Bryant University baseball team has featured an All-New England catcher every year since 2014. This spring, the next generation gets a chance to continue the streak.
Tom Gavitt became the first catcher in DI program history to earn All-New England honors in 2014, while Buck McCarthy and Mickey Gasper followed from 2015-2018. Gasper, a 2018 graduate, was a back-to-back First Team All-New England selection.
"We've always gravitated towards offensive catchers," head coach Steve Owens said. "Now, we have a different era of players that haven't played in a lot of games, but we feel really good about where we are with that position."
Now, junior Gaby Cruz (Miami, Fla.) and sophomore Sam Owens (Scituate, R.I.) will look to continue that legacy. Both have used the offseason to get healthy, bigger, stronger and more athletic. Cruz battled through injuries throughout 2018 and looks to be fully healthy for opening day, while Owens has gotten bigger and stronger as the 2019 season looms.
Cruz has the most experience, having started 28 games behind the plate in his first two seasons. Last spring, he was Bryant's primary DH and earned All-NEC Second Team honors after hitting .302 with eight doubles, 26 RBI and a .390 OBP. Cruz has been nothing but consistent on the offensive side of the ball in his career, posting 76 hits (.317 average) over his last 78 games. Defensively, he committed just one error last spring, throwing out 37 percent of runners trying to steal.
"Gaby has done a great job of getting healthy and getting himself in really good shape to continue to be a staple in our lineup," Owens said. "He was able to be a consistent hitter while battling injuries and is now way more athletic and has been locked in during the winter."
Recruited to be a catcher, Owens was forced to take over as the everyday shortstop as a true freshman after Jimmy Titus (Stafford, Conn.) suffered an injury in the second game of the season. Now, with Titus healthy, Owens will move back behind the plate this year and the Bulldogs will benefit from his outstanding rapport with the pitching staff and his quick release and strong arm defensively.
As a hitter, Owens held his own last spring and delivered several clutch hits throughout the year. He appeared in 55 games and hit .239 with eight doubles, two triples, two home runs, 25 RBI and 34 runs scored. Owens had a big weekend late in the year against Wagner, delivering a walk-off single on Friday before hitting a game-tying home run in the seventh on Sunday in a game the Bulldogs eventually won.
"Sam is a different type of athlete, a converted shortstop that has a plus arm," Owens said. "He's worked hard on his strength and conditioning and has had a really good fall and winter, hitting the ball to all fields, cutting his strikeouts down and having great situational at-bats."
The Bulldogs also welcome back sophomore Nick Mulligan (Bronxville, N.Y.). Mulligan appeared in seven games a season ago and registered five at-bats.
"Nick has had some quality at-bats this winter and has been very valuable to us during the fall and winter," Owens said.
"Gaby and Sam give us two super choices which makes it very comforting going into a season knowing you have two outstanding baseball players at the second-most important position on the field," Owens said. "We're in a position to have another All-New England catcher and maybe two."
Bryant opens the 2019 season with a three-game series at Abilene Christian beginning on Friday, Feb. 15.