Part 1: Starting Pitchers | Part 2: Relief Pitchers | Part 3: Catchers | Part 4: Outfielders
Leading up to UConn baseball opening day on Feb. 13 at Florida Atlantic, UConnHuskies.com will take an in-depth look at the 2015 squad with player profiles and position-by-position breakdowns. In the final installment of the series, a look at the UConn infielders and a profile of junior Bryan Daniello.
By Chris Jones, special to UConnHuskies.com
STORRS, Conn. -- Every good team has at least one. The guy who comes to the field, practice, workouts and brings the energy that others feed off of. The energy that can carry you through the long days of December and January, as the grind continues toward the start of the season. The energy that can get you through adversity
Junior Bryan Daniello is that guy for the Huskies and his chatty, upbeat, energizer-bunny type of attitude has been there ever since he stepped on campus a couple years ago.
“It was something I have always had. Ever since I was little, my brother and I are about seven, eight years a part so I was always hanging out with his older friends,” said Daniello. “I was the kid they were always messing around with, I always was having fun.
“That’s the big thing about baseball I’ve always tried to have fun when I’m out on the field. If you aren’t having fun than you aren’t going to be enjoying it. I try to go out there and have as much fun as I can while staying focused and doing what I have to do,” he added.
Even with Daniello’s positive attitude there have been some tough times over the past couple seasons. Most of it has to do with his right knee that he injured against George Mason in the season finale of the 2013 season. That injury that forced him out of the 2013 Big East Tournament and 2013 NCAA Blacksburg Regional.
“It was really hard, from playing almost all of freshmen year and then getting into the Big East Tournament and that is what you are looking forward to, the postseason,”said Daniello.
“It hurt me that I couldn’t be out there with the guys but I tried to not let it get to me. I figured I could be a positive impact in the dugout and helping guys out and pick stuff up throughout the game. I just tried to be a great teammate.”
After surgery, Daniello rehabbed during the summer and was ready to go for the 2014 season. Daniello improved across the board in his sophomore season, hitting .274 with 12 doubles, a team leading three triples and a .369 on base percentage.
“I started out pretty good, but in the middle of the season I hit a bit of a rough patch,” said Daniello. “I ended up working my way out of it, so overall I would say that it is a decent year. But I wasn’t happy with it because I expect a lot out of myself but that just drives the engine and I need to push myself harder each and every day so I can get better this year.”
During the summer Daniello went off to play in the Northwoods League for the Battle Creek Bombers. While playing in 31 contests, Daniello’s right knee didn’t feel right so he went back to UConn to have it checked out.
“I ended up coming back to school and getting an MRI and saw it had a big cyst,” said Daniello. “The doctor said that after the first surgery I had that there was a tiny hole that was open and throughout the course of last year and the summer it was just filling up with fluid. They had to go in and cut off the cyst. But once they went in there he broke it all apart and stitched it back together and now it feels good and I shouldn’t have a problem with it.”
Daniello seems to have that extra pep in his step as he gears up the 2015 season.
“I only played half of fall ball and had surgery October 3rd so I’ve been out for quite a while now,” said Daniello. “This is really the first time all year that I have been in the swing of things but I feel good, feel healthy. I’ve been doing rehab and everything to stay healthy.”
With Daniello back on the field, not only are his teammates noticing his presence back on the field but Head Coach Jim Penders has heard it.
“Bryan Daniello has been a real bright spot in our preseason. Not just offensively, which he has done a good job, but he has done a really good job on the diamond communicating. Our other guys in the infield are not as naturally vocal as Bryan,” said Penders. “But he has brought that energy and bounce that seems to get the rest of the guys going.”
Daniello acknowledges that being overly vocal and energetic isn’t for everybody but that it’s just part of his makeup.
“Being vocal and having energy isn’t hard to do and sometimes some guys might not agree with it all the time but that is who I am and how I play and I just want to try and motivate the team and pump us up a little bit,” said Daniello.
In addition to Daniello, who made 55 starts (primarily at third base) last season, the Huskies return four infielders who started at least 38 contests a year ago. The centerpiece of the group is first baseman Bobby Melley (Barnstable, Mass.), the 2014 NEIBA New England Player of the Year. Melley hit .359 in a breakout sophomore campaign last season, adding 16 doubles, 47 RBIs and a team-best .475 on-base percentage.
“I’m sticking with the same mindset, I just want to keep hitting the ball hard and that’s all I want to do, hit as many balls hard as I can,” Melley said of his approach coming off his big season.
“That’s what I’m trying to focus on and just do anything I can to help the team win. I think good things will happen if I keep it simple and just hit the ball hard,” the junior captain added.
To Melley’s immediate right, junior second baseman Vinny Siena (Woodbridge, Conn.) started 52 games a year ago and has made 115 starts in his two seasons in Storrs. As a freshman in 2013 he shined with a .302 batting average and 35 RBIs, but struggled through a sophomore slump last season. Penders believes Siena’s sophomore season and he is back to his old self in the batter’s box.
“Vinny has looked like he is back to his freshman year and is better offensively. He has great confidence in the batter’s box and improved defensively,” Penders said.
“Getting back to a comfort zone, a confidence, definitely tried to get stronger and improve myself,” Siena said of his offseason preparation. He also feels that he has improved defensively, plainly evident by an 80-point jump in fielding percentage between his freshman and sophomore season.
“My movement left and right, reads off the bat, adjusting from where the pitch is going to be thrown to positioning myself to where I think it is going to be hit. I feel comfortable turning two and with the ball right at me but I just need to focus on making those great plays and keep making routine plays,” Siena said.
At the shortstop position, sophomore Aaron Hill (Groton, Conn.) was thrust into duty last season as a freshman after three-year starter Tom Verdi went down with a preseason injury. Hill played the first 30 games of the year at short and made 38 starts there overall.
“I just got a lot of experience. Being a freshman I didn’t really know what to expect a couple days before the season being thrown in as the starting shortstop. It was good for me because now I know what to expect. This year I’m ready to go from the start and there are no surprises,” Hill said.
“Hopefully the time Aaron played last year prepared him and his summer was excellent too,” Penders said. “He had a great summer, was an All Star in the NECBL in a familiar environment playing for the Mystic Schooners his home high school field. I think that helped his confidence.”
Behind the four returning starters, Penders has been impressed with freshmen Nick Lamberti (East Haven, Conn.) and Willy Yahn (Sharon, Conn.) who each provide depth to the unit and could see valuable playing time during their rookie campaigns. Junior transfers Connor Buckley (Stonington, Conn.) and Joe DeRoche-Duffin (Santa Ana, Calif.) should also see action on the corners.
With so much experience back together on the infield, each member of the unit feels that there is a cohesiveness in the group that will pay major dividends in the 2015 season.
“When you bring back three juniors and a sophomore we have a good idea of what is going on. We are all communicating, we know who needs to be where and we know what we need to do defensively,” Daniello said.
“We have four infielders that can field it better than anybody. Me, Bryan and Bobby are going into our third year together and I just feel like we have to communicate anymore because we just know where each other is going to be,” Siena added.
Melley, a first-year captain, also sees the infield as a major positive leading into the season.
“There is a lot of confidence in the infield, definitely a lot different than when I got here my freshman year. We got a lot of experience and have been in the big situations before,” the Preseason All-Conference selection said.
“We are looking good right now and I know we will face some adversity at some point and if we are able to deal with that then I think we are going to have a bunch of success.”
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