Mainieri inks six players
Special to The Observer
The University of Notre Dame baseball team has signed four promising right-handed pitchers and two position players to national letters of intent, sixth-year head coach Paul Mainieri announced.
The signees include outfielder Steve Sollmann (the brother of former Irish standout Scott Sollmann) left-handed first baseman/pitcher Joe Thaman and right-handers Aaron Edwards, Brian Kaplan, Bob Keppel and Michael Morgalis.
"We had a strong need to sign some quality pitching, in addition to adding some position players who can come in and compete for playing time as freshmen," said Mainieri, whose 1999 Irish squad won the Big East Conference regular-season title en route to a 43-18 overall record and a spot as an NCAA Tournament regional host.
The current Notre Dame squad includes six seniors, led by starting pitcher Scott Cavey, top closer John Corbin and three starting position players, including first baseman Jeff Felker, second baseman Jeff Perconte and left fielder Matt Nussbaum.
"We also probably will lose junior pitcher Aaron Heilman to the pro draft, but we have addressed a lot of our needs with the current freshman class and these signees," said Mainieri.
Thaman is expected to compete for starting time at first base in the 2001 season while the speedy Sollmann could join current sophomore center fielder Steve Stanley and freshman right fielder Brian Stavisky to form a talented Irish outfield when the 2001 season rolls around.
"Adding a player of Sollmann's ability gives us two center fielders in the same outfield and it's hard to imagine there being a better outfield — both offensively and defensively — than what we potentially could have with Sollmann, Stanley and Stavisky," said Mainieri.
Sollmann's danger on the base paths also should boost Notre Dame's offensive strategy. "With the changes in the bat standards, there will continue to be more of a premium on having balance in your offense," said Mainieri. "Sollmann has some pop in his bat and also will give us another threat on the bases."
All four of the recently-signed pitchers will have the chance to play important roles on the 2001 staff, with Keppel and Edwards receiving mention on Baseball America's annual list of top high school prospects.
"We will have a big gap in our pitching staff for the 2001 season," Mainieri said, "With the loss of Cavey and Corbin and the likely loss of Heilman. But we are excited to give the players that will be returning, and these signees, the chance to play key roles on the mound in 2001."
Edwards is a promising prospect who led his 1999 Chambersburg High School team to the state title, with a 10-1 record and 1.67 ERA, plus 95 strikeouts, 37 walks and 34 hits allowed in 71 innings. Edwards was the winning pitcher in the state title game and helped his team earn a 27-2 final record and a No. 21 national ranking by USA Today.
"I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get such a great education," Edwards said, "And to be part of a baseball program that has been one of the nation's most successful teams during the 1990s."
Kaplan, known for a strong arm and a tough curveball, received the Rick Roden Pitching Award as a junior, after posting a 7-4 record and 1.45 ERA, with 106 strikeouts and a .169 opponent batting average in 77 innings. A third team all-state selection, Kaplan led his high school to the regional title while tossing a no-hitter and two one-hitters.
Keppel — who has extensive family ties to Notre Dame — made an Aug. 21 verbal commitment to the Irish, despite scholarship offers from several Division I schools in both baseball and basketball. The 6-foot-5 Keppel can touch the low 90s with his fastball and was listed 131st on Baseball America's list of the nation's top high school players (first in the state of Missouri).
"I always have wanted to go to Notre Dame and it was a great feeling when they first called me on July 1st," Keppel said. "Baseball is closest to my heart but I'd love to keep playing basketball, if it can work out."
Keppel's all-around athleticism has seen him play every position but catcher with the Spartans while his nine home runs as a junior set a De Smet record. A three-year starting point guard, he led the Spartans to the state basketball title in 1998-99 while breaking the school's 20-year-old assist record with 216.
Morgalis is coming off a strong summer season with the Midland Braves, posting an 8-1 record and 2.53 ERA on a team that went 42-15 and won the Dizzy Dean World Series title in Elkton, Md.
Sollmann is one of the most successful high school athletes in Cincinnati, excelling in baseball, football and basketball. He hit .429 as a junior, with five home runs, 18 stolen bases and 20 RBI on a team that went 20-4 and advanced to the sectional finals.
Known for his strong all-around game, Thaman's junior season included a .568 batting average, a conference-leading 42 hits, 34 RBI, 11 doubles, three triples, one home run and just one fielding error during a 20-5 season. On the mound, Thaman posted a 3-1 record and 2.44 ERA, with 17 strikeouts and just eight walks.
All Sports Stories for Tuesday, December 7, 1999