After watching his team struggle to a 17-42 record last season — the worst in his 25 seasons as The Citadel's baseball coach — Fred Jordan vowed to "retool" his program.
Jordan wasn't kidding, as he brought in an unprecedented (for The Citadel) four transfer players for this season. That includes junior-college standout Jonathan Sabo, a two-time All-Lowcountry player of the year during his career at West Ashley High School.
The Bulldogs' three graduate-student transfers are catcher Joe Sabatini from Baylor, right-handed pitcher Aaron Lesiak from Presbyterian and left-handed pitcher Marlin Morris, who's pitched at USC Sumter and College of Charleston.
"I just felt like we needed more maturity in the back end of our bullpen," Jordan said Friday as practice opened at Riley Park. "And in reality, that's the new wave of recruiting. Everyone is doing it in all sports. I made the statement last year that we're going to change some things, and that's one of the things we changed.
"I'm very excited about it. Guys who are 21 or 22 and have had success in college, they step into our clubhouse and demand respect, and that's what they've done."
Sabatini, a grandson of former Air Force football coach Fisher DeBerry, batted .210 in 62 games over four seasons at Baylor, where he qualified six times for the Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll.
Lesiak, 5-10 and 185 pounds, appeared in 29 games last season for PC, with a 3-3 record and 4.11 earned-run average. Morris was 4-4 with a 2.85 ERA at USC Sumter in 2013. All three will be in graduate school at The Citadel.
"We've got a tremendous graduate program, and our football and basketball programs have done it for years," said Jordan, whose led the Bulldogs to seven Southern Conference tournament titles and five regular-season championships.
"We went out and experimented with it, and I'm really pleased. Joe Sabatini was elected to our leadership council, so that shows what kind of respect he's got."
Jordan expects Sabatini to play mostly at catcher, with Sabo at third base and possibly closer, and Lesiak and Morris in the bullpen.
"Those guys have been awesome," said junior shortstop William Kinney. "The coaches prepped us to accept them, and they've come in and worked hard to learn how to be Citadel Bulldogs."
Kinney leads a contingent of returners from last year's squad that includes outfielders Shy Phillips, Clay Martin and Barrett Charpia, first baseman Ben Peden and pitchers J.P. Sears and Jacob Watcher. Freshman J.D. Davis from Stratford High School should be the opening-day starter at second base.
"Our returning players are galvanized," Jordan said. "They went through something that no one has ever been through here. Good or bad, the positive thing is they learned from it. There is a little bit of fire in their eyes."
Said Kinney, "We know we need to win this year. We're ready to get going."
The Citadel opens its season Feb. 17 against Kansas.