The year may be over for Penn baseball, but the hardware keeps rolling in.
After finishing 2016 on a 14-game hitting streak — batting .534 with five home runs, 11 doubles and 19 RBI in that stretch — junior catcher Tim Graul vaulted to the top of nearly every Ivy offensive statistical category. The Ancient Eight coaches noticed. On Thursday, he was announced as the Ivy League’s Player of the Year.
“I thought he was our best hitter early on in the season, he just had some tough luck, lining out or driving balls 399 feet to center field — one of those things with Timmy,” Penn coach John Yurkow explained. “And eventually, you know how baseball goes, you hit the ball hard enough, things are gonna start to fall.”
Graul isn’t the only Penn player to have made an impression on the Ancient Eight coaches this season — fellow catcher Matt O’Neill won the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award as well.
This is the first time the Quakers have boasted back-to-back winners — Graul follows former Penn catcher Austin Bossart, currently in the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization — and the first time they have had the Rookie and Player of the Year in the same season. O’Neill is just the second-ever member of the Red and Blue to win the award, joining Todd Roth in 2007.
“Obviously it’s a great sign — a lot has to go back to the job the coaching staff has done as a whole recruiting, getting the right types of kids,” Yurkow said. “Hopefully from this point on, you see more of this. I think it’s a great sign, it bodes well for the future.”
Throughout the year, Graul won three Ivy Player of the Week awards to go with a pair of Big 5 Player of the Week honors. His batting average was just .003 away from allowing him to complete the triple crown — the junior led the league with eight home runs and 35 RBI to go along with a .364 average. Graul was named first team All-Ivy as a designated hitter and second team as a catcher.
O’Neill also took the Ivy League by storm in his first year in University City — also adding honorable mention All-Ivy as a DH and catcher to his resume in 2016. The Morristown, N.J., native finished in the conference’s top 10 in batting average (.341), on-base percentage (.424), RBI (26) and runners caught stealing (11).
“I thought he got off to a decent start but he made some adjustments with his swing about halfway through the season — he shortened his stride up and kept his hands higher — and his power numbers really went up,” Yurkow noted. “From that point ... he really just took off for us.”
The two divided reps behind the plate, with O’Neill starting just over half of Penn’s games at catcher — as Graul would then serve as designated hitter, and vice-versa.
Joining Graul and O’Neill with the All-Ivy honors four teammates. With Graul on the first team was senior outfielder Gary Tesch. Junior pitcher Gabe Kleiman and senior shortstop Ryan Mincher both found their way to the All-Ivy second team while junior pitcher Mike Reitcheck earned honorable mention.
As a team, the Quakers finished the season 19-22 overall and 10-10 in Ivy play, three games back of Princeton for the Gehrig Division title.
The Red and Blue lost only five players to graduation on Sunday, however, and both Graul and O’Neill figure to be back at Meiklejohn Stadium next season to help lead Penn to its potential first Ivy title since 1995.
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