Deep, experienced Madison ready to improve upon last year’s semifinal finish

Vinny Caiazza likes his starting rotation, offensively his Madison baseball team is deeper and more potent, and is typically sound in the field. These are the reasons many have pegged the Knights as a city title contender.

Caiazza, however, won’t go that far.

“If you want to compare my team to Monroe, George Washington and Norman Thomas, you can’t,” he said, referring to three of the city’s superpowers. “Athletically, we can’t compare.”

Of course, Madison wasn’t supposed to compare last year, either, yet it made the city semifinals with an inexperienced club, losing to Monroe in two games. That youthful bunch is now a year older, and is boosted by the addition of two impact transfers — infielder/right hander Joe Abadia of Canarsie and rightfielder Brandon Cruz of Xaverian.

The look at the top of the pitching staff is the same as senior Eddie Lenahan, he of the 7-1 record and 0.54 ERA last year, is back. Last year’s No. 2, left-hander Anthony Frangello, failed off, but sophomores Joe Cali and Mike Fitzpatrick have impressed thus far. The two, who started up the middle at shortstop and second base, respectively, didn’t pitch because they were too young. They have since both gotten stronger, added changeups and have enjoyed plenty of preseason success.

Neither is particularly overpowering — both top out in the low 80’s — but Cali can throw four different pitches — fastball, changeup, cut fastball and curveball — for strikes in any count and Fitzpatrick locates well, too.

“I’d like to see them in two years,” Caiazza said.

Abadia will also see time on the mound and Matt Ecock, a hard-throwing righty, will close out games for Madison. He has added a changeup to go with his sharp hook and blistering fastball.

Madison struggled to score runs last year, but that shouldn’t be a problem this spring. Ecock has developed as a hitter and will be the Knights’ designated hitter, Cruz is an upgrade, and Fitzpatrick also has pop. Catcher Chris Mann has come on, as have outfielders John Yuksekol and Joe Calascione, Caiazza’s cleanup man who batted .426 last with 11 RBIs and 13 runs scored.

“We’re hitting better this year than we did all of last year,” Caiazza said.

Caiazza also has maneuverability. Depending on the pitcher, he can move guys around. Last year ended with Cali at shortstop and Fitzpatrick at second base. But Abadia can play either position and sophomore Robert Salo and Fitzpatrick plays first and second, too.

Still, Caiazza isn’t sure how Madison can stack up against the rest of the city. He lacks the high-end talent as Monroe, Norman Thomas and George Washington. He doesn’t have a Mike Antonio, the Trojans’ shortstop expected to be pick in June’s MLB Draft.

“The difference between my team and those teams is we play a very good brand of baseball — and I’m not saying they don’t — but they can overcome mistakes through their athleticism,” he said. “We have to play extremely good, smart baseball. That’s why we got to the semis last year. We play good defense, we got some timely hitting, we had good pitching.”

Caiazza compares Madison to Tottenville, which they beat in the quarterfinals last year.

“Tottenville doesn’t have outstanding athletes, but they have good baseball players and they play good baseball,” he said.

The Pirates won it all in 2007. Caiazza would like that to be another similarity between the two clubs.