RICHMOND, Va. – After five straight seasons of 34 or more victories, VCU Coach Shawn Stiffler and his staff have made it clear they don't rebuild. They reload.
The Rams again signaled to a bright future on the horizon Thursday when they unveiled a 15-man recruiting class that features a footprint from Canada to Florida. In addition to 10 high school standouts, Stiffler and his staff have added five players from the junior college ranks. All 15 will take the field for VCU this spring.
"It's always exciting to welcome new players in to our program," said Stiffler, who is set to embark at his seventh season at the helm. "Our coaching staff did an outstanding job of finding high-character players and building relationships with those players. Ram Nation is going to love this next group of Rams!"
Here's a glance at VCU's 2018 recruits:
Danny Watson, RHP, 6-6, 190, Nassau, N.Y./Columbia
About Watson: Joins VCU's pitching staff following a senior season in which he led Columbia to a Section II Championship and posted a 0.32 in 28 playoff innings. Named 2018 Under Armour Preseason All-American, 2018 Times Union Large School High School All-Star, 2018 Suburban Council Baseball First Team, 2018 Team MVP and 2018 New York State Sportswriters Association Class AA Large School All-State. Has also distinguished himself off the field. Received numerous community service and leadership honors, including 2018 Suburban Council Excellence in Leadership Award, 2018 South End Children's Café Young Volunteer of the Year.
Stiffler on Watson: "Danny is exactly what you look for in a young high school player. He has the size and strength to add to his low 90's fastball."
Brandon Henson, OF, 6-0, 185, Reynoldsville, Ohio/Sinclair Community College
About Henson: Batted .388 last season for Sinclair with 19 doubles, eight triples and a school-record 10 home runs. Slugged .753. Named First Team All-Conference and First Team All-Region.
Stiffler on Henson: "Brandon has all the tools to impact our program right away. He is able to defend all three outfield positions. His speed and power make him an option at both the top and middle of our lineup."
Brett Young, INF, 6-0, 180, Wynantskill, N.Y./Albany Academy
About Young: New York's No. 2-ranked third baseman in the class of 2018, according to Prep Baseball Report. Two-time All-State selection, three-time First Team All-Area. Slashed .393/.538/.740 last season for Albany Academy. Broke school single-season home run record with seven. Led the Cadets to a state runner-up finish in 2017 and a state finals appearance in 2018. Three-sport letterman in high school. Helped Albany Academy to a state basketball championship in 2017 and was named All-Area in football twice as a safety.
Stiffler on Young: "Brett's athleticism and versatility are what drew us to him. He was a three-sport athlete in high school who brings a diverse skill set to several positions."
Connor Hicks, C, 5-11, 180, Glen Allen, Va./Glen Allen
About Hicks: Local product earned Second Team All-State and First Team All-Region honors for Glen Allen last season after hitting .373 with three homers and 19 RBIs. Recorded an OPS of 1.174. Also named All-Academic.
Stiffler on Hicks: "Connor is kind of a throwback player. It's hard to ignore his leadership qualities. He really understands that game and has the potential to be a real field general behind the plate."
Justin Sorokowski, RHP, 6-2, 200, Mechanicsville, Va./Tallahassee CC
About Sorokowski: A Mechanicsville native, Sorokowski will have three years of eligibility remaining following one outstanding season at Tallahassee Community College. Crafted a 5-1 record and 2.35 ERA, including an 0.84 ERA in conference games, over 65 innings for the Eagles in 2018. Struck out 80 and walked just 16. Named First Team All-Panhandle Conference and Second Team All-State for his efforts. Also named to the Panhandle Conference All-Academic Team.
Stiffler on Sorokowski: "We were excited to bring Justin back home. Justin is one of those guys who really knows how to pitch. His 90-plus fastball and his ability to command all of his pitches should put Justin at the top of our rotation very soon."
Logan Amiss, C, 5-10, 195, Powhatan, Va./Powhatan
About Amiss: Decorated backstop who earned Second Team All-State, First Team All-Conference and All-Region last season after hitting .472 with an on-base percentage of.541 Powhatan. Slugged a pair of home runs and did not commit an error as a catcher during the 2018 season. Selected for VHSCA All-Star Game.
Stiffler on Amiss: "Logan has been around our program for several years. He first caught our eye at several of our camps. He has developed into one of the best left-handed bats in the area. We think his bat has the ability to play in the middle of the order."
Andrew Puglielli, INF, 5-11, 185, Naples, Fla./Florida Southwestern CC
About Puglielli: Joins VCU following a breakout sophomore campaign at Florida Southwestern Community College, in which he batted a team-high .328, including .339 in NJCAA Region 8 games. Was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 40th round of the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft after hitting .478 for Gulf Coast High School in Naples, Fla., third-best among Florida 7A schools. Named First Team All-Conference and Team MVP for his efforts.
Stiffler on Puglielli: "Andrew will be a very consistent player for us. He was one of the best hitters in one of the best junior college conferences in the country. Andrew has an unbelievable attitude, and his work ethic will affect everyone in our program."
Maddison Furman, LHP, 5-10, 175, Richmond, Va./St. Christopher's
About Furman: Left-hander from Richmond who led St. Christopher's to a VISAA Division I State Championship last spring with a 9-1 record and 1.23 ERA on the mound. Struck out 77 in 57 innings while issuing just 15 walks. Opposing batters hit just .182 against him. Also hit .324 with 15 RBIs at the plate. Named First Team All-State, All-Metro and All-Prep, as was as a finalist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Male Scholar Athlete of the Year award.
Stiffler on Furman: "Maddison was one of the best left-handed pitchers in the area over the past few years. He played for a very good high school program and brings a winning pedigree to our program."
Jaden Griffin, LHP, 5-11, 185, Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia/Vauxhall Academy
About Griffin: A member of Canadian National Team program, Griffin piled up 80 innings between three Canadian organizations last year and recorded a 2.90 ERA, while striking out 102. Received the Coaches Award at Vauxhall Academy for outstanding work ethic and academics.
Stiffler on Griffin: "Jaden was one of the best prep left-handed pitchers in Canada. He is extremely versatile. He has had success at a very high international level, and we believe that experience will play huge in our program."
Evan Chenier, RHP, 6-4, 205, Georgetown, Ontario/Christ the King
About Chenier: The No. 12-ranked right-hander in Ontario, according to Perfect Game. Also named a Preseason All-American by Perfect Game in 2018. A member of the Ontario Blue Jays organization. Named All-Tournament Team at the World Wood Bat Championship.
Stiffler on Chenier: "We were excited to sign a player with Evan's ability so late in the process. Evan has an electric arm and an aggressive mentality that we are excited to see continue to develop."
Brady Underwood, LHP, 6-2, 180, Floyd, Va./Patrick Henry CC
About Underwood: Helped lead Patrick Henry within one victory of the NJCAA National Tournament and a 38-16-1 record in 2018. Struck out 31 in 30 innings out of the bullpen for the Patriots. Standout at Floyd County High School who was named Conference Pitcher of the Year and First Team All-Region.
Stiffler on Underwood: "I'm excited about the role Brady will play on our staff. He will be able to give us a different look that can be very tough on hitters."
Tomas Sanchez, OF, 6-1, 185, Dewitt, Va./Dinwiddie
About Sanchez: Batted .516 with 11 doubles, seven triples, three home runs and 31 RBIs for Dinwiddie as a senior on the way to First Team All-State, All-Region and All-Metro Honors. Named Region 4B Player of the Year, as well as VHSL All-State Game MVP.
Stiffler on Sanchez: "Tomas possesses every tool to really be a dynamic player in our program. He will be able to impact the game in the box, on the bases and on defense. His aggressive style will be exciting to coach."
Noah Heisler, INF, 5-11, 1785, Madison Heights, Va.
About Heisler: Returns to action after he was sidelined by injury as a senior. Batted .480 with six home runs in 2017 for the Richmond Braves travel organization.
Stiffler on Heisler: "Noah is a baseball player. He has tremendous feel for the game. His advanced approach at the plate was one of the first things we noticed about him. Noah has the ability to play about seven positions in the field, and that versatility will prove valuable to us."
Cooper Benzin, OF, 6-2, 190, Ashland, Va./Glen Allen
About Benzin: Three-year letterwinner who hit .314 with a .404 on-base percentage as a senior. Drove in 22 runs and stole 15 bases in 21 games. Selected First Team All-Region. Named Glen Allen's Defensive Player of the Year.
Stiffler on Benzin: "We love Coop's athleticism. His speed will be a game-changer on the bases and in the field. As a coach it is always very exciting when you get to work with someone who has his type of tool set."
Brett Norwood, INF, 5-11, 180, Chantilly, Va./South Florida State CC
About Norwood: A Chantilly, Va. native, Norwood batted .338 with six homers, 27 RBIs and 24 stolen bases for South Florida State Community College last year on the way to First Team All-Suncoast Conference. Earned an All-Star nod in the Cal Ripken Summer League.
Stiffler on Norwood: "Brett is going to be a real spark to our program. He can play every infield position, as well as, hit just about anywhere in our lineup. Brett has the ability to hit you a double when you need it, lay down a bunt for a hit, or steal a base whenever you need it."