Entering the 2013 season, freshman catcher Michael D’Acunti did not believe he would be in the mix to play for Temple (6-9), let alone have the opportunity to start in coach Ryan Wheeler’s lineup right away.
Following the loss of senior catcher Taylor Juran after the 2012 season, D’Acunti has not only earned the respect of his coaches but also the respect and trust of his teammates as a freshman this season.
Standing at 6 foot, 2 inches, the left handed hitting catcher from Dix Hills, N.Y. has a batting average of .250 with 2 RBI in seven games, all of which D’Acunti started. He is fourth on the team with a .407 on base percentage and has four walks and three strikeouts in 22 at bats this season. The catcher has also added one stolen base in his first season with the Owls.
“Right now, he is still a freshman trying to adjust to the collegiate game,” coach Ryan Wheeler said. “Some days things haven’t gone according to plan and we are still trying to work on things with [D’Acunti]. We try to pick and choose spots to use him to have success but I couldn’t be happier with how he works and tries to improve each day.”
While every freshman collegiate athlete faces the challenge to jump from the high school game to the college game, D’Acunti is making a smooth transition and is fitting in well and has made immediate impact with the team, Wheeler said.
“He is doing really well right now,” sophomore pitcher Eric Peterson said. “Obviously when we were all freshman, we faced the learning curve to the collegiate game but he has dealt with it very well and is playing really well to this point.”
In 2012, the Owls had only one true catcher on the roster in Juran. During the recruiting process a year ago, Wheeler said he was looking for a player he could use right away to replace Juran, which is exactly what he found in D’Acunti.
“From what I saw from Michael in high school, I knew he was an outgoing catcher with exceptional skills,” Wheeler said. “I thought he would be a good fit with what we are trying do to here at Temple.”
Besides Temple, D’Acunti said he was considering Richmond University, Furman University, and George Mason.
“I chose Temple because I was in a good position to come into a new program with coach Wheeler,” D’Acunti said. “My college choice was really focused around baseball.”
While coach Wheeler and pitching coach Brian Pugh have helped D’Acunti adjust to the collegiate game, D’Acunti credits much of his success to Juran, who joined Temple this season as a student assistant coach.
“I think it’s really important to have such a young guy around helping us,” D’Acunti said about Juran as an assistant coach. “We can always be ourselves. [Juran] is more on our level and understands us because he just got out of the game last year.”
In four seasons with the Owls, Juran batted .282 with 70 RBI and three home runs. In 154 games played at Temple, Juran compiled a .990 fielding percentage as a catcher.
“We definitely do not have the physical attributes in common, but mentally, we have similar personalities,” Juran said about whether he and D’Acunti share similar playing styles. “He is a big strong kid and I didn’t have that as a freshman. What we do have in common is that he is a fun kid with high intensity. He really has a good head on his shoulders and it’s easy to work with a guy like that.”
By working with Juran, D’Acunti said his defense as a catcher has greatly improved along with his ability to make throws to second and third base.
“If there is anything I would like to continue to focus on more with coach Juran, it’s my defense,” D’Acunti said. “I want to continue to get better a blocking behind the plate.”
As a freshman, D’Acunti has been noticed by his teammates as well, specifically redshirt-senior pitcher Dan Moller. On March 1, 2013, D’Acunti caught Moller in Temple’s 9-2 loss to Old Dominion.
“[D’Acunti] has got a really good arm and that helps me as a pitcher to control the game,” Moller said. “He also receives pitches very well and just seems to be getting more comfortable behind the plate. He is starting to let go a little bit and relax while he is catching.”
Wheeler described D’Acunti as a player who is valuable to the team this season, but has an even brighter future with Temple.
“[D’Acunti] has a tremendous arm, a little bit of speed, he is a good left-handed hitting catcher and he has great leadership skills,” Wheeler said. “He needs to continue to work on his approach at the plate but the future is his for the taking. It is the little things that will separate him from the rest.”
Both Wheeler and Juran said that as long as D’Acunti feels that need to improve and continues to work on different aspects of his game, he can be a very special player for Temple for years to come.
“Each day he needs to remind himself that he has to keep working,” Juran said. “As long as he focuses on the little things, he will be successful. The sky is the limit for the kid.”
John Murrow can be reached at email@example.com or Twitter @JohnMurrow12