by Jonathan Vander Lugt
For Penn Charter head coach Justin Hanley, another year means another season of a Siani sibling driving headlines for Quaker baseball.
Last year, it was Michael Siani, who went on to sign for $2 million with the Cincinnati Reds after being selected in the fourth round of the MLB draft.
This year, it’s his younger brother Sammy. The senior outfielder plays beyond his years, and pro scouts are taking notice.
“There are certainly challenges,” Hanley said, regarding the amount of professional attention Siani sees, “but he’s handling them very well.”
“(Sammy’s) not pressing and he’s still performing at a really high level,” Hanley said. “It’s almost normal for him. It speaks a lot to his upbringing, and I think he learned a lot from his older brother when Michael went through that process.”
It’s hard to say where he’ll go in June’s draft. Fangraphs.com – a good source of detailed prospect info – pegs him as roughly a top-50 player. He figures to be a strong commit to Duke, but as with any teenager, it would be hard to imagine him turning down a multi-million dollar signing bonus especially after seeing his brother get one last year.
His profile, inevitably, will be compared to Michael as well. He has a similarly athletic, all-around skillset, but with the dial notched a little higher on offensive potential and a little lower on defense.
“Sammy’s got a little more raw power, and I think that’s where his game is,” Hanley said. “He’s got a bit bigger frame too, and a bit of a better eye for the strike zone – and he’s been that way since he was a freshman.”
“He’s mature beyond his years, and he knows what he’s doing at the plate. He has an approach every at-bat, and that’s rare for high-school athletes,” Hanley said. “It’s a blessing just to watch him every day.”
It’s rare that high schoolers have a good ability to discern balls and strikes alone – most only swing at what looks good – but Siani seems to be able to not only do that, but discern good strikes from bad ones.
This means he has the wherewithal and bat control to foul off pitches that are rulebook strikes (but difficult to do damage on) while he waits for the pitcher to make a mistake.
One moment that stood out was in a playoff game last year against Springside Chestnut Hill. Penn Charter was down three runs, and Siani stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded.
“He wasn’t going to get an inner-half fastball right away, but he knew he would eventually,” Hanley said. “He kept fouling off pitches on the outer half, knowing that he needed to do that in order to get a pitch he liked.”
“Once he did, he hit a grand slam,” Hanley said. “Seeing a 16-year-old with an approach like that is next-level stuff.”
Sammy isn’t the only Siani on this year’s Quaker team – the other, Jake, is one of three sophomores that Hanley will count on to pitch the bulk of his team’s innings.
“They’re battle-tested,” Hanley said of the youngest Siani and fellow sophomores Danny Will and Colin Lewandowski. “I never want to put young pitchers in situations that are designed to fail, but I did put them in some tough spots last year and they did incredibly well.”
“They’ve been very coachable,” he went on. “I’ve been working with the pitching coach to help them learn that it’s not all about velocity – it’s about changing your eye angles and hitting your spots.”
Again, he’ll rely on them heavily this year, and on the other side of the ball he wants to push the limits of his opponents’ execution.
“We have a lot of speed this year, so we’re really preaching ‘work the gaps,’” he said. “I’m expecting to lead the league in triples. If not that, then we’ll hopefully hit doubles and steal third.”
“We preach the notion of forcing the other team to make errors. If we’re fast and we’re stealing, we’re forcing the other catcher to make a perfect throw and get us out,” Hanley said. “If he does, well, then you tip your cap, but we like to be aggressive.”
PC was set to christen its brand-new field on Friday against archrival Germantown Academy, but poor weather got in the way. Instead, they’ll open up league play against the Episcopal Academy Tuesday. After a 5-5 finish in league play and most of his best talent returning, Hanley has set high standards for his squad.
“Last year, outside expectations were down because there was a lot of turnover,” Hanley said. “But we really focused on asking our kids – especially the freshmen and sophomores – ‘Why not you? Why can’t you all perform and go out and win?’”
“That really resonated with them and they all contributed,” he went on. “Our team proved last year that they can play with the big boys.”