Notre Dame Fighting Irish - Official Athletics Website

Notre Dame Incoming Baseball Class Ranked No. 1 In Nation By Baseball America

Oct. 10, 2001

The honors keep coming for the Notre Dame baseball program, as Baseball America magazine has recognized the Irish for having the nation’s top incoming recruiting class for the 2002 season.

“Junior-college players always make a strong impact in baseball recruiting, but the freshman classes at Notre Dame and Stanford are so strong, they came out at the top of Baseball America’s recruiting rankings without the help of juco talent,” said Baseball America’s college editor John Manuel.

“The Fighting Irish kept all of their signees, most importantly two-way talent Matt Macri. The Twins’ 17th-round pick, a first-round talent who fell because of his Notre Dame commitment, replaces the lone departed starter from last year’s lineup and should handle closer duties behind a pitching staff that will feature at least two freshmen in prominent roles. Righthanders Chris Niesel, a key South Florida product, and Martin Vergara, a New Jersey native stolen away from Rutgers, may have the inside track. But (national) assistant coach of the year Brian O’Connor brought in four other pitchers with significant upside.”

The top five teams on Baseball America’s list included Stanford, Southern California, Clemson and Louisiana State. Collegiate Baseball magazine recently ranked Notre Dame’s incoming class third, behind USC and LSU (with Miami fourth and Stanford fifth).

Most schools completed the recruiting process early in the summer but the national publications delayed their rankings in order to factor in signees who opted to pursue their professional careers.

Notre Dame’s talented group of newcomers is led by shortstop/pitcher Matt Macri (Dowling, Iowa) and righthander Chris Niesel (Plantation, Fla.)-who some consider to be the nation’s top incoming freshmen at their respective positions. Righthanders Martin Vergara (Paterson, N.J.) and Grant Johnson (Burr Ridge, Ill.) joined Macri by earning Gatorade player-of-the-year honors for their respective states while another righthander, John Axford (Brantford, Ontario), elected to attend Notre Dame rather than signing as the seventh-round pick of the Seattle Mariners.

Niesel and Macri had impressive outings in Tuesday’s blue-gold intrasquad game while Johnson pitched the final two frames of that seven-inning game, when he touched as high as 96 miles-per-hour with his fastball and struck out Notre Dame’s top power hitter Brian Stavisky to end the game (7-4, with two runners on base).

The other newcomers include righthander Tyler Jones (Arlington, Texas), shortstop Matt Edwards (Mechanicsville, Va.), catcher Jay Molina (Moline, Ill.) and lefthander Scott Bickford (Owings, Md.).

The all-around talent of the 11-player class-which includes two recent additions in outfielder/catcher Brent Weiss (Cockeysville, Md.) and infielder Geoff Millsom (New York, N.Y.)-stands as a tribute to the diligent recruiting effort of head coach Paul Mainieri, associate head coach/recruiting coordinator Brian O’Connor and assistant coach Dusty Lepper.

Five of the current freshmen were selected in the 2001 Major League draft, with most slipping down (or out of) the draft due to their strong commitments to attend Notre Dame. The signees who were selected in the 2001 draft were led by Axford (7th round, Seattle), Vergara (15th round, Cleveland) and Macri (17th round, Minnesota). Jones-who joined Axford as Notre Dame’s pair of spring signees-was a 30th-round pick of the Atlanta Braves while Niesel’s strong commitment to Notre Dame dropped him to the 47th round (where he was picked by the Chicago Cubs). Johnson’s firm position on attending Notre Dame resulted in Johnson not being selected during the 50-round draft (he was one of the top pitchers on the 2001 U.S. Junior National Team).

Notre Dame’s wide-reaching roster base is evident in the fact that the 11 freshmen hail from nine different states/provinces-Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ontario, Texas and Virginia-with the 2002 Irish roster now set to include players from at least 20 different states or provinces (also Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington).

See the Aug. 29 release on the Notre Dame website ( for detailed and updated information on the 11 newcomers.

Notre Dame Baseball Freshman Class

Player (Pos., Ht./Wt., Bats) Hometown (Previous School)
John Axford (RHP, 6-4/180) Port Dover, Ontario (Assumption College HS)
Scott Bickford (LHP, 6-4/160) Owings, MD (Northern HS)/tr
Matt Edwards (SS/OF, 6-2/180) RMechanicsville, VA (Lee-Davis HS)
Grant Johnson (RHP, 6-6/205) Burr Ridge, IL (Lyons Township HS)
Tyler Jones (RHP, 6-5/190) Arlington, TX (James Martin HS)
Matt Macri (SS/RHP, 6-2/195, R) Clive, IA (Dowling HS)
Geoff Milsom (IF, 6-1/195, L) New York, NY (Poly Prep HS)
Jay Molina (C, 5-11/195, R) Moline, IL (Moline HS)
Chris Niesel (RHP, 6-0/185) Plantation, FL (St. Thomas Aquinas HS)
Martin Vergara (RHP, 6-1/180) Paterson, NJ (DePaul Catholic HS)
Brent Weiss (OF/C, 6-1/225, R) Cockeysville, MD (St. Paul’s HS)