ORONO, Maine — There’s no getting around it. There are numerous unknowns as the University of Maine baseball team prepares to open its 2015 season on Friday.

Coach Steve Trimper and his staff welcomed 16 newcomers last fall to incorporate them with a nucleus of six returning position players and several veteran pitchers.

The Black Bears hope to receive strong leadership from their upperclassmen, get improved production from former role players and find out which of the freshmen and transfers can step in and contribute at the Division I level.

“This has been the tightest group I’ve ever had at this juncture and it’s going to be key with this team because we have a lot of depth in different spots,” Trimper said of a UMaine team picked to finish second in the America East preseason coaches poll.

“It’s been emotionally satisfying for me to watch what this group has done with the coaching staff and how they communicate,” added Trimper, whose club opens with a four-game series against Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Winter Haven, Florida.

UMaine’s proven performers are headed by senior pitcher/designated hitter Scott Heath of Westbrook and senior outfielders Brian Doran and Sam Balzano of Portland, and infielder/pitcher Luke Morrill of South Thomaston.

Heath, the team captain, was an all-league first-team designated hitter and a second-teamer at first base in 2014. He led the team with a .361 batting average and had four home runs, 14 doubles and 29 runs batted in.

“Scott is just a tremendous athlete,” Trimper said. “The team revolves around him.”

Doran (.314, 20 RBI) and Balzano (.289, 14 RBI, 12 stolen bases) are fourth-year starters. Morrill (.250, 1 HR, 12 RBI) has played a variety of positions.

Other key returnees include junior infielder Shane Bussey (.250, 13 RBI), who returns after a suspension for violating team rules, along with junior catcher Jon Salcedo (.214, 2 HR, 15 RBI), senior outfielder Steven Adam (.256, 10 RBI), sophomore righty Jeff Gelinas of Saco (3-4, 3.86 earned run average), an all-rookie pick, and senior reliever Jacob Gosselin-Deschesnes (1-2, 2.81 ERA).

More pitching experience comes from juniors Charlie Butler (1-5, 2.54), Jake Marks (0-2, 8.84) and Logan Fullmer (3-1, 6.59).

A promising incoming class features junior transfers Kevin Stypulkowski, a catcher, and Brett Chappell, a shortstop, who are expected to crack the lineup in Florida.

Freshman right-hander Justin Courtney has earned a spot in the starting rotation after helping Bangor win Class A and American Legion state titles last year. Among the other promising freshmen are four Florida infielders, Danny Diaz, Christian Garabedian, Bobby Brennan and Alex Cabrera.

“The freshmen are so good that they’re putting pressure on the upperclassmen for their jobs, so we have to compete day in and day out,” Doran said.

“Since Day 1 they’ve been 100 percent in our process and it’s really worked out well.”

On the mound, UMaine (24-29, 10-11 AE) must replace all-conference, first-teamer Tommy Lawrence and Shaun Coughlin, who accounted for half the team’s wins and more than 40 percent of its innings pitched and strikeouts.

The left-handed Heath (3-3, 4.86, 1 save) steps in to head the staff. Initially, he’ll be joined in a four-man starting rotation that includes Gelinas, Marks and Courtney.

“To me, Scott is hands down our best guy and probably one of the best pitchers in the conference,” Trimper said.

Gelinas was dominating at times in 2014, while Gosselin-Deschesnes was valuable in relief. UMaine hopes Marks can rediscover the form he showed as a freshman and Morrill also could contribute.

With standout freshman Chris Murphy having undergone reconstructive elbow surgery, Fullmer and Butler have experience to lend.

Freshman righties Clay Conaway, Jonah Normandeau of Cumberland, River Carbone and John Arel, and lefty Connor Johnson, along with sophomore Chris Piteo, will compete for mound time.

“They’re going to throw strikes, they’re going to get contact and they’re going to rely on our defense,” Trimper said. “There’s not a 94-miles-an-hour, blow-you-away guy.”

Experience abounds in the outfield with Balzano moving to center field and Doran and Adam having plenty of experience. Sophomores Jake Osborne, Luc Della Fera and Brennan provide depth.

In the infield Chappell, a transfer from Parkland Community College in Champaign, Illinois, steps in at shortstop and probably will bat in the No. 2 spot. The hard-hitting Diaz and Morrill are the leading candidates at third base while Bussey, Brennan and Cabrera can all play second.

Stypulkowski, who played a Miami Dade Community College, has the offensive potential to complement Salcedo’s defensive prowess behind the plate. Heath, Garabedian, Morrill and junior Brenden Geary are in the mix at first base.

“This is the deepest team we’ve had in a while,” Heath said. “We’ve got four or five guys at each position. It makes everyone better in practice and I think you’re going to see a lot of good results this spring because of all the time and effort we’ve put in during the fall and the winter.”

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...