The rise of Rice’s Dominic DiCaprio as an offensive threat mirrors the transformation the Rice offense made from 2016 to 2017 as a whole.
In 2016, DiCaprio had a nice year at the plate. He hit for some average and he did a good job of putting the ball in play and limiting his strikeouts, but he didn’t hit for much power. On the season, he hit .293/.335/.339 with six doubles and 20 RBI.
You could describe the entirety of the 2016 Rice offense in a similar way. They hit for some average (six hitters had .270 averages or better). They limited their strikeouts for the most part (just one regular had a strikeout total of 40 or higher). They also didn’t hit for much power (they had 26 homers as a team, with a team high of five).
But you could see the potential with DiCaprio. Sure, his hits weren’t finding the gaps, which would have turned singles into doubles, and the lift on the ball wasn’t quite there, which would have created some home runs, but he hit the ball as hard as anyone on the team when he made solid contact. He was also just a freshman, so you knew that his body would mature and he would gain some strength.
As a sophomore, we saw that development on display. His average was even better than it had been before. He also drew more walks. But most of all, he was much more physical and displayed impressive power. For the season, he hit .366/.438/.508 with 16 doubles, six home runs, and 49 RBI. To top it off, he played incredibly well against the best teams on Rice’s schedule. According to stats from his athletic department bio, DiCaprio hit .408 with a .478 on-base percentage against teams that went on to participate in the NCAA postseason.
Once again, that paralleled what was going on with the Rice offense at large. The team’s batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage were all improved, and their collective home run total jumped from 26 to 55. The power surge wasn’t just due to one or two players muscling up, either. The team high in home runs in 2016 was five. In 2017, seven different players had at least that many. The team, like DiCaprio individually, also did their best work when the heat was on. The Owls weren’t going to get into a regional unless they got hot at the right time and won the Conference USA Tournament, and that’s precisely what they did.
In 2018, Rice will likely need DiCaprio to be as good as he was in 2017 if they’re going to get back into the postseason. He’ll have help from fellow veterans like Ryan Chandler and Ford Proctor, who have both had really productive careers, but offensive leaders Dane Myers, Tristan Gray, Darryn Sheppard, Charlie Warren, and Dayne Wunderlich are gone.
Of course, if DiCaprio makes a jump from his sophomore season to his junior season like he did between his first two seasons, he very well could become the type of player who carries an offense on his own.