*Note from Mark (@usfbaseballfans) with It’s Brewin at Mcewen: I want to thank our friends from each of the 3 other schools participating in the USF Invitational this weekend. They did a great job answering these questions about their respective teams. We hope you enjoy getting some local knowledge into each of these exciting college baseball programs before they all square off this weekend.
#1) How would you describe the current state of your school’s baseball program and their expectations for 2022?
UCONN – response provided by Luke from The UConn Blog: The expectation this year is the same as every year in Storrs: To win the Big East, and to advance deep into the NCAA tournament. UConn would be odds-on favorites to complete the latter, but will have to replace a decent amount of production for the latter to come true.
Charlotte – response provided by The Diamond Niner Report: Charlotte is coming off one of the most successful seasons the program has seen in a long time. In 2021 the 49ers went to their 1st Regional in 10 years, was ranked the highest in program history at #15, and won the C-USA Regular Season title. Expectations are high to build on that success and take the next steps toward Omaha. Charlotte should compete for the title in C-USA again this season in Coach Woodard’s 2nd full season.
Louisville – response provided by the Louisville Baseball Alumni Report: The theme for the 2022 season is undoubtedly, “revenge tour.” Louisville is coming off a 2021 season that saw them go 28-22, ranked as high as number four in the country. The wheels fell off near the end of the season and the team missed out on the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011, just the second time in Dan McDonnell’s tenure. In order to accomplish the revenge tour, Louisville will be looking for guys to step up. Seven players were lost to the draft in 2021, including number one overall pick, Henry Davis. On top of this, another seven graduated or entered the transfer portal. 2022’s Louisville squad is young, led by a few veterans who are hungry to return to the postseason.
USF – response provided by Mark from It’s Brewin at McEwen: The USF Baseball program is coming off their most successful season ever. Last year, USF made it to a Super-Regional for the first time in school history and won their first conference championship since 1996. Head Coach Billy Mohl enters his 5th season at the helm and has made it to an NCAA tournament in 2 of his 3 opportunities so far (can’t count 2020). The main expectation for the team this year is to be more consistent in the regular season (USF’s record was 24-26 last year in the regular season) and to go deep into the postseason again.
#2) How would you describe the style of baseball your team plays? What’s their winning recipe?
UCONN – response provided by Luke from The UConn Blog: UConn builds their reputation on pitching, and this year is no different. Austin Peterson enters the year as the Friday night starter, named second-team All Big East in 2021, going 7-1 with a 2.58 ERA and a .201 average against. Last year, the Huskies had a lineup that could hurt you up and own the order, and this year seems to be no different, but will rely more heavily on newcomers Ben Huber and Casey Donlan to do so.
Charlotte – response provided by The Diamond Niner Report: The foundation of this team will be good pitching and solid defense, but this team is going to put up some runs. All-American/ C-USA Player of the Year Austin Knight (Jacksonville, FL) returns to the line-up and he led the nation in Doubles last year (29). Corner infielder David McCabe led the Niners in HRs last year with 14. D1 Baseball mentioned that those two could be the best 1-2 punch in the country. Charlotte was in the top 25 last season in Runs Scored with 417.
Charlotte’s David McCabe – (Source)
Louisville – response provided by the Louisville Baseball Alumni Report: The typical Dan McDonnell offense is a high-octane offense that can do a little bit of everything. Most notably, the amount of athleticism on the team year in and year out is what is most impressive about the program. Louisville led the ACC in stolen bases last year with 113. Levi Usher, the individual ACC leader in stolen bases from 2021, is returning and looking to improve upon his performance at the plate. Despite hitting just .216 a year ago, Usher managed to swipe 26 bags for the Cardinals. The typical Louisville baseball team usually has a dominant group of pitchers as well. While this year’s team does not have a Reid Detmers or Bobby Miller, look for Luke Seed, Michael Prosecky, Tate Kuehner, and Kaleb Corbett to come into their own on the mound.
USF – response provided by Mark from It’s Brewin at McEwen: Last year, USF’s winning recipe was definitely pitching and defense aided by timely hitting. Assistant Coach Karsten Whitson, a former 1st round MLB Draft pick as a pitcher, did an amazing job last season working with the pitchers when he was the Volunteer Assistant. During AAC Conference play last season, the pitching staff posted a 3.23 ERA which was almost a whole point better than the closest competitor (ECU at 4.17). The job well done earned him a promotion into one of the 3 paid coaching roles where he continues to work with the pitchers. Of USF’s 538.1 innings pitched last season, 262 (nearly half) were thrown by pitchers that either graduated or transferred out. There is a lot of opportunity for new guys to step up and I’m confident that Whitson’s new look #ArmFarm will keep the trend of great pitching going. USF’s offense last season got the job done when it needed to, but I expect this year’s crew to be more consistent and explosive.
3) Who should fans watch out for from your team?
UCONN Standout Hitter: Erik Stock is the leader on both defense and offense. He will slot in at center field for the Huskies after featuring there in 48 games in 2021, and is the returning leader in batting average (.364), slugging (.556) and on-base (.426).
UCONN Standout Pitcher: The standout pitcher is the same as the standout freshman: Jack Sullivan has an impressive arm, touching the mid-90’s with his fastball, and is in possession of a nasty hook, using it to strike out fall ball opponents, teammates and minor leaguers returning to take part in preseason scrimmages alike.
UCONN Standout on Defense: Shortstop Zach Bushling and Chris Brown at third base are always good for a few impressive stops on the left side of the infield. UConn isn’t a program known for the flashiest plays on defense, but Penders’ preference for recruiting scrappy, disciplined players rarely ends up neglecting that side of the ball.
UCONN’s Eric Stock – (Source)
Charlotte – response provided by The Diamond Niner Report:
Charlotte Standout Hitter: David McCabe is a great hitter and has power to all fields from both sides of the plate. He’s been listed as a top 5 round prospect in the upcoming draft.
Charlotte Standout Pitcher: RHP Matt Brooks started the most games last year out of the pitchers returning (11). The 6th year senior is a savvy vet and allowed the fewest walks among the 49ers weekend starters from last year.
Charlotte Standout on Defense: Jack Dragum is a silky smooth SS that started all 61 games for Charlotte last year. He was all CPL as a relief pitcher two summers ago, so he has the arm to go along with the hands at SS.
Louisville – response provided by the Louisville Baseball Alumni Report:
Louisville Standout Hitter: At the plate, I am liking Dalton Rushing to have a breakout season. MLB Pipeline has him ranked as the 74th best draft prospect in 2022, so a lot of other people believe in his break-out as well. He is coming off an all-star summer in the Cape-Cod League and figures to get the bulk of playing time behind the plate. I don’t think I need to remind anyone of Louisville’s recent success with catchers.
Louisville Standout Pitcher: On the mound, keep an eye on Michael Prosecky. Yet to put it all together at Louisville, he is also coming off an all-star summer on the Cape. He showed that he has electric stuff and has the ability to fit into any role on the mound.
Louisville Standout on Defense: On the defensive side of the ball, there are a lot of questions. Less than a week away from the first game, not much is known about several defensive positions. Redshirt freshman Logan Beard figures to get the majority of reps at second base, while freshman Will Cook could challenge fifth-year senior Ben Bianco for the first base job. Chris Seng, JT Benson, Isaac Humphrey and Tyler Hawkins are all battling for the final spot in the outfield. With so many variables, be prepared for Dan McDonnell to run several different lineups out during the opening weekend in Tampa Bay. Along with Cook, look for Noah Smith, Will Koger, and Kurtis Reid to make some noise among the freshmen class and even potentially be regular contributors before too long.
USF – response provided by Mark from It’s Brewin at McEwen:
USF Standout Hitter: The combination of 2021 Freshman All-Americans (Drew Brutcher CF/LHB and Carmine Lane 3B/RHB) is just one part of what makes this lineup dangerous. Carmine led the team in hits and had 11 home runs last season while Drew posted 8 home runs in only 119 at bats (he missed 2 months with an injury). Also, the Bulls return the AAC Tournament MVP (Daniel Cantu – OF/LHB) who had 8 home runs last season and last season’s home run leader Roberto Pena (UTIL/RHB) who hit 12 in his first year with the Bulls after transferring in from the University of Florida.
USF Standout Pitcher: The Bulls return 2 out of their 4 starting pitchers from last season (RHP Jack Jasiak and RHP Brad Lord). Both were recently named to D1Baseball.com’s Top 150 Starting Pitchers list (Jack #25 & Brad #117). Also, out of the bullpen look out for Orion Kerkering (RHP) who Baseball America recently said has the “Best Breaking Ball” in the AAC and Joseph Sanchez (LHP) who has really good control posting 23 strikeouts to only 3 walks across 34 innings last season.
USF Standout on Defense: Look out for sophomore Catcher, Nelson Rivera (RHB). He can do it all behind the plate and was recently ranked by Baseball America as the #4 MLB Draft prospect in the AAC for the 2023 draft.
USF’s Drew Brutcher – (Source)
4) What is the X-Factor for your team to have success this weekend and the rest of the season? What needs to click for them?
UCONN – response provided by Luke from The UConn Blog: First baseman Ben Huber has, by far, one of the biggest opportunities to impress out of the entire lineup. Brought in from Division II Limestone College, the massive first baseman mashed at that level. I his last year at Division II, he led the conference in average (.439) and slugging (.742), hitting 10 home runs and led the team in all major statistics, including RBIs (48), total bases (98) and on-base percentage (.519). If he can take that type of production to Division I, Huber will be one of the best players in the conference, let alone the team.
Charlotte – response provided by The Diamond Niner Report: Charlotte lost a good percentage of their innings pitched from last season. Between the arms returning and the recruiting class brought in (from the portal, Juco, and HS), Charlotte’s success will depend on how well the pitching steps into their new roles this season. Charlotte pitchers broke the school record with 557 Ks last season, so there are big shoes to fill.
Louisville – response provided by the Louisville Baseball Alumni Report: I have been saying it as soon as last season ended, but this team will go as Levi Usher goes. Usher came to Louisville in 2020, following one season at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. While there, he hit .409 and kept it rolling during the shortened 2020 season when he hit .411 in 56 at-bats. Going into last season, he was a projected first round pick and on preseason watch lists for the Golden Spikes Award. It never fully clicked for him though, as he ended up finishing the season hitting .216 despite his success on the basepaths. The Cardinals need Levi Usher to return to form. The team returns only about 25% of their offensive production from last season and, as of now, do not have a hitter in the lineup with a proven track record. A potential 1-2 punch of Christian Knapczyk and Usher at the top of the lineup would go a long way for this year’s team.
Louisville’s Levi Usher – (Source)
USF – response provided by Mark from It’s Brewin at McEwen: I think USF has two X-Factors this season. The first I think is health. Last year, a handful of really good position players each missed at least half of the season. I’m very excited to see what a full year of Jarrett Eaton (OF/LHB) looks like after he missed half of last season. Once he came back from injury, he emerged as a hero for the Bulls in the postseason, slashing a monstrous .368/.432/.526 (958 OPS) across 11 postseason games. Having Jarrett in the lineup everyday alone could push this team to the next level. The 2nd X-Factor will be if unproven pitchers can step up and make a name for themselves. There is an assortment of talented arms on the USF pitching staff, but outside of Jasiak, Lord, Kerkering, and Sanchez not many have proven themselves in Division 1 baseball yet.
Bonus Fun Facts Shared By The Diamond Niner Report:
Bonus Fun Fact #1 – USF Associate Head Coach Bo Durkac spent 7 seasons as Hitting Coach at Charlotte under previous Head Coach Loren Hibbs. During that time, he coached 3 .400 hitters from Charlotte. 2007- Kris Rochelle (.404), 2008- Brad McElroy (.401) & 2009- Rob Lyerly (.401)
Bonus Fun Fact #2 – When Louisville Associate HC/ Pitching Coach Roger Williams was the Pitching Coach at North Carolina, he recruited and coached Charlotte HC Robert Woodard. Woodard was 8-0 with a 2.11 ERA under his tutelage in 2005.