Matthew Giardino (@BasesOnBulls)
John Kaplan (@JohnnyKII)
Mark Giardino (@USFBaseballFans)
Welcome back to the It’s Brewin at McEwen blog. Make sure you subscribe to our email list below so you don’t miss any of our posts.
Something Different (by Mark)
We wanted to switch it up a little bit this week and take a moment to reflect on how the team has done since AAC conference play started a bit over a month ago, back on April 1st. Since that point, the Bulls have played 19 games, 15 of them conference games and 4 of them non-conference. The Bulls have gone 5-14 (4-11 AAC) during that span. What’s gone wrong?
Key Players Sidelined, it Adds Up (by Mark)
This season as a whole has not gone according to plan. Our Friday night ace, Jack Jasiak was shut down for the season due to injury right before conference play started. Also, two of our most productive veteran hitters, Drew Brutcher and Ben Rozenblum have been out for the majority of conference action due to injury. Fortunately, Ben is expected to be back this weekend against UCF and Brutcher’s return is only about a week away according to Coach Mohl’s comments on the Beckles & Recher radio show yesterday.
The Bulls have also had to deal with an array of injuries across the pitching staff as a whole. One of the Bulls’ key pitchers from the beginning of the season, freshman Dylan Vega, who made 4 starts across 7 appearances in February and March was gone for nearly 6 weeks before he finally came back this past week in the mid-week matchup vs. Florida. Also, talented left handed sophomore pitcher Caleb Pundsack was out 3 weeks before coming back in the Florida game.
Other than the shut down of Jack Jasiak, it looks like all the players mentioned above will be available for the remainder of the season (other than Brutcher out vs. UCF) which is good news for the Bulls.
Two of Last Year’s Stars are Gone (by Mark)
The adversity this team has faced this year is not just limited to the injuries mentioned above. Two of the most productive players from last year’s Super-Regional run, Roberto Pena and Matt Ruiz, had been in and out of the lineup all season. Initially, they each served 9 game suspensions (from 2/20/22 until 3/9/22) due to a violation of team rules. Then, after working their way back into the lineup, the pair violated team rules again and were suspended for a 4/24/22 match up at Cincinnati before ultimately being removed from the team via Coach’s decision.
As I mentioned above, Pena and Ruiz were two of the most productive players on last year’s Super-Regional team. During the 2021 season, Pena tied for the team lead in home runs (12) and Ruiz led the team in doubles (15). They also both played in all 61 games last season and were major contributors defensively and emotionally for that 2021 team. It’s unfortunate that they weren’t able to replicate that success in 2022 and it definitely impacted this season’s win/loss record thus far whether you want to admit it or not.
Pena has 1 year of college eligibility remaining and Ruiz has 2. I always enjoyed watching them play on the field and they were always kind and fun to interact with in interviews. I really hope they both learn from this season and have a lot of success in the future wherever they end up.
The Good Part (by Matt and John)
Now that Mark has laid out everything that has gone wrong, let’s turn the attention to some positive developments. Ever since AAC conference play started on April 1st, there has been an array of players who have stepped up and taken their games to another level or made the most of their first opportunities in college baseball. Let’s take a look at who those players are.
Which hitter has impressed you the most since AAC play has started and why?
It goes without saying how incredible of a season, both in and out of conference play, redshirt sophomore Carmine Lane (aka the GOAT) has produced thus far. He is easily one of the best I have ever seen do it in the green & gold. In the 19 games since April 1st, Carmine has the highest batting average on the team (.354) and has a solid OPS of .871 with 15 RBIs. Paired perfectly with his clutch gene, Lane also has a very high baseball IQ; he knows when he needs to be the hero, & when he just needs to do a job. This season would have looked remarkably different without Niner on the field.
For me, I am most impressed by Marcus Brodil in terms of hitting. While a lot of the freshmen have had good games, it seems that Marcus has found the most level of consistency, especially when it comes to conference play. Ever since conference play started back on April 1st, Marcus has the highest OPS on the team (.919). Even more important than that in my opinion, is that he leads the Bulls with the lowest strikeout rate (only 9%) since April 1st. Marcus consistently strings together quality ABs and puts the ball in play. That’s definitely a recipe for success.
Which pitcher has impressed you the most since AAC play has started and why?
As far as pitching is concerned, due to a lot of injuries that Mark talked about above, it hasn’t been strong for the Bulls lately. However, one source of stability throughout the year and in conference play has been redshirt sophomore Ethan “Boogie” Brown. Although he started this season for the Bulls in the bullpen, he has usually been a starting pitcher in his career (served a starter last year at Seminole State College in Orlando). That experience helped Ethan make a smooth transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation when he got the opportunity on April 3rd against UCF. In that debut as a starting pitcher, he threw 3 scoreless innings.
Since the April 3rd conversion to starting pitcher, Boogie has thrown 21.1 innings across 5 starts with a 4.22 ERA. With velocity in the low to mid 90’s, this hard throwing lefty has struck out 19 across that span highlighted by a season high 7 strikeouts against Cincinnati two weeks ago. I look forward to the energy he is going to bring to our rotation & team as a whole moving forward – hopefully starting with a shut down performance against the space cadets this weekend.
Nolan Hudi has really impressed me since conference play has started. Excluding one rough outing last weekend against Houston, Hudi has gone 8 appearances during this time frame and has recorded 6 outings without surrendering a run. His 1.27 WHIP and K/BB ratio 6:0 during this time frame is also the best on the team out of all pitchers who’ve seen significant game action.
Which freshman has impressed you the most since AAC play has started and why?
I have to give this one to freshman Sonny Rao. Early on his appearances were somewhat limited, but when he got his shot, he capitalized. Rao put up serious numbers in conference play, despite having less at bats than some of the other starters, with a .385 BA/.538 SLG/.971 OPS. Second to only RS-sophomores Lane (11) & Cantu (9), Rao has 8 RBIs in conference games & they seemed to come at some of the biggest times. Cannot wait to see what this kid does the remainder of the season and what he does with a full season under his belt next year.
The freshman that has impressed me the most is Joey Volini. The size, composure and stuff are there for him to have a very successful collegiate and professional career. Similar to Hudi, Volini has also appeared in 8 games since conference play started and during that time turned in 6 scoreless outings. Most recently, he went out against Florida and pitched a scoreless inning of relief. Going forward, I’d like to see the free passes be minimized, but for now hitters are having a hard enough time with his stuff (.172 BA against in his last 7.2 IP) that he’s been able to limit damage with guys on base.
**Bonus** – Of the players who were on the roster last year, who do you think has improved the most and why?
For most improved player, I will throw a curveball into the mix and mention a leader & second year starter, redshirt sophomore Daniel Cantu. I am not saying this in the sense of a much needed improvement to be had, rather the way in which he led from the front, & battled through adversity early on. DC absolutely went into a different gear in conference play hitting to a tune of .302 BA/.419 SLG/.811 OPS with 9 RBI. I feel as though he doubled-down on his role on this team of late, flashing all 5 of his tools against fellow AAC opponents, as a leader of this ball club.
For me, the most improved player is easily Nick Gonzalez. Many times last year, he looked overmatched by pitchers, but this season he seems to have a lot more poise and control. Nick hasn’t been trying to do too much, and has shown he can hit to all fields this season. Since conference play started, he has the 4th highest OPS on the team at .818 and is also 1 of only 4 players to hit over .300 since April 1st.
The emergence of Nick’s bat, along with his already excellent range on defense makes him a very interesting player to watch going further into this season and beyond.
Conclusion (by Mark)
Despite all the struggles and the less than desirable conference record, there is a lot of good going on with the USF Baseball program. There are a lot of young players who are making the most of their opportunities, and veterans like Cantu and Lane who are stepping up and being leaders. The best part is, everything that the Bulls want to accomplish this season is still possible.
All 8 teams in the AAC qualify for the conference tournament in Clearwater, FL (May 24-29) and the Bulls will have the opportunity to defend their conference championship and punch their ticket back to the NCAA Tournament.
There is so much left to play for this season and it’s important that Bulls Nation continues to support and rally behind this team. #HornsUp.
It all starts this weekend when the Bulls host the UCF Knights for a three-game series at Red McEwen Field. We’ll see you there!