To help us with our preview of this year's baseball team, we have consulted the extensive list of cliches at sportscliche.com to give us perspective on the roster, and evaluate the team's prospects for the upcoming season.
"It's all about pitching and defense."
If this is true anywhere in college baseball, it's true in the Big East. Cool weather, high humidity, and low altitude are all known to suppress run scoring. Every Big East game site, including Tampa, has at least two of those conditions. And since USF rarely leaves the state for non-conference games, the Bulls are almost always in a low-scoring environment. Check these college baseball park factors for an idea of just how low. Cliffs Notes version: all Big East game sites suppress run-scoring below the national average.
So pitching and defense are going to be key to the Bulls' success in any season. How are we in those areas?
"We need to stay healthy."
Few teams have needed that caveat more than USF baseball. Especially the pitching staff.
College baseball is all about your three-man weekend starting rotation. In 2011, ace Andrew Barbosa needed Tommy John surgery. Former #2 starter Ray Delphey and Sunday starter Derrick Stultz both had to sit out 2011 with shoulder problems. For Stultz, it was his second full year on the sidelines. All three pitchers are now ready to go, but:
"We're going to bring them along slowly."
We've already seen this. Barbosa and Stultz, on tight pitch counts, combined to throw 4.2 effective innings against Minnesota. Delphey got the save against Ohio State, pitching a scoreless ninth inning. It remains to be seen how -- or even if -- these three pitchers will return to full weekend-starter status.
As for the rest of the staff?
"There are question marks."
Most of the pitchers who stepped into the breach last season, like Randy Fontanez and Kyle Eastham, were lost to graduation and/or professional baseball. Six of the top eight pitchers innings-wise are not returning, including outfielder Juan "Junior" Carlin, who filled in on the mound well enough to join the Anaheim Angels system as a reliever.
The top returning pitcher is left-hander Matt Reed, who had a decent ERA (4.11) and was the only starter with a winning record. But since we're into modern baseball analysis here at Voodoo Five, his very low strikeout rate (only 33 in 101.2 career innings) and BABIP (.271, versus a college-wide average of .311) are cause for alarm. He needs to keep the ball down, induce ground balls, not give up the long ball (only 5 homers in those 101.2 innings), and use spacious ballparks to his advantage.
If that sounds like the perfect San Diego Padres pitcher, then Nick Gonzalez is more Colorado Rockies: lots of strikeouts, lots of walks, and lots of homers allowed. He's only a sophomore, though. Coach Lelo Prado has cited Gonzales, and Reed, as having shown great improvement in the fall.
Another left-hander, Kyle Parker (no, not the Kyle Parker we roughed up in the 2010 Meineke Bowl) started on opening day against Ohio State. He also started the midweek loss to North Florida, suggesting he may be slated for a mid-week starter role.
USF's other returning pitchers are Andrew Loynaz, Janick Serrallonga, Adrian Puig, and Austin Adams. All saw action out of the bullpen in the Big East-Big Ten Challenge, in which USF went 3-0. As for Adams:
"He's got great stuff."
Actually, Lelo Prado described Adams as having "Quackenbush stuff," a callback to dominant closer (and 2011 Voodoo Five Award winner) Kevin Quackenbush. He was unhittable at USF, and was only slightly less unhittable at two Class A stops in the Padres' chain.
So far it has been closer-by-committee, with Delphey and Serrallonga each getting a save. The third save went to the curfew rule, as the game against Minnesota ended early with the Gophers threatening.
The only newcomer to pitch in the opening series is former Miami Hurricane Joey Lovecchio, who threw five strong innings against Michigan State. Steven Leasure is another JC transfer who will likely see action this season. Devin Smith and Michael Clarkson are true freshmen from local high schools.
"I Don't Know's on third."
Okay, that's not a cliche, that's a line from the famous "Who's on First" bit.
But who's on third is a very important question for the Bulls this season, as they lost Jonathan Koscso to graduation and the Rays farm system. Kosco's .447 OBP was 80 points better than anyone else on the club, and he committed only 6 errors in 54 games. Inheriting the position this season is senior Daniel Rockhold, a C-3B-DH utility man in past seasons.
The shortstop on Abbott and Costello's baseball team was I Don't Care. But the Bulls need to care about losing Samuel Mende. While Koscso led the team in OBP, Mende did so in SLG, HR, and total bases (with .407, 5, and 85 respectively). Taking over is Chad Taylor, who is shifting from the outfield, a rare move to the right on the defensive spectrum.
"Guys need to step up."
Lelo Prado has not minced words that USF's returnees need to play better.
The right side of the infield has returnees available, but Todd Brazeal has been moved from first base to designated hitter (perhaps only temporarily as he recovers from a fall ACL injury). Brazeal's stats have regressed since his 2008 freshman season, when he was third team all-Big East, but he got off to a 7-for-15 start in 2012. Matt Hart, yet another junior college transfer, takes over at first base. Returning backup Jimmy Falla will also play there, as well as DH and outfield.
"He's a character guy."
USF's top returning outfielder is junior Alex Mendez, who in his spare time is the NCAA Advisory Commitee's representative for Big East baseball. Coach Prado also cited him as a positive influence in the clubhouse.
"We've got depth."
In his off-season interviews at gousfbulls.com, Lelo Prado said this is the first time he's had difficult cuts to make, and hasn't had to play pitchers in the outfield just to have an intrasquad game.
After the first two weekends (yeah, I know I'm a little late with this season preview) 16 different Bulls have had plate appearances. Only 15 different players batted all of last season.
"We've got a lot of new faces."
This year's team includes ten freshmen, six of whom have already seen game action: Buddy Putnam, catcher Blake Sydeski, outfielder Lueck, infielder Teaf, and the aforementioned pitchers Smith and Clarkson. There are also four junior college transfers. Combined with the two pitchers who didn't play last year, the roster has been largely turned over from 2011. However:
"They've been struggling offensively."
Through 7 games, the Bulls have plated only 23 runs, slugging only .290 and reaching base at a .302 clip. The pitching has been there so far, but Taylor has 5 errors already. (Mende had 9 in 52 games.)
Will this team grow and improve over the season, as the basketball team has done? Only time will tell. They've been working hard in the offseason. They've gone to a youth movement. There's going to be some growing pains. They need to overcome adversity. They have to stay focused. We'll have to take it one game at a time.