After Saturday night's 4-1 win at Houston, USF baseball stands at 19-20 on the season. That doesn't sound good, especially following an NCAA Tournament bid in Mark Kingston's debut season. But unlike middling seasons past, this year's team isn't a case of being undertalented. They've been absolutely racked with injuries, making 2016 a virtual writeoff.
The trouble started before the season even began. USF signed a top-10 recruiting class, led by pitchers Shane McClanahan and Matthew Sellers. But incredibly, they both required Tommy John surgery and neither of them have pitched for USF this year. It's making at least one of them a little stir crazy:
If I could just throw off a mound already, that'd be really great.— Shane McClanahan (@ShaneMc9) March 30, 2016
The Bulls also signed Peter Strzelecki from Palm Beach State College and, yep, he needed Tommy John surgery too. So that's three pitchers on the shelf for the season right out of the gate.
Then the games started and position players started getting hurt. Andres Leal, last year's starting third baseman and utility man extraordinaire, only made it three games before being injured, and he hasn't been heard from since. (We can't figure out how he got hurt. In fact, identifying the specific injuries that have hit USF baseball requires some advanced detective work.)
USF's leading hitter, Luke Maglich, hurt his hand and missed a few games. Starting second baseman Kevin Merrell has missed 15 games. Various other minor injuries have kept players like Luke Borders out of the lineup. But the biggest blow of all was to last year's unanimous all-AAC catcher Levi Borders. He contracted a bacterial infection in mid-March that knocked him out for the year. At least there's one piece of good luck - he qualifies for a hardship waiver if he wants to come back for another year instead of signing with MLB.
With all these injuries, it's created plenty of playing time for the slew of talented newcomers. There are freshmen all over the field and they're making things happen. David Villar leads the Bulls in doubles and OPS. Tyler Dietrich has slotted in at catcher and is hitting .328. Garrett Zech has played every game and is 15 for 17 in stolen base attempts. Coco Montes has started every game at shortstop. Like a true slugger, Chris Chatfield is a bit all or nothing at the plate but he leads USF with seven homers. Jonah Garrison has deputized for Merrell at second base and has just two errors in 21 games. (Remember, college baseball official scorers are very error-happy.) Dylan Burns has pitched capably in 13 appearances out of the bullpen, only allowing opponents to hit .240.
Be patient with USF baseball. This year probably won't lead to any postseason thrills, but Mark Kingston is quickly building a monster program on the field and in recruiting. They should be back in the NCAA Tournament fold very soon.