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2017 USF Baseball Season Preview

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USF baseball is looking to rebound after a nightmare 2016, and they just might have the team to do it.

USF Baseball
Nathan Bond/The Daily Stampede

2016 Summary

Final Record: 24-33, 8-16 American. Finished tied for 7th in league, went 1-2 at conference tournament.

2016 Offensive stats
2016 Pitching stats

Pitchers Shane McClanahan, Matthew Sellers and Peter Strzelecki didn’t even make it to Opening Day as they all succumbed to Tommy John surgery. RHP Ryan Valdes got through three innings before an injury ended his season. Throw in RHP Michael Farley not being on the team after he compiled a 2.76 ERA with 55 strikeouts out of the bullpen in 2015, and the pitching depth wasn’t there to help tired arms. It showed late in the year as results tailed off.

There were injuries in the field, too. Utility man Andres Leal only played three games in 2016, which forced head coach Mark Kingston to give extensive playing time to freshmen who may not have been quite ready to compete at the collegiate level. All-conference catcher Levi Borders was limited to 16 games after coming down with a bacterial infection and missing the rest of the season. It is still uncertain if he will be able to play again for the Bulls. Kingston said they are preparing as if he will not be able to play.

Players Lost To MLB Draft

  • RHP Tommy Eveld (9th round, Arizona Diamondbacks)
  • RHP Brandon Lawson (12th Round, Tampa Bay Rays)
  • OF Luke Maglich (34th Round , Philadelphia Phillies)

Returning Position Players

  • C RSr. Levi Borders
  • C/1B So. Joe Genord
  • C So. Tyler Dietrich
  • 1B/OF Jr. Duke Stunkel Jr.
  • 2B/SS So. Coco Montes
  • 2B/SS Jr. Kevin Merrell (AAC preseason team at SS)
  • 3B So. David Villar
  • UTL RJr. Andres Leal
  • OF Sr. Luke Borders
  • OF So. Chris Chatfield
  • OF So. Garrett Zech
  • OF So. Cam Montgomery

Returning Pitchers

  • Sr. RHP Phoenix Sanders
  • Jr. RHP Joe Cavallaro
  • RFr. LHP Shane McClanahan
  • Sr. RHP Michael Farley (Was not with team in 2016)
  • RFr. RHP Matt Sellers
  • So. RHP Dylan Burns
  • Sr. RHP Mark Savarese
  • So. LHP Andrew Perez
  • RSr. RHP Ryan Valdes
  • RJr. RHP Peter Strzelecki
  • So. LHP Garrett Bye

2017 Schedule and Key Dates

Click here for a full schedule.

Schedule Summary: USF plays 18 of its first 19 games at home, and 38 out of 56 overall. They face six teams that made the NCAA Tournament (East Carolina, Florida, Florida State, Stetson, Tulane, and UConn).

First Ten Games: Iowa x3, @FSU, Miami (OH) x3, Toledo x3

Key Dates: At FSU February 21; conference play begins March 31 at Tulane, at Florida May 9, finish regular season at C. May 18-20. Conference tournament begins May 23 in Clearwater.

2017 Prospectus and Roster Breakdown

The Bulls were picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll, ahead of only C. and Memphis. At last week’s Media Day, Kingston said he chalks that up to the relative unknown of the roster, with so many injured players returning in addition to nine freshmen.

“We’ll put a team on the field that will get drafted or has already been drafted and that’s what gets me excited. From a talent standpoint, I feel real good about where we are in year three of the progress,” Kingston said.

Roster Breakdown by Class: 11 freshmen/redshirt freshmen, 10 sophomores, 7 juniors, 6 seniors

The sophomores on this team are the same guys who represented the fifth ranked recruiting class in 2015 and Kingston expects a big jump in production from everyone.

One player to keep an eye on is sophomore catcher Joe Genord. He was named as the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League Player of the Year over the summer after hitting .296, seven home runs and a league record 45 RBI’s.

“He’s really developing nicely. He has as much power as anybody in the country,” Kingston said.

This team is going to hit home runs. At Media Day, Kingston said that through five scrimmages the team had hit ten already. Sophomore Chris Chatfield led the team with seven, but only hit .184 on the season, .057 in conference play. If he can put the bat on the ball more solidly and consistently there’s no reason he and Genord can combine for 20+ long balls.

Position Breakdown:

Catcher: Joe Genord (Projected starter), Tyler Dietrich, Jordan Santos

Missing the eldest Borders brother behind the plate will hurt, but Genord has been training as a catcher full-time and looks ready to be “The Guy”. Dietrich needs to work on pitch framing and keeping the ball in front of him but can be a solid fill-in. Santos figures to get spot duty early in the year, if not completely reshirted.

Infield: 1B: Duke Stunkel Jr., 2B: Coco Montes, 3B: David Villar, SS: Kevin Merrell

The headliner is Merrell, and for good reason. He has been a spark at the top of the lineup since getting on campus and it appears that will continue, just at a new position. Late in the year, Kingston flipped Merrell and Montes and it was like a fish to water for Merrell. One MLB scout prefers him at second base in the future but for this team, shortstop is where he needs to be.

Kingston said Montes is in better shape and is driven this year and expects big things from him.

Stunkel had a .991 fielding percentage, by far the best on the team. The guy can pick it at first or in the outfield. Freshman Anthony Gonnella can also play first, and according to Kingston, “has as much left-handed power as you’ll see.”

Leal figures to get playing time all over the field this year as well.

Outfield: LF: Chris Chatfield/Cam Montgomery/Cam Crabbe, CF: Garrett Zech, RF: Montgomery/Chatfield/Crabbe

Chatfield, Montgomery and Zech have made big strides from their freshmen season according to Kingston. Chatfield has the raw power, Zech has great speed, and Montgomery showed flashes of solid talent that could make the outfield dangerous. Crabbe, a JUCO transfer, showed off some power hitting a home run during Scout Day in October.

Designated Hitter: Luke Borders

Kingston anticipates a big season for Luke Borders, who can play in the outfield and also serve as the team’s designated hitter.. He finished the 2016 on a strong note hitting .360 with six HR’s in conference play.

Overall, the position players seem poised to have a breakout season and hit a lot of home runs. They’ll just need players getting on base enough ahead of the big boppers to make them count.

Starting Pitchers

Friday - Phoenix Sanders, Saturday - Shane McClanahan, Sunday - Peter Strzelecki, Tuesday - Ryan Valdes, Midweek: Joe Cavallaro/D.J. Roberts(?)

The pitching staff was extremely taxed last year, which really hurt Sanders late in the year. He had a 6.08 ERA and a 1.68 WHIP in conference play.

“We had asked an awful lot of Phoenix last year,” Kingston said. “A lot of it had to do with the injuries really cutting into our depth. So maybe when you’d like to have Phoenix go out there and throw five innings, instead he had to throw seven. Then the next week, when you want to him to throw six, he has to throw eight. It kinda built on each other and by the time you get to the end of the season, we just had a lot of pitchers that were just tired and worked more than we probably wanted to. So I think that had a lot to do with why he didn’t have quite as good a second half as he did first half.”

McClanahan is the rising star of the staff and could easily become the ace during the season. He is a lefty who throws mid-90s and has scouts drooling all over him. He’s the guy to watch this year. Roberts is a freshman who could slot in on weeks when USF has more than one midweek game.

Bullpen:

Closer: Andrew Perez/Michael Farley

With the departure of Tommy Eveld to the MLB, there’s a glaring hole in the bullpen. When we found out that Eveld was going to be starting in the conference tournament instead of closing, I asked an MLB scout who would be the potential closer if needed, not thinking Sanders was even an option, and he said Perez without hesitation. With Farley also back in the mix, they could become a dominant one-two punch out of the ‘pen.

Season Prediction

The Bulls surprise everyone and finish second in the conference and win a couple games in the tournament and get back to the NCAA Regionals for the second time in three years under Kingston.

Offensive MVP: Kevin Merrell

Breakout Player: Joe Genord

Pitching MVP: Shane McClanahan

Breakout Pitcher: Andrew Perez