The USF baseball team held their annual Media Day today inside the Hall of Fame room at the Lee Roy Selmon Athletic Center. Head coach Mark Kingston, junior shortstop Kevin Merrell (yes, you read that right) and senior pitcher Phoenix Sanders were on hand to address the assembled media.
The 2016 season was an injury-plagued mess that seemed to never end. Before the season even started, USF lost three pitchers to UCL injuries and Tommy John surgery: Shane McClanahan, Matthew Sellers and Peter Strzelecki. Another pitcher, Ryan Valdes, managed a whopping three innings before going on the shelf with a season-ending injury of his own. With no pitching depth, and plenty of injuries to the offense, the Bulls struggled to a 24-33 record and only managed to win eight of their 24 conference games.
Utility man Andres Leal only lasted three games before he got hurt. Plus there’s still a question mark as to when/if catcher Levi Borders returns from the bacterial infection that knocked him out for most of the season.
“Last year was a little bit of a tough year for us for a lot of different reasons, but we’ve put that in the rear-view mirror and we’re anxious to get back on the field to make it right,” Kingston said.
If Borders remains out, the position is in good hands with sophomore 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.
"We have a nice mix of vets and young guys...Still one of the youngest teams in the nation," Kingston— The Daily Stampede (@StampedeSBN) February 7, 2017
USF returns ten hitters from last season, including five freshmen who saw action. Merrell led the group with a .320 batting average and 16 stolen bases.
Through five intrasquad games, the Bulls have hit 10 home runs.— The Daily Stampede (@StampedeSBN) February 7, 2017
The team hit 36 all of last season, led by the seven from sophomore Chris Chatfield. They will only lose two from departed (and drafted) Luke Maglich.
"You better have pitching if you wanna be the kind of program we wanna be"— The Daily Stampede (@StampedeSBN) February 7, 2017
Sanders, Shane Mclanahan, Peter Strezelecki Ryan Valdes, Joe Cavallaro and some freshmen are thought of as the starters so far.— The Daily Stampede (@StampedeSBN) February 7, 2017
The Bulls will have pitching this year, even with Brandon Lawson getting drafted in the 12th round by the Tampa Bay Rays. McClanahan is the real deal, a lefty with mid-90s velocity. At Scout Day in October, he faced Merrell twice and got an easy roller to second the first time around, then struck him out the second time.
Sanders says he's eight pounds heavier, and that he feels stronger after this offseason.— The Daily Stampede (@StampedeSBN) February 7, 2017
Although he didn’t pitch well toward the end of the season, Kingston thinks Sanders was just asked to do too much last year with all of the injuries.
“A lot of it had to do with the injuries really cutting into our depth,” Kingston said in a recent interview. “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.”
Andrew Perez, Michael Farley among a group of players that could see action at the end of games.— The Daily Stampede (@StampedeSBN) February 7, 2017
Replacing Tommy Eveld, who came out of nowhere to become a top closer and got drafted in the ninth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks, is going to be a big chore. Eveld finished the year with a 2.21 ERA, nine saves and 67 strikeouts in just 53 innings. An MLB scout suggested that Perez could be the ideal replacement for Eveld.
The Bulls will open the season at home with a three-game series against Iowa. Opening night is Friday, February 17 at 6:30pm.