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2018 USF Baseball Season Preview

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New head coach Billy Mohl will try to pick up where former head coach Mark Kingston left off.

USF

2017 Season Summary:

Final record: 42-19, 14-10 AAC. Finished tied for third. Went 1-2 in conference tournament and 1-2 in Gainesville Regional.

2017 Offensive Stats
2017 Pitching Stats

The Bulls came out of seemingly nowhere in 2017 to put together one of the best seasons in USF history. They beat UF and FSU on the road in the same season for the first time ever. They won 19 consecutive games between February 19 and March 21.

After an injury-plagued 2016 season, USF stayed relatively healthy throughout the entire season. The only major loss due to injury was freshman RHP D.J. Roberts, who tore his labrum in his right shoulder. Eleven Bulls played in at least 45 games in 2017.

While the season was a success, there was a bad taste left in everyone’s mouth as they stumbled to a 4-9 record in their last 13 games, including blowing a late lead against ECU in the conference tournament and literally throwing away a chance to beat eventual national champion UF in the second game of the Gainesville Regional.

Players Lost to MLB Draft/Graduation

  • SS Kevin Merrell (First Round, Oakland A’s)
  • RHP Phoenix Sanders (Tenth Round, Tampa Bay Rays)
  • RHP Joe Cavallaro (24th Round, New York Mets)
  • RHP Ryan Valdes (33rd Round, Pittsburgh Pirates)
  • RHP Mark Savarese (Undrafted, Free Agent, Detroit Tigers)
  • DH Luke Borders

Returning Position Players:

  • C RSr. Levi Borders (Maybe)
  • C Jr. Tyler Dietrich
  • 1B Jr.Joe Genord
  • 1B/RHP So. Carson Ragsdale
  • 2B/SS Jr. Coco Montes
  • 3B Jr. David Villar
  • LF Jr. Chris Chatfield
  • CF Sr. Duke Stunkel, Jr. (Preseason All-conference selection)
  • OF Jr. Garrett Zech
  • OF Sr. Cam Crabbe

Returning Pitchers

  • LHP RSo. Shane McClanahan (Unanimous Preseason All-Conference selection)
  • LHP Jr. Andrew Perez
  • RHP RSr. Peter Strzelecki (Preseason All-Conference selection)
  • RHP So. Carson Ragsdale
  • RHP So. DJ Roberts (Likely out for season)
  • LHP So. Noah Yager
  • RHP So. Collin Sullivan

2018 Schedule and Key Dates

You can find the full schedule here.

Schedule Summary: The Bulls play 52 games in 2018, the fewest since 1982. They have one scheduled doubleheader—March 3 vs. Columbia University. 18 of the first 21 games are at home. The Bulls will play 33 home games this year.

First 12 Games: #6 UNC x3, at #5 FSU, Fordham x3, at Bethune-Cookman, Columbia x4.

Key Dates: UNC Feb. 16-18; at FSU Feb. 20; Conference play begins March 23 vs. UConn; C. April 20-22; @ #1 UF May 8; Conference tournament in Clearwater May 22-27.

2018 Prospectus and Roster Breakdown

First-year head coach Billy Mohl takes over for Mark Kingston, who left for the same position at South Carolina. Mohl had been with Kingston for over a decade, so don’t expect too much to change philosophy-wise.

The Bulls were picked to finish fifth in the conference by the coaches in the AAC. USF did earn one rogue first-place vote, so there’s that. OF Duke Stunkel, Jr, LHP Shane McClanahan and RHP Peter Strzelecki were named to the preseason all-conference team.

McClanahan has garnered a lot of attention in the preseason with four preseason All-American selections, including from D1baseball.com, Baseball America, and Perfect Game.

OF Cam Montgomery, and INF’s Nick Cerelli and Andres Leal are no longer with the team. Montgomery was dismissed from the team and the other two quit shortly thereafter back in November.

Roster Breakdown by Class: Five freshmen/redshirt freshmen; nine sophomores/redshirt sophomores; 13 juniors; four seniors/redshirt seniors

The much-celebrated fifth-ranked 2015 recruiting class are now juniors and make up the majortiy of the roster. In the season opener, the 2015 class may represent eight of the nine positions on the field.

Position Breakdown:

Catcher: Tyler Dietrich (projected starter), Joe Genord (spot duty), Levi Borders (long shot)

Catching remains a question mark on this team. Jordan Santos transferred, Leal left the team so it just leaves Dietrich and Genord with any time behind the plate. Dietrich hit .270/.346/.343 in 43 games (39 starts) in 2017. He must improve defensively with pitch framing and blocking balls in the dirt. He had 14 passed balls last season and allowed 33 of 48 base runners to steal.

From what I’m hearing, there’s just no way Borders plays for USF ever again. He didn’t swing a bat for nearly a year due to his injury, and if he somehow comes back, catching isn’t a possibility. It’s such a shame for a guy that had such a bright future to have his career effectively ended.

Infield: 1B Joe Genord/Carson Ragsdale, 2B (newcomer) J.D. Dutka, 3B David Villar, SS Coco Montes.

There’s a very obvious hole in the infield and atop the batting order without Kevin Merrell and the Bulls need to find a way to replace one of the most consistent hitters in school history (third all-time in batting average .353).

Montes will move back to SS after spending all of 2017 at second base. It was no sure thing he’d be a starter heading into this season. He hit just .202 in conference play and did not show the range in 2016 to be a short stop full time. We’ll know early whether the move pays off.

Newcomer J.D. Dutka, a transfer from South Central Louisiana State University Florida Southwestern State College, will takeover at second base. He was named first-team conference and second-team all-state as a sophomore at FSWSC.

Genord ended the 2017 season as poorly as anyone after what transpired in the UF game. He responded by having the best semester in school he’s ever had and some have said he has turned a corner. He, along with Ragsdale figure to see plenty of action at first base.

Junior transfer Alec Wisely figures to get a lot of action at 2B, SS and DH. He has been described as a ‘Do-it-all’ player. He will also figure into the bullpen picture too.

Wisely and Genord may end up splitting DH duties.

Outfield: LF Chris Chatfield, CF Duke Stunkel, Jr., RF Garrett Zech

To my surprise, Stunkel looked like a fish in water playing centerfield last season. He converted a 112 putout attempts and had two outfield assists. He hit .344/.430/.467 with 16 doubles and 34 RBI. He is the anchor of the outfield.

Chatfield has more tools than the hardware section at Lowe’s but has not put together a complete season. He did improve his batting average from .184 in 2016 to .226. He needs to finally put it all together this year. There’s some buzz about him with MLB scouts I’ve spoken to, but he needs to show that he isn’t all looks and no substance. He’s been recognizing the breaking ball, which has given him fits, more effectively during the preseason which will help his batting average.

Zech is the only returning player with double digit steals (17-of-20) in 2017. He also led the team with eight sacrifice hits. A scout I spoke with says Zech is someone to watch in 2018. He was drafted in the 15th round of the 2015 MLB draft by the LA Dodgers. He was the highest-drafted Bull from the 2015 class.

Starting Pitchers

Friday-Shane McClanahan; Saturday-Peter Strzelecki; Sunday-Collin Sullivan; Tuesday-Up in the air. “Let’s get through UNC first”.

McClanahan is another year removed from Tommy John surgery, has been tabbed as a potential number one overall draft pick in the MLB draft, and will have to fill the inning-eating shoes of Phoenix Sanders on Friday nights.

Mohl said McClanahan will be on a pitch count early in the season before getting unleashed as they head into conference play. He only threw 76 innings in 15 starts, and he missed a start late in the season due to inflammation in his throwing shoulder.

He struck out over 12 batters per nine innings in 2017 and looks to get better with more feel and control of his 96-99 MPH fastball, and two plus secondary pitches in his changeup and slider. He is without a doubt the most talented player USF has ever had. It’s time for him to show why.

Strzelecki had a fantastic season after the tragic death of his father. He led the team with a minuscule 2.42 ERA and he also threw the only nine inning, complete game shutout for USF in 2017.

Sullivan appeared in just 13 innings last season. He had an unsightly 6.23 ERA and a 14:12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has improved enough to earn the ball on Sunday’s. This is where the injury to Roberts really hurts. He was having a good season before the injury and looked destined for the Sunday role.

Bullpen

The Bulls lost nearly their entire “A bullpen” to the MLB draft when junior Joe Cavallaro was drafted along with Ryan Valdes and the graduation of Michael Farley and Mark Savarese.

The only pitcher that returns with at least 30 innings pitched is closer Andrew Perez, who sported a 2.72 ERA and led the team in saves with six. He is the only sure thing in the ‘pen.

Freshman Graham Hoffman and transfer Alec Wisely appear set to be the bridge to Perez. Both throw a fastball in the low-90s (Wisely throws a bit harder), changeup, and breaking ball.

Sophomore LHP Noah Yager will be in the mix for relief duty and midweek games.

Season Prediction

The bullpen isn’t deep enough to sustain through 52 games and is the Achilles’ Heel of the team. Montes isn’t the answer at SS and Dietrich doesn’t improve enough as a catcher. McClanahan can’t live up to the hype and struggles as the ace. Chatfield regresses and never develops into what he can become—a 12-15 home run threat—with a decent average. The Bulls finish fifth in the conference and go 1-2 in the the House of Horrors that is Spectrum Field in a nightmarish first season for Mohl.

Offensive MVP: Duke Stunkel, Jr.

Breakout Player: Alec Wisely

Pitching MVP: Shane McClanahan

Breakout Pitcher: Alec Wisely

[Was the reverse-jinx too on the nose?]