Cross posted from the new outlet: Varsity Blue. I’ll probably continue the cross posting for content, as these previews take a while to put together, killing my productivity.
February 20, 2009
Jack Russell Stadium
Home Team: Michigan
Probable Pitchers: TBA vs Chris Fetters (0-0)
Michigan Record vs Opponent: 4-6
Last Series/Game: Split in 2001 (1-1)@ USF
This Friday, the Michigan Wolverine baseball team will open up the 2009 season with the South Florida Bulls in the Big10/BigEast Challenge, held in Clearwater, FL. South Florida is currently ranked as “another team receiving votes” in several polls, including Collegiate Baseball Newspaper’s Fabulous 40, approximately 67th overall. The ranking places them 2nd in the BigEast, one place ahead of last year’s BigEast Champion St. John’s. The BigEast Coaches have voted USF as the 2nd best team in their preseason poll. With all the experience returning this year, including a solid starting rotation and two potential closers, USF is expected to make a run at the NCAA tournament this season.
Last year’s South Florida team was 31-27 overall (14-13 in BigEast play), which was good enough for a 6 seed in the conference tournament. USF managed to upset 3-seed Notre Dame in the first round of play, but eventually lost to 2 seed Cinncinati, forcing them to the losers’ bracket. In the losers’ bracket, USF beat 7 seed West Virginia, then lost again to Cinncinati again. Last year’s team was one dominated by freshmen and sophomores, many at key starting positions.
The biggest returning stars for the USF team are center fielder Ryan Lockwood and super-utility player Stephen Hunt. Lockwood (bats left/throws right) was a Freshman All American (Rivals, Baseball America, Louisville Slugger, National Collegiate Baseball Writer’s Association, and Ping! Baseball) last year, posting a .415 batting average overall (.454 in conference play). The All-BigEast preseason outfielder is currently riding a 30-game hitting streak (cut short due to a season ending broken finger against St. John’s). Lockwood is also a threat on the bases, stealing 12 in 16 attempts. He had been batting in the three hole during most of the season despite his low power numbers. Lockwood is an early candidate for BigEast Player of the Year and, like our very own Chris Fetters, the 2009 Brooks Wallace Award Watch List (pdf of list). Following Lockwood in the order, usually in the fifth hole was Stephen Hunt (bats left/throws left), a 7th round draft pick in 2007. Hunt was the designated hitter in most games he played in. Hunt’s role on the team was much like Zack Putnam of the recent Michigan teams. Hunt, while predominantly the DH, also worked as a setup man and occasional closer for the team; he also played some first base. Hunt batted .331 for the season (.323 in BigEast play) with 3 home runs and 38 runs batted in.
|Ryan Lockwood, Freshman of the Year,
Image from GoUSFBulls.com
The Bulls also feature one of the nations top freshmen this year. Shortstop Sam Mende (bats right/throws right), 40th round pick by the Yankees this year, will likely start, replacing three year starter Addison Maruszak. Mende was a four year All-State player at Clearwater Central Catholic HS in Clearwater, FL. This game will be played just a few miles from where Mende played high school ball. Mende was the team captain from his sophomore to his senior year, leading his team to the state semifinals his sophomore year, and the championship his junior year. Mende was also the hero of the USF “Fall World Series,” a intrasquad scrimmage held during fall practice.
USF has five other returning starters on defense. Senior catcher Trey Manz (bats left/throws right) will be the one of the most important contributors to the Bulls team this season. With so many underclassmen pitchers, Manz has put in great effort this offseason to become a better player. Coach Prado gave an internet interview last semester saying, “I am happy that [Trey] Manz gained 20 pounds and is in great shape.” There had some speculation surrounding last year’s commitment from Miami catcher Adriano Neito, who reneged on a commitment to play for the Washington Nationals. Some had expected him to take over the catching duties from Manz this season. From Coach Prado’s interview, it appears Manz continued to push himself to get better in order to seal his spot as starting catcher.
Also returning will be sophomore third (formerly second) basemen Jonathon Koscso (bats right/throws right). Koscso, one of only two players to start every game for the Bulls, was primarily the nine hole hitter, posting a respectable .276 batting average. Two other outfielders also return in senior Mike Consolmango (bats left/throws left) and junior Chris Rey (bats right/throws right). Consolmango is a 4 year starter with a .264 batting average in 141 games. Rey is a second year starter with a .274 batting average and 35 RBIs.
The last returning starter is first/third basemen Brandon Smith (bats left/throws right). Smith missed the end of the season last year (about 1/3 of the season) with a “right arm injury,” but managed to bat for a .288 average with 22 RBIs. USF lacks a true third basemen on their team, so he may be relegated to play third while Hunt plays first.
Hunt’s services as a reliever will be needed less, so he may be used at first more often. If that doesn’t happen, expect Smith to start at first base. In this case, the Bulls may move Koscso to third base, opening room for junior Peter Brotons (bats left/throws right) at second base. Brotons is a junior college transfer with great success at that level on the Dayton State Falcons. Another option would be redshirt freshman Jordy McGillis, who is listed as just an “infielder.” Going into the offseason, the idea was to have true freshman Sean Buckley (bats right/throw right) make starts at first base, but unfortunately, Buckley suffered an injury that warrants the use of a medical redshirt for his freshman year.
Pitching is the true strength of the Bulls team, in particular, the rotation. Last year’s rotation was led by then freshman Randy Fontanez (RHP) and Derrick Stultz (RHP). Fontanez had thirteen appearances (all starts), logging 81.1 innings and 58 strikeouts. His five wins was good for a tie for the team lead. The second major starting pitcher returning was Derrick Stultz, who primarily was the Sunday starter for coach Prado. Stutlz was the most consistent pitcher for the Bulls last year, making 10 starts and 2 relief appearances, stretching 64.1 innings. His 3.08 ERA lead the team, while his 53 strikeouts ranked third. Stutlz also boasted South Florida’s only complete game last season against the BigEast Champion St. John’s. We will probably face on of these two pitchers to start. There is a chance we may see Sophomore righthander Matt Stull, who ended the season strong, earning a team tying high of five wins.
Image from mnmathletics.com
South Florida also features a decent bullpen. Last year’s closer was then sophomore/now junior Shawn Sanford (RHP) who was 5-5 for the year with 11 saves in 33 appearances (46.2 innings). Sanford has collected quite a few accolades in his time with the Bulls including: drafted in the 43rd round of the 2006 draft, NCBWA Stopper of the Year Watch List in 2007, Roger Clemens Award Preseason Watch List – 2008, Brooks Wallace Award Preseason Watch List – 2008, NCBWA Stopper of the Year Preseason Watch List – 2008, Rivals.com 2008 Preseason All-Conference Team – 2008, and NCBWA Stopper of the Year Midseason Watch List – 2008. Even with this success, Sanford was used as a starter to end the 2008 season. He made 2 starts to end the year, neither was very successful. He has been mentioned by Coach Prado as in the mix for the remaining weekend starter position.
To replace him at closer, Coach Prado plans to use Louisville transfer Andrew Salgueiro (Jr RHP). Salgueiro transferred to USF in 2007 when Coach Prado changed jobs (markedly strange as Louisville made the tournament that year). At Louisville in 2006, Sagueiro pitched 18 innings over 16 appearances, striking out 20. Playing the Valley League this summer, he struck out 28 in 23.2 innings. Something to keep in mind with Sagueiro is despite striking out so many, he also gives up many many runs. His ERA in his year at Louisville was 4.50, this summer it was 4.18. He appears to be a high risk/high reward type of closer, which isn’t uncommon in college. South Florida has several other pitchers capable of filling in during the middle innings, but not many have had great success.
The remaining returners in the bullpen all have ERAs ranging from 4.63 to 10.18. Being early in the year, I don’t expect too many of the starters to go that deep into games. Hopefully Michigan will be able to knock the starters out early and get into the middle relief.
Obligatory USF picture for no other reason than this blog has lacked tits, don’t ever expect them again: