It has begun, and it has returned! Season two of Around the Bases is back to bring back more coverage of Cardinal baseball.
Last year’s team saw multiple players go early in the MLB Draft, with six Cardinals drafted in the first four rounds. With preseason player of the year Brendan McKay returning as well as 2016 All-American Devin Hairston, the Cardinals are primed for another run at the College World Series with a deep, talented roster.
The Batting Order
1. Cardinals Once Again Ranked Highly
Another year, another season of lofty expectations for U of L. The Cardinals begin their 2017 season ranked as high as seventh in the Baseball America Top 25 poll. The Cardinals are also eighth in the USA Today & NCBWA poll, but 12th in the D1Baseball.com poll. Louisville is also coming off their second straight Super Regional appearance, where they lost to UC-Santa Barbara in one of the most shocking upsets in college baseball history. Though they lost seven players that were selected in the first four rounds of the MLB Draft, the Cardinals do return All-Americans Brendan McKay and Devin Hairston, along with rising players like Drew Ellis and Colby Fitch.
2. McKay Earning All the Praise
Speaking of McKay, the junior has been named to the Golden Spikes Award watch list, which awards the best player in all of college baseball. McKay enters 2017 as a two-time John Olerud Award winner, and was named first-team All-American by Baseball America. McKay finished 2016 with a 12-4 record at the mound and added 128 strikeouts, while also hitting .333 and six home runs at the plate. McKay is also the #7 prospect on MLB’s Top 50 list, but it remains uncertain whether he’ll be a full-time pitcher or hitter in the pros.
3. McDonnell Announces Weekend Rotation
While it should come as no surprise that McKay and Kade McClure have earned the Friday/Saturday starts, true freshman Michael McAvene will get the Sunday start against Ball State. McClure finished 2016 with an undefeated record, including big time wins against Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Indiana. McAvene was a top ten prospect in the state of Indiana, and replaces Kyle Funkhouser, who left Louisville as its all-time leader in career wins, strikeouts and innings pitched.
4. Starting Lineup Changes
With McClure and McAvene taking over for draftees Drew Harrington and Funkhouser, respectively, Louisville is also replacing five starters from the 2016 season. Colby Fitch, who saw starting duties as a DH and catcher for Will Smith, will likely see a majority of the starts alongside sophomore Zeke Pinkham.
Indiana natives Drew Ellis and Devin Mann will be your starters heading into 2017 at first/third base, and second respectively. Ellis had a breakthrough season in 2016, nabbing over 30 starts and hitting .309 with big games against Vanderbilt, NC State and in the NCAA Tournament. Mann was selected as an All-ACC Freshman nominee last year, with 19 starts and hitting .303 while spelling a then-injured Nick Solak. Senior Ryan Summers or sophomore Josh Stowers will likely replace outfielder Corey Ray, who was drafted fifth overall to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on the game notes is that true freshman Tyler Fitzgerald was listed as a starter in the hitting order. Fitzgerald enters Louisville as one of the highest recruits from 2016, ranked 42nd in the nation and second in the state of Illinois.
5. Another Expansion for Jim Patterson Stadium
At the U of L baseball luncheon in early February, athletic director Tom Jurich says that he wants to expand Jim Patterson Stadium again. The stadium opened in 2005, with an expansion done in 2013 that raised seating capacity from 2,500 to 4,000. It’s unknown where or how much Jurich wants to expand Patterson Stadium again, but the commitment comes off the heels of his recent expansion of its neighbor, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
6. Free Baseball Again!
Once again, Louisville baseball is offering free home games to 32 of its 34 home games this season. The only ticketed events this season are the April 4th showdown against rival Kentucky, and April 26th against Northern Kentucky at Louisville Slugger Field. This will be the first time that U of L will play in the Louisville Bats’ home stadium since 2003, when the Cardinals earned a 7-5 victory over Kentucky.
Slugger Field will also host the ACC Baseball Championship on May 23-28, after the ACC moved it from Charlotte last October. It will be the first time Louisville has hosted the conference tournament since moving to the ACC in 2014.
7. Promotions Listings
As usual, all home games at Jim Patterson Stadium will feature special promotions for fans. Friday home games will have Budweiser Buck Night, where you can have small Pepsi products and beer for only a dollar.
Saturday’s will feature BBQ on the Berm, and Sunday’s are Family Fun Day where the stadium will have kid-friendly events, and kids get to run the bases after the game. For a list of other promotions and events, visit gocards.com.
8. Returning to Clearwater, FL.
For the fourth time in the last eight seasons, Louisville opens their season at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, FL, where the Philadelphia Phillies host their spring training. The Cardinals are 23-13 all-time at Spectrum Field, and have played at least one game at the stadium in nine of its last 11 seasons.
9. About Alabama State, Maryland, Ball State:
The Cardinals open the season on Friday against defending SWAC Tournament champion Alabama State, who ended 2016 with a 38-17 record and 24-0 in SWAC play. The Hornets return a ton of power in their lineup, with two guys that hit 10+ home runs last year (Carlos Ocasio, Ray Hernandez) and Eriq White, who hit .346 last season as the SWAC Freshman of the Year. Alabama State has eight players that were selected on the All-SWAC Preseason First Team, and two more on the Second Team.
Of the three teams in this weekend’s series, Maryland is the lone power five school and ranked opponent Louisville will face. The Terrapins start the season ranked 22nd in the D1baseball Top 25, and were voted the preseason favorites in the Big Ten. This is in spite of the Terrapins failing to make the NCAA Tournament last season. But the Terrapins return shortshop Kevin Smith, who was named to most All-American teams and preseason Big Ten Player of the Year. Smith batted .259 with eight home runs, nine doubles and 34 RBI in 2016.
Ball State finishes Louisville’s weekend in Florida on Sunday. The Ball State Cardinals finished 2016 with a 32-26 record and won the MAC West Division, but went 0-2 in the conference tournament. Ball State returns three players that earned all-conference nominations: pitcher BJ Butler, shortshop Alex Maloney (.305 avg, 14 doubles, 32 RBI, 48 runs), and catcher/first baseman Caleb Stayton (.377, 71 RBIs). Butler was a first-team All-MAC selection in 2016 and was tabbed as an All-American by Collegiate Baseball, while Stayton was tabbed the MAC Preseason Player of the Year by Perfect Game and D1baseball.com.
How to Watch/Listen:
Friday’s season-opener against Alabama State starts at 3 p.m., with radio coverage on 1450 AM. Saturday’s tilt against Maryland starts at 6 p.m., and the Sunday finale against Ball State at 1 p.m. with both games airing on 93.9 The Ville. None of the games will be televised.