Around the Bases: The Preseason

Louisville baseball is eight days away from the start of the 2019 regular season, one that is filled with high expectations for them once again.

Let’s take a quick dive at what Louisville has in store for them this season.

The Polls

Across all six major polls in college baseball, Louisville was ranked as high as fourth in D1baseball.com‘s top 25 poll. They were also ranked eighth in the USA Today and Perfect Game polls, ninth in the NCBWA and Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, and no lower than 11th in Baseball America‘s poll.

In a composite poll created in Reddit’s college baseball forum, Louisville is also ninth.

Among each of the six major polls, Louisville is firmly entrenched with North Carolina and Florida State in the top 11 of most of these polls, making those three the prohibitive favorites in the ACC this season. As of this post though, the ACC has not released its own preseason poll or all-conference selections.

The Batting Lineup

(Author’s Note: All Media Day videos are from U of L’s YouTube page).

Unlike last season, the 2019 roster has a lot of experience coming back. Other than two key losses in the batting order, and one pitcher gone from their weekend rotation, the Cardinals return a lot of production from last year’s team that lost in the Regional Final to Texas Tech.

Leading the charge for them will be first baseman Logan Wyatt, who returns as a preseason All-American across multiple publications. Replacing Brendan McKay at first base was not going to be an easy task for Louisville last season, but Wyatt stepped in and became the centerpiece of the Louisville offense. Wyatt finished with a .339 batting average, posting a team-high 69 RBIs, 63 walks, 22 doubles, .559 slugging and .490 on-base percentage.

This preseason, Wyatt was selected as a second-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, and also earned various All-American honors from Perfect Game, D1baseball, Baseball America, and the NCBWA.

Along with Wyatt, Louisville returns four batters that averaged over .300 in their primary lineup last year. Danny Oriente returns as another top bat for Louisville in their lineup. He averaged .331 at the plate, and that included a hot stretch throughout April and the NCAA Tournament. Oriente finished 2018 with a 10-for-20 showing in the final five games of the season, with two doubles and six RBIs during that stretch. His hot batting towards the end of the season earned him a spot on the All-ACC Third Team, as well as the All-Lubbock Regional Team.

Jake Snider should be a name to watch this season, as well. He is a solid hitter in Louisville’s rotation, averaging .300 last year with 43 walks, 32 RBIs, and 12 doubles. He is also a stud defensively, posting a .989 fielding percentage (best among all returning outfielders). With Josh Stowers leaving the team this offseason, Snider should be the favorite to take his vacated spot at centerfield. Additionally, his stout baserunning should make him a candidate to leadoff the batting order. He, along with infielder Tyler Fitzgerald, are the top returning Louisville batters in stolen bases.

Louisville’s other returning .300 hitter is outfielder Drew Campbell. Campbell averaged .313 at the plate with 31 RBIs last season, and gives Louisville a veteran outfielder to cover them on defense. Louisville has had some of its best players in recent years from southern Indiana, most notably Josh Rogers and Drew Ellis. If Campbell can take the next step as a hitter and defensively, he may emerge as one of the most underrated players in the ACC.

Another key loss for Louisville is at second base, where long-time starter Devin Mann is also gone to the pros. Lucas Dunn should step in right away and be an immediate contributor for Louisville. The sophomore started 11 games last season and averaged .303 at the plate.

Louisville will also be looking to get its freshman class some work this season. The Cardinals had a consensus top five recruiting class in 2018, highlighted by highly-ranked pitchers and a strong infielder class. Tyler Fitzgerald made note of that in Wednesday’s Media Day.

“We always talked about how the front of the room leads the back of the room,” Fitzgerald said. “And in our meetings, the front of the room is usually the older guys and the back room is young guys. They’re hard workers, the whole freshman class. The whole infield (is) really versatile … (Andrew) Benefield, Tim (Borden), (Jared) Poland, I think they’re all going to key for us this year.”

Benefield, Borden, and Poland are some of Louisville’s highest ranked recruits in the 2018 class. Benefield was ranked 178th in the country by Perfect Game, and batted .506 at the plate his senior season. Borden was ranked 146th nationally, and a three-time All-State selection in Indiana, which has been a top recruiting ground for head coach Dan McDonnell. Poland was also a highly-ranked recruit out of Indiana, ranked 124th nationally and fourth overall in the Hoosier State. Poland is also listed as a pitcher on Louisville’s roster, which could give them a young arm out of the bullpen if needed.

The Pitching Rotation

Two of Louisville’s biggest losses at the mound come at their Friday starter spot and their closer, with Adam Wolf and Sam Bordner (along with occasional closer Austin Conway) all departing.

Fortunately for Louisville, pitching should be the strength of the team once again. Nick Bennett returns as the most experienced arm in their lineup, a junior with vast starting experience the last two seasons. Bennett earned All-ACC honors last season despite missing part of 2018 with an injury, finishing 8-2 with a 2.84 ERA and 72 strikeouts. Bennett figures to be the leading choice for the Friday starter, and if his progression continues, should be a viable candidate for All-ACC, perhaps All-American honors.

Another weekend starter should be sophomore righty Bobby Miller. Miller had an impressive freshman record at 6-1, posting a 2.97 ERA and earning Freshman All-American honors. Miller was also a third-team All-ACC player in 2018, and has imposing size at 6’5″, 220 lbs.

With those two safely locked in as the weekend starters, Louisville will need to find a third starter on the weekends, as well as a quality mid-week option. Left-handed pitcher Reid Detmers is a trendy option, and arguably has the highest upside of any pitcher on the team. Detmers finished his freshman season with a 4-2 record, 4.85 ERA and 69 strikeouts. He had a solid fall campaign in the Cape Cod League, earning co-MVP honors in the league’s All-Star Game and posted a 1.45 ERA in 32.1 innings of work. His ability to rack up strikeouts, combined with his versatile arsenal of pitches, could make him a deadly force on the mound. Detmers and Bennett would give McDonnell two quality lefties as his weekend starters, similar to the 2017 World Series team that had Brendan McKay and Bennett on the mound.

A top bullpen option for them is Bryan Hoeing, who is one of Louisville’s biggest pitchers at 6’6″. Hoeing chose to forego a major league contract with the San Francisco Giants and come back for his senior season, giving Louisville a solid fourth arm as possibly a Sunday or midweek starter. Hoeing finished 2018 with a 7-2 record, 2.88 ERA and 51 strikeouts, mostly out of the bullpen. Whatever his role may be, Hoeing is just worried about trying to get back to Omaha and do what he can for his team.

“I’m not sure (about my role),” Hoeing said. “But that’s the great thing about this program, nothing is ever set in stone. We’d all like to be a starter, but only three guys on the weekend starter and only one midweek starter. Whatever role I’m given, I’m going to go out there and perform the best I can.”

Louisville is also looking for a new closer again in 2019, as Sam Bordner was drafted and Austin Conway graduated. Shay Smiddy is a popular choice, as he finished 5-1 last year with a 2.96 ERA and three saves. Michael McAvene and Adam Elliott could also be options for McDonnell, as he looks to solidify the closer role.

Coming back to their highly-ranked 2018 recruiting class, the biggest reason for Louisville’s high ranking was the amount of talent they signed in their pitching corps. Louisville got four pitchers ranked in the top 150 nationally by Perfect Game, including two top-75 pitchers in Jack Perkins (#61) and Kerry Wright (#72). Louisville has a deep freshman class that will see some playing time in 2019, and possibly could be good enough to earn starting spots at some point this season.

With the returning experience and the young talent that McDonnell signed this offseason, this should be Louisville’s biggest strength, and a reason many expect them to possibly make a return trip to Omaha in the summer.

The Schedule

As usual with Louisville being in the ACC, the Cardinals should expect a tough slate for them in 2019.

Louisville’s out-of-conference slate is a decent haul for the 2019 season. The Cardinals open their season next weekend against Connecticut, who is ranked as high as 20th. They will be tested right out of the gate by Connecticut pitcher Mason Feole, who enters 2019 as a preseason All-American across multiple publications.

Additionally, Louisville’s out-of-conference schedule includes a two-game series against Ole Miss on March 12th and 13th, who is 11th in Reddit’s composite top 25 (which combines all six major polls). Louisville also hosts Vanderbilt on May 7th, who is second in the Reddit composite top 25 and has earned the #1 spot on D1baseball.com’s Top 25.

Louisville will also have its usual home-and-home with rival Kentucky in April. The Cardinals host the Wildcats at Jim Patterson Stadium on April 2nd, while they will make a trip to Lexington on April 16th. Louisville will also travel to Cincinnati on April 23rd, and to Bloomington to face Indiana on May 14th.

In the ACC, Louisville faces notable opponents such as:

Additional News & Notes

 

  • Most of Louisville’s games will also air on ACC Network Extra, available through WatchESPN. Only their games against Vanderbilt (May 7th) and Indiana (May 14th) are available on ESPNU, as of now.

 

  • Louisville has tweaked its ticketing for home games this season. The Cards’ non-conference games (except for Kentucky and Vanderbilt) will be free to enter, while its ACC slate (as well as the aforementioned Kentucky and Vanderbilt games) will be ticketed admission.
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