Around the Bases: The Offseason (And On to 2020!)

It ended sooner than we all probably wanted it to, but the 2019 Louisville baseball season is officially over. The Cards saw their run in Omaha end last Friday, losing 3-2 to Vanderbilt after a ninth-inning rally by the Commodores.

U of L finished 2-2 in their 2019 run during the College World Series, the first time that the Cardinals managed to win multiple games in the event. The Cardinals earned a 3rd place finish, the highest in program history.

Notable News & Stats

The Cardinals finished 51-18 in the 2019 season, the sixth time in the program’s history that U of L baseball has won 50 games in a season. All six seasons have occurred under head coach Dan McDonnell. And as mentioned, this Louisville team made history with its highest finish ever in Omaha, finishing 3rd  (note: based on #7 Louisville being seeded ahead of #8 Texas Tech, who also lost on Friday, we can place Louisville as third in the CWS final standings, unofficially).

A couple of Louisville’s top players also made history in tying school records. Reid Detmers tied a school record with a win on Thursday over Mississippi State, recording his 13th victory of the season. Detmers now shares the single-season record for wins, tying Kyle Funkhouser’s record set in 2014. Detmers also got the win with two total pitches and not facing a batter in his stat line, getting his only out while catching a Mississippi State baserunner stealing. For reference as to how rare this feat is, only 24 pitchers in MLB have accomplished a win without a batter faced in the last century.

In addition, Detmers finishes his 2019 season with the single-season strikeouts record, punching out 167 batters. He breaks the 2017 record set by Brendan McKay, who had 146 strikeouts. He enters his junior season with a 17-6 career record, needing just two wins to crack into the top ten all-time. With 236 strikeouts, he also sits sixth all-time in U of L history in that category; he would need just 155 more to surpass McKay for the career record, which is lofty but doable for the lefty.

Logan Wyatt tied a school record with 69 walks for the season, matching Kevin Malone’s record set in 1980.

Perhaps the biggest performer for the Cardinals during their 2019 postseason run was outfielder Drew Campbell, who had an impressive run at the plate and in the field. He had a list of highlight-reel catches, robbing a home run during the elimination game against Indiana in the Louisville Regional. He also hit .454 for the entire tournament, including delivering the walk-off RBI single against Mississippi State.

Danny Oriente also had a stellar postseason, recording a hit in 11 of the 12 games Louisville played in their NCAA Tournament run. The junior finished as the team leader in batting (.332), and averaged .382 (13-for-34) during the tournament with two doubles, a home run, and ten RBIs.

Team Leaders

  • Batting: Danny Oriente (.332)
  • Doubles: Danny Oriente (17)
  • Home Runs: Alex Binelas (14)
  • RBI: Tyler Fitzgerald (65)
  • Walks: Logan Wyatt (69)
  • On-base: Zeke Pinkham (.454)
  • Stolen bases: Justin Lavey (20)
  • ERA: Michael Kirian (1.69)
  • WHIP: Reid Detmers (.92)
  • Saves: Michael McAvene (7)
  • Strikeouts: Reid Detmers (167, new school record)
  • Opponents’ batting: Shay Smiddy (.139)

Early Prognosis for 2020

No opponents until February, so I’ll give a ridiculously early look at the 2020 Louisville baseball lineup.

  • Weekend Pitchers: Reid Detmers, Bobby Miller, Luke Smith

To no one’s surprise, pitching will indisputably be the strength of the Louisville baseball team next season. The Cardinals return both Reid Detmers and Bobby Miller, who could be potential All-ACC and All-American candidates next year. Detmers is a projected first-round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, per Draft Express. Another year of development under pitching coach Roger Williams should solidify that, with potential for him to even climb in the top ten.

Bobby Miller has started his first two seasons as a reliever, then worked his way into the weekend starting lineup. That should change next year, as he will be the best right-hander in Louisville’s lineup next season. Miller’s fastball has a lot of zip with speeds consistently in the 93-95 mph range, and reaching as high as 99 mph. Miller isn’t projected as a first-rounder yet, but his size and strong fastball will likely tab him as an early-round prospect in 2020.

Among this year’s weekend starters, Nick Bennett is likely the only departure, as he pursues a pro career with the Milwaukee Brewers. But U of L should feel confident with Luke Smith as the third starter, who emerged as a clutch performer during Louisville’s elimination games against Illinois State and Vanderbilt. Smith went 8.1 innings in both games, reaching season-highs in strikeouts in both games and showing some promise with his off-speed pitches. His performances in some of Louisville’s biggest games will make him a very heavy favorite, if not a lock, for the third weekend starter, and per Dan McDonnell, could even make him a team captain for next season.

Key Bullpen Guys: Michael Kirian, Jared Poland, Adam Elliott, Garrett Schmeltz, Jack Perkins, Michael Prosecky

For the fourth straight season, Louisville will be looking for a new closer in 2020. Dan McDonnell has managed to keep a steady line of draft-quality closers, from Zack Burdi to Lincoln Henzman to Sam Bordner to Michael McAvene.

The favorite for Louisville’s closer should be Michael Kirian. The lefty had the lowest ERA of any Louisville pitcher (1.69), and the third lowest WHIP (1.09) behind Detmers and McAvene. Kirian had closer duties for U of L while McAvene was under suspension in the NCAA Tournament, and should be the favorite to secure that position to start the 2020 season.

Louisville’s only major losses in the bullpen will likely be McAvene and Bryan Hoeing, who will be pursuing pro careers with the Chicago Cubs and Miami Marlins, respectively. Shay Smiddy was also drafted in the 36th round by the Tampa Bay Rays, but the low draft position likely suggests that he could return for his senior season.

As usual, Louisville will have a strong bullpen to complement their starters. Kirian, along with Adam Elliott and Garrett Schmeltz, will be the top returning lefties in Louisville’s lineup. Elliott had the third-lowest ERA of all U of L pitchers (2.48) and held batters to .217 at the plate. Schmeltz impressed in the postseason with strong innings of relief against East Carolina and Mississippi State, and had five of his last six appearances in 2019 go scoreless.

With Luke Smith likely moving up to be the third weekend starter, Louisville will be in search of a fourth starter for their midweek games. Jack Perkins is a possibility for them, given that he made a few midweek starts during the final weeks of the regular season. He was the 61st ranked prospect in 2018, and an early trial as a midweek starter could set him up for a potential run as a 2021 weekend pitcher. Kerry Wright and Carter Lohman should see more opportunities in relief during their sophomore campaigns as well.

Louisville will also have a couple of new pitchers come in to try and carve out a spot on the roster. Michael Prosecky is the most notable, foregoing the draft to come to Louisville. Prosecky was selected as a 35th round draft pick by the Philadelphia Phillies, and the 2019 Pioneer Press Baseball Player of the Year at Nazareth High School in Illinois. Prosecky could come in right away as a top bullpen option or midweek starter, as a left-hander with a wide-range of pitches (two-seam, four-seam with an off-speed slider and changeup).

Projected Starting Lineup, from C to RF:

  • Catcher: Henry Davis

With both Zeke Pinkham and Pat Rumoro graduating, Henry Davis is a shoe-in for the starting catcher role in 2020. Davis is a tremendous defensive asset for the Cardinals, having thrown out 10-of-19 runners this past season. Add in the fact that he was averaging .300 for a majority of the season, and the sophomore should be a favorite to be one of Louisville’s top hitters in 2020.

  • First Base: Alex Binelas

One of the biggest holes Louisville will have to fill is at first base, as Logan Wyatt leaves early to pursue his pro career in the San Francisco Giants organization.

Moving Alex Binelas from third base to first seems like the logical choice here, as he has similar size needed for the position (6’3″, 210 lbs.). Binelas returns as the top slugger in Louisville’s lineup, leading the team in home runs (14) and slugging (.612) to go with his 59 RBIs (tops among returning Louisville batters). But for Binelas to take the next step as an MLB prospect, he will need to shore up on his fielding; the Wisconsin native had a .934 fielding percentage with six errors in 2019.

Binelas should solidify the first baseman role for 2020 and maybe 2021. But Louisville has two upcoming freshman in Trace Willhoite and Blayne Robinson that they can plug in, should Binelas stay at third. Willhoite was a two-time All-State selection at Scott County High School in Kentucky. Blayne Robinson averaged .300 batting with 16 RBIs, 11 stolen bases, six doubles and three triples at Defiance High School in Ohio, the same high school that Louisville reliever Shay Smiddy came from.

  • Second Base: Jared Poland OR Andrew Benefield

Assuming that Lucas Dunn stays at centerfield to give Louisville at least one returning starter in the outfield, the second base position should be a battle between Jared Poland and Andrew Benefield. Both were ranked in the top 180 nationally in the 2018 class by Perfect Game, with Poland seeing game time as both a second baseman and reliever.

The 12 starts last season suggests that Poland wins the job, but Benefield is having a terrific summer league so far. Benefield is averaging .364 through 25 games in the Northwoods League, including two doubles, eight home runs, and 20 RBI (leading the league in home runs, as of June 25th). Benefield could be a breakout performer for the Cardinals in 2020, if he can carry over his momentum from the summer league into next season.

  • Third Base: Tim Borden OR Cameron Masterman

With moving Alex Binelas to first, this creates a hole at third base. The two guys to watch here are Tim Borden and Cam Masterman.

Borden, who will be a second-year player from Our Lady of Providence in Sellersburg, IN, was the 146th ranked player nationally by Perfect Game. Borden averaged .484 batting with six home runs, 12 doubles, and 41 RBIs during his senior season of high school. He redshirted in 2019, but will be playing summer ball with the Quincy Gems in the Prospect League.

Cam Masterman made two starts in 2019, hitting .286 in 20 appearances with two doubles, one home run, and five RBIs. Masterman is a really underrated prospect that could emerge as a late batting order gem, if he secures the starting spot for 2020.

  • Shortstop: Justin Lavey

Tyler Fitzgerald’s departure creates a big hole on defense for the Cardinals, but Justin Lavey should step right in as the starter. Lavey has had experience at every position in the infield but first base, and made a couple starts at shortstop while Fitzgerald was out.

Lavey made tremendous strides in his junior year, improving his fielding from .922 with 12 errors in 2018, to .978 with five errors in 2019. He also earned a spot on the All-ACC Third Team with an impressive run during conference play, averaging .347 at the plate with three doubles, two home runs, and 14 RBI. Lavey’s versatility makes him a fit to start virtually anywhere in Louisville’s infield, including the vacancy at first left behind by Logan Wyatt.

  • Left Field: Levi Usher or Ethan Stringer

With Jake Snider foregoing his senior season to pursue a professional career, left field becomes one of the biggest vacancies Louisville will have to fill in 2020.

Some may have Zach Britton and Danny Oriente start in 2020 at both left and right field, and it could work. Both guys are going to be some of the top returning batters for Louisville in 2020, and both did make a few starts at right field this past year. But to optimize Louisville’s starting lineup, only one of them can start in the outfield, and the other should start as a designated hitter (preferably Oriente).

With that in mind, I’m leaving the left field starting spot as a battle between incoming JUCO talent Levi Usher, and veteran Ethan Stringer. Usher was a 2018 commit to Louisville as the 104th ranked prospect in the country per Perfect Game, but opted to take a year in JUCO at Kirkwood Community College. Usher averaged .409 at the plate for the Eagles, recording seven doubles, four triples, three homers, and 31 RBI with 36 stolen bases.

Ethan Stringer is another option at left field, as a senior with 46 career starts. The senior averaged .218 at the plate last year with four doubles and eight RBI. He and Usher would likely alternate starts at the beginning of 2020, if Usher isn’t able to fully secure the spot in fall ball and February practice.

  • Center Field: Lucas Dunn

For now, keeping Lucas Dunn at center field is the best option for two reasons; it gives Louisville a returning starter in the outfield, and gives Dan McDonnell some flexibility in his starting lineup for the infield.

Returning your leadoff hitter from last season is always a good foundation for next season, and Dunn should be a lock to keep that spot in the batting order. Dunn averaged .309 at the plate with 15 stolen bases, and fourth on the team with 29 walks last season. Dunn also had a .983 fielding percentage with only two errors, giving Louisville a great defender in the backend.

  • Right Field / Designated Hitter: Zach Britton or Danny Oriente

The roles here are interchangeable. If Britton starts at right field, then Oriente could start at DH, and vice-versa. For this, my preference would be Britton starting at DH, with Oriente starting at right field. Britton was perhaps the best pinch-hitter for Louisville last year, hitting .288 with seven doubles, five home runs, and 28 RBI. A full-time role as the DH would add some power to Louisville’s lineup, with potential for Britton to become a .300+ hitter with double digit home runs.

Danny Oriente returns as the best contact hitter in Louisville’s lineup, averaging a team-high .332 with 17 doubles. With Logan Wyatt and Tyler Fitzgerald both gone, Oriente’s return could see him at the very top of Louisville’s batting order, possibly as the 3-hole hitter to allow Binelas to hit cleanup.



One Reply to “Around the Bases: The Offseason (And On to 2020!)”

  1. Nice article about Louisville baseball and 2020 projections. I think a few players were left out that are playing summer ball and could have a big impact. Don’t count them out!

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