--By Mike Gilpatrick
--Image by Jared Anderson. (Louisville vs. Wright State, May 8th, 2018)
The first sign of spring is here. Louisville baseball is back.
Dan McDonnell’s Cardinals take on the 20th-ranked Connecticut Huskies at Joker Marchant Stadium; spring home of the Detroit Tigers, on Friday, February 15th. They face off in the first series of 2019.
When the Cardinals take the field, there will be some noticeable changes. Josh Stowers won’t be in left field. Devin Mann isn’t at second. Adam Wolf, Riley Thompson, Sam Bordner, and Liam Jenkins won’t toe the rubber.
In total, eight pitchers and three position players graduated or left the team after last season. A few do return - 11 pitchers and 12 position players return. 13 freshmen are on the roster.
Here is a look at what the lineup may look like on Opening Day:
Rotation- Nick Bennett, Bobby Miller, Reid Detmers, Bryan Hoeing
Key Relievers: Shay Smiddy (Closer), Adam Elliott (Setup), Michael McAvene (Setup)
The pitching staff lost a ton of players, including their 2018 ace. Adam Wolf went to the Tigers in the draft.
Luckily, the Cardinals have a few experienced players. For starters, Nick Bennett had the second-most starts in 2018. He may very well be the ace. Bobby Miller was a sensation when recruited; and had a good 2018. He ended with a 2.97 ERA, and 1.06 WHIP. He will see a larger role. Detmers and Hoeing started a few games.
Hoeing returned after being drafted by San Francisco. He turned down the giants, and is looking to improve his draft position.
Much like last year, the rotation may be fluid. There are multiple pitchers that may get the nod.
In the bullpen, Smiddy was second on the team in saves; behind closer Sam Bordner. Elliott and McAvene bring experience to the back end. They also may get some starts. Elliott is a dominant southpaw, and McAvene may be Louisville’s mid-week starter, after spending a season in the bullpen after Tommy John surgery his Sophomore year.
C: Zeke Pinkham
1B: Logan Wyatt
2B: Tyler Fitzgerald
3B: Justin Lavey
SS: Jared Poland
Pinkham is not the flashiest catcher at the plate. He hit .100 and had an OPS of just .256. But he brings a good defensive game, which more than makes up for his bat. He is coming off an injury, though. Ben Bianco and Pat Rumoro are two options to platoon behind the plate.
Logan Wyatt started all 64 games last year at first. This year, he’s expected to be an integral part of the team. USA Baseball named him in their Golden Spikes award watchlist.
Mann left a huge hole at second. It does free up the position for Fitzgerald. The former third-baseman is a natural middle-infielder, and is a productive hitter. He is second in on-base percentage for returning players.
Justin Lavey has started before, and will start again. Most likely at the hot corner. He started 60 of 61 games last year, and had a .307 on-base percentage.
There’s no natural choice for shortstop, and McDonnell may be forced to go with a freshman. Poland is a possible choice. While Jake Snider could play short, he will most likely be in the outfield. Poland was selected in the 34th round of the 2018 MLB Draft; and would have went higher if he was not committed to Louisville. Poland is the 124th overall player in Perfect Game’s 2018 class, and was the No. 4 player out of Indiana.
LF- Jake Snider
CF- Drew Campbell
RF- Danny Oriente
All three players started over 40 games last season. Snider was one of two players to start all 64 games. And Rightly so. He hit .300 last year, with 72 hits, and two home runs. He drove in 32 runs, and walked 43 times.
Campbell drove in 31 runs. The projected starter hit .313, and had a .799 OPS last year.
Of returning players, Oriente is second on the team in batting average. He hit .331 last year, and had an .819 OPS. Most of his starts were in right. He may split time with Ethan Stringer. Stringer had the highest Slugging percentage of any returning outfielders.
The team brings a mix of freshness and experience. The rotation is largely unchanged. There are a few holes in the infield.
Regardless, this may be a good team. The Cardinals are ranked in all six major preseason polls. Their highest ranking is No. 4, according to D1Baseball.
Louisville plays their first game at Patterson Stadium at 3pm on Wednesday, Feb. 20th. It kicks off a lengthy 14-game homestand, that lasts into April.
Season starts Friday.