Point/Counter: Which freshman will have the biggest impact on UConn baseball?

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UConn’s Baseball team had a great start to the season beating No.4 Louisville (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

UConn baseball commanded the attention of top-tier programs with their series win over then fourth-ranked Louisville to start the season. Though they are still outside of the top-25, the Huskies boast a talented, young and deep roster, providing head coach Jim Penders with plenty of flexibility. We’re here to discuss which freshman will leave the biggest mark on the 2019 season.

Kevin Arnold:

The clear-cut choice for this has to be freshman catcher Pat Winkel. Earning the starting backstop job for the season’s start, Pat was thrown right into the fire when the Huskies opened up with the Cardinals – and he handled it with ease. Even though a hamstring injury cost him the last three innings of game one (dnp in rest of series), Winkel managed to shut down the Louisville running game after throwing out two attempting base-stealers and going two-for-three at the plate. It’s a small sample size thus far, but head coach Jim Penders, a catcher by trade, has a special talent crouched behind the plate.

Luke Swanson:

Winkel’s talent is pretty clear. He’s one of the best freshmen to play for UConn in a while and won the starting job over talented competition. He was drafted last year, hit over .500 in high school and won Gatorade Player of the Year. He’s got a rocket arm and can hit to all areas of the field, but there’s one thing that he doesn’t have over Kyler Fedko: raw power. UConn lost over half of their home runs to graduation this year, and improvements at the plate by players like Christian Fedko and Chris Winkel likely won’t make all of that up. UConn isn’t in desperate need of runs, their lineup is deep and versatile enough, but it’s a lot easier to get them with one swing of the bat than trying small ball all day. Kyler’s skillset fits that perfectly, and if he can translate his strength in high school to the next level, the Huskies will have a much easier time scoring runs.

Arnold:

Kyler’s ability at the plate, like his 6-foot-two 212 lb. frame, is impressive. Penders has said Fedko’s bat will get him in the lineup over opening day starter Anthony Nucerino, but what about his glove? What makes the catching position, and Winkel, so interesting is the relationship with the pitching staff required to be successful. The Huskies carry 19 listed pitchers on their roster and Winkel has to be ready to catch any one of them at any given time. Not to mention the staff’s ace, Mason Feole tabbed a preseason all-American and conference pitcher of the year, a tall-task for a young catcher. While a lot of pitch calls will likely come from the dugout, Winkel’s relationship with Feole and the rest of the staff will not just determine wins and losses, but will impact the growth and development of anyone who takes the mound. I expect Winkel to have the same level of confidence behind the dish as it took to turn down the Yankees after draft day.

Swanson:

We already know that Winkel is aces behind the plate, Penders raved about it all offseason and we caught a glimpse of Winkel’s ability in his appearance in the first game of the Louisville series. But catcher is a position of strength for UConn, and you saw it last weekend; Paul Gozzo stepped into Winkel’s place on Friday and was the difference between a series win and a series loss. Phillips took his place on Sunday and went 1-3 with a walk and an RBI, throwing out a Louisville would-be base stealer and not allowing a single passed ball. The options behind Winkel aren’t bad by a long shot. UConn doesn’t have nearly the same depth at Kyler Fedko’s position, right field. Anthony Nucerino had a great offseason, but he still hit just .229 last year. Michael Chiovitti is a nice piece, but he doesn’t have Kyler’s power or potential.

Everyone on the team, freshmen included, will have to step up in order for the Huskies to make Omaha, but Kyler will be forced to provide punch to UConn’s lineup and fill in at a position where UConn’s options don’t blow you away.


Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at luke.swanson@uconn.edu.

Kevin Arnold is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at kevin.arnold@uconn.edu.

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