It’s baseball season! While the pros are just starting the month and a half long tease that is Spring Training (it’s still better than no baseball), college ball is already playing meaningful games!
The Huskies are kicking their season off with the second annual MLB4 tournament, along with Michigan, Vanderbilt and Cal Poly.
For the Huskies, they are dealing with the losses of multiple of their top hitters, including Anthony Prato and Michael Woodworth who were both taken in the 2019 MLB draft as well as John Toppa who graduated. The three of them led the team in batting average, hitting .324, .325 and .326 respectively.
Catcher Pat Winkel, who hit .318 last season for the Huskies, underwent Tommy John Surgery, as reported by Chip Malafronte of the New Haven Register in December.
Pitchers Jacob Wallace, Mason Feole and CJ Dandeneau were also selected in the draft, and innings leader Jeff Kersten graduated, so the Huskies will need people to step up on both sides of the ball.
Juniors Joe Simeone and Colby Dunlop are slated to make the first two starts of the weekend, with the Game 3 starter still to be determined, the UConn baseball team announced on their Twitter.
— UConn Baseball (@UConnBSB) February 12, 2020
Simeone had a 5.00 ERA in 36 innings pitched last season, including five starts, and Dunlop had a 4.31 ERA in 56.1 innings pitched and 10 starts.
UConn will open the tournament and their season up on Friday at 3 p.m. with Cal Poly, who finished the 2019 season exactly .500. The Mustangs as a team don’t hit for much power, slugging just 13 home runs combined last season en route to finishing tied for No. 285 out of 297 in all of Division I baseball. They do retain their top slugger, Tate Samuelson, who had five home runs last year, but not Conagher Sands, who led the team .328 batting average over 131 at-bats.
Pitchers Michael Clark and Bobby Ay, the team’s top two innings leaders who posted ERAs of 2.61 and 3.27 respectively, are also both no longer on the team. The pitching load will likely fall on Darren Nelson, who started the second-most games behind Ay and is one of only two pitchers who threw over 30 innings last season who is still on the roster.
The Huskies will then get to face the defending College World Series champion Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday at 7 p.m., who are once again expected to be one of – if not the top team in the country. In a stark shift from Cal Poly, Vandy was the No. 1 home run hitting team in the country last season with 100, was in the top-10 in runs, batting average and on-base percentage and was in the top-25 in ERA and WHIP. All of this led them to a 59-12 record last season, and of course, the national championship.
However, they are losing five of their top six batters from last season, including JJ Bleday, who led the nation in Home Runs with 27 – or over twice as many as the entire Cal Poly team had. Bleday was the No. 4 overall selection in the MLB draft, going to the Miami Marlins. Each of the other four were also selected in the draft: Ethan Paul (9th round), Philip Clarke (9th round), Stephen Scott (10th round) and Pat DeMarco.
They were just part of a 13-man class that Vandy had drafted in 2019, including Patrick Raby, who had a 3.05 ERA in almost 80 innings pitched for them last season. They also lost innings leader Drake Fellows, who had a 4.09 ERA in 116.2 innings pitched.
Vanderbilt does retain Austin Martin, who hit .392/.486/.604 last season in a year, and pitchers Mason Hickman and Kumar Rocker who had ERAs of 2.05 and 3.25 respectively in nearly 100 innings apiece.
The third and final team UConn will play is Michigan, the team that lost to Vanderbilt in last year’s College World Series. They lose their top bat in Jordan Brewer, who was taken in the third round of the MLB draft, along with two of their top pitchers, Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffmann, who were both taken in the second round. Pitcher Jack Weisenburger and top home run hitter Jimmy Kerr were also taken, going in the 20th and 33rd round respectively.
They do retain a lot of their lineup, including outfielder Jordan Nwogu who led the team in OPS and pitcher Jeff Criswell who had a 2.72 ERA in over 100 innings.
Following the MLB4 Tournament, the Huskies will play three more games versus Michigan at the New York Mets spring training facility in Port St. Lucie, Florida.