Even though last season’s starting left side of the infield drafted by Major League Baseball clubs, the USF baseball team has aspirations of advancing further in postseason play with a roster loaded with senior leadership and a group of freshmen.
Replacing third baseman David Villar and shortstop Coco Montes will be a difficult task for the 2019 Bulls.
Villar, an 11th-round selection by the San Francisco Giants, and Montes, who was drafted in the 15th round by the Colorado Rockies, combined to drive in nearly one-third of the team’s runs last season.
“It’s tough to replace those guys with the quality of years they both had,” coach Billy Mohl said. “They [Villar and Montes] both had career years last year. Trying to replicate that is going to be really hard to do.”
Without the veteran presence of both Villar and Montes, Mohl said he will turn to two freshmen to solidify the left side of the infield.
“You will probably see Dylan Buck at third base on opening night and Nicky Gonzalez at shortstop,” Mohl said. “Nicky is a really good defender. You watch him play and he is really smooth and athletic with a good arm. Dylan Buck, once he gets bigger and stronger, he already has the frame for it, he is really fun to watch hit … moving forward those guys are going to be integral parts of our lineup.”
There is talent at the freshman level, according to Mohl, but the strength of this team is the veteran leadership of the returning players. Mohl knows that the team’s success will come from a collective group of upperclassmen.
“It’s a combination of guys,” Mohl said. “J.D. Dutka, Joe Genord, Kyle Phillips, Garrett Zech, it’s Chris Chatfield, guys that have been here and had success. I wouldn’t say that any of them are vocal leaders with the exception of Joe. They all lead by example and are good role models for the younger players.”
Not only will Mohl rely on Genord for his big bat and leadership in the middle of the lineup, but Genord is also the vocal leader of the ball club, a quality that Mohl is happy the first baseman possesses.
“He is kind of a country boy who says whatever is on his mind,” Mohl said. “He doesn’t always know his audience every time he speaks. He is one of the greatest teammates you could ever have and always a treat to be around.”
Genord, a senior and three-year starter at first base, hit .306 last season, with 16 home runs and 53 RBI while senior outfielders Phillips, Chatfield and Zech combined for 21 of the teams 43 stolen bases last season.
“We have some speed on the team and steal some bases, but we also have some big thumpers with Chatfield and Genord and, as small as Phillips is, he can still get into a ball,” Mohl said.
Mohl will also rely on the dependability of senior catcher Tyler Dietrich.
Dietrich is tasked with handling a pitching rotation that lost its top three players to Major League Baseball while being the mentor to the other four catchers on the team.
“Tyler Dietrich will start behind the plate,” Mohl said. “He is our number-one catcher. He caught all but seven innings for us last year … Last year we had one catcher and we were one foul tip away from having a really bad year. Jake Sullivan will be our number two.”
Dietrich was named to the 2018 AAC all-tournament team and handled a pitching staff that had a combined 3.87 ERA.
The Bulls will have opportunities to win in a variety of ways. Mohl said he feels confident that his team is built to win using small-ball tactics or the three-run home run. The Bulls are prepared to take whatever the opponent is willing to give them.
“I think we have a combination of a little bit of everything,” Mohl said. “If the wind is blowing in one day we have enough guys that can handle the bat where we can hit and run, we can bunt and do different things offensively.”
With freshmen Gonzalez and Buck breaking into the lineup along with the help of some senior experience, Mohl is looking forward to a breakthrough season.
“Success is based upon how far we get in the postseason,” Mohl said. “That is how we are always going to measure our success. I said earlier, I am tired of going 1-2 in the regional. I would like to bust through and continue to move this program forward.”