After emerging from the success of last season’s Conference USA second place finish and an appearance in last season’s NCAA Regional Tournament, the Bulls will look to move on without three position starters, their mainstay designated hitter and a member of their weekend rotation.
“(Returning players) are used to the fact that playing in these tournaments and playing really good opponents is what college baseball is all about,” USF coach Eddie Cardieri said. “Those guys experienced success in the conference standings and in the conference tournament, as well as going into the Regionals. I hope that it just all carries over into this year.”
A six-man competition will take place on the mound in the first few weeks of the season. The Bulls will look at a number of pitching scenarios in their first few games to properly fill the weekend rotation by the time they enter conference play. The signing of Ryan Gloger away from Stanford will bring a left-hander into the pitching rotation for the first time since 1999.
Despite being highly touted coming out of high school, Gloger went virtually unnoticed in two seasons with Stanford, seeing very little pitching time.
“We have six starters to choose from, and we haven’t had that luxury since (1995-97), when our staff was very deep,” Cardieri said. “We have Ryan Gloger, John Gorham, Jason Bartz, Jon Uhl, David Austin and Jeremy Fortner. Those six guys to compete for three or four starting positions. They are all going to get a chance to pitch at the start of the year.”
Replacing the offensive numbers of players gone from last season will be among the Bulls’ paramount challenges. Despite the return of last year’s hits leader Myron Leslie, the Bulls will still need to replace the bats of Mike Eylward and Daniel Boyd, who, along with Leslie, provided the power in the lineup. Kris Courier will also find himself a slot in the batting lineup in the role of designated hitter.
Along with being in the mix at catcher and first base, Courier’s bat will be used at the DH spot, especially against right-handed pitching.
“(Eylward and Boyd) are two very big bats to replace, because they did it over a four-year stretch. Their numbers were very consistent for four years, and they hit in the meat of the lineup.
Myron Leslie will be back as a sophomore, and he knows what it’s all about,” Cardieri said. “Myron is going to hit in the meat of the lineup, and a guy like Chris Cuccia is a senior who has always been a good hitter for us. He and (Bill) Nahorodny and (Mike) Barclay and those guys, being seniors, we are looking to them to produce runs.”
Relief pitching is another area the Bulls will need to focus on this season. With no definite closer, USF will probably do with the relievers what they plan to do with starters: run through a number of them in the first few weeks to decide the best relief rotation.
“Two of the left-handed freshmen, Bubba Ingram and Paul Griffin, would be two of those (relievers),” Cardieri said. “Two more lefties fill in after them. Depending where we go those six (potential) starters, well that gives us two more guys.”
In preseason interviews, Cardieri stressed that along with strong pitching, he feels that a solid defense is the next most important thing for the Bulls to be successful. In doing that, he will look to shuffle some players around to fill slots vacated since last season. One of those positions is moving Leslie from third to short for the 2002 season.
“Myron has very good instincts, and he played shortstop in high school,” Cardieri said. “He’s very good at positioning himself and has good range. He knows when he has to get rid of the ball and when he can take his time. He just knows how to play.”
Along with Leslie, Mike Macaluso will move in the infield, from short to second base. Cardieri said the moves do not concern him and that time on the field will be the best way for his players to learn new roles.
“I think that it is just a matter of playing a few games so that Myron and ‘Mac’ can get used to each other in the keystone,” he said. “Mac’s played second and short, and Myron’s played third and short. Good infielders can play them all. I think that combination is going to work out well.
“Jeff Baisley, a freshman, will have a good shot to play a lot of third base. Devin Ivany, who is going to do a lot of catching as well, will play some third base, as well.”
- Jarrett Guthrie covers baseball and can be reached at email@example.com