Big bats, solid swings, technical fielding and experienced pitching last year propelled the Bulls into the NCAA regional tournament.
Right fielder Daniel Boyd, first baseman Mike Eylward, and mainstay weekend rotation right-hander John Vigue all were paramount players in the Bulls’ success. Adding to them was second baseman Ben Drawdy and catcher Jeremy Earle, who relieved starter Allen Shirley, just to name a few.
But that was last year. And success for this season’s USF squad will partially depend on how the losses on the diamond will be remedied.
Starting pitcher: One third of last season’s weekend rotation, John Vigue (signed by the Devil Rays) left a gaping hole in the squad.
However, coach Eddie Cardieri was excited about the six-man battle royal that would take place in preseason practices for the rotation, with the pinnacle of that battle – the main event, if you will – the weekend rotation.
Returning right-handed starters, senior John Gorham and sophomore Jon Uhl, joined Vigue last season in the rotation and will most likely continue their run as the bookends of the weekend series with Gorham pitching on Friday and Uhl as the Sunday starter.
Gorham, who was 7-6 with 75 strikeouts, has been temporarily sidelined with a knee injury suffered in a game last season.
Gorham had the knee scoped Jan. 23 and is not expected to miss any season play.
According to Gorham, the Friday starting job is his to lose. Uhl will probably continue to fill the Sunday slot with four other would-be starters vying for the other starting position.
One of the players after that slot is junior transfer Ryan Gloger, who spent the last two seasons lost in the mix at Stanford. Gloger is the only lefty in the starting pitcher hunt.
Rounding out the top six is Jason Bartz, who had a 4-3 record with 37 strikeouts, Jeremy Fortner with 13 strikeouts, and junior college transfer David Austen.
“We feel like we’ve really improved our pitching. The depth of our pitching staff and the addition of Ryan Gloger makes our rotation that much stronger,” Cardieri said.
“We have six starters to choose from …We’ll see how people do and see what they earn.”
First Base: The slot left open in the batting order by Mike Eylward is sizable, but so is the gaping hole in the infield. Attempting to fill both of those slots this season is last season’s left fielder Chris Cuccia.
Cuccia, a senior, hit .258 last season with 34 RBIs. He will be backed up by junior college signee Ronnie Handley and South Florida’s utility man Kris Courier.
Second Base: This is another position that will utilize a familiar face in an unfamiliar spot. Junior Mike Macaluso moves to the other side of the infield, replacing Ben Drawdy at second. At 5-foot-11, Macaluso is fast and should easily handle second base.
Shortstop: Last season, Myron Leslie was fifth in C-USA in batting average, and fourth in hits and on-base percentage as a freshman. He led the Bulls in games played at 64, with most of those appearances at third base.
This season the 6-foot-3 sophomore will need to fill the shortstop position.
Leslie certainly has the quick hands; however, it remains to be seen whether shortstop will be too much ground for him to cover. According to preseason projections, Macaluso is listed as the reserve shortstop.
Third Base: Just like last season, the Bulls will look to a newcomer to fill the spot at third base. Jeff Baisley will again bring length to the position, as the 6-foot-3 freshman is the projected starter.
Joining Baisley as a prospect for third base is another freshman, Devin Ivany.
No matter who the starter is, both Baisley and Ivany will see significant playing time as Ivany is sure to spell Allen Shirley at catcher.
Catcher: Allen Shirley will once again be the starting catcher for South Florida. However, catcher is a position that requires a lot of rest, so look for Ivany and Courier to also spend some time behind the plate.
Left Field: Mike Cunningham will most likely step up into a starting position in left field.
Cunningham saw some playing time last season and will bring experience to his new role as a starter.
Also seeing some playing time will be returning Bull Travis Brown and junior college signee Scott Rachlin.
Right Field: Senior Bill Nahorodny replaces Daniel Boyd in right field.
Nahorodny, like Cunningham, is no stranger to the playing field and may serve as filler in the slots left by the loss of some Bulls from last season.
Brown, along with high school signee Kris Howell, will most likely be the reserves.
Center Field: Returning starter Mike Barclay will stay put in center field and cover the wide-open space that entails. Nahorodny and Cunningham will most likely be the reserves at center.
Relief Pitchers: Relief pitching will once again be a slot of young, inexperienced players. Six of the eight relievers on the roster are newcomers to South Florida. Sophomore Joey Livingston has the most experience on the squad with 31 appearances as a freshman last season, 26 strikeouts and a 1-0 record.
Joining him with some pitching experience from previous Bulls’ seasons is Keith Strickland, who has an 0-1 record and 7 strikeouts.
The slew of newcomers, comprised of three lefties and three righties, including one junior college signee, Mike Choquette, and one medical redshirt, David Pringle, from last season fill the rest of the relief staff. The remaining players are freshmen, including Paul Griffin, Bubba Ingram, Matt McHargue and Steve Palinkas.