Rotation bolstered as top pitchers officially return

After a disappointing 2010 season, USF coach Lelo Prado got some good news to start the school year.

With the passing of the recent Aug. 16th signing deadline, the Bulls will return perhaps their two most important pieces – top starters Andrew Barbosa and Randy Fontanez, as both decided to retain their amateur status and play their senior season at USF, the school officially announced Monday.

“It’s great,” Prado said Monday by phone. “… It was a big time for them to say they’re coming back and help us. Everybody left with a bad taste in their mouth after last season … I think they’ll be excited for it. Both have good experience. We just have to put it together this year and make it happen.”

Fontanez, who led the Big East in strikeouts and innings pitched last season, was taken in the 23rd round by the Cincinnati Reds in April’s MLB draft. Barbosa, who had the lowest ERA in the conference at 2.40, was taken in the 15th round by the San Francisco Giants.

Prado said he thought both would get drafted higher and anticipated before the draft that they wouldn’t return.

Players selected in the 15th round are usually subject to signing bonuses under $100,000. The average amount for a player drafted in the 10th round in 2010 was about $137,000, according to Prado said earlier this summer that the Giants weren’t offering Barbosa enough money to make the choice any easier.

“I talked to them a lot also,” Prado said. “The degree is definitely a big thing in both of their eyes. The money wasn’t going to be a difference maker, and they can improve their draft status next year. The worst thing that could happen is their walking out of here with a college degree. That’s not all bad.”

Fontanez, who has started 41 games during three years at USF, said Barbosa returning, USF playing in a new stadium and the prospect of earning his degree ultimately sealed his decision.

“If (Barbosa) came back, I thought that would help my thought process of if I should come back,” he said. “It was tough. (Playing professionally) was something I’ve been looking forward to my whole life … We’re getting a new stadium. We’re pretty much set to have a great team next year. (Going pro) was something I just didn’t feel was right.”

Despite the possible prospects of playing in a new stadium, five of the nine Bulls drafted signed professional contracts this summer, including three incoming freshmen. Most notably, outfielder Stephen Hunt, who led USF in hits, RBI and stolen bases last year, signed a contract with the Reds after a 15th-round selection, and OF signee Kyle Waldrop, drafted in the 12th round by the Reds, opted to sign earlier this month, receiving a $500,000 signing bonus.

Barring injury, Fontanez and Barbosa should be the top two starters for USF next season. Sophomore Ray Delphey, junior Matt Reed and senior Derrick Stultz, who missed all of last season after rotator cuff surgery, are also in the mix.

“The leadership they bring and just the way they go about their business is what’s going to make them professionals,” Prado said. “… A lot of our ball players are excited they’re here.”