Bulls relish chance to play summer ball

USF sports fans may have never heard of the Sanford River Rats or Licking County Settlers, but summer league teams such as these could have a major impact on the Bulls’ 2012 season.

College baseball has a unique setup that allows players to play in wooden bat summer leagues, which allow them to gain experience while retaining their amateur status and remaining eligible to compete in the NCAA. Major League Baseball partially funds nine summer leagues nationwide.

“Playing against different competition against players from across the nation instead of players you’ve played against your whole life is important,” USF outfielder Alex Mendez said. “It gives us a chance to make ourselves better baseball players.”

Mendez plays for the River Rats of the Florida Collegiate Summer League, alongside fellow USF outfielder James Ramsay. In 11 games, Mendez — who was not a regular starter for the Bulls — has been hitting .306, including a home run and four RBIs. He batted .287 in 38 games for USF last season.

Ramsay, who started 46 of USF’s 54 games as a true freshman last season, is batting .407 with an on-base percentage of .484 with the River Rats so far this summer.

The opportunity to share an outfield with Ramsay in the summer is one that Mendez said he relishes.

“I think it’s really important to know your other outfielders,” Mendez said. “It’s fun to share an outfield with a teammate and someone I really get along with. It’s important to know how they play, and it’s brought us a lot closer on and off the field, and it definitely has built up our chemistry.”

USF starting pitcher Matt Reed chose to leave Florida to play summer ball — heading to Newark, Ohio, and the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League for his second season with the Licking County Settlers.

Reed began last season as a midweek starter, but worked his way into the weekend rotation with his consistency. He could feature as one of USF’s primary starters next year following the departure of Randy Fontanez and Andrew Barbosa, though USF is still exploring a sixth year of eligibility for Barbosa.

“It’s definitely a great advantage that baseball can be played pretty much all year round,” Reed said. “To come up here and play with some of the best players in college baseball is a great opportunity for me.”

Reed got off to a hot start with the Settlers, picking up a win in his first start by pitching six innings and allowing one unearned run.

Reed went 5-4 with a 4.11 ERA for USF and was the only starter to post a positive record. He’s a slow-throwing lefty, known more for his breaking balls than his fastball.

“I’m working on a couple of pitches that I needed to work on this offseason, some breaking pitches that weren’t really there for me during the spring season,” Reed said. “Summer league is a great time to put the work in and emphasize working on those pitches and getting them ready for next spring so I can contribute to a winning team.”

Even while with the Settlers, Reed said the work he puts in is primarily for USF’s benefit.

“(Licking County) is just a good place for me to be so that I can get ready to help USF win a Big East and national championship,” he said. “As much as I want to win a Great Lakes championship here, I also want a Big East championship with USF next year — my senior year.”