The Bulls far exceeded expectations last season, as they reached their first postseason berth since 2002 under first-year coach Mark Kingston. Expected to return to postseason play, the team is missing over half of last year’s roster.
USF lost 18 players, retained only 13 and over half of the team (21) is new recruits. The most notable losses were pitcher Jimmy Herget (sixth round to Cincinnati Reds), pitcher Tommy Peterson (12th round, Washington Nationals), infielder Kyle Teaf (30th round, Tampa Bay Rays) and pitcher Casey Mulholland (37th round, Los Angeles Dodgers).
Kingston was confident during Wednesday’s preseason media day in discussing his freshman players.
“We will have four freshman that will get a chance to start as we open up,” he said. “We have four to five freshmen starting and maybe six considered to start on any given day.”
The only players guaranteed a starting spot were catcher Levi Borders, outfielder Luke Maglich, outfielder Luke Borders and utility player Kevin Merrell, who he called a “developing star.”
There is potential for freshmen, but returning players might also have a place to start, as Kingston knows those players can be relied on for consistency.
In regards to pitching staff for the Bulls, he said it’s still very much in flux, with five to six guys vying for roles in the starting rotation.
“We need to combine what our eyes are telling us right now with what we are seeing in practice, and marry that with what the stats from last year tell us,” Kingston said. “Some guys’ stats say they are much better out of the bullpen.”
He went on to note “the core group of seven to eight guys are all very competitive,” and it’s up to his coaching staff to figure out what roles they are going to fill.
With no clear-cut ace on the roster since Herget was drafted, Kingston doesn’t seem fazed.
“Jimmy wasn’t the ace heading into last year, and he had to replace someone from the year prior, just like someone will have to replace him this year,” he said.
The Bulls have yet to announce who will pitch in the opening game.
“We are very close,” Kingston said. “(However), at this point, we are not ready to say that yet.”
The team is still searching for an identity, but Kingston said he wants his group this year, more than anything else, is to “play hard, know how to play the game and deal with every type of situation they might be faced with.”
The Bulls’ first game is against the Liberty Flames at USF Baseball Stadium on Feb. 19 at 6:30 p.m.