Coach Mark Kingston led the Bulls to an NCAA regional game in his first season at the helm of USF baseball in 2015, but is facing an almost completely new roster after he lost several experienced players to the MLB Draft.
Gone are ace Jimmy Herget, closer Tommy Peterson and shortstop Kyle Teaf. Despite the loss, replacing them may not take long, as Kingston brought in 16 freshmen, which rated a top-10 class by D1Baseball.com.
“We have so many new players, there are times it feels very much like last year,” Kingston said at the team’s media day last week.
“We had to institute last year (that) this is how we practice, this is how we approach things. Last year, we were dealing with 34 or 35 new players. This year we’re dealing with 20.”
Kingston said as many as four of those freshmen could start for the Bulls when the team opens its season Friday night at the USF Baseball Stadium.
Junior college transfer Phoenix Sanders (Daytona State College) will start on the mound against the Liberty Flames.
Unlike USF’s tough schedule to begin last season, which featured Cal State Fullerton and Louisville, the Bulls will have a few weeks before facing their first formidable opponent of the season in Florida State.
Liberty, which USF will host for a three-game series, finished last season 33-23 with a 16-8 record in Big South play.
The Flames lost their best starting pitcher and outfielder to graduation and will give Kingston an early chance to see how all of these new players fit on the Bulls’ roster.
USF Senior outfielder Luke Maglich described the renovated team as having a different level of talent this year.
“I feel like everybody on the field is capable of playing at this level of baseball,” Maglich said.
“I think that’s a little bit different than years past. Not saying that negatively, but I think just the average potential, between the guys that are coming in and the guys that are returning, has definitely taken a step in the right direction, and it’s a good feeling.”
How all of this new talent will work together on the field will determine if the Bulls can make it to the NCAA tournament two years in a row.
That journey begins Friday night at 6:30 p.m. when Sanders takes the mound for his USF debut.