The top-three pitchers on the USF baseball team were drafted by Major League Baseball clubs after last season.
Former Bulls’ starting pitchers Shane McClanahan, Peter Strzelecki and closer Andrew Perez concluded their USF careers last year, losing in the NCAA regionals with a team that went 36-22-1.
While McClanahan was the highly-touted first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Rays, coach Billy Mohl expressed concern about who will replace Strzelecki, who now pitches in the Brewers’ farm system, in the pitching rotation.
“The biggest piece of the pitching staff to replace from last year was Strzelecki,” Mohl said. “He was our Saturday starter and threw a lot of big games for us. That is a key piece we are going to miss…If you ask me who our best pitchers were last season, it was Strzelecki and Perez.”
Head coach Billy Mohl will look to regroup with a talented, but less-experienced pitching staff this season.
Mohl does have some experience coming back from last year’s team. Mohl will turn to sophomore Baron Stuart, junior Collin Sullivan and senior Alec Wisely at the front end of the rotation. The three pitchers last season combined to start 29 games, winning eight games and losing only three.
“Wisely, Sullivan and Baron are the only guys that had success at this level so it will be touch and go as we go along,” Mohl said.
While Perez, drafted in the eighth round by the Chicago White Sox, will be missed, it will be sophomore Graham Hoffmann or Miami-Dade College transfer Nelson Alvarez that will take the mound attempting to finish off the opponent in the ninth inning this season. Alvarez has reached as high as 96 mph on the radar gun, but with the season opener Feb.15th, according to Mohl, Hoffman will do the bulk of the closing duties to start the season.
“Those two, [Hoffman and Alvarez] are both battling for that spot,” Mohl said. “Alvarez is on Graham’s heels right now. Those two will battle for the closer spot going into conference play. Graham has good stuff and he has really looked good this spring.”
Ben Koff, a transfer from the College of Central Florida, figures to be a big part of the plans for Mohl and the Bulls. With the potential to break in the starting rotation, the versatile Koff could find his role on the staff in both as a starter and coming out of the bullpen. The question for Mohl, at this point, is Koff’s endurance.
“It’s just figuring out his role,” Mohl said. “Is he better in the bullpen and we make sure that the bullpen is light-out, or does he have the stamina to go five-innings every weekend? These are the things we are working through right now.”
Connor Eason will also return for the Bulls.
Eason appeared in 15 games last season posting a 1-0 record with a 2.70 ERA in 20 innings pitched. Eason is all-business on the field, but when the left-hander isn’t on the mound, his job is to keep the team relaxed.
“It’s always the lefties,” Mohl said. “He is like a big kid, like one of my six-year-olds. He is always in a good mood, running around and keeping it light. He has some of the best one-liners.”
With a veteran offense in place, the Bulls strive for a season that leads to postseason play. The Bulls have experience, however, it is limited. Mohl knows the pitching, and figuring out the answers to the questions regarding his staff in the early going will be the defining factor for success this season.
“I feel good about the talent we have,” Mohl said. “It’s just a matter of putting those guys in the right roles to have success…We will go as far as our pitching takes us and we have so many unknowns right now.”