The Cardinal Nine will begin their 2018 season on Friday with a weekend tournament in Charleston, SC. #13 Louisville will look to earn its fourth College World Series in six seasons under head coach Dan McDonnell. They’ll be led by a deep pitching lineup, but will need to flesh out a starting rotation and solidify their closer role.
Key Returners: Nick Bennett (So.), Sam Bordner (Jr.), Adam Wolf (Jr.), Riley Thompson (R-So.)
Louisville loses two of its three weekend starters to the pros (Brendan McKay and Kade McClure), along with some major contributors in the batting lineup. But given the experience and mix of left-handed pitchers in the rotation, this should once again be a strength of the team.
Nick Bennett is the lone returning weekend starter from last season. The sophomore was an All-ACC Third Team pitcher in 2017, posting a 5-1 record with a 3.18 ERA as the Cardinals’ Sunday starter. It’s not set in stone whether or not he stays as the Sunday starter (or moves to another day), but it should give the Cardinals relief that they have some experience on the weekend lineup.
Despite having to replace two stout pitchers in McKay and McClure, Louisville’s bullpen should be strong again under long-time coach Roger Williams. Sam Bordner returns as the Cardinals’ top option in that group, and had a phenomenal 2017 (0.41 ERA in 23 appearances, with three saves and allowed a .112 batting average). The junior is among several pitchers in Louisville’s rotation with impressive size (6’6”, 240 lbs.). As Louisville’s top returning right-hander, he could see a bigger role as their next closer or a possible weekend starter.
Adam Wolf joins Bordner as another stalwart in the bullpen, and is one of Louisville’s best left-handed pitchers. Wolf pulled a 6-0 record in relief duty last season, finishing with a 2.18 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 24 appearances. It’s possible he could transition to a starting role in the weekend lineup, giving Louisville two experienced lefties in the rotation.
Riley Thompson is a pitcher that has potential to breakout in 2018. He’s had fastballs in the mid-to-high 90s in-game, and has received a lot of praise this offseason. The Louisville native was selected as a third-team preseason All-American by Baseball America, and is the tenth-ranked sophomore prospect by Perfect Game. If he can continue to develop his off-speed pitches, he can emerge as one of the top arms in the ACC.
Newcomers to Watch: Austin Conway (Graduate), Reid Detmers (Fr.), Adam Elliott (So.)
With Lincoln Henzman also gone, Louisville will be looking for a new closer in 2018. I believe Bordner could be a candidate for that role, but another option is grad transfer Austin Conway. Last season, Conway earned second-team All-Missouri Valley Conference honors as a closer for Indiana State, registering 12 saves with a 2.97 ERA in 28 appearances. He also had an excellent summer ball tour in 2015, earning the Cape Cod Reliever of the Year award as well as a spot on the all-league team. He’ll also bring veteran leadership as one of three seniors on Louisville’s roster.
Left-hander Reid Detmers enters 2018 as one of Louisville’s top freshmen. Detmers was a top prospect in the 2018 class, and was drafted by the Atlanta Braves but chose to come to Louisville instead. The freshman has received glowing praise for his strong curveball and change-up, and also has a low-90s fastball in his arsenal. He could receive opportunities as a starter in Louisville’s weekend rotation, especially with his strong off-speed pitches. With Bennett, Wolf and Detmers as possible weekend starters, it would give McDonnell three quality lefties to choose from.
Another left-hander to watch is sophomore Adam Elliott. Elliott finished 2017 with a 2-0 record and 2.14 ERA in 22 appearances last season. He also had a stellar showing in the Perfect Game League last summer, with a .69 ERA and 13 strikeouts in five appearances. He can also be an option for McDonnell as a hitter; he averaged .316 at the plate with a home run and nine RBI in 19 games with the Perfect Game League. With Logan Taylor and Colin Lyman both graduating, he could start some games as an outfielder and enter as a relief pitcher.