The College Baseball season officially begins Friday as Louisville travels to Tampa to take on Charlotte with the first pitch scheduled for 2:00 p.m. The Cardinals, who were picked to finish 4th in the ACC Atlantic Division, are looking to bounce back after missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
In a normal year for Louisville Baseball, you could look at the roster and piece most of the starting lineup together but that is not the case this season. We are just a few days from the first game and the starting lineup is still not set in stone. And it won’t be for some time.
So, what can we expect this season?
College Baseball is back to the “traditional” schedules that we have become accustomed to. Last season, due to Covid, the ACC expanded to 36 conference games, which has been reduced back to 30 this year.
The Cards will host Notre Dame, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Clemson, and Virginia at Jim Patterson Stadium. If that home schedule doesn’t make you want to buy season tickets, you need to check your pulse.
Louisville will travel to Boston College, Pittsburgh, Florida State, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech in ACC play. Coach McDonnell could not ask for a better conference schedule this year. Florida State is is overwhelming favorite in the ACC and will be a tough task in Tallahassee, but the Cards other conference roads series are against the 6th (Wake and VT) and 7th (BC and Pitt) best teams in each division. Sign me up.
The Cardinal Nine will play three games against the SEC this season, a home-and home with Kentucky, and a mid-week tilt in Nashville against Vanderbilt.
Circle the second week of March on your calendars as the Cards will host TCU on Tuesday followed by a three game series against Michigan at Jim Patterson Stadium that weekend. The Wolverines are just a few years removed from a College World Series Runner-Up.
Of the 35 home games this season, 18 of them are free. All ACC games and the midweek games against Kentucky and Indiana will require a ticket, the rest of them are free. Go support the baseball team this year.
All games will be televised in one way or another except the game against WKU in Bowling Green, which will be streamed on Facebook. Good luck with that one, I’m sure the quality will be superb.
After the season opener with Charlotte on Friday, the Cards will play South Florida and Connecticut to round out opening weekend. All three games will be televised on ESPN+.
Coming off a season that was less than to be desired, Louisville has a lot to replace. The Cards had seven players selected in the 2021 MLB Draft, led by the #1 overall pick, Henry Davis. Not only did Davis make his presence known behind the plate, he led the team in batting average, runs, hits, slugging, walks, and OBP. It will require a group effort to replace the kind of year Davis produced.
Although Alex Binelas struggled to begin the season, he finished the year strong, leading the team with 19 home runs and 63 RBI. He was drafted by the Brewers and has since been traded to the Red Sox.
The pitching staff also took a few blows, losing both Michael Kirian and Glenn Albanese to the draft and Adam Elliott and Luke Smith to graduation.
Coach McDonnell was very clear in the offseason that he was not interested in going the transfer portal route to replace the missing pieces lost in the draft. He credited Assistant Coach and Recruiting Coordinator, Eric Snider, and trusts the processes they have built at Louisville. At the time, I thought it was “coach speak” but the staff did not take on a transfer this offseason.
Position Players Returning
The most productive position player from an offensive standpoint is Christian Knapczyk. As a true freshman last season, Knapczyk batted .297 with 9 doubles and 19 RBI. Coach McDonnell was very high on Knapczyk last season, comparing him defensively to Devin Hairston, one of the best defensive shortstops to ever play at Louisville. Knapczyk showed signs last year that he can live up to the hype, but he also led the Cards with 11 errors. That has to change this season.
After the opening weekend in 2021, there wasn’t a player seeing the ball better than Cameron Masterman. Masterman recorded a home run in each of the first three games and added 6 RBI. As the season went on, the Prospect native saw his production slow down, ending the season with just 6 home runs and 21 RBI. He could be a candidate to break out this season to replace Binelas’ power in the middle of the lineup.
Dalton Rushing will be taking over the catching duties this season after spending last year as a first baseman and DH. Rushing also showed glimpses that he has the ability to put up some big numbers and can hit the ball a country mile. Last season he batted .257 with 4 home runs and 14 RBI.
Heading into the 2021 season, Levi Usher was named as a Preseason All-American by multiple publications but just could not get going. He ended the season with a .216 batting average, 3 home runs, and 17 RBI, although he led the team with 26 stolen bases on 29 hits. Usher has a lot of young talent behind him that could push him this year so do not be surprised to see his production significantly increase.
The pitching staff is the real question heading into the 2022 campaign. Trying to predict who will be in the rotation at this point is nearly impossible as it will change multiple times in the first few months.
Luke Seed, the most consistent pitcher returning, posted a 2.64 ERA last season, earning a spot in the in weekend rotation after spending the first half of the year as a mid-week starter. Seed started 12 games and was 0-1 on the season.
Tate Kuehner was a valuable part of the bullpen last season, striking out 56 batters over 45.2 innings last year with a 3.55 ERA, the second best on the team.
Kaleb Corbett, another true freshman, posted a 3.58 ERA and recorded 4 saves on the season. Corbett started his career with 10 straight appearances without giving up a single run. Has Corbett found a hat that will during the off-season? Time will tell.
Michael Prosecky has been all over the place in his two seasons with the Cards. He has started games, come out of the bullpen, and it appears he could join the long list of successful closers under Roger Williams during his tenure at Louisville. Many thought Corbett would earn the role again this season, but all signs suggest the closer role is wide open and Prosecky wants it.
Other notable returners are Jared Poland, Garrett Schmeltz, and Ryan Hawks, who is returning after missing last season due to injury.
Carter Lohman, Ben Metzinger, and Ben Bianco were named the captains for the 2022 season.
The Freshman class was ranked #6 by Perfect Game and has some dudes that will be able to push the upperclassmen this season. Coach McDonnell made a comment that he has a few guys right now that most people aren’t familiar with, but they will be by the end of the season.
Will Koger, from Bardstown, was ranked 110th overall in the class. He has the ability to earn some meaningful innings on the mound.
Noah Smith and Kurtis Reid, both shortstops ranked in the top 175 in the country, will put a lot of pressure on the middle infielders.
Will Cook is another freshman that has the ability to step in and make an impact at first or third base. He wasn’t the highest ranked player in the class, but it would not surprise me if we hear his named called sooner than later.
What to Expect
I have never seen Dan McDonnell as fired up as he is right now. After the way last season ended, he is pissed off and the team is entering this season with a chip on their shoulder. That’s not a good recipe for the rest of the conference.
I think the coaching staff is going to approach this season with a “next man up” mentality. There is not a single position that is promised to anyone and they will not be afraid to shake up the lineup. If a player is not producing this year, they are going to find someone else that will. This lineup may be young and inexperienced at some positions, but they are hungry and the talent level is very high.
The “Revenge Tour” begins in two days. Let’s get it.