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Cardinal Countdown: 3 Weeks Until First Pitch

The middle infield will be one of the strongest position groups this season

Photo by Bruce Thorson/USA Today Sports

Due to the versatility within the infield this season, the Cards are going to have plenty of options up the middle and no matter which route the coaching staff decides to go, the results are sure to follow. Before we jump into the middle infield preview, a few quick notes.

— Louisville received their highest preseason ranking thus far, ranked No. 5 by Baseball America. Collegiate Baseball Newspaper ranked the Cards 6th, followed by a No. 7 ranking by Perfect Game. D1 Baseball has them tabbed as the 16th best team in the preseason.

— Dan McDonnell and Roger Williams were all smiles Wednesday night, picking up two commitments, both pitchers from Ohio.

Bryson Wittmer, a LHP in the class of 2026, picked the Cards early Wednesday evening. He is the 67th overall player in his class and is already 6’1, 215 LBS as a freshman. He picked Louisville over LSU, Mississippi State, Alabama, and Ohio State.

Later that evening, Jake Murphy, a LHP in the 2023 class, added his name into the fold as a late addition after camping at Louisville last weekend.

— The staff also picked up a SS in the 2026 class on Thursday night. Luke Belardo, from South Oldham HS, is rolling with the Cards. The 2026 class is now up to nine commits.

— Adam Dowler, one of the two players to enter the portal for the Cards already this season, has found a new home. He will attend Florida Southwestern State College for the upcoming year. I don’t think Dowler will have a hard time finding a spot on a P5 or G5 roster after spending a season in JUCO ball.

— You’ll have two chances to catch an intrasquad scrimmage this weekend. The first is today at 1:30 followed by Saturday at noon. Due to construction, see the tweet below for information on where to park/enter the stadium.

— Speaking of construction, remember the enhancements that were approved for Jim Patterson Stadium? If not, you can catch up here. Matt McGavic of the Louisville Report drove by and captured an update for us.

Middle Infielders

A household name that Cards fans will be familiar with is Christian Knapczyk. He plays the game with a lot of emotion and was a key part in igniting the offense in 2022. As a sophomore last season, Knapczyk batted .346, with 12 doubles, four triples, 27 RBI, while scoring 75 runs and stealing 17 bases.

One of the most impressive stats to me in that he only struck out 27 times in 217 at bats. I’ve said this 100 times before and I will surely say it again - he understands and controls his strike zone as well as any collegiate player in the game right now.

Defensively, he has room for improvement with a fielding percentage of .947 last season and was second on the team with nine errors. Due to his versatility, if the staff makes the decision to move Knapczyk to second base, look for those numbers to decrease as the throw from second is a better fit for his game.

He generally doesn’t have an issue fielding the ball and he has plenty of range, it is getting the ball across the diamond. The move to second could also bode well for Knapczyk, who projects as a second baseman at the next level.

One of the freshmen that I am most excited about is Gavin Kilen (pronounced key-lynn), who could very well be starting in the middle infield this season. He was drafted 399th by the Boston Red Sox and was not a kid that many expected would make it to campus.

When speaking to D1 Baseball, Coach McDonell said he thinks Kilen has the potential to develop into a Rawlings Gold Glove winner. Strong words for a guy that has coached three in his tenure with the Cards. Will Smith, Devin Hairston, and Levi Usher have all won the prestigious award during their time at Louisville.

Kilen, from Wisconsin and former members of the Hitters organization, was ranked 35th in the nation in the 2022 class by PBR. He has a small frame at 5’11, 180 LBS, but covers a lot of ground and has a strong arm. With him and Knapczyk up the middle, the defense in 2023 would take a huge step forward.

He is a left-handed hitter, offering some flexibility in the lineup as well. You won’t see much power from Kilen, he’s known as a ground ball and line drive hitter and will use all three fields. His speed fits right into Coach McDonnell’s system as someone that will frustrate the opposition with his aggression on the base paths.

Logan Beard, the starter at second base a season ago, is back for his sophomore campaign after turning in a successful freshman season. He is on the list to potentially move to third, which I discussed last week, but remains as an option at second base. You can catch up on Beard here.

A couple of other names to keep in mind are Brandon Anderson, who I also discussed last week, can also move over to shortstop or second base if needed. He can step into any position defensively in the infield and has a very serviceable bat to back it up.

Noah Smith, another sophomore, played extremely well when his number was called in 2022. He batted .318 with a double, a triple, four RBI, and 12 runs scored.

As I said before, the options in the infield are endless. Each position is 2-3 deep, plus the majority of the infielders can suit up at multiple positions. Knapczyk and Kilen can play either position up the middle. Beard can play second or third and Anderson can play anywhere. It is not a bad problem to have, it’s just a matter of getting the correct puzzle pieces put together.

Next up: Outfielders