In the final week of the preview for the upcoming season, I will jump into the pitching staff, but first, three additional scrimmages were announced for this weekend. Fans will have a chance to get one last look at the Cards before Bucknell heads to town one week from today in the season opener.
Like the previous scrimmages, parking is only available in the left field lot and you must enter through the left field gate, due to the construction at the entrance of Jim Patterson Stadium. The game times are as follows:
- Friday @ 1:30
- Saturday @ 12:30
- Sunday @ 12
Rain should not be an issue and it will be mid-40’s - mid-50’s all weekend long. Not bad baseball weather for February in Kentucky.
Now, the pitching staff. Bear with me on this one.
Let’s begin with the starters. As we all know and have become accustomed to, pitching coach Roger Williams will use a variety of arms in the rotation until he determines which three he is going to settle on for the year. At this point in time, I believe there are around five guys fighting for the three weekend spots.
First up is Riley Phillips, who turned in a successful sophomore season, going 5-1 with a 4.34 ERA, striking out 69 batters over 58 innings of work. Although he didn’t begin 2022 in the weekend rotation, he quickly earned a start in the second weekend of the season.
Phillips has a chance to be the anchor of the pitching staff after taking a big step from his disappointing freshman season where he posted an ERA of 15.43. Roger Williams has proven time and time again that when these young guys have struggles, if they trust his processes, the results often follow.
Carson Liggett, who assumed an increased role as a freshman last season, is primed to take a big leap heading into 2023. He finished his freshman campaign with a 3-0 record and 4.68 ERA. He made 18 appearances and four starts but will have to increase his stamina in order to assume a weekend role. His longest outing was four innings.
Liggett is pushing mid 90’s with an above average curveball as his strikeout pitch. His most impressive stretch was in the middle of last season where he faced Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, and Indiana, giving up no hits and no runs, combing for four innings in the three outings.
Another familiar face that will be competing for a spot in the rotation is Ryan Hawks. Hawks was a workhorse last season, appearing in 27 games with one start. He compiled a 5-3 record with a 4.96 ERA, striking out 65 while walking just 16. Making 26 appearances from the bullpen, he provides a lot of value and longevity as he has the ability to stretch the middle innings. Does that keep him in the bullpen? Only time will tell.
One of the most intriguing players on the roster this season is Greg Farone. He is a JUCO transfer from Herkimer College in New York and helped his team win a national championship last season. Farone put up video game numbers going 7-0 with a 1.65 ERA and striking out 139 batters in 60 innings.
At this point in time, it is hard to tell how his game translates to the P5 level, but if he can put up half of those numbers, he will have a place on this pitching staff in some capacity. Could he be a weekend guy at Louisville? I believe he can.
Tate Kuehner, who may or may not be turning 30 this year, has returned for his senior season. It seems like he has been around the program for a decade, which is likely attributed to the fact that he has made 51 appearances through his junior year.
His value to the team this season is immeasurable, no matter what role the staff determines is best for him. Kuehner was 7-3 with a 3.57 ERA last season while making 25 appearances, eight of which were starts. As a captain in 2023, he brings a lot of maturity and poise to a roster that needs an upperclassman to look up to. He is in a similar situation as Hawks; do you put him in the weekend rotation or leave him in the bullpen and increase his outings?
As far as the bullpen guys, Coach Williams has a laundry list of potential candidates to fill the middle innings, starting with Kade Grundy, a product of Somerset High School. While going 1-1 in his freshman season, Grundy gave up 12 runs, amassing an ERA of 6.48. Six of his 12 earned runs came in two appearances (two total innings) which inflated his ERA.
Grundy played in the Cape Cod League over the summer and really stepped up his game, going 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA. Not bad against some of the best college bats in the country, but those numbers have to translate back to Louisville.
Will Koger, another local kid from Bardstown High School, is someone I am really excited about. I understand that can be hard to swallow after looking at his numbers from last season when he posted a 12.27 ERA, but Koger also played in the Cape Cod this summer and his numbers drastically improved.
His ERA dropped to 4.20, while striking out 25 batters and walking 12. Compare that to the 10 strikeouts and 12 walks during his freshman season at Louisville, I’ll take it. If you look at the draft boards, many of them are high on Koger and anticipate him being a draft guy when eligible in 2024.
When you think of someone who is selfless and doesn’t get the recognition they deserve, look at Evan Webster. He is an Adam Elliott type guy; the staff knows they can throw him out in any situation and Webster delivers. He’s a middle reliever through and through and that isn’t a sexy role, but he gets the job done.
Making 21 appearances last season, Webster struck out 31 batters and walked just six, compiling a 4.40 ERA.
Another Kentucky kid that I have mentioned a few times before, but Louisville fans likely haven’t seen in action is Justin West. He is a guy that has the potential to be on the outfield wall before he leaves campus. West pounds the zone, he’s going to fill the scorebook with strikeouts, but is recovering from Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss last season.
I think he has the potential to be a midweek or possibly even a weekend starter before the end of this season, but it’s all going to come down to comfortability due to his surgery.
Two years ago, it seemed like Kaleb Corbett was unhittable at times, but the sophomore slump got the best of him, increasing his ERA from 3.58 to 8.10 last season. He has the stuff, he proved that during his freshman season, but can he deliver this year? Having that additional arm at the back end of the bullpen would pay huge dividends.
This staff is scattered with players from Kentucky, and I think the 2022 Mr. Baseball has the most upside as any of them. I have talked about Patrick Forbes as someone that could play third, possibly even a little outfield, but he is going to steal innings in the bullpen as well.
Many believe he has the potential to be the closer this season. He is already pumping mid 90’s and slammed the door shut on Miami (OH) in the fall scrimmage. The tying run was on third base with two outs in the bottom of the last inning. Coach McDonnell rode with the freshman who recorded a huge strikeout to end the game.
Another option as the closer this season is Alex Galvan, a big, 6’6 240 lbs. junior, that pounds the zone. Galvan is also going to hang around the mid 90’s and will record his share of strikeouts. His achilles heel has been allowing extra base hits, which he gave up seven in 17 innings in 2022.
As you can see, the pitching staff and rotation have a plethora of options, but we can’t hide the fact that this team posted an ERA of 5.21 last season. We also can’t hide the fact that they don’t have a bonafide ace, yet.
The offense will have the ability to mask nights when the pitching staff struggles, but that cannot be relied upon every game. Coach Williams needs a few starters to emerge and a handful of the bullpen arms to assume an increased role in order for this team to be successful, but many options are available.
The good news for Cards fans is that Roger Williams the pitching coach. He is one of the more respected coaches in the country and I can guarantee you that he’s done more with less.