Following the Louisville baseball program’s fourth trip to the College World Series and third trip and five years, they face one of their toughest tasks to date. 6 of their 8 regular starting position players either left early to sign with MLB clubs who drafted them or graduated, with Devin Mann and Josh Stowers being the only ones remaining. Not only that, but they also lost their two best pitchers in the starting rotation in Brendan McKay and Kade McClure.
So to say coach Dan McDonnell has his hands full is a bit of an understatement. After waiting for the MLB Draft signing deadline to pass to see who stays and who goes, as well as seeing how the Cardinals are doing with their summer assignments, I’ve decided to take a crack at who I think will be in the starting lineup and rotation next February.
Starting Lineup/Batting Order
- Ethan Stringer (CF). After having to compete for playing time with a crowded outfield, Springer decided to redshirt for the 2017 season. Playing for the Keene Swamp Bats in the New England Collegiate League, Stringer has assumed the leadoff role in most of the games he has played, posting a .294 batting average with an on-base percentage of .388. At the time of this posting, he has also stolen 4 bases and currently leads the Swamp Bats in HBP with 6. His ability to get on base as well as his base running ability makes him a perfect candidate for a leadoff hitter. During the summer, he has taken reps at both left field and center field. Though with Josh Stowers in left field, his services will do just fine in center field.
- Adam Elliott (RF). Yes, that Adam Elliott. Many Louisville fans are unaware that the relief pitcher is also a two-way player by trade. Since there was plenty of offense being generated last season, Elliott’s services at the plate were not needed as much as his services on the mound were. In 10 games played for the Albany Dutchmen this summer, he has posted a .300 batting average with a .400 on-base percentage. The left handed batter is the perfect option for a two-hole hitter with a potential runner on first base.
- Devin Mann (2B). Although Devin Mann did cool off a bit to end the 2017 season, he was still one of the most consistent hitters in the lineup. In 64 games played, he logged a .268 batting average with 8 HRs and 44 RBIs. Plus, Mann was typically the three-hole hitter for the majority of the 2017 season, so he would be in his comfort zone in this part of the lineup.
- Josh Stowers (LF). Once Stowers became a regular addition in the outfield halfway through the 2017 season, he seized the opportunity and never looked back. In 65 games played last year, he drove in 6 HRs, 34 RBIs and his 15 doubles were good for 2nd on the team. His slugging percentage of .507 and OPS of .929 makes him the perfect player for batting cleanup.
- Jake Snider (1B). With Justin Lavey’s only position being at third base, and Tyler Fitzgerald going back to assuming his natural role at shortstop, infielder Jake Snider gets the nod at the remaining infield position of first base. When Fitzgerald started to struggle in the back half of the season, Snider’s role became more prominent and his experience at the plate grew. For just a freshman, he posted an impressive .286 batting average in 34 games played, mainly as a pinch or designated hitter.
- Tyler Fitzgerald (SS). Since Tyler Fitzgerald played so much time at third base and Devin Hairston was a gold-glove caliber shortstop, not many people know that Fitzgerald’s natural position is at SS. Even though he was a go-to pinch hitter for most of the 2017 season, he ended the season with a less than impressive .208 batting average, and had as many RBIs as Jake Snider with more than twice the at-bats.
- Justin Lavey (3B). There wasn’t much debate as to where to stick Justin Lavey on the field, as his only listed position on the Louisville Baseball roster is at third base instead of the entire infield. While Lavey did manage to put up an impressive .345 batting average for the 2017 campaign, this was only in 29 at-bats, as he was almost used exclusively as a pinch hitter. If he continues at that pace though, expect him to move up the lineup card.
- Zeke Pinkham (C). Pinkham saw a lot of the field late in the season when Colby Fitch went down with an injury, but unfortunately, he was not able to generate much offense, as he batted .173 in 24 games and 52 at-bats.
- Logan Wyatt (DH). Even though Wyatt was used mainly as a pinch hitter in the 2017 season, with the departure of a vast array of talent, a lot more will be asked of him. While he is listed as a DH, he does have the ability to play anywhere in the infield in case Snider, Fitzgerald or Lavey fail to live up to expectations on defense. Offensively though, he only put up a .167 batting average, logging just 3 hits in 18 at-bats. While that is not a large sample size, for now, he gets the nine-hole.
Starting Pitching Rotation
- Nick Bennett (LHP). With the departure of both Brendan McKay and Kade McClure to the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox respectively, sophomore lefty Nick Bennett jumps all the way up to the number 1 spot in the starting rotation. Being just a sophomore, he certainly has the numbers to justify it. Pitching in 15 games with 13 starts, Bennett put up a record of 5-1 with a 3.18 ERA, and a strikeout to walk ratio of 61 to 13.
- Austin Dickey (RHP). Since the Louisville pitching staff was already loaded for the 2017 season, right handed pitcher Austin Dickey was not asked to pitch, although he is very ready for the task at hand. Even though he does have a 5.34 ERA and 2-4 record in 8 games played with the Keene Swamp Bats, he has only given up 5 runs in his last 11.1 innings of work (3.09 ERA in the 7 inning NECBL games). In fact, he tossed a complete game shutout in his last start, and was only 1 hit and 1 walk away from a perfect game.
- Bobby Miller (RHP). Even though he is the third overall recruits for Louisville’s class of 2017, Miller gets the first nod at a spot in the rotation due to both his velocity and his pitching repertoire. His fastball ranges from 90-92 mph, he has a good curveball at 75 mph and a solid changeup at 79-82 mph. Not only that, but he throws a slider at 76-79 mph.
- Michael Kirian (LHP). After Jordon Adell signed with the Los Angeles Angels, Kirian became the highest overall recruit for the Cardinals’ class of 2017, at 155th overall. The lefty stands tall on the mound at 6’6″ and 240 lbs, and delivers a punishing fastball at 93 mph. H also has a good 82-83 mph changeup and a solid 76-77 mph curveball.
- Reid Detmers (LHP). While Detmers does not have the number of pitches that Miller possesses, the 190th overall recruit in the class of 2017 still has good stuff. His fastball ranges from 88-91 mph, his changeup at 80-81, and he has a huge breaking curveball at 73 mph.
While there is potential for Michael McAvene, Shay Smiddy and Bryan Hoeing to break into the starting rotation, as of now, I chose to go with a recruit-heavy starting rotation due to the amount of pitching talent coming in with the class.