To most programs, a 45 win season and an appearance in the final game of your conference’s tournament and the championship matchup of your regional round would be considered a pretty successful year. But the University of Louisville Baseball program isn’t like most programs. After experiencing their first “down” year since 2012, the Cardinal Nine are ready to bounce back for what should be a season that meets their typical lofty standards & expectations, and here are three reasons why.
When the program lost so much talent to the MLB Draft and graduation after the 2017 season, it left the remaining roster relatively young and inexperienced. There were only three upperclassmen on the 2018 roster (one of which was a graduate transfer), and freshman & sophomores consisted of 23 of the 36 roster spots. Fortunately, the guidance head coach Dan McDonnell and the rest of the coaching staff helped them overcome a rocky first half of the season. The young roster lead the program to its first ACC Baseball Tournament Championship Game berth and faced a trial by fire in having to go on the road to Lubbock in the NCAA Tournament, giving Texas Tech all they had before being eliminated by the Red Raiders. With all the growing up the young roster was forced to do in 2018, they’re now a team full of experienced leaders. Draft-eligible players consist of 18 of the 43 roster spots, the now-sophomores have been able to take their raw talent and more finely develop that into skill thanks to help of the coaches and leaders on the team, and the incoming freshman aren’t half bad either.
The Stellar Class of 2018
Speaking of the incoming freshman, they have the possibility to make a huge impact in 2019. The Class of 2018 is the highest ranked recruiting class in the history of the Louisville Baseball program, ranked as the #4 recruiting class by Baseball America and peaking as high as #3 by Perfect Game. Kerry Wright and Jack Perkins have the potential to be what Bobby Miller and Reid Detmers were last year, with both pitchers having a potent fastball-slider combo. Jared Poland’s abilities as two-way player with his quick hands as middle infielder/third baseman and his fastball/curveball combination could land him a spot in the starting lineup or a role out of the bullpen very quickly. If Coach Mac can take his unranked Class of 2014 and mold players like Brendan McKay and Drew Ellis into the players they turned out to be, imagine what he can do with a top 5 recruiting class.
Tyler Fitzgerald & Bryan Hoeing
It’s easy to look at the roster and make the claim that players like Logan Wyatt and Nick Bennett will be a huge part of Louisville Baseball’s potential success in 2019. However as any baseball fan knows, the supporting cast around the star players are just as important as the star players themselves. Some of the more important players to give Wyatt and Bennett the help they need are shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald and RHP Bryan Hoeing. Fitzgerald had a superb summer, batting .298 with 2 home runs and 20 RBIs in the prestigious Cape Cod League, as well as a great Fall Workout session, batting .500 with 2 home runs and 7 RBIs in the five game Pizza Bowl series. Because of his performance since the end of the 2018 season, he shot up D1 Baseball’s Top 150 Prospects list, moving from 68th to 43rd. His improved ability to get on base will in turn help Logan Wyatt and the rest of the starting lineup drive home more runs and give Louisville a much improved chance to win. Also looking to have himself a great 2019, Bryan Hoeing has established himself as the go-to guy whenever the starting pitcher finds himself not having his best start. In 68.2 innings over 24 appearances (5 starts), Hoeing posted a 2.88 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, with a strikeout to walk ratio of 51-25. Sometimes the starting pitcher doesn’t have his best game, and if Hoeing can continue to consistently be the guy that helps wiggle the Cards out of a jam, then he can help carry that momentum to the rest of the pitching staff and set them up for success.