Big East Baseball 2010 Preview

February 2, 2010
By

Louisville Looks To Continue Recent Dominance

2009 Regular Season Champion:  Louisville

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2009 Tournament Champion:  Louisville

Louisville enters 2010 with two straight Big East Tournament championships, and the Cardinals are fresh off their second Super Regional appearance in the last three years.  UL has a loaded line-up back this season, but teams with veteran offenses like West Virginia and Connecticut along with talented pitching staffs at USF and Notre Dame are poised to challenge as well.

Ten Big East teams will take part in the 2010 Big Ten-Big East Baseball Challenge, hosted by the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission.  The second annual event  takes place Feb. 26-28. For tickets visit www.BigTenBIGEASTChallenge.com.

2010 Big East Baseball Preview

Cincinnati

2009 Record:  (29-29, 13-14)

Mascot:  Bearcats

Head Coach:  Brian Cleary

Location:  Cincinnati, OH

Vitals:  .285 BA, 72 HR, .382 OBP, .965 Fld%…6.73 ERA, 1 CG, 12 SV, 376 K, 194 BB, .318 opp. BA

Thefts Are Down:  After stealing 130 and 133 bases in 2007 and 2008, respectively, the Bearcats swiped just 33 bases last year.  The only Big East team with fewer stolen bases was West Virginia with 23.

Long Gone Spina:  Cincinnati has a big hole to fill in the middle of the order with the loss of Mike Spina (.342, 23 HR, 69 RBIs).  The third baseman was taken in the 11th round of last year’s MLB Draft by the Oakland A’s.  His home run total was second in the Big East to Louisville’s Chris Dominguez (25).  Spina had an 1.121 OPS last year.

More Losses:  The Bearcats also lose Lance Durham, whose .427 average was the second-best in the conference last year.  Durham was drafted in the 14th round by Toronto last June.  His 99 hits set the UC single-season record formerly held by Boston Red Sox infielder Kevin Youklis.  Cincinnati also loses its top pitcher, Jake Geglein (6-1, 2.97 ERA, 9 SV), who signed a free agent contract with the Texas Rangers.  Geglein was the only Bearcat pitcher with either a winning record or a sub-3.00 ERA last year.

Across The Pond:  Cincinnati head coach Brian Cleary served as the pitching coach for the British National Baseball Team at the 2009 Baseball World Cup.  He served in the same role when the team won the silver medal at the 2007 European Championships.

Connecticut

2009 Record:  (36-24, 14-13)

Mascot:  Huskies

Head Coach:  Jim Penders

Location:  Storrs, CT

Vitals:  .318 BA, 51 HR, .393 OBP, .959 Fld%…4.39 ERA, 1 CG, 14 SV, 455 K, 197 BB, .269 opp. BA

George Springer

Hungry Huskies:  UConn returns eight batters from a scrappy line-up who hit .301 or better last year, including George Springer (.358, 16 HR, 57 RBIs, 1.133 OPS), Mike Nemeth (.346, 6 HR, 47 RBIs, 22 doubles), Pierre LePage (.340, 1 HR, 38 RBIs), and Mike Olt (.301, 8 HR, 40 RBIs).  LePage helped the Bourne Braves win the Cape Cod League Championship last summer.  The biggest loss is that of Pete Fatse (.354, 11 HR, 54 RBIs).  CLICK HERE to listen to a podcast interview with LePage.

Husky Hurlers:  The Huskies lose key relievers David Erickson (3.21 ERA, 12 SV), Dusty Odenbach (2-3, 3.34 ERA) and Dennis Accomando (1-1, 3.46 ERA), who combined to make 75 relief appearances last year.  They also lose John Folino whose six wins led the staff.   Top returnees to the staff include Soph. Scott Oberg, who was 4-0 with a team-best 1.78 ERA, Matt Barnes (5-3), and Elliott Glynn (5-4, 4.76 ERA).  Glynn led the team with 12 starts and also hit .266 while making 24 starts as an outfielder.

Coast To Coast:  After opening its season in Florida at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge UConn heads to California for a four-game series with Cal State Northridge followed by a game at USC.  The Huskies then play Tennessee, Marshall and Ohio State in Knoxville, TN.

Georgetown

2009 Record:  (17-34, 8-18)

Mascot:  Hoyas

Head Coach:  Pete Wilk

Location:  Washington, D.C.

Vitals:  .279 BA, 45 HR, .354 OBP…6.04 ERA, 0 CG, 9 SV, 269 K, 163 BB, .311 opp. BA

Key Returns:  Georgetown returns six of its top seven batters from a year ago.  Junior Erick Fernandez led the team in average (.349, doubles (16) and OPS (.970).  The catcher also hit five home runs.  Fellow junior Sean Lamont hit just .267, but he smacked a team-best 14 home runs while driving-in 50 runs.  The players Georgetown returns this year combined to hit 37 of the club’s 45 home runs in 2009.

Pitching:  Senior Tim Adleman(4-8, 5.40 ERA) is the only returning weekend starter from 2009.  His four wins were a team-high.  The Hoyas do return a quartet of solid relievers, Pablo Vinent (0-1, 4.24 ERA), Bobby Kirby (1-1, 5.09 ERA), Billy Concannon (1-0, 5.12), and Tommy Isaacs (2-2, 5.40 ERA), who combined to make 55 appearances with six starts and three saves last year.  They’ll likely take-on more significant roles with the departures of Jimmy Saris and Will Harris who combined to make 24 starts.

No Challenge:  For the second straight year Georgetown will not participate in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge.

Louisville

2009 Record:  (47-18, 19-7)

Mascot:  Cardinals

Head Coach:  Dan McDonnell

Location:  Louisville, KY

Vitals:  .304 BA, 85 HR, .394 OBP, .970 Fld%…4.32 ERA, 2 CG, 13 SV, 536 K, 182 BB, .261 opp. BA

Cardinals Trending Hot:  Louisville’s 135 wins over the last three seasons rank sixth in the nation.  The Cardinals   have made three straight NCAA appearances, including two Super Regionals and a College World Series trip, under head coach Dan McDonnell.

Phil Wunderlichappearances with two Super Regionals and a 2007 College World Series appearance during his tenure. Cal State Fullerton beat Louisville last year in the Fullerton Super Regional to advance to Omaha.

Loaded Line-Up:  The Cardinals return seven of eight everyday players from last year’s Super Regional squad.  All-American junior Phil Wunderlich (.367, 18 HR, 68 RBIs, 1.113 OPS) leads the group of returnees.  Seniors Andrew Clark (.350, 9 HR, 55 RBIs) and Adam Duvall (.328, 11 HR, 51 RBIs, 12 SB) are back as well.

Ready To Return:  Outfielder Stewart Ijames is back after last season with a shoulder injury.  Ijames was a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American in 2008 after hitting .351 with 8 home runs, 11 doubles and 39 RBIs.  He led the Coastal Plain League with 12 home runs for the Thomasville HiToms last summer.

Pitching Prowess:  Louisville returns 12 of the 15 pitchers who saw action last year, but they do lose their ace, Justin Marks (11-3, 3.77 ERA, 129 K in 105 IP).  The left was taken by Oakland in the 3rd round of last year’s MLB draft. Dean Kiekhefer (6-5, 5.00 ERA),  Gabriel Shaw (3-1, 3.73 ERA, 3 SV), Tony Zych (6-2, 3.25 ERA, 2 SV) and Thomas Royse (3-2, 3.48 ERA, 2 SV) lead the group of returnees.

Gone But Not Forgotten:  The Cardinals also lose 6’4, 240 lb. Chris Dominguez (.345, 25 HR, 82 RBIs) who hit 61 home runs with a school record 218 RBIs in his three-year career (he only played three games in 2006 due to a broken forearm).  He was taken in with the 86th overall pick by San Francisco in last year’s draft.  His 25 home runs in ’09 are a single-season school record, while his 61 career long balls are second in the Louisville record books.

Reunion Time:  Louisville plays a 3-game series in Oxford, MS vs. 2009 Super Regional team Ole Miss March 12-14.  McDonnell was a Rebel assistant for five seasons prior to his current tenure.

Notre Dame

2009 Record:  (36-23, 15-12)

Mascot:  Fighting Irish

Head Coach:  Dave Schrage

Location:  Notre Dame, IN

Vitals:  .309 BA, 51 HR, .392 OBP, .966 Fld%…5.36 ERA, 7 CG, 12 SV, 328 BB, 220, .286 opp. BA

Line-Up Losses:  The Irish lose their top three hitters, including their top two run producers from 2009. CF  A.J. Pollock (.365, 10 HR, 52 RBIs, 21 SB) was taken by Arizona with the 17th overall pick in last year’s MLB draft.  He was the highest Irish player drafted since 1965.  SS Jeremy Barnes (.353, 15 HR, 70 RBIs) was drafted in the 11th round by Philadelphia.  Barnes was Notre Dame’s RBI leader in 3 of his 4 years.  Meanwhile, OF Golden Tate (.329, 45 R, 13 SB), who won the Biletnikoff Award on the football field last fall, won’t play baseball this year to prepare for April’s NFL Draft.

Solid Nucleus:  Despite the significant losses Notre Dame still returns six players who hit .301 or better in 2009,

Cole Johnson

including Jr. INF Mick Doyle (.327) and Sr. OF David Mills (.325), who was also 2-1 with a save as a relief pitcher.

Plenty Of Pitching:  Virtually every significant pitcher from 2009 is back this season, including the entire weekend rotation of Jr. Cole Johnson(7-3, 4.47 ERA),  Jr. Brian Dupra (6-5, 3 CG) and Sr. Eric Maust (6-3, 4.94) who has also doubled as a punter on the Irish football team.  Relievers Will Hudgins (2-0, 3.65 ERA, 3 SV), Todd Miller (1-2, 5.40 ERA, 5 SV) and Ryan Richter (5-2, 3.85 ERA) return as well.  RHP Ryan Sharpley is also back after missing all of 2009 due to injury.

Addition By Addition:  Collegiate coaching veteran Dave Dengler joins the Irish staff as the pitching coach for 2010.  As a head coach he led Linn-Blinton CC and Yavapai JC to a combined five Junior College World Series appearances, including the 1993 NJCAA National Championship (Yavapai).  Dengler was also the head coach at Portland State for four years before the program was disbanded.  In his 23 years as a college coach Dengler had 23 pitchers, including World Series MVP Curt Schilling, selected in the MLB Draft.

Pittsburgh

2009 Record:  (28-21, 13-15)

Mascot:  Panthers

Head Coach:  Joe Jordano

Location:  Pittsburgh, PA

Vitals:  .307 BA, 60 HR, 77 SB, .376 OBP, .971 Fld%…6.35 ERA, 4 CG, 8 SV, 304 K, 189 BB, .314 opp. BA

Needed Facelift:  The Big East baseball facility that was most in need of an upgrade will finally get one.  Pittsburgh announced a “generous and substantial gift” last fall for the construction of the Peterson Sports Complex, which will be built on 12 acres of Pitt’s upper campus.  The complex will benefit baseball, softball and soccer.  Baseball upgrades include a press box, team dugouts, synthetic playing surface, practice areas, and lighting.  Completion is scheduled to be ready for next season.

So Long Sedon:   Junior college transfer Chris Sedon made the most of his only year at Pitt.  The second baseman led the Panthers in average (.398), HR (22), RBIs (62), Slg% (.796), OBP (.449), and SB (19).  He signed professionally after being taken by Detroit in the 10th round of last year’s MLB Draft.

Panthers Back:  Pitt returns five players, Kevan Smith (.363), Danny Lopez (.323), John Schultz (.319), Joe Leonard (.316), and Frank Mercurio (.306), who will try to make-up for the loss of Sedon’s production.  However, their combined home run total was just 19, while Leonard’s 35 RBIs led the group.  The Panthers also return two-thirds of their weekend rotation with Corey Baker (6-3, 5.91 ERA) and David Kaye (3-4, 5.74 ERA).  They combined for three of the staff’s four complete games.

Un-Challenged:  For the second straight year Pittsburgh will not compete in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge.  The Panthers open their season with three games at Wofford and then play Bradley, Memphis and Toledo at the Service Academy Classic in Memphis, TN Feb. 26-28.

Rutgers

2009 Record:  (22-31, 8-19)

Mascot:  Scarlet Knights

Head Coach:  Fred Hill

Location:  Piscataway, NJ

Vitals:  .292 BA, 35 HR, 52 SB, .374 OBP, .956 Fld%…6.24 ERA, 1 CG, 10 SV, 311 K, 236 BB, .310 opp BA

King Of The Hill:  Entering his 27th season at Rutgers, Fred Hill is easily the longest tenured head coach in the Big East.  Hill will become just the third person to have his jersey retired at Montclair State at a Feb. 13 ceremony.  He

Jaren Matthews

started his head coaching career there and guided Montclair to the 1983 NCAA Division III World Series.  Hill enters 2010 just 20 wins away from 1,000. Hill’s  brother Brian is currently an assistant coach for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, and his son, Fred, is the head coach of the Rutgers men’s basketball team.

A Lot In The Line-Up:  The Scarlet Knights return eight position players, a DH and 10 of their top 11 hitters from last year’s team.  Michael Lang (.343, 8 HR, 38 RBIs, 10 SB and Jaren Matthews (.328, 6 HR, 28 RBIs, 10 SB) head the pack.

Mound Presence2009 Cape Cod All-Star Casey Gaynor (2-9, 5.54 ERA) is among the pitching staff’s top three pitchers who return.  Gaynor was the pitching staff’s workhorse, with the team’s only complete game.  Willie Beard (0-2, 2.28 ERA) thrived as the team’s closer with 8 saves as a freshman, while senior RHP Matt Giannini returns after missing 2009 due to injury.

Challenges Abound:  Rutgers makes its Big Ten/Big East Challenge debut this year, but it has a pair of challenges sandwiched around the second weekend of the season.  The Scarlet Knights open 2010 with three games vs. the Miami Hurricanes in Coral Gables, FL and then face another ACC power with three more games vs. Georgia Tech in Atlanta March 5-7.

Seton Hall

2009 Record:  (25-24, 13-14)

Mascot:  Pirates

Head Coach:  Rob Sheppard

Location:  South Orange, NJ

Vitals:  .274 BA, 20 HR, .371 OBP, .954 Fld%…4.33 ERA, 9 CG, 5 SV, 307 K, 199 BB, .282 opp. BA

All In The Family:  Head coach Rob Sheppard’s brother, Mike Sheppard, Jr., is the head baseball coach at Seton Hall Prep.  Their father, Mike Sheppard, Sr., coached the Pirates from 1974-2003.

All In The Family II:  Seton Hall volunteer assistant Zach Porcello’s younger brothers, Rick and Jake Porcello, both played for Mike Sheppard, Jr. at Seton Hall Prep.  Rick Porcello was a first round draft pick by the Detroit Tigers in 2007.  He was 14-9 with a 3.96 ERA for the Tigers last year.   Jake Porcello is now a freshman pitcher on the Seton Hall roster.

Tale Of The Tape:  The Pirates lose their top two hitters, Matt Smedberg (.382, 2 HR, 26 RBIs) and Chris Affinito (.324, 9 HR, 50 RBIs), as well as two of their weekend starters, Sean Black (4-6, 3.99 ERA, 2 CG) and Keith Cantwell (6-3, 3.48 ERA, 5 CG), from last year’s team.   Their top returners are Sr. OF Michael Rogers (.299, HR, 23 RBIs), Jr. SS A.J. Rusbarsky (.271, 1 HR, 20 RBIs) and Jr. RHP Joe DiRocco (4-3, 4.46 ERA, 2 CG).

Texas 3-Step:  Seton Hall opens the season with a 3-game series in College Station, TX vs. Texas A&M.

St. John’s

2009 Record:  (30-22, 16-11)

Mascot:  Red Storm

Head Coach:  Ed Blankmeyer

Location:  Queens, NY

Vitals:  .349 BA, 42 HR, .422 OBP, .963 Fld%…6.20 ERA, 1 CG, 10 SV, 328 K, 235 BB, .315 opp. BA

Red, White & Blue:  Head coach Ed Blankmeyer will serve as an assistant coach this summer for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team.  The 2010 schedule is highlighted by the V FISU World University Championships in Japan.

Greg Hopkins

Red Storm Regulars:  St. John’s returns five players who made at least 34 starts and hit .331 or better.  Soph. OF Jimmy Parque (.360, 5 HR, 61 RBIs) and Jr. third baseman Greg Hopkins (.349, 7 HR, 45 RBIs).  They lose Tim Morris (.415, 12 HR) and Matt Kemp (.379, 16 SB) who were selected in the 11th and 19th rounds, respectively, in last year’s MLB Draft.

Plus Pitching:  The Red Storm returns a group of pitchers that accounted for 44 of the staff’s 52 starts last year, including Nick Cenatiempo (5-3, 7 starts), Eddie Medina (5-3, 4 starts, 1 SV), Brendan Lobban (4-2, 7 starts) and Bruce Kern (5-4, 11 starts) who had the team’s only complete game.  Senior closer Ryan Cole (2-0, 3.49 ERA, 5 SV) is back as well.

Last Go ‘Round:  St. John’s opens its season with a 3-game series at New Orleans.  This will be the Privateers’ last season of Division I competition as they transition to Division III in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

South Florida

2009 Record:  (34-25, 18-9)

Mascot:  Bulls

Head Coach:  Lelo Prado

Location:  Tampa, FL

Vitals:  .315 BA, 36 HR, .407 OBP, .968 Fld%…4.79 ERA, 8 CG, 11 SV, 402 K, 204 BB, .274 opp. BA

Big Plans:  Plans are in the works for a new baseball stadium at USF.  The stadium is part of a $30 million facilities upgrade that will benefit other sports as well.  The overall capacity of the stadium is expected to exceed 3,000 and is being designed to accommodate additional seating that will enable USF to host NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals.l The new home plate and press box area will be built on what is currently the right field foul pole area of Red McEwen Field.

Sophomore Slump:  Junior OF Ryan Lockwood will look for a big bounce-back season in 2010.  He hit .415 and

Randy Fontanez

was named Collegiate Baseball’s 2008 National Freshman of the Year, but slumped to just a .289 average last year.

The Champ Is Back:  Lockwood and 2009 Big East batting champion (conference games only) Junior Carlin (.384 overall/.471 Big East games)) are among five line-up regulars who return in 2010.  57 of Carlin’s hits last year were singles, which contributed to USF’s .441 ranking 8th in the 12-team Big East.

Great Expectations:  League coaches named Jr. RHP Randy Fontanez (7-3, 3.09 ERA, 6 CG) the Preseason Big East Pitcher of the Year.  Fontanez made 13 starts in 2009, while holding opponents to a .250 average.  He tossed six of the staff’s eight complete games.   USF also returns starters Derrick Stultz (5-4, 4.48 ERA) and Teddy Kauffman (3-5, 5.86 ERA) as well as reliever Kevin Quackenbush (2-2, 3.94 ERA, 6 SV).

Villanova

2009 Record:  (22-28, 6-20)

Mascot:  Wildcats

Head Coach:  Joe Godri

Location:  Villanova, PA

Vitals:  .282 BA, 23 HR, .384 OBP, .970 Fld%…6.15 ERA, 4 CG, 8 SV, 283 K, 206 BB, .308 opp. BA

Matt Szczur

Hail Szczur:  OF/C Matt Szczur (pronounced like Julius Caesar) helped lead the Villanova football team to the 2009 FCS Division I National Championship in December.  He was named both the CAA’s Offensive and Special Teams Player of the Year this for the season.  The junior ran for 810 yards and 10 touchdowns, passed for 22 yards and 2 TDs, averaged 27.2 yards on 30 kickoff returns, and had 51 catches for 610 yards and 4 more TDs in 2009.  Szczur missed his freshman baseball season due to injury, but he led the Wildcats with a .346 average and 18 stolen bases last year.  CLICK HERE to listen to a recently recorded podcast interview with the two sport star.

More ExperienceSzczur is one of five returning position playing starters for VU, including Jr. INF David Koczirka (.340, HR, 39 RBIs) 12 of 14 pitchers who saw action for the Wildcats last year are back as well.  The group combined to make all 50 starts in 2009.  Senior RHP Brian Streilein (5-8, 5.46 ERA, 2 CG) leads the rotation, while Jr. LHP Mike Francisco (1-2, 4.24 ERA, 4 SV) leads the relief corps.

Challenge Debut:  Villanova opened the 2009 season by playing eventual national champion LSU in the first games in the new Alex Box Stadium, making this year the team’s debut in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge.

West Virginia

2009 Record:  (37-18, 17-10)

Mascot:  Mountaineers

Head Coach:  Greg Van Zant

Location:  Morgantown, WV

Vitals:  .360 BA, 68 HR, .443 OBP, .966 Fld%…5.40 ERA, 7 CG, 10 SV, 375 K, 199 BB, .300 opp. BA

Dinging It:  The Mountaineers led the Big East in batting average (.360), slugging percentage (.564), on-base percentage (.443), and runs scored (525) in 2009.

Dan DiBartolomeo

.400 Or Bust:  Two of the top three hitters in the Big East return to lead the West Virginia offense this year.  Dan DiBartolomeo’s .439 overall average led the conference, while Jedd Gyorko’s .421 avg. was third.  Gyorko is a 2009 Cape Cod League All-Star who was the 2008 Big East Freshman of the Year.  Big East coaches voted him the 2010 Preseason Player of the YearCLICK HERE to listen to a podcast interview with Gyorko.

Line-Up Losses:  WVU loses its top two home run hitters in Justin Parks and Austin Markel who hit 12 and 15 HR, respectively last year.

Mound Men:  Weekend starters Jr. RHP Jarryd Summers (7-3, 3.06 ERA, 2 CG) andLHP Jonathon Jones (6-2, 6.57 ERA) are joined by workhorse closer Chris Enourato (6-2, 3.66 ERA, 6 SV) as the top returnees on the pitching staff.  Enourato made 20 relief appearances last year and averaged more than two innings per outing.  The senior has been named to the NCBWA’s Preseason Stopper of the Year watch list.

Phantom Starts:  WVU pitchers Jarryd Summers, Jonathon Jones and Billy Gross were credited with a combined 15 “starts” on the offensive scorecard last season, but none of them had an at-bat or any offensive stat during the year.  Head coach Greg Van Zant’s custom is to substitute his DH for the pitcher when that spot in the batting order is due at the plate for the first time in a game.

2010 Big East Baseball Predictions

Player of the Year: Phil Wunderlich – Louisville

Pitcher of the Year:  Jarryd Summers – West Virginia

Conference Champion:  Louisville

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