Our baseball team deserves a proper season preview. Quite a few outlets are predicting USF will become an NCAA tournament team for the first time since 2002. Problem is, neither one of us have the time or expertise to write one. So here's a collection of links and other people's opinions that I slapped together at the last minute. I'm so sorry.
BIG EAST BASEBALL - THE BASICS
There are 12 baseball members - DePaul, Marquette, Providence, and Syracuse do not participate. Teams play 27 conference games in three-game series against nine of the other 11 teams. The top eight teams participate in a double-elimination conference tournament in Clearwater during the last week of May, where the winner gets an automatic NCAA bid.
Winning dance-offs during rain delays do not get you in the tournament, but they do get you over 600,000 views on YouTube.
USA Today, Baseball America, and Rivals do not have the Bulls ranked in their top 25. Collegiate Baseball magazine has the Bulls 35th. the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association does not have the Bulls in their top 35 but they are receiving votes.
The Big East coaches voted USF to finish second in their preseason poll, with three coaches picking them to finish first. The other nine first-place votes went to Louisville. Pitcher Randy Fontanez was named preseason Big East pitcher of the year and was a unanimous selection to the preseason all-Big East team. Outfielder Junior Carlin also made the team.
Rivals' college baseball site does not have USF ranked in its preseason top 25, but they predict the team to finish second in the Big East. And they do think the Bulls will return to the NCAA tournament in their projected Gainesville Regional. Fontanez is the only Bull on their preseason all-conference team.
"The Bulls hope to take a step forward this season with an NCAA regional appearance. Fontanez has had a solid career for the Bulls. The junior finished last season with very good numbers. He made 13 starts and 14 appearances and had a 3.09 ERA in 99 innings. He also struck out 57 and walked 24 and limited teams to a .250 batting average. Fontanez also threw six complete games last season. The Bulls need Fontanez to have a great season to reach the postseason."
Easton's Big East preview also has the Bulls in second place in the Big East and appears to place them right on the NCAA regional bubble.
"Just about everyone returns for coach Prado, including a potentially lethal rotation of Fontanez, Stultz and LHP Teddy Kaufman (3-5, 5.86), who was a mid-week starter last season. Ryan Lockwood (..289, 12SBs) plays a sweet CF with a lot of quicks. Also look for steady improvement from the infield, where SS Mende and 2B Peter Brotons (.327) will make a great double-play duo. If the arms corps can amp things up a bit, cut down on the walks and get the defense to complete more twin-killings, the Bulls should be able to stay in any game."
Greg Auman, who never met a Bulls topic he couldn't master, points out some injury problems that could hurt USF during its non-conference schedule:
"Injuries will tweak the lineup a bit -- second baseman Peter Brotons is out for the year with a shoulder injury, so transfer Luis Llerena and freshman Chad Taylor (Jefferson) will split duty there. Third baseman Jonathan Koscso has been slowed by a groin pull, so the Bulls may open the season with catcher Daniel Rockhold at third, with junior college transfer Eric Sims and sophomore Andrew Longley likely the team's two catchers…
With junior pitcher Derrick Stultz sidelined perhaps until Big East play after shoulder surgery, freshman right-hander Ray Delphey (Alonso) will open the season as USF's No. 2 starter, with 6-8 left-hander Andrew Barbosa as the likely Sunday starter."
Scott Carter also has a preview ready to go, and it looks like no one has higher expectations for Lelo Prado's team than Lelo Prado.
Prado has high expectations for the 2010 Bulls, which is his most experienced team since taking over the program in the summer of 2006.
"If we play the way we're capable of playing, then we'll be very happy at the end of the year," Prado said Thursday. "It's the best team I've had since I've been here."
The team brings back all but five players, and a return to the NCAAs is possible. But there are two potential obstacles. First is the construction of the new Red McEwen Field, which can't be done without interrupting the baseball season. After the Notre Dame series ends on March 28, we all say goodbye to our former craphole stadium while a new, modern facility is built in the same spot. USF's home games for the rest of the season will be split between Steinbrenner Field and the University of Tampa's baseball stadium. This could severely cut into whatever home-field advantage the Bulls have.
Second, there's a stretch from late February through mid-March where they play 14 games in 17 days, ending with a game at UCF. The Bulls' pitching depth will be tested during this stretch, with games against UCF and other legit teams like Oklahoma, Jacksonville, Miami, Ohio State, and Michigan. They already have Derrick Stultz on the sidelines, and another injury or a slump could really hurt USF before the Big East schedule starts. And without Louisville on the regular-season schedule, the Bulls may not have a big chance to prove themselves worthy of an at-large bid in conference play, if it comes to that.