Baseball season is upon us! College baseball has started today, and man am I excited. The Bearcats had a decent season last year going 28-28 and leading the entire nation with the most double plays. They finished 6th in the conference before losing in the first round of the conference tourney. It was coach Scott Googins first year as head coach. This year, however, Googs is responsible for replacing some major production in the Bearcats’ lineup and the rotation.
Manny Rodriguez was a senior last year and started at shortstop all season. He was drafted in the 10th round by the New York Mets. He hit .292 with 12 dingers and 20 steals. Manny batted in the 2-hole for almost the entire season and produced well on the defensive side of the game.
Replacing him this year and starting tonight at SS is Joey Bellini. Bellini transferred here from St. John’s River State College. He was First Team Mid-Florida State College. He hit .377 last year with 25 RBIs and played 50 games. Joey has got some big shoes to fill but with time Joey could put up numbers similar to Rodriguez last season.
Another infielder that graduated last year was Connor McVey, he signed a free agent contract with the Brewers. McVey was the the primary third basemen last season and hit in the 3-4 holes all year long. He slashed a .278 average with 36 RBIs and 6 homers. He was a stud at the hot corner with only 6 errors and a .964 fielding percentage.
Replacing him is Eric Santiago, who started 40 of 47 games played mainly played first base or corner outfield. Santiago is shifting to third base so he might be shaky on defense but on offense he will slide into McVey’s spot nicely. Eric hit .275 and stole 5 bases with 3 long balls. Santiago is only a junior so he has time to grow but he should fill Conner’s role as long as he can stay in front of the ball
The Bearcats got some real work to do in the infield as second basemen Kyle Mottice also graduated this year. Mottice signed with the Pirates. Mottice lead the team in average with a .335 average. He slugged 11 doubles and swiped 20 bags. Mottice only committed 4 errors all year with a .984 fielding percentage. He was the leadoff hitter last year and really produced.
Replacing him at second base this season and batting leadoff tonight is Jace Mercer. Jace only played in 24 games last year and starting only half of them. With not much playing time Jace couldn’t seem to get things going batting only .049 on the season. With more playing time though, Jace could get in a groove and hit like he did in his freshman season where hit .273 with 8 doubles.
Ace and Friday night starter J.T. Perez graduated and was drafted by the Twins in the 29th round. Perez was labeled the ace and really proved it. He had a 2.81 era to go along with 72 punch outs in 93 innings pitched.
Perez is being replaced at the top of the rotation with senior starter A.J. Kullman, who pitched 49.2 innings with a 4.71 era and 34 strikeouts. With only 49 innings pitched the numbers are a little inflated but they are still nowhere near J.T.’s numbers. He is going to have to limit the walks, 22 last year, if he wants to help the team.
Cam Alldred was the number two guy in last years rotation as a junior but he got taken in the 24th round of the draft, joining Mottice with the Pirates. Alldred threw 89.2 innigns with a 3.95 era and led the team with 85 strikeouts.
Replacing Cam is going to be Nathan Kroger, the junior right-hander. Nate pitched 62.2 innings and accumulated a 5.17 era. He struck out 41 batters and walked only 15. If he wants to replace and even succeed Alldred’s numbers last year then Kroger needs to limit the longballs. He gave up 12 of them last year.
Coach Googins has a tall task ahead of him, losing 5 of his tops players from last year, but with patience and practice this Bearcats squad could do some damage this year.