Louisville primed to have great season
It didn’t seem possible a few years ago, but Louisville finally has established consistency in the winning department.
The Cardinals caught the nation by surprise two seasons ago when they made it to Omaha. They also impressed some with another 40-win campaign last season. But now the Cards want much more. They want to win a national title.
Reaching that goal still may seem like a pipe dream to some observers, but the Cardinals welcome back eight offensive starters this season and also have a deep pitching staff with junior left-hander Justin Marks leading the way.
Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said his team’s strengths include a seasoned lineup with eight returning starters, a strong pitching staff with a wealth of depth and a talented class of newcomers.
McDonnell listed position player depth as a concern entering the season.
The Cardinals still have much to prove this spring, but with a seasoned lineup and a deep pitching staff, they must win the Big East title. Getting back to Omaha also is a possible scenario.
Louisville once again is making waves.
Barring a huge surprise, Louisville will have a productive offense this spring.
The Cardinals, even with a young team last season, finished the year with a .314 team batting average.
They welcome back eight contributors from last year’s lineup.
The Cards obviously are led at the plate by junior third baseman Chris Dominguez. Dominguez had an opportunity to sign a pro contract last summer, but decided to return to college for his junior campaign. As a sophomore last season, Dominguez batted .365 with 21 homers and 75 RBIs. He also recorded 13 doubles, two triples and 171 total bases. Additionally, he had a .687 slugging percentage and a .427 on-base percentage.
UL also welcomes back key hitters John Dao, Stewart Ijames, Jeff Arnold, Andrew Clark, Josh Richmond, Drew Haynes and Phil Wunderlich.
Dao finished last season hitting .356 with three homers and 31 RBIs. He also recorded 13 doubles, three triples and 97 total bases. Additionally, he had a .500 slugging percentage and an on-base percentage of .392.
Ijames batted .351 with eight homers and 39 RBIs last season. He also recorded 11 doubles, two triples and 98 total bases. Additionally, he slugged .583 and had a .401 on-base percentage.
Arnold batted .333 with a pair of homers and 32 RBIs last season, while Clark wasn’t far behind with a .323 batting average, five homers and 44 RBIs.
Richmond and Haynes, who each impressed the coaches during fall workouts, batted .284 and .282, respectively, last season. Wunderlich, meanwhile, had an impressive summer and hopes to improve on last season’s .265 average.
Production should be plentiful with this unit.
Louisville’s coaching staff is very excited about the starting rotation.
The Cardinals welcome back ace pitcher Justin Marks, but also are very excited about freshman left-handed pitcher Keith Landers, who dazzled coaches and players alike during fall workouts.
Marks, though, is the key to the rotation’s success. The lefty is coming off a solid sophomore campaign, where he started 14 games and made 18 appearances and had a 2.37 ERA in 91 innings of work. Marks also struck out 89 and walked 39, while opponents hit him at a.220 clip.
Landers will follow Marks in the rotation, while junior right-hander Matt Lea and sophomore left-hander Bob Revesz are fighting for the No. 3 spot.
Lea made 16 appearances and just four starts last season and had a 2.72 ERA in 36 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 33 and walked 11, while opponents hit him at a .237 clip.
Revesz had an impressive freshman campaign. The talented lefty made 10 starts and registered 22 appearances. He also had a 3.90 ERA in 64 2/3 innings of work, while striking out 41 and walking 15. Opponents hit him at a .294 clip.
Overall, Marks is the proven ace of this staff, while Landers still have something to prove considering he is a true freshman. Matt Lea and Bob Revesz, meanwhile, give the Cardinals a pair of viable options on Sunday.
The Cardinals still have some roles to decide between now and Opening Day, but the bullpen appears to be in good shape.
The closer role is a tight race between freshman Tony Zych and sophomore Thomas Royse. Zych impressed the coaching staff during fall workouts, while Royse appeared in 26 games last season and had a 4.80 ERA in 50 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 51 and walked 11, while opponents hit .285 off him.
Other relievers to watch include Tyler Mathis, Dean Kiekhefer, Gavin Logsdon and Gabriel Shaw.
Mathis missed last season because of Tommy John surgery, but was a key contributor in ’07, where he had a 3.60 ERA in 35 innings of work. Mathis currently is 100 percent healthy.
Kiekhefer, meanwhile, is in a similar situation. As a freshman last season, he had a 4.88 ERA in 27 2/3 innings of work. A fractured vertebra, however, kept him from being a consistent contributor throughout the season. He, too, is 100 percent healthy entering the spring.
Logsdon is a veteran and had a 3.90 ERA in 32 1/3 innings last season, while Shaw, a sophomore, had a 5.87 ERA in 46 innings of work.
The bullpen should be very solid this spring.
Shoes to Fill
The Cardinals are ecstatic this section almost is empty.
With eight offensive starters and several pitchers back in the fold this spring, the Cardinals obviously don’t have too many holes to fill. They will, however, miss leading hitter Justin McClanahan and weekend starter Zack Pitts.
McClanahan statistically was the team’s best hitter last season. He batted .372 with 12 homers and 59 RBIs. He also recorded 26 doubles, two triples and 163 total bases, while slugging .625 with an on-base percentage of .424.
Pitts didn’t have a great year on the mound, but his veteran qualities will be missed. Pitts started 14 games and made 18 appearances last season. He also had a 4.90 ERA in 75 1/3 innings of work, while opponents hit him at a .291 clip.
Replacing McClanahan would be tough for most teams, but the Cards still are in great shape at the plate. The same scenario should apply to losing Pitts.
Must Step Up
I strongly believe the offense is going to be very productive this season, so I’ll say some pitchers must step up for the Cards to be an Omaha contender.
The Cards should feel great about Marks spearheading the weekend rotation. However, I certainly wouldn’t feel – at least yet – with Landers on the bump in tight situations. That’s not to say Landers can’t be a dominant pitcher this season, but anytime you have a freshman as your No. 2 starter there’s potential for disaster at times throughout the season.
Other pitchers that must step up include potential weekend starters Matt Lea and Bob Revesz and closer candidates Tony Zych and Thomas Royse. The Cardinals are in tremendous shape if the bullpen meets expectations.
Louisville won’t have to utilize too many newcomers this spring, but Landers and second baseman Adam Duvall are expected to be immediate contributors.
Landers was selected in Round 18 last summer by the Baltimore Orioles, but chose to attend college. The left-hander is tall and lanky and topped out in the low 90s during fall workouts. UL’s coaching staff really likes him and scouts believe he could become a high-round pick in a couple seasons.
Duvall played at Chipola JC last season and had a productive offensive campaign. He batted .318 with nine homers and 37 RBIs. He also recorded seven doubles and 82 total bases, while having a .543 slugging percentage and an on-base percentage of .444.
Keep an eye on Landers and Duvall this spring.
Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports. Click here to send him a question or comment.