The UConn Huskies had a historic 2010 season, which included hosting a regional for the first time since 1977. The Huskies fell short of a Regional Title as they lost to Oregon twice while defeating Central Connecticut State.
With the goal of hosting a regional accomplished and most of their lineup returning, UConn has a chance to establish themselves as the lone Northeast powerhouse in college baseball.
In 2010, UConn finished with a 48-16 overall record and finished a half game behind Louisville for the Big East Regular Season title. They went 4-2 in the Big East Tournament, losing to St. John’s in the Championship Game. The team’s play was rewarded by being named the host of the Norwich (CT) Regional, which also featured perennial ACC power Florida State, Pac-10 member Oregon, and Central Connecticut State. In the opening game, they lost to Oregon 5-3 in heartbreaking fashion as they struggled with bunt defense in the ninth inning of a tied game. They followed up the loss by defeating Central Connecticut State 25-5 which set up a rematch against Oregon. The Huskies again lost a tight game to Ducks 4-3 to end the 2010 season.
Heading into 2010, two of the Huskies’ main attractions for pro scouts are going to be junior centerfielder George Springer and junior RHP Matt Barnes. Both players are expected to be selected in the Top 10 of the 2011 MLB Draft. After their performances in the Cape Cod League this summer, Springer was recently named the Cape Cod Baseball League’s second best pro prospect by Baseball America, and Barnes the third best prospect.
I have spoken to several MLB scouts/cross checkers over the last year and they each stated that Springer is the best position player to come out of New England in the last ten years. I agree with them as I can’t remember another position player in New England as polished as Springer at the plate going back 20 years. The only one that could even come close was Keith Reed of Providence College in 1999 who was selected in the first round by the Baltimore Orioles. They also believe that Matt Barnes is the most polished arm from up here in several years. The only college pitchers that could be in discussion would be Chris Lambert of Boston College who was picked in the first round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004, while the other one would be Adam Ottavino from Northeastern who was also selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006 MLB Draft.
In addition to Barnes and Springer, the Huskies welcome back seasoned veterans who are coming back despite being selected in the 2010 MLB draft. The starting rotation returns number 1 starter Elliot Glynn and number 3 starter Greg Nappo which keeps the rotation in tack. Glynn finished last season with a 7-3 record with a 2.99 ERA in 15 starts. I had a chance to see him on two occasions last season, and really is a crafty left hander that is going to get college hitters out but will not light up the radar guns for the pro scouts. Nappo on the other hand went 8-5 with a 4.44 ERA in his first season back from an injury to his pitching arm. He could potentially be a solid number 2 pitcher behind the real ace of the UConn stuff in Matt Barnes.
The UConn Huskies offense returns seven out of nine position starters from last season, losing second baseman Pierre LePage and third baseman Michael Olt to the 2010 MLB Draft.
The loss of LePage leaves a huge hole at the top of the Huskies lineup as he struck out only three times last season while having a .327 batting average, three homers, and 57 RBI in 56 games. He was also solid on the basepaths by stealing 29 bases in 35 attempts.
“L.J. Mazzilli’s bat will have to find a place in our lineup, and he filled in at times effectively at second base last year,” Penders said. “He, along with junior Tim Martin and freshmen Tom Verdi and Mike Friel will be competing for the second base job.”
Mazzilli will not completely fill into Pierre’s spot in the lineup though. Penders stated “While L.J. runs better than Pierre, his ability to drive in runs would be somewhat negated by putting him at the top of the lineup. We have several candidates to fight over the leadoff spot including Nick Ahmed, John Andreoli, and Billy Ferriter. All are capable of working counts, getting on, and stealing bases.”
The other major opening in the lineup for the Huskies is who will replace Michael Olt at third base and in the middle of the order. He finished last season with a .318 average with 23 homers and 76 RBI which led to him being selected with the 49th overall selection by the Texas Rangers. There is no one that is shoehorned into the position right now, with several players in the hunt.
In a recent interview with the site, Penders gave us some predictions on how his lineup may shake out. “We will have a nice battle over at third this fall,” he told The College Baseball Blog. “Kevin Vance has proven that he can do a very good job at third, and his bat was a productive part of our lineup this past year, but we’re also going to need him at the back of our pen. Ryan Fuller, one of Roger Bidwell’s top players on his national runner-up UConn Avery Point squad last year, leads the challengers. He’s already shown very good athleticism, arm strength, pop in his bat, and a good attitude. Verdi is probably also capable of challenging for time at third.”
Junior first baseman Mike Nemeth led the Huskies in average last season with a .386 batting average while hitting 15 homers and driving in 84 runs in only 64 games. He will be expected to hit behind George Springer in the spring for protection. Springer started off slow last season but came on at the end of the year, finishing with a .337 batting average with 18 homers and 62 RBI. A couple of other players to watch in 2011 are sophomore Billy Ferriter (.363 BA, 30 RBI, 33-39 SB), John Andreoli (.362 BA, 37 RBI, 24-27 SB), and Kevin Vance (.322 BA, seven homers, 35 RBI).
The current generation of players with the Huskies are expected to set the foundation for the future of the UConn baseball program with their recent success during the 2010 season and will be a preseason favorite in the Big East with Louisville for the the 2011 season. Coach Penders hopes that UConn becomes the destination for New England’s best baseball prospects.
“We want the best players in Connecticut to realize they have a great option to further their education and play baseball on the highest collegiate level right here in Storrs,” Penders boasts. “We hope the high school baseball player in Connecticut and in the Northeast looks not only at Matt and George, but also at guys like Mike Olt, and Pierre LePage – two young men that weren’t drafted out of Connecticut high schools, but came to UConn, worked hard, developed, will graduate with a degree from one of the top public schools in the country, and are now pursuing their dreams of making it to the big leagues.”
This is by far the best team in New England in the last couple of years and a contender to win a College World Series title and put the Big East back into the upper echelon of college baseball conferences. The pressure is building as the UConn fans got a taste of big time college baseball last season and should continue with the Huskies program developing like it has over the last five years.