By Dalton Ray —
Baseball’s 2017 season ended with the program’s fourth trip to the College World Series. As usual, a flock of Cardinals ended up in the MLB soon after — eight to be exact.
With 15 players selected in the MLB Draft in the past two seasons, Louisville has emerged as one of the premier programs in the nation. What’s to be expected for 2018? More of the same.
U of L has been slotted anywhere from No. 14 to No. 21 from several publications to start the season.
Coach Dan McDonnell only has three seniors (Rabon Martin, Mac Welsh and Austin Conway) after six juniors were taken in last year’s draft.
Martin, a left-hander, made 15 appearances last year and went 4-0 with a 4.88 ERA. Conway is a graduate transfer from Indiana State where he ranks second all-time in career saves (20).
Juniors Sam Bordner and Adam Wolf will likely be two pillars on the mound for U of L. Both standing 6-foot-6, Bordner and Wolf didn’t allow a home run in their 85 combined innings pitched.
Bordner has potential to be the Feb. 17 starter for McDonnell after being one of the first out of the bullpen during his first two seasons. As a sophomore, Bordner only allowed two runs in his 23 appearances with 39 strikeouts.
Wolf went 6-0 last season with a 2.18 ERA in 24 appearances.
Battling Bordner and Wolf for the Saturday starter tab is sophomore Nick Bennett. He earned All-Freshmen Team honors from five different publications last season, as well as making the All-ACC Freshmen team.
Bennett (5-1) had 61 strikeouts in his 15 appearances with a 3.18 ERA.
Louisville’s bullpen will likely be the strength of the team as the Cardinals have a plethora of options awaiting near right field.
Shifting away from the mound, the Cardinals must replace six starters. Juniors Devin Mann (second base) and Josh Stowers (left field) are the only returners.
Mann and Stowers combined for 14 home runs and 78 RBIs last season. The two are returning leaders for home runs, hits and RBIs.
Baseball America named Mann a preseason All-American this season. The junior’s draft stock is rising and will be leaned on this year to provide stability on the defensive side with his experience. Mann has 83 starts in two years.
Stowers led U of L in stolen bases (22) last year and posted a .313 batting average. He came up clutch in the postseason, batting .407 with nine RBIs. Stowers (three errors in 64 games) is the lone returner in the outfield.
Sophomore Tyler Fitzgerald played 48 games with 36 starts last season. Despite being the successor at shortstop, Fitzgerald started at third base when Drew Ellis had to move to first.
Fitzgerald committed six errors (third-highest on the team) but could be better off in his natural position.
On the corners, expect another pair of sophomores to step into the spotlight. Jake Snider (34 appearances) should fill in at third and Logan Wyatt (18 appearances) should start at first base.
Snider batted .268 with 11 RBIs and a home run in limited action last season. Wyatt played behind Ellis and Brendan McKay and rarely saw the field (18 at bats).
Junior Zeke Pinkham made 15 starts last year as catcher and is expected to replace Colby Finch.
Sophomore Danny Oriente is expected to fill one outfield spot after suffering a season-ending injury in the opening weekend of 2017.
Sophomores Ethan Stringer, Drew Campbell and freshman Trey Leonard will battle for the last open position in the outfield.
The outfield has the least amount of returning experience, potentially causing McDonnell to use some early-season shuffling to find the right combination.
While McDonnell configures his best lineup, the Cardinals will rely on their supreme pitching rotation to keep teams off the scoreboard.
Louisville started last season on a program-best 20-game winning streak. While that may not be expected this season, goals aren’t changing for U of L.
The three-time reigning ACC Atlantic Division champions were pegged to finish second in the Atlantic behind Florida State in the preseason coaches poll.
U of L’s season starts Feb. 16 and their home opener is on Feb. 21 against Eastern Kentucky.
You can follow Dalton Ray on Twitter @dray5477.
Photo by Dalton Ray / The Louisville Cardinal