The infield was a big part of UConn Baseball’s success last year. Third baseman Willy Yahn and first baseman Bobby Melley were the team’s two best players not named Anthony Kay, leading the Huskies in a bunch of offensive categories.
The two were tops on the team in batting average, runs, hits and doubles. Only outfielder Joe DeRoche-Duffin equaled them in RBI, slugging percentage, and total bases.
Shortstop Bryan Daniello hit over .400 between the American Athletic Conference tournament and the NCAA Regionals, including a .689 average during the five games of the AAC Tournament. He finished with a .289/.353/.415 slash line on his senior year, adding four home runs and 38 RBI.
Even second baseman Aaron Hill, who was relatively soft-hitting with a .210/.303/.258 line that had a batting average under .200 at the end of the regular season, came up big in the postseason.
In addition to filling starting jobs at first base and shortstop, Penders will have to find a stop-gap for one of his co-captains at third base. On Sunday night, Yahn posted on Instagram that he broke his hand, meaning the team will be without one of its most productive players for 4-6 weeks.
At shortstop, a pair of freshmen are competing for the job.
"Right now we have two rookies who are battling it out over there," head coach Jim Penders said. "Anthony Prato probably has the inside track in that he’s a very good defensive player and he’s very secure in the glove.
"Conor Moriarty, though, is right on his heels."
Prato hails from Staten Island, New York and Moriarty comes to the Huskies from West Springfield, Massachusetts. Moriarty will also be a prime candidate to fill in for Yahn at third.
It seems Penders’ preferred option at first base was on the roster last season.
"Tyler Gnesda is a very good defensive first baseman. He’s very heady, like Bobby was. He knows the game and he knows where you should be positioned," Penders said.
Chris Winkel, a freshman who attended Amity and comes from Orange, Connecticut, is another option.
"Winkel adds a different dimension over there and he’s got tremendous athleticism. He’s played over there, he’s very tall, he’s rangy whereas Tyler does not have that," Penders said. "You can throw anything within the zip code over there and Chris is going to come up with it."
However, that range and athleticism may be best applied somewhere else.
"We feel that we’re wasting his athleticism over there at first base, we want him to become a very good outfielder," Penders said.
Jack Lembrecht, who redshirted last season, is also an option, but he has an issue with a bone in his arm and will be out for at least six weeks.
At catcher, sophomore Zac Susi will get most of the starts again this year and will be backed up by senior Alex LeFevre and freshman Kenny Bergmann.
"Bergmann is a guy whose bat is ahead of his glove right now but he may see some innings back there too but his bat is certainly going to find its way into the lineup now and again," Penders said.
Projected Opening Day Starters:
C) Zac Susi
1B) Tyler Gnesda
2B) Aaron Hill
3B) Conor Moriarty
SS) Anthony Prato