Last season, UConn Baseball went 38-23, reaching its highest win total since 2011, when the Huskies went 45-20-1 and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament Super Regionals against South Carolina. The Huskies made a trip to Regionals and won their conference tournament, both were firsts since 2013.
Gone are Anthony Kay, Bobby Melley, Jack Sundberg and Pat Ruotolo, but UConn still has the pieces to be a Regional team.
“They’ve competed really well in the weight room and I think they’re in very good shape,” head coach Jim Penders said. “Some scouts have been remarking at guys who have changed their bodies.”
One of those players in particular is sophomore catcher Zac Susi. He hit .250/.348/.297 last year, but heading into the last weekend of the regular season his batting average and slugging percentage were more than 15 points higher.
“It seems Zac has bulked up a little bit... He was too skinny last year and he wore down,” Penders said. “By the end of the season you saw his numbers really drop off offensively and I think he’s going to be in a stronger position to maintain his weight and endure a season.”
Susi didn’t play organized summer baseball, choosing to focus on his strength routine.
“I worked out almost every day,” he said. “I tried to eat right and get some work done on my own.”
Another sophomore, left-handed pitcher Tim Cate, also had a productive offseason.
“I think freshmen just don’t know how the calendar works when you’re not used to competing in the middle of February, they’re used to competing in the first week of April in most cases in high school so this has been a great preseason for [Cate],” Penders said. “He didn’t pitch in the fall, we shut him down. He has basically done a super job of preparing his mind and his body to be that guy on Friday.”
Despite the weight gain, this team will be much different offensively from last year’s. All but nine of UConn’s 47 home runs from last year have graduated and Penders expects a different style of offense.
“I can’t be like Earl Weaver this year and wait for the three-run home run,” Penders said.
Willy Yahn, a team captain who will be missing a chunk of the beginning of the season, thinks there will be style shift.
“We’re going to be more of a small-ball team for sure,” he said. “Last year we had two big-poppers. We had [Melley] and [DeRoche-Duffin] in the middle of the lineup to clear the bases for the guys who got on before them.
“This year we’re really going to have to rely on bunting, stealing, moving guys over, execution, stuff like that.”
Co-captain Aaron Hill thinks that speed will be an asset.
“We’re a fast team,” he said. “We’re going to utilize that and make sure that’s a weapon for us.”
The freshman class is also impressive, with players like Mason Feole, Conor Moriarty and Jake Wallace having competed in the Futures’ League last season against collegiate talent.
“It’s huge,” Hill said of that experience. “Especially [Moriarty] and Jake, they’re really good.”
Yahn also spoke about the ability of the class.
“We’ve got a couple of guys who can swing the bat very well. Chris Winkel and Conor Moriarty and Kenny Bergmann can hit the ball really well, too,” he said. “Just overall, the whole class. The pitching too. Mason Feole, Wallace, they’re both very good. They have different roles but it’s a really exciting class.”