UConn baseball’s infield will miss Willy Yahn, a 25th round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles who manned the hot corner for the last three years and led the team with a .317 batting average. Second baseman Aaron Hill and first baseman Tyler Gnesda and their steady defense are also gone, but the infield cupboard is not left bare as two all-conference players remain in junior catcher Zac Susi and sophomore shortstop Anthony Prato.
The pair have the team’s highest returning batting averages, with Prato being the only returner to hit above .300 and look to be offensive leaders on this club.
“[Sophomore year] is a lot different,” Prato said. “Just coming in and knowing what to expect and it’s a lot more comfortable. Last year I looked to Willy and Aaron and they were telling me where to go, now everyone is looking to me.”
With three slots to fill in the infield, things will look different, but two returning players in addition to a junior college transfer and some freshmen look to fill the roles of those who have moved on.
Sophomore Conor Moriarty played a utility role last year, appearing in 45 games with 37 starts. Prato beat him out for the shortstop job last year, but Moriarty filled in when Yahn missed the beginning of the year with a broken hand and when Hill was shelved with a sprained wrist.
This year, Penders projects him to have worked out a role of his own, likely at third base.
“I expect him to have a really good opening to the season,” Penders said of Moriarty.
Moriarty and Michael Woodworth, a junior college transfer from Sierra College in California, have the inside track for the non-first base infield spots.
“You’ll see Michael Woodworth at second and Conor Moriarty at third,” Penders said.
Freshmen Andy Hague and Christian Fedko also figure to get some playing time behind them. Fedko played in the Futures League this summer for the Wachusett Dirt Dawgs, hitting .231 in 39 at-bats.
“[Fedko’s] right behind [Moriarty and Woodworth],” Penders said. “His offense is really hard to judge indoors.”
“Andy Hague has come on defensively,” Penders said. “He might see some innings for us,”
As for first base, sophomore Chris Winkel saw a lot of time at the position, rotating in at the position with 45 starts in 57 games throughout 2017, primarily at first base and the outfield.
He will be challenged by junior college transfer Vinnie Pallisco from UConn Avery Point and fellow transfer Thad Phillips will be the primary backup catcher and may see some time as a designated hitter.