Fresh off their series win over No. 16 Michigan and looking forward to their series this weekend at the University of New Orleans, UConn baseball has already discovered some offensive and pitching production from places they didn’t necessarily expect.
Catcher Patrick Winkel, who hit .318/.486/.361 in the clean-up spot as a freshman last year, had his season end before it even began, undergoing Tommy John surgery in the fall. Luckily for Jim Penders and company, there's another preternatural young talent waiting in the wings who’s hoping to simulate Winkel’s production.
Freshman first baseman Reggie Crawford made a living shooting balls to the moon in high school in western Pennsylvania, and he’s lived up to the hype so far in his young UConn career. In six games as starting first baseman, the 6-foot-3, 219 lb. Crawford is 9-21 at the plate with six doubles and seven RBI to start his career, reaching base half the time against some of the best teams in the country.
Crawford’s arrival has had ramifications for UConn’s defense as well: Slotting him in at first base has freed Chris Winkel to assist an outfield sorely lacking in depth after the offseason departures of cornerstones Michael Woodworth and John Toppa.
The lone holdover from 2019’s outfield is Kyler Fedko, who had a productive 2019 after overcoming an 0-17 start to bat .247/.414/.326. Fedko has continued his offensive production so far in a hot start to the 2020 season, batting 9-21 with two doubles and a triple.
UConn has also had to deal with major holes in their weekend rotation, as all members of their 2019 version have either left school, like Jeffrey Kersten and Mason Feole, or moved to the bullpen, like Jimmy Wang. On top of that, Ben Casparius, a Connecticut native and North Carolina transfer who many projected to be UConn’s new ace, was ruled ineligible for the 2020 season.
In the first two weekends of the year, UConn has transitioned Joe Simeone from a bullpen role/weekday starter to a full-on Friday starter, moved Colby Dunlop from the midweek to the Saturday slot, and trotted out junior Nick Krauth on Sundays.
The Diablo Valley College transfer has pitched exceedingly well in his two starts, allowing just one earned run, seven hits and five walks while striking out ten through 10.2 total innings, both in wins against Michigan. Krauth might not bring the ace potential that Casparius would, but he still projects as a strong weekend arm that will help soften the blow to rotation depth in the offseason.
UConn will be facing a UNO squad this weekend that has had a bumpy start to the 2020 season. The Privateers went 1-2 in the opening weekend tournament that they hosted, followed that up with a midweek loss to Southern Mississippi, but bounced back with a sweep of Arkansas State and a midweek trouncing of UConn’s conference rival Tulane.
Throughout their ups and downs, UNO’s weekend starters have been the one constant throughout the early season. Between senior Chris Turpin on Fridays, junior Bailey Holstein on Saturdays and sophomore Brandon Mitchell on Sundays, the weekend starters have allowed just five earned runs through 34 total innings in 2020. If the Huskies can get past them and into UNO's weaker bullpen, they will stand a good chance in their first true road series of the season.
How to watch:
Where: New Orleans, Louisiana
Game one: Friday, February 28, 7:30 p.m. ET
Game two: Saturday, February 29, 3 p.m.
Game three: Sunday, March 1, 1 p.m.
Radio: 91.7 FM WHUS