Expectations are always above average in Storrs for UConn baseball, at least since head coach Jim Penders got things rolling early last decade. But the 2020 season figured to be a rebuilding year, with the loss of veteran leadership like John Toppa, Anthony Prato, Mason Feole and P.J. Poulin, among others.
But the cancellation of 2020 spring sports and the NCAA’s decision to award spring sports athletes an extra year of eligibility and waive scholarship limits has afforded the Huskies a second chance to rebuild and come out a much stronger team in 2021.
However, we still did learn some things from the limited games the Huskies played in 2020.
Before their season was cut short, UConn was 8-5 and on a hot streak, coming off their first true road weekend series sweep in nearly three years against Presbyterian College.
UConn opened up the season with losses against Vanderbilt and Cal Poly and a win aganst Michigan in the MLB4 Tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Huskies made a few changes to the starting lineup besides just replacing those who left in the offseason.
Junior college transfer Zach Bushling started as the new leadoff man for the Huskies, replacing Christian Fedko at second base, who moved to the DH spot. Bushling had a respectable start to his first season in Division I, hitting .286 with a .339 on-base percentage and three doubles.
This series also saw the introduction of much-hyped freshman Reggie Crawford into the starting lineup. The 6-foot-3 first baseman from Frackville, Pennsylvania turned down a late selection in the MLB draft by the Yankees to attend UConn and was on pace for a fantastic season before it was cut short. Crawford hit .365 through 52 at-bats with seven doubles and a home run, stellar numbers for someone playing his first month of college baseball.
Also making his debut in the first weekend of the series was another junior college transfer, pitcher Nick Krauth. He started out as the Sunday starter in that first weekend, but quickly ascended to the ace of the staff over the course of the MLB4 Tournament and their next series against Michigan.
Krauth ended the season a perfect 4-0 with a 0.36 ERA, striking out 24 and walking just nine. Opponents hit just .167 against the 6-foot-3 right-hander, and although the sample size is small, those are ace numbers. Before the season was cut short, Krauth was due to make his first-ever Friday start on March 13 against Monmouth.
Another newcomer who emerged against Michigan might end up anchoring the UConn lineup when baseball eventually resumes. After transferring in from Old Dominion, Erik Stock didn’t make his debut in the starting lineup until March 22 against Michigan, but made a big first impression, going 2-for-3 with a double. Stock ended the season a blistering 15-for-31, working his way up to the cleanup spot in the Huskies’ lineup.
Although the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility for all spring sports athletes, it’s far from a foregone conclusion that the seniors of the squad — Randy Polonia, Cole Brodnansky, Michael Chiovitti, Chris Winkel, Conor Moriarty, David Langer, and Kenny Haus — will get an extra year of eligibility. The vast majority of schools in the country don’t make money from baseball, and it remains to be seen whether UConn will offer up the extra financial aid to keep them on the squad.