Coming into the 2021 season, Coach Penders looks to have assembled the most talented UConn baseball team he’s had since the 2011 squad featuring George Springer and Matt Barnes. Much of that has to do with their impressive infield duo of Reggie Crawford and Pat Winkel, but the Huskies have no shortage of skilled players throughout their roster and the outfield is no exception. Here’s a closer look at the #HookC crew who will be manning the outfield for the Huskies this season:
There are two outfield positions penciled in before the season even starts, with Kyler Fedko and Chris Winkel set to return to their starting spots in right and center field, respectively.
Kyler Fedko (So.)
The returning sophomore is the no-doubt-about-it starting right fielder. Fedko has started 65 of the 67 games he’s played in college so far, so he’s about as much of a lock as it gets out there, barring an injury.
He was arguably the best player on the team last year as he slashed an absurd .412/.424/.581 line during a shortened season. Among everyday players, Fedko led the team in average (.412), total bases (32), multi-hit games (six), and was tied for the most runs (12) with his outfield cohort, Chris Winkel.
The most impressive statistic of all, though, is that he halved his strikeout rate from 16.1% in 2019 to 7.8% in 2020. Two of those strikeouts came against the potential No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming MLB Draft, Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker, so only two of them came against non-elite college pitching.
Associate head coach Jeff Hourigan said the sophomore is one of the most competitive players they have during a recent interview with Chris Jones from the UConn athletic department.
“He does not give in as an offensive player,” Hourigan said.
The Gibsonia, Pennsylvania native was recently ranked on the D1Baseball top-100 for outfielders coming into the college season. Both the Big East and Baseball America have him as the preseason conference player of the year as well.
Chris Winkel (Sr.)
Next up is the two-year team captain and center fielder Chris Winkel, who put up career highs in all three slash-line categories last season. He finished the year with a .348/.404/.457 slash line through 12 games, all starts.
After hitting .264 in both 2018 and 2019, the older Winkel increased his batting average by 84 points during the shortened season. He struggled in the early goings of the campaign, but really took off against some weaker teams before the shutdown with multi-hit games in five of their last seven contests.
He spent time at both first base and in the outfield before permanently moving to center for when Reggie Crawford joined the team. He has committed just 16 errors in his four seasons in Storrs.
Hourigan said that Winkel has gotten more comfortable playing in center after the switch and that “not many balls are going to drop when he’s out there.”
Winkel is using the extra year of eligibility given by the NCAA and he will get the chance to play alongside his younger brother, Pat, once again after the young catcher missed last season due to Tommy John surgery.
Up for grabs
With Winkel and Fedko holding down the center and right field starting jobs, a slew of Huskies are expected to vie for playing time in left field.
Erik Stock (Jr.)
Stock took over in left field after the first few games of last season and delivered perhaps the most exciting performance of the Huskies’ 2020 campaign after transferring from Old Dominion. The Virginia Beach native hit a team-leading .484 in nine games, the third-highest mark in the nation.
“I was joking with Stock last week and was like ‘we purposely hid you that first weekend so Michigan didn’t know how good of a hitter you were the next weekend,” Hourigan joked.
Stock is a two-way talent and took the mound sparingly last season, but found much less success pitching than he did at the dish. He appeared in three games and accrued an 18.00 ERA with a pair of strikeouts in two innings. It’s a small sample size, so take it with a grain of salt.
Ben Maycock (R-Jr.)
Maycock is an absolute unit at 6-2, 244 lb. with good speed. He hasn’t played much in his three years at UConn, registering just 30 games played and 35 plate appearances, but saw the largest share of playing time yet last season. During a span of eight games, of which he started seven, Maycock got 22 at-bats and slashed .136/.240/.318.
“He’s so much fun to coach because he gives you his best effort every day,” Hourigan said.
Despite limited collegiate action, he has put up some solid numbers during the summer. In 13 games in the New England Collegiate Baseball League in 2019, Maycock hit .380 with four homers, 10 RBIs, 10 runs scored, five stolen bases, and two doubles.
He hit his first home run for UConn against No. 8 Michigan on Feb. 16 of last season as well.
Kevin Ferrer (R-Fr.)
After a strong showing in the Perfect Game League during the summer of 2019, Ferrer played eight games for the Huskies in 2020. He went 5-13 with six RBIs and a pair of doubles. Two of those RBIs came against No. 1 Michigan in an 8-7 win on Feb. 21.
“He just wakes up, gets out the bed, and he can just hit,” Hourigan said.
T.C. Simmons (R-So.)
Simmons transferred to UConn after two years of junior college ball at Grossmont College in El Cajon, California. In 47 games at the JUCO level, Simmons slashed .356/.505/.558 with four homers, 47 RBIs, 51 runs, and 15 doubles. He also swiped 12 bags on 16 attempts.
Hourigan said he’s been nicked up with some minor injuries but he can play everywhere in the outfield and gets on base at a good clip.
Korey Morton (Fr.)
Morton is a legitimate burner, Hourigan said he might be the fastest player they’ve ever had. He was a high school sprinter and holds the Connecticut Class LL record in the 55-meter dash.
Phoenix Billings (Fr.)
Billings didn’t play in 2020 because the high school season was canceled due to COVID-19, but he was an All-State player in 2019 when he hit .375 with 25 RBIs for Hand High School in Madison, Connecticut. He was also Hand’s starting quarterback and led them to two state titles on the football field while setting a school record for passing touchdowns. Most importantly, he has a Grade-A college baseball name.
Look for more UConn baseball coverage coming later today, including a preview of the talented relief pitchers taking the mound for the Huskies this season!