Prado, Bulls baseball aiming high for 2010
TAMPA -- Lelo Prado's next victory will be his 100th as USF's baseball coach, but he's hoping for far more significant milestones in 2010.
Prado is in his fourth season with the Bulls, but he still hasn't been able to guide USF into the NCAA regionals, which the Bulls last made in 2002. It's well within reach with a veteran team that returns much of last year's 34-25 team, which led the Big East for much of the season but finished second, losing in the conference semifinals in Clearwater.
"If we play together and stay healthy, this team should be there, not only in the NCAAs, but with a Big East championship," Prado said Tuesday.
USF was picked to finish second in the Big East, behind defending league champ Louisville, where Prado coached before he came to USF in the summer of 2006.
Junior right-hander Randy Fontanez was picked as the conference's Preseason Pitcher of the Year, and the Bulls return six of their top seven bats from 2009, led by outfielder Junior Carlin, who hit .471 in conference play.
Injuries will tweak the lineup a bit -- second baseman Peter Brotons is out for the year with a shoulder injury, so transfer Luis Llerena and freshman Chad Taylor (Jefferson) will split duty there. Third baseman Jonathan Koscso has been slowed by a groin pull, so the Bulls may open the season with catcher Daniel Rockhold at third, with junior college transfer Eric Sims and sophomore Andrew Longley likely the team's two catchers. The outfield of Carlin, Ryan Lockwood and Stephen Hunt returns intact, with shortstop Sam Mende and first baseman Todd Brazeal returning as key bats.
Fontanez will be the Friday starter, but with junior pitcher Derrick Stultz sidelined perhaps until Big East play after shoulder surgery, freshman right-hander Ray Delphey (Alonso) will open the season as USF's No. 2 starter, with 6-8 left-hander Andrew Barbosa as the likely Sunday starter. Junior Kevin Quackenbush should be the closer, with lefty Teddy Kaufman and right-hander Matt Stull among the options for weekday starts.
The schedule is an ambitious one, opening with a three-game series at Florida, then three tough games at the Big East-Big Ten Challenge in Clearwater and St. Petersburg. The Bulls will face Miami in the "Florida Four" doubleheader at Steinbrenner Field on March 2. If USF can repeat its 34-25 mark with a tougher schedule, Prado said the Bulls will be "in great shape" for the NCAAs, but he's expecting more.
With construction on a new stadium beginning this spring, USF will play some home games at Steinbrenner, as well as the University of Tampa. From Prado's perspective, what better way to unveil a new stadium than with an NCAA regionals banner in the outfield, or better still, a Big East championship banner.