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Prado optimistic as Bulls baseball nears '13 opener



TAMPA -- USF baseball Lelo Prado has settled into a new ballpark, has a solid core of returning veterans and just enough impact newcomers to have optimism as the Bulls seek their first trip to NCAA regionals since 2002.


"Pitching-wise, I feel good at how much strides they've made, and offensively, I think we'll be a better club, and that's good, because we've struggled to score runs," said Prado, whose team went 38-22 last spring and reached the Big East championship game. "I think we'll score some now."

Prado knew going into preseason practice that his top two pitchers would be senior right-hander Joe Lovecchio and junior lefty Nick Gonzalez, and there's a three-way battle for the No. 3 job to close out the weekend rotation, between junior college transfer Nolan Thomas, freshman  Justin Patrick of Rhode Island and sophomore Michael Clarkson (Dunedin).

"We feel good about those guys," said Prado, who said another junior college transfer, 6-7 righty Alex Vetter, to compete for starts as well once he's healthy.

The bullpen is shaping up well after sending closers into the pro ranks each of the last two years. Senior Steven Leasure will open the year as closer, though freshman Jimmy Herget from Jefferson has been "outstanding" and could also get a look; senior Chad Taylor, an outfielder who made a single cameo on the mound last season, looks to take a key set-up role.

"We've got arms now. It's just how quick (new pitching coach Lance Carter) gets used to who's going to go where," Prado said.

Prado has loads of returning bats -- junior James Ramsay (Brandon) will start in center, senior Alex Mendez in left, junior Anthony Diaz (Palm Harbor) in right, with Taylor and Austin Lueck as backups. The infield has experience, too, with sophomores Kyle Teaf (shortstop) and Buddy Putnam (first base) back after playing major roles as freshmen.

Senior Kyle Copack and sophomore Zac Gilcrease (Cambridge Christian) will compete at second, and senior Jimmy Falla (Jesuit) can back up at first or right. Look for newcomers to play key roles in the batting lineup -- freshman Levi Borders, son of former major-leaguer Pat, will get work at catcher and third, and freshman Luke Maglich from Sarasota Riverview could also see work at third.

"I've got more options, which is really good," Prado said.

The Bulls open the season with seven tough games before they get a home game -- Louisville, Purdue and Indiana in Clearwater this weekend, then a three-game series at Florida State and one at Central Florida before the home opener March 1 against Toledo.

"I love it. I think this group needs to get tested early to see where we're at," Prado said. "I always like facing tougher competition. I've told you a thousand times, I could schedule 45 wins every year, but it doesn't do many any good. We've got to get to the point where we're competing against some of these guys."

THIS AND THAT: Two freshman pitchers won't play this season -- Tampa Catholic's Derek Martin will undergo Tommy John surgery on his injured elbow today, joining River Ridge's Tommy Peterson among injured Bulls.

[Last modified: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 4:48pm]


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