If you think the USF football team's 2019 non-conference schedule is enticing, check out the baseball team's slate. Florida and FSU both come to Tampa for one-off engagements, while Samford (last seen knocking the 'Noles from the '18 NCAA Tournament) arrives this weekend for a three-game set. The Bulls even visit Port Charlotte on March 5 for an exhibition against the Rays. Second-year coach Billy Mohl, whose club is seeking its third consecutive NCAA berth, addressed the Bulls' schedule and lineup recently. Here are some excerpts.
Obviously you must tweak your weekend rotation after losing two significant arms (Rays draftee Shane McClanahan, veteran Peter Strzelecki). How is your rotation shaping up?
“We’ve got a couple of guys that are returning: (right-hander) Alec Wisely, (right-hander) Collin Sullivan, (right-hander) Baron Stuart. And then we’ve added some juco guys as well: (right-hander) Ben Koff, (lefty) Patrick Doudican. And then we’ve got (right-hander) Nelson Alvarez, a junior college product, hopefully to replace (Andrew) Perez in the back end of games. Those guys are coming along well, but...the lights haven’t been on in that Friday night spot before. So that’s gonna be something we’re gonna have to touch and feel our way through early in the season, get a better feel for it once the lights go on and it matters.”
Another significant loss is (third baseman) David Villar (drafted by the Giants in the 11th round). Who is stepping into leadership roles for you?
“Obviously the loss of Villar, (Coco) Montes (shortstop) and (Duke) Stunkel (center field), all three of those are big losses. That left side of our infield was one of the best in the conference last year. Right now, we’re looking at freshmen over there; Dylan Buck, (Alonso alumnus) Nicky Gonzalez. We have (Brandon alumnus) Jordan Feist returning, a key senior for us. And then (JD) Dutka might see some time at third.”
How nice is it to have depth at key positions (i.e. catcher, outfield)?
“It’s huge. I mean, last year, we had nine guys we sent out every single day. Tyler Dietrich, I love the kid to death because of what he went through for us last year. You watch what he did in that (American Athletic) conference tournament last year, catching four games in less than 36 hours was miraculous. But now he’s got some help behind him. He’s got (junior) Jordan Santos and (freshman) Julio Cortez and (Durant alumnus) Jake Sullivan, so hopefully by the end of the year he doesn’t weigh 150 pounds.”
You’ve got Florida and FSU coming here in February. How significant are those opportunities for this program?
“They’re big to have both of them at home in the same year. I don’t think we’ve had that since I’ve been here. But if you look at our first eight games, it’s gonna be a real grind. You’ve got Samford coming in, who knocked Florida State out of their own regional last year. Then you’ve got Florida coming in (next Tuesday), and then we travel to North Carolina and play a top-10 team in the country, and then come back for Florida State (Feb. 26). So I think just from a scheduling perspective and the conference we play in, it’s good to test ourselves early like that and see how we stack up. It’s a nice litmus test.”
Who has a chance to be your closer at this point? (Veteran closer Andrew Perez was drafted by the White Sox in the eighth round.)
“Right now it’s (righty) Graham Hoffman (a Calvary Christian alumnus) and (righty) Nelson Alvarez going at it. (Right-hander) Ben Koff’s another guy who could move to the back end, but right now we’re gonna look at him as a starter. ... It might be similar to two years ago where you had (Joe) Cavallaro and Perez: One closes one night, one closes another night. We’re still kinda looking through those things.”