Here at Down the Drive, we take special care to check in with the former Bearcats that have gone onto the Show. Although there are no Pittsburgh Pirates fans on staff, we still feel OK when the Pirates win, or at least when Josh Harrison gets some All-Star votes.
Entering this weekend, there was a chance that the Bearcats in the Big Leagues crew was set to expand, as UC ace Andrew Zellner had the potential to be selected during the 40 rounds of the MLB Draft. After 1,216 picks, Zellner is still an undrafted player which is bad news for those hoping for growth of the small contingent of Bearcats at the pro level, but fantastic news for Ty Neal and the rest of the UC baseball program.
A junior right-hander from Farmersville, Ohio, Zellner was the captain of the surprisingly afloat ship at Marge Schott Stadium in 2016. As the Friday starter for the Bearcats, Zellner went 7-4 with a 2.32 ERA, leading the Bearcat staff in wins, ERA, shutouts (2), innings pitched (108 2/3 and strikeouts (66). He also joined Ian Happ (who was drafted in the first round last year) as the second Bearcat to ever be put on the All-American Athletic Conference first team. His 2.21 ERA to close the regular season was the lowest by a UC starter since Bob O'Brien in 1979 and his five outings of at least nine innings matched the highest total since 2007 when Dan Osterbrock did the deed.
With Zellner back, the Bearcats are set to build off of their 26-30 mark from this past season, which was the best record they have had since 2011. Zellner is part of the core of returning talent that will put expectations in the respectable range for the first time in a long time. He is joined on the staff by J.T. Perez (6-5, 2.97 ERA), who very well could have been the story of the 2016 season if not for Zellner, as well as A.J. Kullman (3.20 ERA), David Orndorff (3.57 ERA) and AJ Olasz (4.15 ERA), who all have multiple years of eligibility remaining. That rotation should be the envy of the AAC.
Now if the Bearcats can just find a few more hitters, they're in business. Connor McVey (.292/.379/.420, 4 home runs, 27 RBI, 27 stolen bases) and Kyle Mottice (.278/.329/.351, 13 stolen bases) were the most effective and consistent hitters for a team that ranked last in the conference in batting average (.235) and runs scored (218). But losing Woody Wallace's six home runs, not to mention his play behind the plate, will hurt the cause. That means guys like Ryan Noda (.250/.341/.423, 6 home runs, 34 RBI), Treg Haberkorn (.264/.396/.396, 3 home runs, 20 RBI, 14 stolen bases) and R.J. Thompson (.233/.319/.283) will need to step up.
Zellner not getting drafted is good and bad. It doesn't add another Bearcat to an MLB roster, but it should keep UC baseball on an upward trajectory. At the very least, the fact that its June and we are still talking about Bearcats baseball is a good sign.