If you’ve been following along the last few weeks, you probably have some thoughts about the Cincinnati Bearcats baseball team. If you don’t, there’s no reason to worry, because I certainly do. Those thoughts may look incredibly wrong or Nostradamus-style amazing in the next few weeks/months, but let’s get them down on paper (aka the internet) before the season begins on Friday.
Andrew Zellner will throw 100 innings, have a sub-2.50 ERA and be an All-AAC first-team selection
This is an easy one. The staff ace did all of these things last season and I don’t expect that to change in 2017. Ty Neal was perfectly comfortable leaning on Zellner for long stretches, as the Bearcat hurler tossed four complete games last season. He also kept opponents to a .231 batting average, so even without strikeout stuff, he can still get outs and limit runs.
Connor McVey will bat over .300 and earn All-AAC second-team honors
McVey came closer than any Bearcat to the lifetime batting average of John Kruk, hitting .292 last season. He had 12 multi-hit games to produce that success rate and was actually above .300 as late as May 7. I anticipate the speedy third basemen will finish off the season stronger this time around and get the attention of the rest of the league in the process.
Ryan Noda will set a career-high in home runs
During the course of his first two seasons, Noda has launched 13 balls over the fence. He had six home runs last season, leading the Bearcats. In his junior year, UC’s only real power source will eclipse his career-best of seven dingers that he set as a freshman. I would even go so far as to say he will push for double digits, but something like eight or nine is more likely.
Joey Thomas will make the most starts at catcher
Thomas is the heir apparent to Woody Wallace, who consistently lined up behind the plate for four years. Thomas was a backup backstop for Wallace, who played in all 57 games. Thomas only slashed .209/.227/.256 across 19 games, including nine starts, but he did throw out four runners in 13 tries for a relatively decent 30.7 percent success rate in catching would-be thieves.
J.T. Perez will lead the Bearcats in strikeouts
Last season, Zellner was the team leader in punch outs, which was evidence that the Bearcats were a staff devoid of swing and miss stuff. Perez ranked second on the team, and although he wasn’t the best strikeout artist (that would be A.J. Olasz, who posted 7.14 strikeouts per nine innings), he struck out batters at a better rate (5.74 K/9) than Zellner (5.48 K/9). With as much stamina as the team’s ace, Perez, who threw three complete games last season, will push for 100 innings and if he keeps pace with Zellner there, he will outpace him on Ks.
Cincinnati will win 30 games
This may not seem like a huge leap, and some of these predictions are admittedly not. But the Bearcats came so close to hitting 30 wins last season (26-30-1), taking a major step forward in year three of the Neal era. The bulk of last year’s roster is back, which puts UC in good position. Even still, it will take outstanding years from Zellner, Perez, Noda and McVey, as well as strong play from Kyle Mottice, Manny Rodriguez, Treg Haberkorn and a breakout from Olasz or Thomas, but those are all things that aren’t outside the realm of possibility. If everything falls into place, 30 wins could be just the beginning.