Louisville boasts a strong roster entering the 2020 season, and with that, the Cardinals land the top spot in D1Baseball.com's preseason top 25. Last year, they advanced to Omaha before Vanderbilt sent them packing in its route to becoming the 2019 national champion.
Below are a few facts to consider when breaking down the 2020 Louisville club:
2019 record: 51-18. RPI: 9.
Coach (Record at school): Dan McDonnell (605-240 in 13 seasons).
Ballpark: Patterson Stadium (4,000).
Postseason history: 13 regionals (active streak: 8), 5 CWS trips (active streak: 1)
LOUISVILLE FALL REPORT: How the Cardinals are preparing for the 2020 season
In this preview of Louisville's 2020 season, we've graded the Cardinals in each characteristic of the game: Hitting, power, speed, defense, starting pitching, bullpen and experience/intangibles. But before we begin, let's present our projected lineup for Louisville in 2020.
Louisville's projected lineup
|C||Henry Davis, So.||.324/.422/.440||3||23||0|
|1B||Dalton Rushing, Fr.||HS — Brighton, Tenn.|
|2B||Lucas Dunn, Jr.||.309/.399/.398||1||25||15|
|3B||Alex Binelas, So.||.291/.383/.612||14||59||3|
|SS||Justin Lavey, Sr.||.286/.361/.366||3||33||20|
|LF||Zach Britton, Jr.||.288/.368/.470||5||28||2|
|CF||Luke Brown, Jr.||Tr. — John A. Logan (Ill.) CC|
|RF||Levi Usher, So.||Tr. — Kirkwood (Iowa) CC|
|DH||Danny Oriente, Sr.||.332/.404/.435||1||49||0|
Louisville's projected weekend rotation/closer
|SP #1||Reid Detmers, Jr.||13-4||2.78||113.1||167||33||0|
|SP #2||Bobby Miller, Jr.||7-1||3.83||80||86||38||2|
|SP #3||Luke Smith, Sr.||6-1||4.24||68||53||24||0|
|Closer||Michael Kirian, Jr.||3-1||1.69||43.1||42||9||5|
Grading The Cardinals: Just as scouts grade prospects using the 20-80 scouting scale, we use a 20-80 scale to evaluate teams in our top 25. A score of 50 in each category is average, relative to a typical NCAA tournament team; 55 is slightly above-average; 60 is above-average (plus); 70 is well above-average (plus-plus); 80 is top of the scale, historically strong. Accordingly, 45 is fringe-average or slightly below-average; 40 is below-average; 30 is well below-average; and 20 is the extreme in that direction.
The Cardinals lost mainstays Tyler Fitzgerald, Logan Wyatt, Drew Campbell and Jake Snider, but they still return six players who logged at least 130 at-bats and hit at least .280 last year, giving them a chance to come close to last year’s above-average offensive production (7.4 runs per game, 18th-best in the nation).
Oriente is a seasoned veteran with a flat right-handed stroke who led the team in hitting a year ago and is expected to serve as a doubles-and-RBIs machine in the cleanup spot. He’ll likely be flanked by No. 3 hitter Alex Binelas (an emerging superstar whose average and OBP figure to spike as a sophomore) and 5-hole hitter Zach Britton (who has serious left-handed bat speed and feel for his barrel, making him a big-time breakout candidate, especially now that he’s playing left field and doesn’t have to worry about his defense behind the plate).
The compact Lucas Dunn figures to serve as the engine that makes this offense go. He’s a high-energy grinder who works counts and makes consistent line-drive contact. He could lead off or hit in the 2-hole behind Brown, a left-handed slasher in the Brett Gardner mold. Fellow junior college transfer Levi Usher has more whip in his lefty stroke and could be an impact hitter in the bottom half of the lineup.
The Cardinals figure to have a lineup jammed full of tough outs, and there’s no shortage of competition for jobs. Ben Bianco impressed the coaches with the way he grinded out at-bats all fall, making him a candidate for playing time at first base or DH, where the Cards also could get meaningful contributions from Dalton Rushing and Andrew Benefield.
Oriente could easily wind up at a corner outfield spot, opening up DH for Benefield/Rushing/Bianco or Cameron Masterman, a 6-foot-4 right-handed hitter who was a hard contact machine this fall. Masterman will also compete for regular action at an outfield corner.
Louisville ranked just 134th in the nation in home runs per game last year but was better in slugging percentage, ranking 64th. This year’s offense figures to have a similar look, built around wearing out the gaps, putting the ball in play and applying pressure in a variety of ways. But there’s also one elite power threat anchoring the lineup in Binelas, who can drive the ball out to any part of the ballpark.
Rushing should also deliver impact power as a freshman; he has easy left-handed juice in his thick 5-foot-11, 235-pound physique, and he led the team in homers in the fall. Look for Henry Davis and Britton to increase their power production significantly as juniors, as they are slated to be full-time players for the first time.
Masterman and Benefield also offer real pop from the right side, making them intriguing X-factors if they can make enough consistent contact to earn regular playing time.
Louisville coach Dan McDonnell takes extraordinary pride in coaching base running, and his teams are always aggressive and intelligent on the basepaths. Last year’s club ranked second in the ACC and 37th nationally in steals per game, and Louisville returns two speedsters who stole bases at a very efficient clip: Justin Lavey was 20-for-23 and Lucas Dunn was 15-for-17.
Brown is a blazing runner who swiped more than 60 bags in junior college ball last year, and Usher is another good runner who should be a threat on the basepaths. Those are the only burners, but most of the Cards are at least serviceable runners.
Louisville was a very sound defensive club a year ago, ranking 24th in the nation and second in the ACC with a .978 fielding percentage. But Fitzgerald, Wyatt and Campbell were all elite defenders who must now be replaced. Lavey has already proven himself as a standout defender at third base and second base (where he made just one error all of last season), but now he’ll be counted upon to replace Fitzgerald at short, where his foot speed, arm and hands are real assets.
McDonnell wants Rushing to replace Wyatt at first, but he’s still learning the position and has some work to do. Brown’s speed should give him premium range in center, and Usher brings additional athleticism to the outfield mix, though other potential corner outfielders Oriente, Britton and Masterman aren’t standouts (the latter two are still new to the position).
ALL-DECADE TEAM: Which Louisville star(s) made the ACC's All-Decade team?
Dunn is probably the team’s best defensive outfielder, but he fits best at second base on this club. He should form a sound double play tandem with Lavey. Binelas figures to be a rock at third base, and the Cards have two very good options behind the plate in the rifle-armed Davis and the scrap-dog Ben Metzinger.
There are some pieces of this defense that need to prove themselves. But it’s safe to assume the Cards will be at least above-average defensively, and maybe much better than that if everything comes together.
Starting Pitching: 70
On paper, Louisville’s weekend rotation looks like the best in the country. Reid Detmers is a returning first-team All-American and the reigning ACC Pitcher of the Year, and he only got better in the offseason, running his fastball up to 94 mph this fall with a filthy knee-buckling mid-70s curve with plus spin rate up to 2800 rpm and an improved 80-81 mph changeup that has become another out pitch for him.
Bobby Miller started his career in the bullpen but made 12 starts out of his 20 appearances as a sophomore, and he looks ready for a big star turn as a junior. His stuff was more electric than ever this fall, with a fastball that flirts with triple digits and a newly developed 88-92 cutter to complement his low-80s curveball and solid changeup. It’s top-half-of-the-first-round stuff. He just needs to repeat his delivery a bit more consistently and take one more step with his command, though he made good progress in that regard last spring.
Luke Smith had an uneven regular season working mostly as a midweek starter as a junior college transfer last year, but he exploded onto the prospect scene in the postseason. He showed overpowering stuff over eight innings of one-run, three-hit ball against eventual national champion Vanderbilt in the CWS bracket final, before the Commodores rallied to win in the ninth. The lanky righty has very good feel for a quality four-pitch mix, highlighted by a putaway changeup and a firm fastball that sits comfortably in the low 90s.
The midweek starter role remains up in the air, but the favorite could be sophomore Carter Lohman, who can work in the low 90s from the left side and flashes a devastating curveball. He logged just 9.2 innings a year ago and must continue refining his control.
Two other lefties who could vie for midweek starts are sophomore Garrett Schmeltz and high-profile freshman Michael Prosecky. Schmeltz showed the makings of a nice three-pitch arsenal this fall, with an 86-89 fastball that bumped 90 from a three-quarters slot, a solid 73-78 breaking ball with a spin rate around 2400 and an 80-82 changeup that got a few swing-and-misses. Prosecky showed the ability to locate with an 89-90 fastball, a very good low-80s changeup and an improving 76-78 breaking ball.
The Cards need some right-handed pitching to emerge in the bullpen, but they look blessed with a strong supply of quality southpaws. Michael Kirian, a big-bodied lefty who hides the ball well and attacks hitters with mid-90s heat and a wipeout slider at his best, figures to be one of the best closers in the country.
Senior Adam Elliott (2.48 ERA in 32.2 IP) was up to 92 this fall with a good breaking ball and should be a quality senior sign in the draft. Two of the Lohman/Schmeltz/Prosecky trio of lefties should also bolster the bullpen. And talented freshman Kellan Tulio gives Louisville yet another high-upside option from the left side, with a durable 6-foot-3, 200-pound pitcher’s frame and a strong arm that has produced 93 mph heat in the past, along with a big sweeping three-quarters curveball at 71-73 with tight spin around 2400 rpm.
The Cards are counting on sophomore two-way talent Jared Poland to take a big leap forward and serve as a shutdown power righty in the late innings. He was up to 94 mph in the fall with a good breaking ball and a dramatically improved changeup.
BRINGING THE HEAT: 22 college baseball flamethrowers who topped 96 this fall
Louisville will miss fireballer Jack Perkins (who will miss the season after having Tommy John surgery), but fellow sophomore righty Kerry Wright is an X-factor. Perhaps the highest-profile member of the highest-ranked recruiting class in Louisville history last year, Wright looked great out of the chute last spring, coming at hitters with 95 mph heat. He struggled with his command as the season progressed, and his velocity was down in the Cape League as he concentrated on improving his control. If he comes back strong from the elbow soreness that plagued him in the fall and turns the corner with his pitchability, he could certainly carve out a key role on this staff in 2020.
Also keep an eye on freshman Ryan Hawks, a thick-bodied strike-thrower with a short three-quarters arm action who reminds McDonnell a bit of former UL ace Kyle Funkhouser. He’s a USA Baseball 18U national team alumnus, and he’s fearless, attacking the bottom of the zone with a fastball that has been up to 90-91 this fall as well as a slider and changeup.
Louisville brings back an abundance of experience from a club that reached the national semifinals last spring, with six projected regulars who logged at least 130 at-bats, three seasoned weekend starters and two established upperclassmen anchoring the bullpen.
The Cards showed plenty of toughness and character during last year’s Omaha run, and the superb coaching staff has a long track record of getting the most out of UL players every year. Louisville competes extremely hard year after year, and it will surely do so again in 2020.
Louisville has been one of college baseball’s truly elite programs for a solid decade; all that’s left is to win its first national title.