BOZICH | Louisville baseball faces questions about Western Michigan, Texas, Draft distractions
The pending Major League Baseball free agent draft and questions about coach Dan McDonnell and the Texas baseball job are distractions the Louisville baseball team must overcome.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Is Corey Ray the player the Atlanta Braves have targeted with the third overall pick in the Major League Baseball free-agent draft next week?
Are the Red Sox locked in on U of L closer Zack Burdi, convinced he can earn enough professional experience to pitch in the Boston bullpen by September?
Has Louisville catcher Will Smith actually jumped from the fourth-highest guy named Will in the draft to a player the St. Louis Cardinals are considering with the 33rd overall pick?
Has senior starter Kyle Funkhouser pitched his way back to the top of the Louisville rotation and into the second round?
Is Texas prepared to wave a stack of Longhorn Network dollars at U of L coach Dan McDonnell to ensure the most storied program in the game never misses the NCAA Tournament again?
And, in other news, are Western Michigan, Wright State and Ohio State talented enough to question Louisville’s credentials as the second-ranked team in college baseball during the NCAA Regional this weekend at Jim Patterson Stadium?
McDonnell and his players would certainly prefer to begin with the sixth question – and answer it with the obligatory, “Yes.”
The world hyperventilates when a longshot wins one NCAA Tournament game. In college baseball, UC-Irvine, Indiana, Kent State, Stony Brook and California all made it to Omaha in the past five seasons.
Louisville plays Western Michigan in its first NCAA game Friday. Western has a left-handed pitcher named Keegan Akin who will likely be a third- or fourth-round pick in the draft. He could stop Louisville. Ask McDonnell.
Wright State and Ohio State also have pitchers capable of stringing zeroes.
“Everybody in the post-season has at least one guy and several teams have two or three and the closer,” McDonnell said. “Baseball, you could argue, is 80 percent, 85, 90 percent pitching.
“You get a guy that runs out there and pounds the strike zone and keeps hitters off balance and keeps hitters off base. It makes it very challenging.”
Looking for challenging? Here is challenging:
*In its latest mock draft, Baseball America has Atlanta selecting Ray with the third pick. The Braves need signable everyday players as they prepare to move into their new stadium next season.
*Burdi made a jumbo climb in John Manuel’s 4.0 mock draft, rising to the 12th spot He wrote this about the Louisville closer:
“In this scenario, a contending big league team could lead the Sox to jump up for Louisville’s Zack Burdi, who could go virtually straight to Boston to set up Craig Kimbrel for the pennant drive.”
*Several weeks ago, Smith was ranked the 212th best prospect by Baseball America. Now Manuel forecasts that Smith could be selected by the Cardinals with the 32nd or 33rd pick.
McDonnell acknowledged the improvement that his catcher has made, comparing some of his skills to San Francisco All-Star Buster Posey.
*Funkhouser will get the start Friday against Western Michigan. He is throwing more strikes. He is throwing with more velocity. And McDonnell trusts Funkhouser because he has pitched well in the postseason the last two years.
“He’s a confident kid who has really grown,” McDonnell said. “A proud kid.”
*This year the U of L players can ask questions about their coach, too. Texas is a proud but sagging program that needs a new and confident leader.
The Longhorns forced 77-year-old Augie Garrido to retire with one $1.1 million season remaining on his contract after Texas missed the NCAA Tournament for the third time in five years.
McDonnell has to be high on the list of guys Texas will consider as Mr. Fix-It.
I asked McDonnell if he or his representatives have heard from Texas yet and if he has addressed the topic with his players?
“I haven’t said anything to the players,” McDonnell said. “I haven’t spoken to anybody or my people, I don’t know what you call it.
“I haven’t spoken to anybody in reference to it. My wife and I saw it on the news last night. It’s very humbling. It’s very flattering. But I was happy that we’ve accepted the world of college baseball. That we’re in tune to what’s happening.
“It’s great to know that the city of Louisville, the fan base, the media is in tune to what’s happening in college baseball, because we want to be one of the top programs in the country. We think what we’ve done in the last 10 years makes that statement.”
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