#19 Notre Dame Baseball 2016 Preview

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Overall Rank: #19
Conference Rank: #6 ACC
 Notre Dame Logo
Notre Dame exceeded the expectations of most college baseball observers last season. They were picked to finish 11th out of 14 ACC teams heading into the 2015 season. However, the Fighting Irish had other ideas and they won 37 games and returned to an NCAA Regional for the first time since the 2006 season. This significant step forward under the direction of head coach Mik Aoki should set Notre Dame up to begin a streak of appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
2015: 37-23, 17-13
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Mik Aoki
Field Players:
There will be a great deal of balance throughout this everyday lineup for Notre Dame. Infielder Cavan Biggio and catcher Ryan Lidge are going to provide the most power this season. Biggio hit nine homeruns and is always going to be a tough out to deal with both offensively and defensively. Biggio committed just five errors last season at second base, taking after his dad, Hall of Famer Craig Biggio. Lidge is going to be a frontrunner all season for the Johnny Bench Award as one of the top catchers in all of college baseball. He has an innate ability to drive in key runs and drove in 36 runs last season for the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame should have plenty of depth in their pitching rotation to be able to compete week in and week out with the best of the ACC. Junior Ryan Smoyer will be the likely number one starter. Smoyer will be looking to build off of a nine-win season in 2015. Brandon Bielak is coming off a solid 6-3 season with a 3.55 earned run average in 2015 and will not hesitate to go after hitters, striking out 62 batters last season. In addition, Bielak and Brad Bass were named to Perfect Game’s top 100 overall draft prospects list for the 2017 MLB Draft. Sean Guenther will be in the closer role to start the 2016 season and he will be looking to improve upon his five save season from a year ago. If Guenther can get closer to 10 saves this season that should set up the Fighting Irish for a 40 plus win season in 2016.
Who to Watch:
Infielder Kyle Fiala is a very consistent hitter that will provide a nice mix of power and speed to the Notre Dame lineup. Fiala had 72 hits last season and did an excellent job defensively as he cut his error total from 19 to 9. Pitcher Scott Tully is going to be one of those guys on the pitching staff in 2016 that will need to come up big, whether it be in the bullpen or in the starting rotation. He did both very well in 2015.
Final Projection:
In what should be a winnable series, Notre Dame starts its season on the road out at Santa Clara for a three game weekend series in the Bay Area. The schedule, as a whole, is difficult but fair for a Fighting Irish team that will not be able to sneak up on anyone this season. A homestand starting on March 31 against Oregon and with games against Michigan and Miami will go a long way towards dictating the direction of the season for Notre Dame. If the Fighting Irish can hold serve after nine ACC games, including a trip to Louisville, they should be in prime position to make the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.
Projected Postseason: NCAA Baseball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Kyle Fiala, IF, 239
Hits: Kyle Fiala, IF, 72
Home Runs: Cavan Biggio, IF, 9
RBIs: Ryan Lidge, C, 36
Runs: Kyle Fiala, IF, 48
Stolen Bases: Cavan Biggio, IF, 14
Wins: Ryan Smoyer, P, 9
Innings Pitched: Brandon Bielak, P, 88.2
Strikeouts: Scott Tully, P, 63
Saves: Sean Guenther, P, 5