#2 Louisville Baseball 2016 Preview

Louisville Cardinals
Overall Rank: #2
Conference Rank: #1 ACC
 Louisville Logo
Louisville was so close to reaching the College World Series three years in a row. The Cardinals went an impressive 25-5 in ACC play and were ready to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. After cruising through the regionals that they hosted by beating Morehead State and Michigan twice, the Cardinals hosted a scrappy Cal State Fullerton squad in the Super Regionals. They lost game one 3-2 in ten innings, but evened up the series with a 9-3 win the next day. The decisive game three was another thriller and once again Louisville ended up on the losing end of an extra inning game. Three in a row did not happen, but Coach Dan McDonnell can start over at one this year.
2015: 47-18, 25-5
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Dan McDonnell
Field Players:
The offense will work around Corey Ray, Nick Solak and Brendan McKay. Ray is one of the best, if not the best, all-around players in college baseball. The outfielder batted .325 last year with 11 homeruns, 15 doubles, five triples and 56 RBIs. Obviously he has power, but Ray is also a speedster and stole 34 bases during his sophomore season. If all goes as planned, Ray will be the first collegiate player taken in the 2016 MLB Draft. But for now he can work on cutting down on his strikeouts and leading Louisville to Omaha. Solak does not have the power of Ray, but he hit .324 and can find the gaps on a regular basis. Like Ray, he also has some speed and stole 18 bases last year. McKay, one of the best two-way players in the nation, hit .308 with four homeruns and 34 RBIs last season. Will Smith, Devin Hairston, Danny Rosenbaum and Logan Taylor are experience players who should be ready to boost their production and help fill in the lineup around Ray, Solak and McKay.
On most teams, McKay would be the headlining pitcher. He went 9-3 last season with a 1.77 ERA. McKay started 13 games and picked up four saves too. In 96.2 innings of work, he struck out 117 batters. But it is Kyle Funkhouser who can dominate even more. Funkhouser was drafted in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft, but opted to return to Louisville for his senior season. In 17 starts, Funkhouser went 8-5 with a 3.20 ERA and struck out 104 batters in 112.1 innings. Josh Rogers, the other regular starter last season, is gone, but there are plenty of options. Senior Anthony Kidston made eight starts last year and Kade McClure showed some promise as a freshman in his 16 appearances. Junior Drew Harrington is another option after making 18 appearances with one start last season. He pitched 31.0 innings and allowed just one earned run. That’s a 0.29 ERA.
Who to Watch:
The starters are amazing thanks to the unexpected return of Funkhouser, but the bullpen could be even better. And the key to the bullpen is the closing ability of Zack Burdi. The 6-3 junior recorded nine saves last season and was always clutch. He suffered just one defeat and won six games in his 20 appearances. The way this Louisville team is shaping up, they may not be in enough close games for Burdi to rack up too many saves, but he will get the job done when called upon.
Final Projection:
It would be easy to hand over the ACC title to Louisville right now, but they do play at Miami and at Florida State, so things could get interesting for a little while. No doubt this is one of the elite teams in the country, but the Hurricanes and Seminoles are not too far behind and Virginia is right there too. Louisville starts ACC play against Notre Dame before heading to Coral Gables for a series March 18-20. That’s not an easy start and Virginia comes to town right after that. Their next road trip is to Tallahassee. We will know by early April if anybody in the ACC has a chance at catching this talented Louisville team.
Projected Postseason: College World Series
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Corey Ray, OF, 265
Hits: Corey Ray, OF, 86
Home Runs: Corey Ray, OF, 11
RBIs: Corey Ray, OF, 56
Runs: Nick Solak, IF, 47
Stolen Bases: Corey Ray, OF, 34
Wins: Brendan McKay, P, 9
Innings Pitched: Kyle Funkhouser, P, 112.1
Strikeouts: Brendan McKay, P, 117
Saves: Zack Burdi, P, 9
Madness 2016 Baseball Recruit Rankings:
#41 Bryan Hoeing
Madness 2016 Draft Rankings:
#11 Corey Ray
#29 Kyle Funkhouser
#70 Zack Burdi