2005 Baseball Preview

Feb. 3, 2005

ORLANDO - Entering his 23rd season at the helm of the UCF baseball program, head coach Jay Bergman has the daunting task to replace two All-American pitchers from the starting rotation for the second time in four seasons. Following the 2001 campaign, UCF lost the services of All-Americans Justin Pope and Jason Arnold to the Major League Baseball Draft. In June of 2004, junior Matt Fox and sophomore Kyle Bono were drafted in the first and eighth rounds, respectively, and signed professional contracts.

The two power arms combined for a 22-4 record and 1.89 ERA in 209 innings of work in 2004 leading UCF to a 47-18 record and a spot in the NCAA regional championship game. The All-American duo boasted an ERA of 1.89 as UCF finished 10th in the nation in ERA with a team mark of 3.42.

"Not only were Matt and Kyle two great arms, but they were great teammates and the heart and soul of our team," commented Bergman. "It's a big loss, but we will move on just like everyone else."

Bergman can take comfort in the fact that seven position players return in 2005. Only the loss of Clay Timpner to the June draft is missing from the UCF offense.

"The only player we really lost was Clay," added Bergman. "He was a big piece of the puzzle, but with the experienced players we have returning, hopefully they can continue their offensive development and we could be a very potent offensive team."

Every championship team has pitching and UCF has always put together one of the nation's top pitching staffs. The team's depth will be tested in 2005 with the loss of Fox and Bono. One pitcher who could have assumed the No. 1 spot in the rotation was sophomore Taylor Meier, but the Altamonte Springs native will miss the entire due to an arm injury. Meier was a Freshman All-American in 2004 with a 6-3 record and 2.55 ERA in 74 innings of work.

Two pitchers who will have the opportunity to take the top spot in the rotation are junior right-hander Mike Billek and sophomore Tim Bascom. Both pitchers performed extremely well in UCF's fall season and have the potential to be front-line starters. "Obviously, Mike Billek and Tim Bascom need to step up for us in the starting rotation," Bergman said. Billek is a power pitcher who touched 95 MPH several times in fall practice for the Golden Knights. In limited action in 2004, Billek was 0-1 with a 6.12 ERA in 25 innings.

Bascom was the team's appearance leader out of the bullpen as a freshman, logging 21 appearances on the season. The Dunedin native finished the year 4-3 with a 4.88 ERA. His big game experience included a relief win over No. 2 LSU and a save vs. Florida State in the NCAA Regionals in Tallahassee.

Senior Darren Newlin returns for his final campaign in Orlando after a strong rookie campaign for UCF in 2004. The Tallahassee CC transfer was one of UCF's most versatile pitchers last year, as he saw time out of the bullpen as a closer, in long relief, along with the starting rotation for the second half of the season. Newlin ended the year 5-0 with a 3.13 ERA in 60.1 innings of work.

Another intriguing piece to the puzzle is redshirt junior pitcher Taylor Cobb. The Jacksonville product missed all of 2004 with an arm injury, but is primed for a return to the hill. In 2003, Cobb was the team's ace for the first half of the season.

Sophomore left-hander Brian Brooks is another valuable arm back in the fold for the Golden Knights. The only southpaw on the roster, Brooks could be a candidate for closer, or in the starting rotation. In 2004, the Oviedo native was 4-1 with a 4.00 ERA in 45 innings.

Sophomore right-handers Derek Abriola and Brett Bordwine are two capable arms that will be used out of the bullpen in key situations. Joining those two in the bullpen are senior Matt Rhodes along with several newcomers. Bordwine will miss the season after sustaining an ankle injury in preseason camp.

Freshman Jeremy Thorne from Oviedo High School is one candidate for the mid-week starting spot or as a closer. A big, strong right-hander with terrific potential, Thorne was a top prospect as a junior at Oviedo before missing his senior season with an arm injury.

Fellow freshman Jaager Good is a candidate for the closer position. The Georgia native has a good fastball and the coaching staff is anxious to see how Good fairs out of the bullpen.

Junior college transfers Dominic Petracca and Ray Rodriguez are two additional pitchers with promise. Petracca is a pitcher with an excellent changeup who can throw strikes while Rodriguez is a fastball pitcher with potential out of the bullpen or as a starter.

Redshirt freshman Matt McClung moves from the outfield to the mound full-time. The fastball pitcher has impressed the coaching staff with his arm on the hill. Freshman Kyler Bender is another control pitcher out of the bullpen who will be called upon as well.

UCF boasts one of the nation's top catching tandems in juniors Drew Butera and Ryan Bono. Both players spent their summer on the Cape in the prestigious Cape Cod League, the premier summer collegiate wooden bat league in the nation.

Both players have spent time in the weight room in the off-season and the results show. In the fall, Butera drilled three home runs and looked very comfortable with the bat. The Lake Mary native is one of the top defensive catchers in America, possessing one of the strongest throwing arms in the land. In 2004, Butera hit .282 with one home run and 32 RBI.

Bono had a breakout campaign in 2004, hitting .316 with two home runs and 43 RBI. Perhaps his most memorable moment at UCF, Bono drilled a walk-off, three-run home run in the NCAA Championships to defeat Oklahoma State and send UCF to the regional championship. The Lake Mary native will also play first base while Butera could see time at third base as well.

Senior Tim Ford is another capable player behind the dish for the Golden Knights.

First Base
The first base job will be held down primarily by Bono and senior Chandler Rose. UCF was 14-1 when Rose started at first base in 2004. The second team A-Sun selection also played shortstop for the Golden Knights. The versatile Rose can also man time at third base for Bergman's Knights. Rose hit .308 with one home run and 35 RBI last season.

Other candidates at the position included a pair of left-handed bats, juniors Dave Lambert and Matt LaFleur. Both players have some pop in their bats, with the two combining for five home runs in limited action a year ago.

Second Base
LSU transfer and former Lake Mary standout Matt Horwath begins his first season with UCF in 2005. Horwath is the starter at second base entering the season and the coaching staff was impressed with his ability both at the plate and in the field.

Horwath was LSU's starter at the start of the 2004 season and hit a home run vs. UCF in the three-game series at Jay Bergman Field. The redshirt sophomore was the starter at second base for the first eight games in 2003 for the Tigers, but missed the rest of the season with an arm injury and was awarded a medical redshirt.

Freshman Danny Kash adds depth to the position at second base.

Sophomore Matt Ray makes the move from second base to shortstop for the Golden Knights. The Tennessee native had a strong rookie season for UCF in 2004, hitting .316 with 21 stolen bases in 23 attempts. The speedster is also a candidate to replace Timpner in the leadoff spot.

"Matt hit leadoff for us in the fall and we are hoping he can fill the position for us this season," added Bergman.

Rose and Horwath are two other players who could play shortstop if needed.

Third Base
Senior Marshall Bernhard returns for his second season at the hot corner for the Golden Knights.

Bernhard showed a good glove and strong arm at third in 2004, while hitting .299 with 30 RBI. The NCAA All-Regional team selection was hot with the bat at the end of the season and is hoping to keep the momentum in 2005.

Florida transfer John-Michael Howell is a power bat who is improving with the glove at third base. Howell has power to all fields and the left-handed batter showed he can hit the ball out of the park in fall practice for the Golden Knights.

"John-Michael showed us he can play third, but he will also see time at designated hitter," stated Bergman. "This is the first time we have had a legitimate power bat at designated hitter in recent memory."

Left Field
Senior Dee Brown is set to embark on his fourth season as a starter for the Golden Knights. For the first time however, he has played a fall season on the baseball diamond, after turning in his football cleats for good following the 2003 football season. With a summer season of baseball under his belt along with the fall practice, big things are expected from one of the most productive hitters in school history.

Brown showed his power potential in the Valley League All-Star game, where he won the home run derby in the wooden bat league.

Center Field
The major hole in the UCF lineup and defensively is in center field. The loss of Timpner included a defensive standout along with a .371 hitter with 43 stolen bases and six home runs from the leadoff spot.

UCF used several players in the fall in center, including freshman Tyson Auer from Lake Mary. Auer dazzled the coaching staff with his speed in the fall as the fastest player on the roster. A shortstop in high school, Auer has the ability to run down anything in spacious Jay Bergman Field.

Senior Kevin Richmond is another player who will see time in center and right field. An infielder for the majority of 2004, Richmond moved to the outfield in the NCAA Regionals and was an all-regional selection. Richmond hit .275 with three homers in his first year at UCF after transferring from Florida State.

One final piece to the center field puzzle is junior college transfer Courtney Propst. The Seminole CC transfer was a January enrollee and has three years of eligibility remaining. Propst was a key cog in Seminole's 2003 team that advanced to the Junior College World Series before his season came to an end with a broken leg. The speedster hit leadoff and could be a player to watch in 2005.

Right Field
Senior Drake Wade along with Auer and Richmond should all see time in right field. Wade has plenty of power potential with his left-handed bat. Last season, Wade was the starter for most of the season in right field, hitting .250 with three home runs and 20 RBI.

Redshirt junior Justin Mahon returns from missing all of last season with a shoulder injury and could be the opening day starter in right field. A power hitting outfielder in two seasons at Division II Mars Hill College, Mahon set a school record with 15 home runs in one season at Mars Hall. After a strong fall season, Mahon will see significant time in 2005 for the Golden Knights.

With the loss of three All-American pitchers, the depth of the UCF pitching staff will be tested in 2005. The potential is there, just in 2004, when Fox and Bono were unknowns as starters. Both Billek and Bascom have big-time potential that now needs to be shown on the field.

"We had some questions with our rotation entering the season last year and we ended up with the nation's 10th best ERA," added Bergman.

The offense intrigues Bergman, with the potential for power becoming an added factor in 2005. "I think our power numbers will be up this year compared to the past," said Bergman. "We will have an emphasis on speed, including hit and run situations and stealing bases. It should be a strong offensive year for us."