Baseball's Newcomers Generate Excitement

Nov. 17, 2006

With football, hockey and basketball stepping up to take the spotlight away from baseball, it may seem way too early to think about the sights and sounds of college baseball again. After uncovering the potential of UCF's new recruiting class and how the program is bringing in some other very talented newcomers, though, it is really hard not to get excited about 2007.

Last year's key word may have been freshmen. In all, UCF routinely used at least five freshmen per game. A total of seven first-year position players saw time in 30 games or more in 2006, while four freshmen pitchers took the mound at least 10 times.

Somehow, the 2007 season could experience similar results as the coaching staff brings in eight student-athletes from the high school ranks to the UCF campus. But a key difference may be the six other newcomers that join them. At the end of fall practices in November, it was clear that many of them will have a chance to play an integral part in the new campaign.

One gapping hole leftover for one of the newcomers to fill occurs at the hot corner where Matt Ray patrolled a year ago. Although it can be hard for any team to find an immediate full-time replacement, UCF may have accomplished that task in the form of Chris Duffy. A native of Orlando and graduate of Cypress Creek, Duffy was drafted in the ninth round by the Chicago White Sox and opted to stay in the area to play college ball.

"He is such a hard worker," said UCF assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Craig Cozart. "Every night he stays after and takes extra ground balls. He has done a great job in the weight room and conditioning. And his stick is special. He's going to drive in a lot of runs for us.

"Defensively he is fine at third, he will make some plays you may not expect him to and he will make the routine plays that we need out of that position."

The rubber, though, might experience the most excitement from the new edition of Golden Knights. Four right-handers and a lefty blend into a pitching staff that Cozart continuously molds into one of the best in the nation.

Southpaw Carmine Giardina originally signed with the University of Texas, but instead takes the short journey from his hometown of Valrico, Fla., to Orlando. Drafted in the 28th round by the Boston Red Sox, it still remains unclear what Giardina's role will be for 2007.

"Carmine's another power lefty for us," said Cozart. "We've got the luxury of having Brian Brooks and Tyler Bunnel already, who are your vintage lefties. And when you run out Mitch Herold and Carmine Giardina, you're running out guys with upper-level velocity and power breaking balls. So Carmine is going to push that rotation."

Another draft pick that is working towards a spot as a starter in the future stands at 6-foot-4 and hails from Orlando's Boone High School. Austin Hudson was selected in the 37th round by Washington, and brings a hard-sinking fastball with him. "A ground-ball machine" according to Cozart, Hudson could initially take over the back-end of the bullpen after his performance in the fall. The righty went three innings during an intra-squad game and never let the ball get out of the infield.

"I'll do whatever it takes to help this team out," said Hudson of his duties on this year's staff. "Of course, everyone would like to start, but I'll try and help the team win in any role. I don't feel pressure (after being drafted). That is in the past. I'm looking forward towards the future and I know that I can do something really good here at UCF and hopefully help bring a national championship to this team."

A positive outlook for Hudson is that he does not have to worry about being perfect every outing. Thanks to some quality veteran arms around him, he understands that there will be support from all sides.

"If I went to a school in which I was thrown into the fire early and was in charge of carrying a team, that would be very tough. Here I have a lot of guys that can pick me up if I struggle. I can have time this year to adjust to college baseball and learn along the way."

Joining Giardina and Hudson on the mound will be Eric English, Kyle Maulbetsch, who also could see time in the infield, and Matt Goodyear. English should blend into the rotation right away thanks to an impressive freshman season at LSU in 2005. A righthander from Parkland, Fla., English appeared in 14 games for the Tigers with one start. He finished with a 3.82 ERA, a 1-0 record and 26 strikeouts in 30.2 innings.

No matter how many new faces break into the lineup, though, head coach Jay Bergman, who is in his 25th year at UCF, knows how to prepare a winning ballclub. With one of the best home schedules in Golden Knight history on tap as well, one question remains. Is February here yet?