Projecting Louisville Baseball's 2021 Starting Lineup
It's hard to guess how high the Louisville Baseball program would have flown in 2020. The Cardinals had amassed a 13-4 record, were ranked as high as the No. 2 team in the country, and had previously been voted to win the ACC.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, subsequently cancelling the 2020 season just one month into competition.
Now that leaves us with seven and a half months until Opening Day 2021. But just because we have over half a year until the Cardinal Nine retakes the diamond, doesn't mean we can't make some incredibly early projections.
Over the last few weeks, Louisville got a little clarity as to how their 2021 roster will look. LHP Reid Detmers, RHP Bobby Miller & OF/C Zach Britton were all taken in the 2020 MLB Draft, as were 2020 commits AJ Vukovich & Adisyn Coffey. Seniors OF Danny Oriente & INF Justin Lavey both signed free agent deals, but LHP Adam Elliott & RHP Luke Smith both opted to return.
A lot can happen during both summer ball and fall practice that will impact player development, but for now here is a "way-too-early" projection at how the lineup card will look on Opening Day in February 2021:
1) Lucas Dunn (LF)
- Dunn missed the first nine games of the season due to a hamate injury and was not 100% healthy once he returned, but he has already established himself as a consistent hitter. His freshman and sophomore campaigns saw him bat over .300, more often than not coming from the leadoff spot.
2) Luke Brown (CF)
- It didn't take long for Brown to establish himself as arguably the fastest player on the team. In his first season as a Cardinal, he hit .328 with a team best 19 runs scored and 11 stolen bases. Dunn's experience gives him the leadoff nod, but Brown could easily see time there too.
3) Alex Binelas (3B)
- While Binelas only saw action in two games this season due to the same injury that Dunn, sustained, he's already arguably the best power hitter on the team. His freshman season garnered him freshman All-American honors, as he hit 14 home runs and 59 RBIs.
4) Henry Davis (C)
- Statistically, Davis had the best season out of any position player. He led the team in OPS (1.179), home runs (3) and slugging percentage (.698), and had the most total bases per games played (2.14). While there will be days where he doesn't start at catcher due to Louisville's depth, he's the unquestioned first stringer.
5) Levi Usher (RF)
- Another JUCO newcomer in 2020, he also made his mark on the diamond. He led all qualified hitters (2 PA/G, 75% of games played) in batting average at .411, and tied Zach Britton for most total bases with 32. Him and Dunn could swap positions in the outfield, but for now we'll put him in right field.
6) Ben Bianco (1B)
- The son of Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, Ben had a breakout 2020 season. After not seeing any action at all in 2019, his junior campaign saw him drive in the third-most RBI (14) and tied for the most home runs with Henry Davis. He also bat .268 in 15 appearances and 11 starts.
7) Tim Borden (2B)
- Yet another breakout position player in 2020, Borden was the hottest hitter out of all the greenhorns. After batting for an astounding .444 with a home run and nine RBI, he was named a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.
8) Ben Metzinger (DH)
- Metzinger saw a lot of time at the hot corner following Binelas' injury, and he made the absolute most of it. Over 11 total starts at both third and catcher, he bat .349 and drove in eight RBI with a pair of homers to boot.
9) Jared Poland (SS)
- While he made most of his starts at second base, it could be possible for him to continue to see middle infield starting reps. It also possible JUCO transfer Cooper Bowman could see the starting nod, but we'll give Poland the early advantage.
Starting Pitching Rotation
1) RHP Luke Smith
- With Detmers & Smith beginning their pro careers, Smith is the automatic favorite to land the Friday night starter's role. In his four starts this past season, he went 3-0 with a 3.42 ERA and posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 18-4 over 23.2 innings pitched.
2) RHP Jack Perkins
- Had Perkins not been forced to miss the 2020 season due to Tommy John surgery from last summer, he would have been a candidate to be the midweek starter. In his freshman year, he went 3-0 over 16 appearances and four starts with a 4.18 ERA in 32.1 innings.
3) RHP Glenn Albanese
- Someone on the pitching staff will need to transition from reliever to starter, and I believe the first candidate is Albanese. Over five appearances in 2020, he struck out 18 batters over 8.2 innings and posted a 2.08 ERA.
4) RHP Anthony Silkwood
- Once again, the Cardinals land a JUCO pitcher from Parkland College. A former Marine, he struck out 7 batters over 6.0 innings of work this past season at Luke Smith's alma mater before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown the season.
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