UConn Baseball Position Overview: Pitching Team
LSU is DBU, Alabama produces excellent running backs, and UConn men’s basketball consistently produces elite point guards. Like these position factories in their various sports, UConn baseball has benefited from many stud pitchers over the years. They also had the depth to reload every year, a necessity when you send players to the big leagues every year.
Heading into 2022, pitching coach Josh MacDonald could have his biggest rebuilding job yet. The 2021 staff weren’t the most talent-heavy, but were extremely deep and had at least one above-average arm for every role.
Randy Polonia was an (extremely) experienced arm in the middle of the bullpen, posting a career-low 2.02 ERA in his senior year at Storrs. Caleb Wurster has been the closest to UConn, sniffing out 52 batters in 41 working innings at an unusual arm angle. Andrew Marrero was his reliable setup man with funky lineup and a killer lead, while Kenny Haus and Joe Simeone filled in as starters or relief as needed.
Reggie Crawford’s absence will be felt more in the lineup than in the bullpen, but the gap will still be felt. He was expected to be either a Sunday starter or a bullpen ace heading into 2022, but an arm injury in October ended his season before it even started.
And that’s just the bullpen. Ben Casparius was an elite prospect and he was rewarded for his 127 strikeouts, the second-highest season total in UConn history, as an MLB Draft selection by the Dodgers of Los Angeles.
This may be one of the biggest kick-off staff rebuilds in school history, but UConn has important core elements returning, along with a slew of new talent ready to contribute. .
“I like the pieces, I just have to figure out how we’re going to use them. Last year’s team, looking back on it, we were really lucky,” pitching coach Josh MacDonald said. “I have pieces as good in terms of talent as [those guys]I just don’t know which ones will react under pressure.
Austin Peterson is a fourth-year junior who really came into his own last year, after transferring from Wabash Community College, as a valuable member of the weekend rotation.
He locked down the starting spot early on Sunday, going 7-1 with a 2.58 ERA, 82 strikeouts in 80.1 innings and a .201 batting average against. Later in the season, Peterson became the de facto Friday night starter as Casparius battled nagging injuries. He started and won the Big East Tournament and NCAA Region opener.
Peterson’s fastball is set in the 90s, and his pitching repertoire includes a four-seam, two-seam, slider, curveball and changeover.
UConn’s second rotation spot will most likely be third-year sophomore Pat Gallagher. Like Peterson, Gallagher had to fight for his role in 2021 and became the Huskies’ third starter about halfway through the season. Gallagher is a strikeout specialist, knocking out 60 batters in just 52.2 innings in 2021 with a fastball in the 90s, a curveball and a change.
UConn will have healthy competition for the third starting spot, which often means weekdays will be in good hands as well. Cole Chudoba is a transfer from Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, who is set to quickly earn a starting spot on the weekend. He has a fastball in the mid-90s with some bite and had an impressive summer in Cape Town with the Bourne Braves. If Chudoba doesn’t end up going, expect him to feature in the back of the Huskies bullpen.
Another transfer vying for a starting spot is Enzo Stefanoni, who arrived at Storrs from Harvard this offseason. Stefanoni is not a power thrower, but his tricks are hard to hit and throw balls on the ground. Stefanoni had a breakout season in 2019 with the Crimson, posting a 2.82 ERA in 19 appearances, and in his first full season post-COVID, posting a 3.86 ERA in 37.1 innings for the Vermont Mountaineers this summer in the NECBL.
In the bullpen, rookie Jack Sullivan has the chance to mark the Huskies’ season. Sullivan is a 6-foot right-hander from Carmel, New York, and has already made a name for himself on campus with a fastball in the mid-90s and a Frisbee ball that knocked out both UConn roster members. and minor leaguers. return to the Huskies facilities.
“I think of Jack’s world. Even without having played a game yet, I think he will be a very good pitcher for us,” said head coach Jim Penders.
Sullivan will mostly play as a bullpen arm to start, as the setup man for returning Justin Willis, but could see a few starts down the road, especially as the games start to pile up in the playoffs.
Right-hander Ian Cooke is another freshman who is expected to play an important role in the coming season. Cooke attended Canterbury in New Milford, where he was named one of the top 15 rookies in the state by Collegiate Baseball. At just 19, he has a fastball hitting the low-mid 90s, and a wicked switch and curveball.
In the bullpen, fifth-year senior Justin Willis is ready to take on a leadership role. The right-hander was an intimidating presence in a stacked bullpen in 2021 despite standing 5-foot-8, making 16 appearances with a 2.60 ERA and holding opponents to an average of .138 against. Brendan O’Donnell is a southpaw looking to bounce back from an inconsistent 2021. His unorthodox wind-up and frisbee slider disrupts the rhythm of his opponents, and he has a chance to establish himself as a late game option if he can control his free bases.
Pitchers like Brendan O’Donnell and Bobby McBride will also fit into the bullpen as returning arms ready to make an impact. Hector Alejandro, a redshirt sophomore from Waterbury, Connecticut, also has a living arm and will fight for a spot in the bullpen this season.