Fall practice, lofty expectations for 2013 arrive for young baseball team
Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 15:10
Who’s on first? It’s not only a question the comic duo Abbott and Costello had confusion with, but one that UCF baseball head coach Terry Rooney and his staff will have to answer by the end of fall ball.
But, who’s on first isn’t the only question that needs answering. There are vacancies at second base, shortstop, left field, center field, right field and designated hitter. Basically, every position but third base and catcher are open competition this fall.
“We’ve made some outstanding progress the last couple of years, which I feel really good about, but we have to continue that progress and continue moving forward,” Rooney said. “This is a new team. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but they haven’t accomplished anything yet. So it’s up to them to continue the progression of our program. Obviously, that progression means putting ourselves in position to get to Omaha, [Neb., site of College World Series].”
Through all the questions surrounding this team, one thing is clear: This is Chris Taladay and Ryan Breen’s team. The two seniors have been starting since they were freshmen and will be expected to lead a young team.
“When you look at our team on paper, it has to start with Chris Taladay and Ryan Breen. Those guys need to have their best years yet. When you look around at the rest of the team, the spots are open, to be quite honest,” Rooney said.
Both Breen and Taladay were busy this summer, traveling out of state to play summer ball.
Breen played in 31 games (26 starts) for the Waynesboro Generals in the Valley League. The catcher had a .327 average while hitting three homers and driving in 22 runs. His .327 batting average is 63 points higher than what he hit with the Knights in 57 games in 2012.
Taladay traveled nearly 4,000 miles this summer to play in the Alaska Baseball League. The third baseman said he felt significant improvement in his defense and found his swing toward the end of the summer. He is also looking forward to having the opportunity of being one of the leaders of this program.
“It’s hard to believe I’m actually a senior. It feels good to be able to lead the team. Everyone follows, and everyone does a good job,” Taladay said. “We’ve got a lot of new kids coming in. I really want to see what we have and how we’re going to perform on the field.”
Breen and Taladay will need their younger teammates to step up in 2013 in order to be competitive and make a postseason push.
Two early standouts are Tyler Martin and JoJo Woods. Martin, a freshman pitcher, has caught Rooney’s eye. Rooney said the Jacksonville native is coming into fall ball in tremendous shape and has been working out with senior pitcher Brian Adkins.
Woods emerged late last season as he saw his playing time increase. In the final game of the NCAA regionals, Woods, now a sophomore, went 2-for-4 and hit his first career home run.
“JoJo, in one year’s time has come back in 100 percent better shape. Leadership. Spark plug. He’s everything. He’s what we recruited,” Rooney said. “Obviously he ended the year very well for us. So when I’m looking at it from a position player stand point, one player I’m looking forward to see take the next jump is JoJo Woods without any question.”
The “freshman-sophomore jump” is also something Rooney highlights, specifically with Eric Skoglund and Garrett Nuss. The two pitchers had a combined 7-3 record last season, struck out 81 batters and had a collective 2.82 ERA. Now that they’re sophomores, Rooney expects them to play a major role in 2013.
“The evolution of Eric Skoglund and Garrett Nuss is something I’m looking forward to following. Those guys need to keep getting better and they need to be better this year than they were last year for the success of our team,” Rooney said.
While UCF has not yet released its 2013 schedule, the University of Florida has. According to its official website, the Knights will be playing a home and home series with the No. 2-ranked team from last season.
The first game is in Orlando on Feb. 19, with the second matchup in Gainesville on April 2.
The Knights have plenty of time to have their questions answered, as they have the fall and winter to prepare for 2013. They will rely heavily on young talent who will be expected to continue the recent success the program has seen.