The bad news: The UCF baseball team was one of the "last four out" of last year's NCAA tournament. The good news: It returns all eight starting-position players and seven of its eight most-used pitchers.
Fall baseball practices began last week; in total, there are 27 returning players for the Knights. One of these returning players is senior pitcher Zach Rodgers.
You might remember Rodgers from last season as a kind of Swiss Army knife for UCF. He appeared in 26 games for the Knights, seven of which he started. He had a 7-1 record, which was the second-most wins on the team, and notched five saves, tied for the most on the team. Rodgers was named second team All-AAC at the end of the year.
"Zach had an unbelievable year last year, an all-conference year. [He] did a great job and we're expecting great things from him — there's no question," head coach Terry Rooney said. "I don't know exactly what he's going to do; it's a new year so every job is still up for grabs, but I will say he's certainly going to play a substantial role and have an opportunity to be our Friday night pitcher."
Rodgers had a 1.36 ERA last season, which was the best on the team by more than a run.
He started the season coming exclusively out of the bullpen, but inconsistencies in the starting rotation forced UCF head coach Terry Rooney to try different things.
By the end of the year, Rodgers was still coming out of the bullpen occasionally, but became a consistent starter for UCF. In the American Athletic Conference Tournament, he threw a complete game 7-1 victory over UConn.
For Rodgers' part, he knows he can do anything for the team, but would like to be in the rotation.
"I prefer to start obviously, but that's everybody's goal, to start," Rodgers said. "Everybody wants that Friday night spot, but whatever's going to better the team, I'm fine with that."
In the first week of practice, there were plenty of opportunities to impress for all of the players. There were intrasquad scrimmages several days per week, and a lot of competition, especially among pitchers, for the three weekend starting spots.
"The spot is open; every spot's open. There's obviously competition with intrasquads every day," Rodgers said. "Competition is good, everybody's trying to fight for the top spot."
The UCF coaching staff decided it would be the best decision to shut Rodgers down in the off-season after he threw 79.1 innings last year. So, instead of playing summer ball like some of his teammates, he stayed at UCF and worked out five or six days every week.
Oddly enough, Rodgers' success last season might be a part of why his role for the upcoming year is still undetermined. He had so much success as both a starter and reliever that he can just get slotted in wherever the team needs him more.
"A lot of it has to do with other guys," Rooney said. "I feel like going into the year I know what Zach Rodgers is going to give us, and a lot of the time it's what I think everybody else is going to do to fill roles."