Despite the weather in South Bend, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish baseball team opens their 2019 season this weekend against the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Notre Dame finished the 2018 season with an overall record of 24-30, playing to a 12-18 record in ACC conference play. That put them sixth of seven in the ACC Atlantic Division above only the Boston College Eagles. If you remove conference play though, Notre Dame played to a 12-12 record over the course of the rest of the year, an encouraging sign for a young team that now has some experience behind them.
Unfortunately preseason predictions this season aren’t very kind to the Irish. Most outlets are predicting a similar or worse finish in the conference. The two keys for the Irish this season may very well be how they perform in conference play and how much growth we see from the younger players that played a significant role last year, especially on the pitching staff. In the end though this is still a very young team and this year may end up being more about developing talent for next year than anything else.
Notre Dame lost several key contributors from last season to the MLB Draft, but despite that still return a few big bats in the middle of the lineup.
The biggest of the bats returning for 2019 is outfielder Eric Gilgenbach. The senior was named one of two captains for the team this year, following a junior campaign where he led the Irish in HRs (10) and RBIs (45). His SLG% of .506 ranked second on the team and Gilgenbach was named Third Team All-ACC for his performance last season. Gilgenbach is primed for an even stronger senior season as he builds his case for the 2019 MLB Draft.
Also returning for the Irish offense this season are infielders Niko Kavadas and Daniel Jung. Kavadas, a sophomore, broke into the Irish lineup as a freshman last year, making 38 starts and playing in 47 games. Kavadas hit .299 with an OBP of .409 last year, good enough for third and second on the team respectively. Kavadas ended his season on a strong note, earning ACC player of the week honors for the week of May 7, 2018. Kavadas will be expected to pick up more of the offensive load for the Irish in his sophomore season as he becomes a staple in the starting lineup.
Jung, a junior first baseman, played in 53 games for the Irish last season, starting 44 of them. His 13 doubles were good for second best on the team and he held a solid .986 FLD% with the bulk of his playing time coming at first base. Jung will most likely anchor the heart of the Irish order and serve as protection for Gilgenbach and Kavadas. The better he plays, the more chances other hitters around him will be given to succeed by opposing pitchers.
Joining the Irish offense this year will be junior transfer Ethan Copeland and freshman Carter Putz. Copeland was named First Team All-Conference and earned All-Region Gold Glove honors as a sophomore at Heartland Community College last season. Putz, meanwhile, was named one of the top freshmen in the ACC by D1Baseball.
The Irish pitching staff struggled for much of last year, but the good news is that it was a young staff with several members making their collegiate debuts. They return the bulk of that staff this year, including 9 of 10 pitchers who threw 20 innings or more, and they now have a full collegiate year or more under their belts.
The two biggest arms returning for the Irish are junior Cameron Brown and sophomore Tommy Sheehan, both starters from last year that will fill the top spots in the rotation this year.
Brown, named a captain this year along with Gilgenbach, started 6 games for the Irish last season. He struck out 43 batters in 58.0 IP, pitching to a 5.74 ERA and a 2-2 record. By far his best start of the season came on March 28 against Kent State, when he threw 8 innings of three hit baseball, allowing one run and striking out 7 batters.
Sheehan was a part of the Irish rotation from the beginning last year, making a team high 14 starts as a freshman. He earned his first win in his collegiate debut against the #9 LSU Tigers in Notre Dame’s season opening series. Sheehan was selected as one of the top prospects out of the ACC when he will be eligible for the 2020 MLB Draft.
Juniors Cameron Junker and Zack Martin will round out the Notre Dame rotation. Junker started 9 games for the Irish last year. He struck out 41 batters in only 35.0 innings of work on the season. Martin made 19 appearances for the Irish last year, starting 6 games. He started Notre Dame’s home opener last season and totaled a 4.60 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 43.0 innings over the course of the season.
Notre Dame’s bullpen will be highlighted by junior Andrew Belcik and sophomores Cole Kmet and Joe Boyle. Belcik was a staple in the bullpen for Notre Dame last season making 33 appearances, second most in school history in a single season. He held a 4.93 ERA on the season and recorded 2 wins and 3 saves. Belcik pitched 7.2 scoreless innings over the course of 7 straight appearances in the middle of last season.
Cole Kmet served as Notre Dame’s closer for the bulk of last year, making 8 saves in 26 games. Kmet made his first start late last season, but is expected to resume his role as the closer this year. We may also see him make a few appearances in the lineup, he can serve as a first baseman or designated hitter and picked up his first career hit last year as well.
Boyle will be expected to handle an increased role in his sophomore season for Notre Dame. Boyle came into his freshman season with high expectations, named the #2 freshman in the ACC by Perfect Game. He struggled last year though with only 8 appearances and an ERA of 18.00. Boyle found his form over the summer, where he was named a top prospect in the Northwoods League by D1Baseball, Baseball America, and Perfect Game. He will look to carry that momentum into his sophomore season. Boyle, along with Sheehan, was named a top prospect for the 2020 MLB Draft.
Notre Dame opens their season this weekend in Phoenix, AZ when they visit the Arizona State Sun Devils for a three game series. The Irish then travel to San Antonio, TX for four games in the Alamo Irish Classic February 21-23, followed by four games in Charleston, SC for the 2019 Swig and Swine Classic.
Notre Dame opens up ACC play March 8-10 when they travel to Winston-Salem, NC for a three game series against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. They return home for the first time in the season March 22-24 for a three game series against the Florida State Seminoles.
The Irish will travel all the way to downtown South Bend and Four Winds Field for an exhibition game against the South Bend Cubs on April 3. They close out the regular season in Chestnut Hill, MA May 16-18 with three games against the Boston College Eagles. The ACC Baseball Championship begins on May 21.
Notre Dame will have a record high 42 games throughout the season broadcast on various services, including all 25 of their home games streaming on ACC Network Extra/WatchESPN. This weekend, you can find games two and three against Arizona State streaming on Pac-12 Network Plus. The ACC Championship Final, should the Irish make it that far, will be broadcast live on ESPN2.