13 Dec 2021 | 15:31 | Baseball
TAMPA, JAN. 24, 2020 – Head coach Billy Mohl‘s motivated Bulls got right into game mode during the first team practice of the 2020 season on Friday night.
Under the bright lights at USF Baseball Stadium, the new-look coaching staff got a good glimpse of the players’ offseason progress during intrasquad action. Two more scrimmages are set to take place over the weekend, as USF goes full speed ahead in preparing for the regular season that begins with a home series against Marist College Feb. 14-16.
“Seeing how much development took place over the last six weeks is gonna be a fun thing to watch,” Mohl said. “We’re trying to get in the swing of things, gets these guys in a game day atmosphere, get them under the lights and simulate a three-game series as best as we can.”
One huge benefit for the Bulls this weekend, and throughout the preseason, is having lots of options available. Much to Mohl’s enjoyment, USF has returned to the field much healthier than it was during the 2019 season, especially in the pitching department.
“Given the injuries we had last year, it was tough. We were short-staffed,” sophomore catcher Julio Cortez said. “This year, we have new JUCO arms that came in. We have a couple freshmen we’re really excited about.”
Cortez (Weston, Fla.) led the Bulls with a .354 batting average last season and he’ll share a bulk of the catching duties with healthy redshirt junior Jake Sullivan (Tampa). Together, the four-man catching unit gets to work with nine returning pitchers and more talent from a group of 12 newcomers overall. Five position starters also bring valuable experience back to the Bulls.
“I feel confident with this group,” said Mohl, who added team chemistry is at an “all-time high” right now entering his third year as USF’s head coach.
Coach Mohl credits his players for their offseason efforts of building a close-team culture that includes a catchy, new slogan.
#CarryTheBoat will be something Bulls fans see often on Twitter this season. Redshirt junior infielder/outfielder Riley Hogan (Orlando) brought the saying to Bulls’ attention after finding inspiration from New York Times bestselling author David Goggins, a retired U.S. Navy Seal.
“The guys love him, just because he’s a self-made man,” Mohl said. “When you go through Seal training, it takes the entire team to carry those boats as you’re going through the beach sand. It’s kind of the phrase that they came up with and it’s kind of a team unity deal.”
Catcher Julio Cortez said the Bulls bring up the #CarryTheBoat slogan often and they’ll continue to do so during the grind of the 54-game regular season.
“It’s something we use to pump us up before practice, before workouts,” Cortez said. “Baseball is a very repetitive sport, so you’ve got to find motivation day-in and day-out. That’s kind of our thing this year and that’s what we’re gonna use.”
Mitchell Earns Preseason Honors
Promising outfielder Dontae Mitchell has already earned some preseason praise.
Perfect Game USA has named the St. Petersburg, Fla., product out of Lakewood High School its 2020 Preseason Freshman of the Year for the American Athletic Conference.
“He’s a really talented player and he’s a really hardworking kid,” Mohl said. “He has all the tools to be successful.”
Described as an “elite defensive center fielder” by Mohl, Mitchell has the ability to play all three outfield positions for the Bulls, and his bat keeps getting better.
“He didn’t play a lot of travel ball, so he’s very fresh,” Mohl said. “He’s like a blank slate and our hitting coaches have done a great job developing him. I’m excited for him.”
Former USF Standouts Headed to Spring Training
2020 Major League Baseball spring training will feature plenty of Bulls.
Former standout USF pitchers Shane McClanahan (Tampa Bay), Phoenix Sanders (Tampa Bay) Jimmy Herget (Texas), Tommy Eveld (Miami) and Austin Adams (Seattle) have been to participate with their respective big league clubs. Kevin Merrill, an All-American shortstop for the Bulls in 2017, also will head to spring training with the Kansas City Royals.