Pitt Baseball Prepares to Make Leap during 2023 Season
Pitt is currently preparing to start their 2023 season, as they completed their first weekend of official practices.
The Panthers are coming off a 2022 season that saw some great performance, but also some letdowns. The team started with a solid record, winning three series at home against ranked ACC teams, but finished with eight losses in the final nine regular season games.
Pitt then defeated both No. 7 Georgia Tech and No. 2 Louisville to win their Pool in the ACC Tournament, before losing to No. 10 NC State in the Semifinals.
Despite a great performance in the ACC Tournament, Pitt failed to make the NCAA Tournament due to that poor regular season finish. This also hurt them in 2021, as they lost nine of their final 11 games after a solid start in conference play.
Mike Bell enters his fifth season as head coach of the Panthers and is excited to keep the program improving. He signed an extension in the offseason that will keep him at the helm of the program through the 2027 season, which Bell said shows the belief that Panthers athletic director Heather Lyke places in him.
He liked what he saw from the team during fall ball in September and October and also the work many on the team did in the offseason, like competing in amateur leagues across the country.
“When you talk to some of these returning guys, it’s probably the most competition they’ve had within a group,” Bell said at media availability last Friday.
The Panthers will look to replace a chunk of their starters from last season, both on offense and the pitching staff.
Catcher Tatem Levins leaving for the draft creates a giant whole offensively and defensively. Levins led Pitt with a .320 batting average, 68 hits, 16 home runs and 53 RBIs. He also commandeered a pitching staff with aces like Matt Gilbertson and Billy Corcoran, who earned All-ACC honors.
Infielders in first baseman Bryce Hulett and second baseman Jeffrey Wehler, second and third on the Panthers in hits in 2022, respectively, also graduated. Outfielder Ron Washington Jr., who finished second on the Panthers with 15 home runs in 202, and infielder Brock Franks, who tied for third on the Panthers with nine home runs last season, aren’t on the team this season either.
Pitt loses Gilbertson to graduation and Corcoran to the draft, meaning they need to find their No. 1 and No. 2 starters for next season. They also lose bullpen pitchers in Baron Stuart, Dylan Lester, C.J. McKennitt and Ben Dragani, four of the top five relief pitchers in terms of innings pitched.
The Panthers do bring back some talent that’ll be important for them this season. Outfielders in junior Dom Popa and graduate Kyle Hess, infielders in graduate Sky Duff and sophomore Tommy Tavarez and catchers in sophomore Luke Lambert and junior Johnny Long III all provide needed experience for this Panthers team.
Senior right-handed pitcher Logan Evans returns with the most innings pitched from last year and sophomore right-handed pitcher Jonathan Bautista pitched as the mid-week starter and long reliever last season for Pitt. Expect both to take steps in terms of their talent and innings pitched.
Redshirt junior right-handed pitcher Brady Devereux is the leading relief pitcher for the Panthers from 2022 with 47.0 innings pitched. Sophomore left-handed Quin Konuszewski also brings experience with 15.0 innings pitched in his first season as a Panther.
“It’s always the next man up, it’s always a new team,” Bell said on the roster outlook for the Panthers in 2023. “We have guys that we have brought in. We feel that they are talented and it’s going to provide opportunities for those guys. We like what we see. They just haven’t done it on the main stage or the conference level…There are a lot of at-bats to replace. There are a lot of innings to replace, but our roster is deep, and they just got to go out and do it.”
Senior catcher/first baseman Jack Anderson, played mainly as a designated hitter last year. He joined the team last year and said that the team is bonding well going into the season with a lot of new faces. He spoke fondly of two pitchers in Florida State transfer junior right-handed Dillyn Simmons and Auburn transfer junior left-handed Jack Sokol as two players that have impressed him so far in practice.
Anderson hit a solid .280 with six home runs for the Panthers last season. The team will rely on him more next season for bigger at-bats and more production at the plate and Anderson has worked hard this offseason to improve his hitting.
“There’s definitely things every day I’m looking at,” Anderson said on his improvement in the batter’s box. “Individually, my swing, what I can do to cover more pitches. During last year, I would say towards the back-half, teams started throwing me a lot inside. So, I’ve just been focusing on hitting those pitches, hit fastballs inside, be able to stay on off-speed pitches away. So just staying with my approach and keeping my mechanics down.”
Pitt travels down to Florida for the first four weekends of the year starting on Feb. 17. They’ll take on non-conference opponents for the first three weekends and finish with a series in Tallahassee against ACC powerhouse Florida State.
Junior outfielder CJ Funk will join Popa and Hess in the outfield for the Panthers in 2023. He is excited to go down to Florida to enjoy the warm weather, see his teammates display their talents and shake the “rust” off going into ACC play.
“When we go down there and we’re competing, I think a lot of guys are going to get those opportunities and have their time to shine,” Funk said. “When we go down there, hopefully we see who steps up when the lights turn on. There’s going to be plenty of opportunities for that to happen and I hope people make the most of them.”
The big goal for Pitt going into this season is making the NCAA Tournament. Pitt has only made the NCAA Tournament three times in program history, most recently as 1995.
It also doesn’t help Pitt that they play in one of the best conferences in the ACC, meaning they’re playing some of the toughest competition in the country every weekend towards the end of the season.
Funk said that the Panthers’ progression over the past two seasons encourages him that this program is close to finally achieving that goal, no matter what the critics say.
“Baseball is a crazy game,” Funk said. “There’s going to be things you don’t expect, things that you’ve never seen before that you’re going to continue to see in this game. Anyone can show up on any given night. I think that’s the mentality that we have. Going against some of these teams that are more highly looked at than we are, to know that we’ve done it the past two years that I’ve been here. Going against ranked opponents and going and taking the series from them. It definitely can be done, and I we have the tools and assets to be able to do that here.”
Great read and I’m glad baseball is being covered!
Pitching continues to be an issue. Last season, there was not much depth and there was a problem when starters couldn’t go past 5 innings.
Coach Bell has this program headed in the right direction, but this program needs more support. If you have not been to a game, you should check them out!