2024 FAU Baseball Season Preview
The 2024 Florida Atlantic Baseball Team will begin their season this Friday, Feb. 16, taking on nationally-ranked Vanderbilt at Nashville, Tennessee. First pitch is slated for 5:30 PM.
FAU enjoyed their time in Conference USA since joining the league in 2014. After 10 seasons, the Owls finished their stint in the conference with a convincing 339-203-1 record (166-101-1 against C-USA opponents), having become regular season champions twice in 2016 and 2019 and making four appearances in the NCAA Regionals in 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019.
Head coach John McCormack (pictured center) spoke on FAU's time in the conference on January 24th during Baseball Media Day at the Tom Oxley Center heading into the start of the 2024 campaign. He sees an amazing chance for the team to begin their adventure in The American with a championship and to punch their ticket onto the national stage for the 16th time overall.
"It is really unique and I love it. Can't wait to get back into the dugout," head coach John McCormack said. "I think the baseball when you boil it down is very similar. You could trade out Southern Miss for East Carolina, two very successful teams. But where I think the American has an advantage is financially and facility wise, I think they're a little bit further along than some of the schools that are joining."
The Owls had a decent 2023 season, finishing with a 34-25 record (16-14 C-USA) before bowing out of the conference tournament after a 9-7 loss to Western Kentucky.
But fans can expect a completely unique starting lineup from FAU, especially with the departures of Nolan Schanuel, Caleb Pendleton, Dylan Goldstein, Jackson Ross, and Armando Albert. Schanuel humiliated opponents with his batting prowess last year, converting 64 RBIs and batting 19 home runs (both team-highs) while winning C-USA Player of the Year as he went on to be drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the first round of the MLB Draft, becoming the first Owl in program history to achieve the feat. Pendleton followed him to the majors by also signing with the Angels, while the last three transferred to other schools.
Unlike last year, the team is bringing back their entire coaching staff, with one addition being the exception. That would happen to be Hunter Cooley, who pitched his entire career with the Owls as he will be a special assistant within the team.
"Hunter Cooley wanted to be a coach, and we were fortunate to be able to bring him back in an advisory role. He's helping (pitching coach) Jordan Tabakman with arm care and safety while being out there every day," McCormack said.
To help in the quest for their 2024 goals, the Owls brought in 20 newcomers during the offseason, which includes a whopping number of 10 pitchers joining the team. The rest of the incoming players consist of six infielders, two outfielders, and two catchers.
The full listing of the newcomers by position type is below:
Dunedin LHP Trey Beard
Kansas RHP Steven Andrews
Dunedin RHP AJ Shelton
Winter Springs RHP Mark Loubier
State College of Florida LHP Ben Gilbert
Northwest Florida State RHP Kyle Beaty
Pasco-Hernando State College RHP Justin Gay
Barry University RHP Cole Frye
Merrit Island LHP Kide Adetuyi
Northwood University LHP Zach Abbey
South Florida State College INF Nick Garagozzo
Palm Beach State College INF Skyler Schulz
Bossier Parish INF Brando Leroux
Southern New Hampshire INF Mike La Rocca
Island Coast INF Emilio Gonzalez
Georgia Tech INF Nicholas Romano
St. Joan of Arc OF David Alvarez
Andrew College OF Carter Brady
Durant C Dylan LaPointe
Washington State C Andrew McKenna
- Revamped Batting Unit
With outgoing starters in Schanuel, Pendleton, Ross, Goldstein, Albert, and Mitchell Hartigan all departing, the Owls take a 69.2% loss in their scoring production from last season. This positions the likes of leading returners John Schroeder (pictured far left), Christian Adams, Spencer Rich (pictured far right), and Jalen DeBose to help take the responsibilities of what those players left behind.
"The most important thing is we can't expect them to be somebody they're not. We have to allow them to be that and then maybe generate offense a little bit differently," McCormack said.
However, they won't be alone in doing this as key incomers Mike La Rocca, Brando Leroux, and Emilio Gonzalez will have vital roles in FAU's offense. La Rocca and Gonzalez are intriguing additions to the team, combining for a .417 batting average with 95 RBI and 16 HRs.
"They've kind of assimilated into what we do here. We don't have any outliers…Some of the guys that had been starters at other places, I've talked to them and they say, "Hey, however I can help the team, just get me the baseball and I'll do what I'll do". That's the thing that I have been most proud of with this group," McCormack said about the team's newcomers.
"They're very easy to coach, they're very enjoyable people to be around, they hold each other to a standard, and they have a really good playful banter amongst each other, which I think is very healthy."
- Must-See Matchups
Going from hosting Monmouth to begin the season last year to heading out on the road to play a Vanderbilt team ranked sixth in the country is quite the jump for the Owls to make. The Commodores are coming off a 42-20 season which included an SEC Championship and an appearance in the NCAA Regionals. But McCormack isn't propping up the series, and sees it as just a cog in a seasonal wheel with fifty-six spokes.
"We're not preparing to play Vanderbilt; we're preparing to play a 56-game season. They just happened to be the first opponent…we have to deal with us first, and then when the season starts, we'll deal with them," McCormack said.
Within one week, they host their in-state rivals UCF on Feb. 27 and UNF the following day. Following a three-game set against Stonehill, they will next head to the Swamp for a marquee matchup against second-ranked Florida on March 5.
After three games with former CUSA rival FIU, they will next host Miami on March 12 before facing UCF on the road on March 19. They will finally face rival FGCU starting March 26 as their series against them will conclude on May 7 and 14. During conference play, they will play host against the AAC preseason favorites East Carolina from April 5-7, who are ranked 11th in the nation to enter the 2024 campaign.
"East Carolina, I'm familiar with. They've been good for 25 years and it's a well-oiled machine and well-funded," McCormack said. You can view the entire 2024 schedule here.
- Stepping Up to the Plate
McCormack noted that Schroeder, Patrick Ward, and Jake Millan have made significant improvements to their game since the end of last season. Schroeder played backup to Pendleton as he rose among the ranks in the rotation before ultimately securing a starting spot, finishing with a .293 average for 39 RBI and 7 HRs.
"The one thing (Schroeder) has to guard against is trying to do too much for professional baseball. He's just got to be him," McCormack said. "Over the offseason, (Ward) got stronger. His bat speed's a little bit better and he's a little bit more confident infield."
Millan may be a potential breakout player for the Owls this year. Having the starting job at left field, he will look to make a massive jump from his 2023 campaign where he batted .167 for 5 RBI and 2 HRs in 54 at-bats. His coach has noted that his fielding and hitting has gotten better, and that his conditioning has improved tenfold.
"Now he's got to do it when someone in another uniform is standing on the mound trying to get him out," McCormack said. "The greatest gains he needs to make are in the mental side of competition, and not so much his own personal game. We've talked about it. He's probably sick of me talking about it with him. But that's the thing; everybody has to get over something and he's got to figure out a way to get over that."
- Acin' The Pitchin'
Pitching was inconsistent for FAU throughout the 2023 season, with issues especially flaring up in the team's final CUSA Tournament when they gave up multiple leads to Western Kentucky that ultimately sealed their fate. A new year might seem to be a new change of pace for the Owls, as McCormack complimented the depth of this year's bullpen.
"That's going to be our strength. We have a lot of interchangeable parts. We have a lot of guys that have good stuff," McCormack said. Among the incoming pitchers who have impressed the veteran coach is Zach Abbey, who appeared in 21 games with a career 3.18 ERA, 3 complete games, and a 6-2 record in 65 innings at Northwood University in Michigan prior to joining FAU. "He can start, he can relieve, he can do many things…I think Zach is the next newcomer that has an ability to impact us in many ways," he said.
With Hunter Cooley and Jacob Josey being the departing starters, it is now up to the likes of Tyler Murphy, Trey Beard, Dylan Oborne, and Brandon Smith to be relied upon as the first pitchers stepping onto the mound during gamedays on a consistent basis.
"We've got to make sure each guy has a good understanding of their role and how we're going to use it least in the beginning. And then performance kind of dictates how you do things as you go throughout the year," McCormack said.
He won't have to worry about that with CJ Williams (pictured center right), who has grown fully adapted into the team's system while having switched between a relieving pitcher and a starting pitcher last season.
"Mentally, I'm just telling myself to put everything aside and just compete…I'm willing to do anything I can to help the team win," Williams said.
However, they will be missing newcomer Kide Adetuyi, who had surgery as he will be out for the entire year. If he was fully healthy, Adetuyi would have joined the Owls coming off a senior year at Merritt Island High School where he pitched an astounding 0.45 ERA with 115 strikeouts in 61.2 innings played.
"It's a disappointment, not only for us, but more so for him. He's a wonderful young man and he's doing well and his rehab's going well. We could if we wanted to really push it, but it's not necessary. There's no reason to do that to hamper his future career," McCormack said.
- Making Upgrades
With FAU athletics proceeding with their plans to upgrade the baseball facilities by setting the foundation for the performance center that is currently in construction, it indicates an enormous step has been taken for the program to jump up a new level.
"I'm excited for it to get done. I think we're going to be able to get a lot of work done…I think this gives us an opportunity to make the players better on a daily basis," McCormack said.
The players simply can't wait for it to be completely built and officially open in the near future.
"It's something that we needed for a while. Excited for some of the new guys to get to experience it. Like I said, it's something we needed for a while and it's gonna be good for player development," Spencer Rich said.
Projected Starting Lineup
1B La Rocca
Pitchers - For opening weekend against Vanderbilt, McCormack may look to have Tyler Murphy (1-0 record last season with 5.50 ERA and 39 K in 34.1 IP) lead the way on Friday, then Trey Beard (0.32 ERA and 111 K in 66.2 IP as a senior at Dunedin High School) on Saturday, Dylan Oborne (1-2 with 14.14 ERA and 5 K in 7 IP) for Sunday, and Brandon Smith (2-1 with 6.84 ERA and 17 K in 26.1 IP) for the team's first midweek matchup against UCF on February 27th. Braden Ostrander (pictured center left) is the likely closer for the team, having finished with a 3.92 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 20.2 innings last season.
Left Field - Jake Millan will handle duties taking care of left field. Carter Brady will likely be behind him as the primary backup for the outfield.
Center Field - Incumbent returner Spencer Rich will control center field.
Right Field - With Goldstein gone, Jalen DeBose will command right field.
First Base - First base will see newcomer Mike La Rocca, who batted .362 with 64 RBIs and 13 HRs last season at Southern New Hampshire, leading the position following Schanuel's departure.
Second Base - Christian Adams will be responsible as the starter at second base while Daulton Frank serves as the backup.
Third Base - Patrick Ward mans third base providing depth in the hitting department.
Catcher - Incumbent returner John Schroeder and incoming transfer Andrew McKenna will share responsibilities at the plate.
Shortstop - Brando Leroux takes over the starting spot at shortstop, having a decent ability in getting on base with a .255 percentage during the 2021-22 season at Chipola College.
Designated Hitter - The Owls' starting designated hitter will be freshman Emilio Gonzalez, who demonstrates remarkable proficiency with his batting as he hit .564 as a senior with 19 doubles and three triples at Island Coast High School.
The Owls will be at home 32 times for the 2024 season, and will kick-off the slate on Friday night under the lights against Towson. Anyone interested in purchasing tickets to the game or any other home event can do so by contacting 1-866-FAU-OWLS.
Rick Henderson contributed to this article