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2021 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 7 Louisville


Last year: 13-4 
Final ranking: No. 6
Coach (record at school): Dan McDonnell (618-244, 14 years)

Top 200 draft prospects: 3B Alex Binelas (No. 9), C Henry Davis (No. 19), OF Levi Usher (No. 31), RHP Jack Perkins (No. 74), RHP Glenn Albanese Jr. (No. 142), LHP Michael Kirian (No. 158), RHP Jared Poland (No. 171)

The good news: The Cardinals have arguably the best position player group in college baseball. In the third-year sophomore trio of Binelas, Davis and Usher, they have three players who could conceivably be first-round picks in the 2021 draft. They also have a USA Baseball Collegiate National Team alumnus in fourth-year junior shortstop Lucas Dunn and one of the best basestealing threats in the country in fourth-year junior center fielder Luke Brown. Louisville also projects to have a very well-balanced lineup. In Usher, Brown and Dunn, it has three proven basestealers. If Binelas returns to his freshman season form (he missed most of the abbreviated 2020 season due to a broken hamate), he’s one of the best power bats in college baseball, and Davis, Usher and second-year freshman first baseman Dalton Rushing have enough raw power that he won’t be alone in driving in runs. Louisville lost productive players like shortstop Justin Lavey and outfielders Zach Britton and Danny Oriente to pro baseball after last season, and yet, the lineup might be better this season.

The bad news: With Reid Detmers and Bobby Miller both drafted in the first round, Louisville has some rebuilding to do in the weekend rotation around fifth-year senior righthander Luke Smith. The favorites to take over the two vacant spots are fourth-year junior righthander Glenn Albanese and fourth-year junior lefthander Michael Kirian. There are big reasons for optimism about both. Albanese’s stuff has taken a big jump and he was one of the standout stars in the fall. Kirian, another Team USA alumnus, has been a dominant reliever the last two years. But neither are proven starters. Albanese has thrown just 18.1 career innings and Kirian’s only starting assignment came all the way back in 2018. Second-year freshman lefthander Michael Prosecky and third-year sophomore righthander Jack Perkins provide two more high-end starting options, but they both have a similar level of inexperience. No matter who ends up starting on the weekends for Louisville other than Smith, it will be a matter of looking for a couple of pitchers to thrive in roles they haven’t held before.

Player to know: Glenn Albanese, RHP.

Albanese’s numbers in a Louisville uniform have been good, but his role has been limited. He has a 2.95 career ERA and he’s striking out about 14 batters per nine innings, but that’s come in just 18.1 innings—9.2 innings in 2019 and 8.2 innings last season. This coming season, the limited scope of his role will change in a big way, as he’s expected to move to the front of the rotation. The Cardinals hope what they saw in the fall, which was Albanese standing out with a fastball that reached the high 90s, was an indicator that he’s ready for the challenge. If he is up for it, with stuff like that, it significantly raises the ceiling for what Louisville can accomplish in 2021.

Path to Omaha: Louisville is almost certainly going to be an excellent regular season team. The lineup is talented, deep and versatile. The pitching staff has some roles to work out, but there is so much talent there that you figure they’ll be able to out-pitch just about everyone anyway. But success in the postseason is so often about whether you have a horse or two in the rotation that can simply put the team on his back. Who do you have that you feel confident starting in a winner’s bracket game of a regional? Who do you have that you would want starting Game 1 of a super regional? Whether it’s Albanese, Kirian, Prosecky, Perkins or even Smith taking another step, Louisville finding one or more of those guys throughout the season is a big key in its development as a team that can return to the College World Series.

Jake Burger (Photo By Chris Bernacchi Diamond Images Via Getty Images)

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2021 Lineup
CHenry Davis, R-So..372.481.69843313
1BDalton Rushing, R-Fr..308.419.5772616
2BTim Borden, R-So..444.416.6302719
3BAlex Binelas, R-So..143.143.143701
SSLucas Dunn, R-Jr..273.385.4551104
LFCameron Masterman, R-Jr..333.400.6671813
CFLuke Brown, R-Jr..328.384.4036706
RFLevi Usher, R-So..411.484.57156210
DHDan Metzinger, R-So..349.417.5124328
RHPGlenn Albanese, R-Jr.002.089180
LHPMichael Kirian, R-Jr.000.006116
RHPLuke Smith, R-Sr.303.4224180
RPAdam Elliott, R-Sr.100.8710140
RPJared Polan, R-So.0112.71670

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