Notre Dame Fighting Irish Baseball: 18 New Faces, Clemson Preview
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Notre Dame Baseball: 18 Newcomers, Clemson Preview

The Notre Dame baseball squad returns a significant chunk of its roster from last spring’s 11-2 shortened season. Outside of losing right-handed pitcher Joe Boyle to the minors, designated hitter Eric Gilgenbach to a career in finance and left-handed pitcher Tommy Vail to Tommy John surgery, every significant contributor is back.

In the offseason, head coach Link Jarrett still felt there were areas where the team needed to improve and addressed his concerns with the addition of 18 incoming players: 11 freshmen, five graduate transfers and a pair of junior college prospects from Iowa Western Community College.

Currently, there are a total of 42 players listed on Notre Dame’s 2020-21 baseball roster. Jarrett and his coaching staff are certainly excited about the depth such a large roster affords, but it does put him in a distressing position at times, especially with younger players.

“I don’t like the fact that we’re not going to be able to take all of our players, and the ACC is very strict on the travel rules and regulations,” Jarrett said. “It’s just a different year right now in terms of every school’s financial situation. You're not going to be able to travel with everybody.

“That’s tough because you don’t like leaving on the bus and some of the guys don’t get a chance to make every one of the trips.”

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish baseball senior infielder Niko Kavadas
Senior infielder Niko Kavadas highlights a talented 2021 Notre Dame roster, which was bolstered by the addition of 17 newcomers. (Fighting Irish Media)

For away ACC games, Notre Dame is allowed to travel with 27 players. At home, 35 players are eligible.

“As far as I’m aware, there might be one team in the ACC that actually has 35 players. Everybody else has a few more,” Jarrett said. “All the programs will deal with the kind of excitement of having depth, but also the challenges of not everybody being able to travel or play in all the games. It’s just the world we’re in right now.”

The Irish are off to a 2-1 start after a successful road trip against No. 16 Wake Forest last weekend. A few of the newcomers contributed to the program’s hot start.

Depth Behind The Plate

In 2020, there were only three catchers on the roster, which limited Jarrett’s in-game flexibility. Heading into the offseason, he knew the program needed depth behind the plate.

“It gives you an opportunity for somebody not to get beat up when you get into game 50 and 60 of a season,” Jarrett said. “It gives you chances to pinch run, pinch hit.”

The current roster is equipped with half a dozen potential catchers, including last season’s starter David LaManna. The depth behind him is comprised of newcomers:

• Catcher/outfielder Alex Brait — 6-4, 210-pound graduate transfer from Florida Gulf Coast

• Catcher/outfielder Nick Juaire — 5-8, 180-pound transfer from Iowa Western CC

• Catcher Tony Lindwedel — 5-11, 185-pound freshman from St. Louis

• Catcher Danny Neri — 6-0, 180-pound freshman from Macclenny, Fla.

Brait, Juaire and Neri each played in Notre Dame’s opening series against Wake Forest, but only Neri saw action behind the plate. He started game two, the second contest of a Saturday doubleheader and went 0 for 2 with a strikeout. The freshman, however, is a two-time high school Under Armour All-American and is stout defensively.

Brait started the second and third game of the series in left field, with Juaire pinch hitting for him in game three.

Freshman outfielder Brady Gumpf from South Bend was primarily a catcher for his high school team.

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Deepening The Rotation

More than half of the offseason additions are much-needed arms for the starting rotation and bullpen. There are new nine pitchers in total, five of which are transfers:

Left-handed pitcher John Michael Bertrand — 6-3, 205-pound graduate transfer from Furman

Left-handed pitcher James Hulbert — 6-2, 220-pound graduate transfer from Richmond

Right-handed pitcher Christian Scafidi — 6-4, 265-pound graduate transfer from Penn

Left-handed pitcher Joe Sheridan — 6-0, 180-pound graduate transfer from UCF

Right-handed pitcher Tanner Kohlhepp — 6-3, 212-pound transfer from Western Iowa CC

Right-handed pitcher Matt Bedford — 6-1, 185-pound freshman from Staten Island, N.Y.

Outfielder/right-handed pitcher Sammy Cooper — 5-11, 185-pound freshman from Lee’s Summit, Mo.

Right-handed pitcher Jackson Dennies — 6-4, 225-pound freshman from River Ridge, La.

Left-handed pitcher/outfielder Ryan Lynch — 6-2, 210-pound freshman from Granger, Ind.

Despite the program’s 11-2 start in 2020, bullpen depth was an issue outside of the now-injured Vail, who often took on a starter-like role late in games, eating up multiple innings in a row on his way to a 2.08 ERA.

Each of the five transfers should contribute in some capacity this season and a few already have. Kohlhepp made an appearance at the end of game one. Unfortunately, he didn’t retire a single batter after 18 pitches and allowed four runs in a contest Notre Dame went on to lose late, 10-8. Still, Kohlhepp is a talented pitcher with velocity reaching the mid-90s. Prior to Iowa Western CC, he played one season at Tennessee.

Bertrand started game two against Wake Forest. He lasted three and two-thirds innings, surrendering six hits, four earned runs, while striking out four. This is the same number of runs and more hits (five) than he gave up in 24 innings at Furman in 2020, so it is fair to expect more going forward from the tall southpaw.

The reigning Ivy League Pitcher of the Year, Scafidi made the strongest season debut among newcomers. He started game three, pitching a shutout for four and one-third innings and allowing just three hits. The Irish went on to win the rubber match 10-0.

Among the freshmen, Lynch is the most touted. He was named the Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year, and was ranked as the No. 20 left-handed pitcher and No. 189 overall player in the class of 2020 by Perfect Game.

Everyday Position Players

Notre Dame also added five players primarily suited for the infield or outfield. They are all freshmen:

Infielder Drew Byers — 6-1, 190- pound freshman from Franklin, Tenn.

Outfielder Brady Gumpf — 6-1, 195-pound freshman from South Bend

Infielder Brock Murtha — 6-0, 185-pound freshman from Sayville, N.Y.

Outfielder Tony Watson — 5-10, 175-pound freshman from Tampa Bay, Fla.

Outfielder TJ Williams — 5-11, 175-pound freshman from Germantown, Md.

Given the significant experience ahead of these four prospects, it will be tough for any of them to crack the lineup on a consistent basis this season. None of the freshmen infielders or outfielders saw the field against Wake Forest.

Byers and Murtha have solid arms, with both throwing in the low 90s as prep-level pitchers.

According to Perfect Game, Williams was the No. 139 outfielder in the class of 2020.

Gumpf grew up around Notre Dame. His mother Deanna has been the Notre Dame softball head coach since 2002, while his father John was a volunteer assistant baseball coach under Paul Mainieri at Notre Dame. Gumpf is a high-average hitter with power to all fields.

Up Next: Clemson

This weekend, the Irish (2-1 overall, 2-1 ACC) travel to Clemson to face the Tigers (4-2, 0-0 ACC).

Clemson’s four victories come from sweeping Cincinnati in the program’s opening weekend series and defeating East Tennessee State on Tuesday. In a two-game series against rival South Carolina, the Tigers lost a pair of close games, 3-2 and 8-7.

Despite the program’s recent success, Clemson does not have any players listed among College baseball’s top 100 MLB Draft prospects.

The Tigers carry a 12-8 advantage over the Irish all time. Notre Dame, however, has won the last two series and is 5-5 at Clemson.

Prior to the season, ACC coaches voted Notre Dame to finish last in the Atlantic Division, but 2-1 series victory over Wake Forest, the Irish are generating some positive buzz.

“No one in the ACC will be overlooking the Irish anymore,” Baseball America’s Teddy Cahill noted. “They are now 13-3 in the last two seasons under Jarrett, including a 5-1 mark in ACC play.”

Such high praise is a good sign for the program. But with at least 40 games left in the season, the Fighting Irish are a long way from accomplishing their goal of hosting a regional in the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship.

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