FAU Baseball: Owls look to close the book heading into the 2023 season

This season will be their last in Conference USA before entering the American Athletic Conference.

Zachary Watts, Staff Writer

With the start of their season less than a week away, FAU looks to end their 10th and final season in Conference USA (C-USA) with a bang.

On Friday, FAU baseball will kick off their 2023 campaign with the first matchup of a three-game series against the Monmouth University Hawks at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Fla.

Head coach John McCormack, who is entering his 33rd season with FAU and 15th season as head coach, has one intention heading into 2023. 

“We would certainly like to put a closed book on this thing and win it on our way out,” he said.

The Owls, who never had a losing season in the time they’ve spent in C-USA, will join the American Athletic Conference (AAC) following the 2022-23 athletic calendar. McCormack, known as “Coach Mac,” would like to add a fifth regular season conference championship to his and FAU’s belt  before turning a new leaf in the AAC. 

In preparation for the final chapter, the Owls have loaded their schedule with quality competition throughout the season. 

Marquee series against ranked opponents such as the University of Miami (20th), University of Connecticut (16th), and the University of Florida (21st) set up the 2023 season to be one of the Owls’ toughest yet. 

“Where you are consistently facing a high level of competition, it raises your game,” said McCormack. 

With the welcoming of the new season and schedule, some new faces will join the Owls, as well as the return of some familiar ones. Although the Owls are looking to fill some holes left behind due to key departures. 

FAU lost some valuable production on both sides of the ball over the offseason with the departure of players like Gabriel Rincones Jr., who posted a batting average of .346 with 19 home runs while starting all 58 games last season. Following his impressive 2022 campaign, Rincones Jr. was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the third round of the 2022 MLB draft. 

They’ll also be without Steven Loden, who transferred to Southern Illinois University after starting in 48 games last year and posting a batting average of .269 with 29 RBI. The Owls also lost catcher Shane Magrann, who played in 43 games and boasted a batting average of .302 with 10 doubles.

FAU lost a key starter on the mound in left-hander Tyler Burnham, who finished second on the team in games started among pitchers in 2022. 

The Owls also had to find replacements among the coaching staff. 

Michael Cleary stepped into the position of full-time assistant coach from his volunteer role last year. His experience with outfielders and base-runners will help support players defensively, alongside his duties as a recruiting coordinator. 

Ricky Santiago as an assistant coach is also an addition to the staff. Santiago, who played baseball at FAU himself from 2012-15, previously worked as an assistant coach at Lander University since 2018. The offensive coaching is covered heading into the season.

 “He’s working with the hitters and he’s done a really nice job of integrating his thoughts with what these guys are already doing,” said McCormack. 

The Owls also brought on Jordan Tabakman, who will serve as pitching coach. Tabakman had the same position at Fairfield University over the last three seasons, where he earned himself the Collegiate Baseball News Pitching Coach of the Year Award in 2022. 

McCormack is optimistic about turning the page despite the departure of some key staff members during the offseason turnover.

“It was very bittersweet because I’m excited that they’re getting new opportunities,” McCormack said. “Part of our job is to let everybody get out and experience and become a bigger and better version of themselves.”

In terms of bigger and better, the roster includes some new names and talents from the incoming freshman class and the transfer portal. 

The 2023 freshman class features five players, three pitchers, and two infielders, one of which is right-handed pitcher Dylan Oborne who was selected as the Perfect Game Preseason C-USA Freshman of the Year. 

As for the transfer portal, the Owls picked up eight players over the offseason: two catchers, one infielder, one outfielder, and four pitchers. 

The transfer class features players such as graduate catcher Andrew Hernandez, a transfer from the University of Pennsylvania, and a unanimous first-team All-Ivy League selection in 2022. 

FAU also picked up junior outfielder Spencer Rich, who was named conference player of the year at Daytona State College in the 2020-21 season before transferring to Clemson University. While primarily pinch-running for the Tigers in 2022, Rich started two games as a center-fielder while batting .167. 

The roster also has returning players that bring plenty of production at the plate and on the mound.

Junior catcher Caleb Pendleton started more than half the games last season. Pendelton ranks as the 25th catcher in the country.

A majority of the infield production returns from junior shortstop Armando Albert, who started 55 games last season and had 121 assists. Albert also led the team in stolen bases (19) and walks (45).  

Senior Jackson Ross follows as a key contributor, he started in 56 games at third base in his first season at FAU and batted .283.

Junior Jalen DeBose returns in the outfield, he started 43 games in center field. Junior Dylan Goldstein also returns as a key hitter who previously batted .333 with 18 home runs.

Lastly, Junior Nolan Schanuel returns as one of the most vital pieces in terms of offensive production. Schanuel led the team in multiple offensive categories including batting average (.369), hits (83),  doubles (17), and OPS (1.135). He also collected 16 home runs, 56 RBIs, and 39 walks. 

Schanuel enters the season as a Golden Spikes Award preseason watch-list member, C-USA Preseason Player of the Year, and a Perfect Gamereseason All-American. He also earned the Bobby Bragan Collegiate Slugger Award. 

On the mound, a majority of their pitching staff including six bullpen arms return. Amongst their starting rotation is, graduate left-handed pitcher Hunter Cooley, the ace from last season. 

Cooley was a class act for FAU, winning the university’s Male Student-Athlete of the Year in 2022. He was named a preseason All-C-USA team member and led the conference in innings pitched (104) last season.

Alongside him, junior right-handed pitcher Tibur Rivero returns to the starting rotation as well as junior right-handed pitcher Nicholas Del Prado, who has a career record of 4-1 and 47 strikeouts. 

Redshirt junior right-handed pitcher Jacob Josey returns to the bullpen with a career Earned Run Average (ERA) of 4.75 and 87 strikeouts. 

“Cooley [on Friday], either Josey or Del Prado on Saturday, and Oborne on Sunday,” said McCormack. 

For the near future, the Owls rotation seems to be set in place.

As the Owls prepare for this season, McCormack sees a clear separation between this and last year’s squad: Maturity. 

“When I say maturity, it kind of has a few levels. They’re older, they’re physically stronger,” said McCormack. 

A squad that the previous year lacked a ton of Division I (DI) experience has now played through and understood the grind of a DI season.

As FAU looks forward to beginning the 2023 season, the new and improved Owls will look to spread their wings and finish the chapter strong in C-USA play. 

Zachary Watts is a staff writer for the University Press. For more information regarding this or other stories email [email protected] or tweet him at @ZachWatts1_