Part 1: Starting Pitchers | Part 2: Relief Pitchers | Part 3: Catchers
Leading up to UConn baseball opening day on Feb. 13 at Florida Atlantic, UConnHuskies.com will take an in-depth look at the 2015 squad with player profiles and position-by-position breakdowns. Up next, a look at the UConn outfielders and a feature on junior Jack Sundberg
By Chris Jones, special to UConnHuskies.com
STORRS, Conn. -- Jack Sundberg traveled further to attend high school than he did to play baseball at UConn. The Mansfield native traveled west on I-84 to attend Avon Old Farms, a private school where Sundberg was a three-sport star.
Sundberg played football, basketball and baseball and excelled at all three sports. During his junior year of high school he believed that he would go to college to play football instead of baseball.
"I actually wanted to play football somewhere during my junior year but then as I got to my senior year I started to realize that baseball may be the route for me," said Sundberg.
"The chance to go to UConn was a great opportunity to me. The coaches came to a game my senior year and it sort of went from there"
Being from Mansfield, Sundberg hadn't just heard of UConn baseball but had passed by the field and dreamt about a chance to play for the Huskies.
"When I was little I was always able to see UConn, driving by the J.O.C. [J.O. Christian] and thinking about what it'd be like to play there," said Sundberg. "Now that is a reality, which is pretty special."
Once Sundberg got to campus his freshmen year his teammates and coaches quickly took notice of how hard a worker he was.
"He comes in freshman year and he is playing behind a bunch of veteran guys, said Head Coach Jim Penders. "You couldn't tell though from Jack because he worked so hard, he was at all the optional workouts and putting in the extra work. It was nice to see then and he continues to work extremely hard."
"I just really want to make the team better, be a team guy, said Sundberg. "I want to set an example for other people so hopefully everybody else works just as hard and we can go really far this year."
Sundberg had a big impact on last year's team as he started the final 57 contests in center field, leading off nearly every game. In the second weekend of the season Sundberg's hard work showed as he went 8-for-13 at the Baseball at the Beach Tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C. and earned a spot on The American weekly honor roll.
Sundberg would go on to hit .270 with a .364 on base percentage and led the team with 27 stolen bases, a top-25 national mark. When Sundberg was at his best the Huskies proved to be very successful. In his 15 multi-hit games last year, UConn was 12-3.
Sundberg also believes that even though football and basketball are vastly different from the speed of baseball, those sports have had a major impact on his work ethic and attitude to get better every day.
"Definitely at first it was a little bit different because baseball is a more chill game but it really started to help out recently because you need to have that drive every day and be willing to come out and put in the work," said Sundberg. "Baseball is a more relaxed game but you need to still have that intensity in order to drive yourself."
That drive has assistant coach Jeff Hourigan believing that Sundberg can take a big step forward heading into his junior season.
"Jack is working on being a more consistent hitter, he is a guy who works extremely hard. I always harp on his bunting game to help open things up for him," said Hourigan. "We just want him to maintain a fighter's mentality with two strikes, If he puts the ball in play he can utilize that speed which is a great asset.
"If he can make a little bit of a jump getting on base, instead of 27 bags maybe he steals 35 for us. I truly believe he can be a .300 hitter, who can score a bunch of runs for us," Hourigan added
With all the experiences from last season Sundberg believes that this season he can establish himself as one of the best leadoff hitters in the conference.
"I learned that you have to be consistent with your work, every day you have to come out and be ready to go. We play so many games that you have to stay focused," said Sundberg.
" If I am able to keep working at the plate, working counts, getting bunts down and using my speed to get on base I think that will be a huge advantage at the top of the lineup. Also continuing to work on my defensive work, tracking balls and getting better reads will help us out in the field."
Sundberg realizes that anything he can do to gain an advantage on the base paths will allow him to take those extra bases and allow his teammates to drive him in.
"I'm definitely trying to pick up different pitcher's tendencies, what tips it off and just using my speed to take more bags this year," said Sundberg. "With guys like Blake [Davey], Bobby [Melley] and Max [McDowell] behind you I want to get in scoring position as much as possible."
As the table setter for the Huskies, Sundberg will look to get the Huskies rolling as he steps in the box around 6:30 p.m. Friday night. If the hard work is any indicator, Sundberg and his hometown Huskies should be in good shape heading into 2015.
While Sundberg figures to continue to hold down center field for the Huskies (he made only one error in 169 chances in 2014, good for a .994 fielding percentage), Connecticut also returns plenty of experience on the corners and has a wealth of depth in the outfield. Blake Davey (Newport Beach, Calif.) leads the charge after an All-Conference and All-Region season in 2014 that saw him bat .313 with a team-high 10 home runs, 48 runs scored and a .512 slugging percentage.
"We were very young last year. I think a year of maturity and improvement, you can just see how much guys have improved from last season, and guys had good summers and come back here and just look good," Davey said.
"I could name a half dozen guys that have significantly improved. I think guys have their eyes on the prize a little bit more this year, not to say they didn't last year but there is a lot more determination and persistence I think than last year. It's just a better unit," the senior transfer continued.
Davey was among those Huskies who had strong summers, as he was an All Star in the prestigious Cape Cod Collegiate Baseball League. Playing for the Bourne Braves, Davey finished among the Cape leaders with five home runs over the summer.
"It's an experience that I will cherish forever and could never imagine passing up. Being able to play with so many guys that I'm going to watch play on TV some day and to be able to meet so many friends on your team, other teams and seeing all the styles of play from the colleges they come from and different backgrounds is a whole new dynamic," Davey said.
Also back in the outfield are seniors Jon Testani (Monroe, Conn.) and Eric Yavarone (North Haven, Conn.) who each have over 120 career appearances under their belts. Yavarone is a career .272 hitter, while Testani has socked five home runs in his career and holds a .364 on-base percentage during his time in Storrs.
"I have been working on when I get my pitch. I need to handle it, I'm not going to foul it off. I'm going to look for my pitch and when I get it I'm going to do something with it, if it's not my pitch I'm going to spoil it. Just need to minimize my strikeouts, play hard out in the outfield and help the team win any way possible," Testani said.
"Eric Yavarone has really improved on his power in the offseason, he is a really strong guy to begin with, but he has figured out how his swing works," Penders added.
All of the outfielders feel that the experience surrounding the unit as well as the team as a whole will play major dividends heading into the 2015 season.
"On the field we are a team, a unit but even more so off the field. That is where it is really clicking this season, last year people would disperse after practice but this year everyone is coming together as a group," Testani said.
"We have the speed, athleticism so I think we are looking pretty good," Sundberg said.