STORRS, Conn. - Major-league interest in the UConn baseball program is at an all-time high, as a program-best five Huskies played at the big-league level during the 2015 season.
Former Husky All-American centerfielder George Springer (’11) was a catalyst in his second season in a Houston Astros uniform, leading the squad to its first postseason appearance since 2005 with an 86-76 overall record. Springer, who missed over two months due to a wrist injury, returned from the disabled list on Sept. 4 and hit .304 with three home runs and 12 RBI in 27 games to help the Astros clinch the second American League Wild Card spot on the final day of the regular season. In the playoffs, Springer and the Astors advanced past the New York Yankees in the wildcard game before dropping a tightly-contested five-game set to the Kansas City Royals in the American League Divisional Series.
Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed (’11) enjoyed a breakout season, playing in 134 of 162 games with a .226 average, nine home runs, 32 RBI and a .977 fielding percentage. Slugger Mike Olt (’11), who opened the season by playing in six games with the Chicago Cubs before being picked up on waivers by the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 5, made history when he became the first player in MLB history to record a home run for reach Windy City squad in the same season. In 24 games in the American League, Olt blasted three home runs and collected 16 hits while manning the hot corner. The New Haven, Conn. native connected on the two longest home runs of the season – a 444-shot and a 468-fot drive – at U.S. Cellular Field in 2015.
On the mound, Boston Red Sox righty Matt Barnes (’11) made history on Aug. 17 when he became the first former UConn player to start a game since Pete Walker (’90) in 2005. Barnes, who was drafted by Boston in the first round of the 2011 draft, made his MLB debut in 2014, appearing out of the pen in five games. In 2015, he came out of the bullpen 32 times, amassing a 3-4 record with 39 strikeouts in 43.0 innings of work. Hard-throwing reliever Scott Oberg (’12) made his big-league debut on April 14 for the Colorado Rockies and shined down the stretch out of the bullpen, surrendering one run in his final 14 appearances.
Since UConn head coach Jim Penders took over the helm of the program prior to the 2004 season, a total of 38 Huskies have been selected in the MLB draft, including three – Vinny Siena, Carson Cross, and Max McDowell- following the 2015 campaign.
In addition to the five major league standouts, former UConn hurler Billy Eppler (’98) was introduced as the 12th-ever general manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Sept. 5. Eppler, who appeared in four games for the Huskies out of the bullpen in 1997, will oversee all aspects of the team’s baseball operations and report director to owner Arte Moreno. After graduating from UConn in 1998 with a degree in finance, he began a career in scouting with the Colorado Rockies from 2000-04 before joining the Yankees’ organization as assistant director of baseball operations in 2005. After serving in numerous roles which included director of professional scouting and director of player personnel, Eppler was promoted to assistant GM for the start of the 2012. He held the role until the end of the 2014 campaign, when he was elevated to assistant general manager/vice president.
UConn wrapped up its 2015 fall season last week with the annual Blue/White World Series. To keep up with the team during the offseason, follow @UConnBaseball on Twitter.