Devin Rivera and Villanova
Last season marked a year in transition for Villanova. 

The program lost hurlers Gordon Graceffo and Jimmy Kingsbury to the MLB Draft, while infielder Nick Lorusso transferred to the University of Maryland. The Wildcats then sputtered to an 8-12 record in the Big East with a 19-29-1 mark overall. 

The club hit just .244 (worst in the Big East) and was streaky, losing at least four consecutive games four times while also piecing together a pair of four-game winning streaks. 

Head coach Kevin Mulvey hopes some experienced transfers can rejuvenate the program and lead to a competitive 2023 campaign. 

"We're excited to just get after it," Mulvey said.

The Wildcats return eight players from last year's starting lineup, plus a handful of graduate transfers that Mulvey believes will make an impact. 

Of the new faces, grad transfer Craig Larsen is one to keep an eye on. The Toms River native was a four-year player at Penn and was an honorable mention All-Ivy shortstop last season when he hit .289 with five homers and 42 RBIs. 

"I like that he comes from an Ivy League program and knows how to stay on top of his academics," Mulvey said. "I also like that he's a seasoned veteran of college baseball. He knows what it takes to get prepared, and the time he has to put in, and it's important because we have new guys looking around and trying to learn from their teammates. 

"It's useful for the younger guys to use Craig as a model and emulate what he does." 

Other local graduate transfers include infielder Luke Mutz, outfielder Paul Cooke, and pitcher Zach Camp, all from Swarthmore. 

Mutz was the Centennial Conference Player of the Year last season after hitting .428 with a homer, 28 RBIs, and 27 stolen bases. He hit .382 over his three-year career with the Garnet and was an ABCA/Rawlings All-America Third Team honoree. 

Cooke hit .378 for the Garnet and was a second-team All-Centennial honoree. He hit seven homers, collected 31 RBIs, and swiped 23 bags. 

Camp, a right-hander, collected 67 strikeouts over 57 2/3 innings and appeared in 21 games, posting a 5.62 ERA. 

Peter Giombetti is another graduate transfer that Mulvey expects to make an impact in the Villanova lineup. The Malvern native and graduate of Catholic University set a single-season record last year with 15 dingers for the Cardinals while collecting 59 RBIs and hitting .371. He also was an ABCA Fourth Team All-American selection. 

Notice a trend?

"I like the graduate transfers because you get to see what they've done for four years, but also talk to their coach at the previous school to talk about what type of leader they are, what type of mental makeup they have, and for me, that's valuable information," Mulvey said. "You don't get that same snapshot of a high school kid, so it's different. 

"There a lot of things I like about these older guys coming in and setting an example of what it is to be a college baseball player." 

The jump from Division III to Division I isn't a concern for Mulvey. 

"Just watching them play, I don't think there's any doubt that they can't have success at this level," Mulvey said. "I think back to conversations my coaches had with me during my professional career about the jump from Double-A to Triple-A, then Triple-A to the Majors ... the game is the same, and your talent level is good enough to succeed on any team at any level, assuming you own that talent, own that work, and believe in yourself. 

"I told them they do not need to do anything different, just be you. Play the game the same way while trusting in yourself." 

As for the pitching staff, the departure of Tyler Arella and Cole Patten at the top of the starting rotation leaves some question marks. Mulvey is hopeful right-hander Sal Fusco, a graduate transfer from UMass-Lowell, can step up and anchor things early on. 

The Albany native was primarily a reliever last season, collecting 24 strikeouts over 21 innings while limiting opponents to a .244 batting average. 

Junior righty Devin Rivera will also play a role in the rotation, aiming to bounce back from a tough 2022 season where he posted an 8.25 ERA working primarily out of the bullpen. 

"He just needs to keep the ball in the zone and stay within himself," Mulvey said. "I'm looking for Devin to have a great year." 

Breakout Candidate 
Josue Valdez | Catcher | Sophomore 
The Bronx native made 11 starts last season and shined defensively but struggled at the plate (.094). 

"I think he can take a big step forward for us," Mulvey said. "He's going to get more playing time, and I think he'll be able to seize his opportunity and move into a more regular role." 

Freshman to Watch 
Colin Quintano | Infielder | Notre Dame Green Pond 
A former All-State quarterback, the Easton native could make an impact this season in the Wildcats lineup. 

"He can swing it," Mulvey said. "He continues to put together solid at-bats, and yeah, he may go through the traditional first-year struggles, but I think by the end of the year, he'll have figured this college baseball thing out."

The Schedule
The Wildcats open the season on Friday in Peoria, AZ with a doubleheader against Washington State and California Riverside. The club will then head on trips to Florida and California before opening the home portion of the schedule on March 17 with a series against Rider.
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