In Part 2 of our 2011 season preview, we'll take a look at the pitching staff. Note: This preview is being posted prior to the final cuts are made to the roster. About 40 players began winter practice, and the playing season roster limit is 35.
"We're only going to be as good as our pitchers," says Tim Jamieson (on KFRU's The Closers).
In preseason interviews Coach Jamieson has seemed to have a good idea of who he expects to be in competition for the starting jobs. I expect Tim Jamieson to follow his usual course of action and use the first few weeks of of the season to shake out the pitching staff, throwing those pitchers that looked good in practice up against real D-1 college opponents, giving them a chance to sort themselves out into weekend starters, mid-weeks starters, bullpen workhorses, and closers.
The main difference this year for MU pitching is the presence of a new pitching coach, Matt Hobbs. The new banner on the practice facility sums up his philosophy, which includes something called Controlled Recklessness. Should be interesting. Much better than the uncontrolled type.
The current staff represents just 34 of last season's starts, so someone's going to have to step in and fill in those other games.
Sophomore Eric Anderson (RHP) started 9 games in 2010, and was cruising along with Nick Tepesch as the Friday-Saturday 1-2 punch when he suffered a tear in his labrum. EA will no doubt be given the opportunity to work his way back into the top 2, but it may take him awhile to get to that point. I don't expect to see him as a starter before the middle of the season.
Senior Jeff Scardino (LHP) came in as a JuCo transfer last year and started 7 games. He's the classic workhorse who can swing back and forth between filling a starting role and some spot relief appearances (he had a dozen appearances from the bullpen).
Senior Brad Buehler (RHP) had 6 starts, but struggled with his ERA as the season went on. We'll have to wait and see which Brad Buehler shows up for the season. He could fill an important spot in the stating rotation or challenge for the closer's role. It's up to him, really.
Senior Kelly Fick (LHP) led the staff in ERA in 2010, but only was given 3 starts, much to the consternation of his considerable fan following. He showed his stuff in a March 14th game (my birthday) when he came in on a moment's notice after starter Nick Tepesch was hit by a batted ball in the 1st inning. All the Fick-Fans will be waiting to see whether Kelly grabs one of the weekend starting jobs or continues to shine as a reliever (he was the ERA leader among the Johnny Wholestaffers in 2009).
Senior Zach Hardoin (LHP) has been impressing everyone with his "nasty stuff" during pre-season practices. He has put himself into a good position to get a shot at the weekend rotation early on.
Juniors Ryan Clubb (RHP) and Jeff Emens (RHP) each saw some spot starts last season, and will likely continue to play an important part in what promises to be a veteran bullpen.
There is help from another quarter: the JuCo transfers. There always seems to be a pitcher or two who transfers to MU and fills and adds to the depth of the staff. In 2010 it was a couple of guys named Scardino and Blunt.
Junior Matt Stites (RHP) was drafted in June by the Chicago Cubs, but wisely chose Tigers over the Baby Bears. He had an impressive summer in the Cape Cod League, and now is expected to be a leader on the Tigers' starting rotation. While the other pitchers rehab and wrangle for their spots, Stites will most likely be an anchor on the weekend staff, likely getting the initial nod on Friday nights.
Junior RHPs Dusty Ross and James Hudelson are the other newcomers from the JuCo ranks. Both Ross and Hudelson had success as closers in both the JuCo ranks and in summer ball, so both will be in the competition for that role with the Tigers.
Tim Jamieson has also mentioned that SS Eric Garcia, who was a pitcher in high school, will likely see some relief appearances in 2001. According to TJ, he's already been throwing in the low 90's in preseason training. Expect to see EG in the mix as one of the team's closers.
And then there's one more JuCo transfer: junior Brian Carr (LHP). Carr is unique because he is on his second go-round with Mizzou. He spent a year with the Tigers and transferred to the JuCo ranks, where he had success. He also has been a successful pitcher in summer ball. And now he's back with MU. I expect him to be a big contributor in the bullpen this year.
Other returning pitchers that saw limited time in 2010 are seniors Kenny Burton (LHP), who has been working his way back from injury, and Kevin Mahler (RHP). Jake Walsh (LHP), was a freshman last year but did not make the cut for the season roster. I haven't seen enough of these guys in action to know if they'll earn a shot at contributing in 2011, or whether they'll all even make the cut for the final playing season roster.
And no, I haven't forgotten there is one more returning senior on the pitching staff: left-handed knuckle-dragging submariner Phil McCormick. McCormick, who at one point was almost ready to retire from baseball altogether, has resurrected his career and led the team in appearances last year with 35 (nearly 2/3 of MU's total games). Unless Jamieson and Hobbs decide to give Phil a shot at being the next Tim Wakefield, he'll almost certainly return in his role as the disruptor in the middle of the relief corps.
2010 was the year of the freshman position player. 2011 is the year of the freshman pitcher. Five young pitchers are set to make an impact on the team for the next 3-4 years. Tim Jamieson told KFRU's The Closers that "a lot of the new guys are going to have to.
Ian Ekery (LHP) was named first team All-City and first team All-District 5A for the second straight year. Ian's 2010 numbers: 7-2 with a 2.60 ERA and 47 K's in 51 innings. Ekery also appears to be a real team-leader type, according to this article: 10 Most Influential Seniors.
Matt Linderer (RHP) was the Pitcher of the Year in the AAA_Conference and was named to the All-State team. According to a Profile on SuburbanJournals.com, "the 6-foot-2, 178-pound Linderer was outstanding as he went 8-1 with an earned run average of 1.83. He struck out 85 batters in 69 innings."
Myles Smith (RHP) led his team to a state title in 2010. He went 8-1 in 2010 with a 1.58 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 68 innings pitched. Read this profile of Smith on ESPN Rise and you'll be excited about seeing this young man in a Mizzou uniform.
Ryan Yuengel (RHP) from Festus, MO, has some impressive stats (1.38 ERA, 59 K in 45-1/3 innings pitched) and a record of performing big when the stakes are high.
Rob Zastryzny (LHP) comes from the Corpus Christi area and was the most dominating prep pitcher in that part of Texas in 2010. He has received MVP of the year, Pitcher of the Year, several All-Region, All-Conference, All-everything team honors, and led his team to great success during the season and deep into the postseason. Rob Z seems the most likely to be the first freshman to get a shot at being a regular starter. Tim Jamieson says, "he's lights out . . . he has a chance to be really special."
If even 2 or 3 of those young arms fulfill their potential, 2011 and the years that follow could be great ones for Mizzou.