Who's ready for opening weekend?
The new coaches built a starting rotation on the fly after losing both #1 and #2 starters in the offseason, one being to the draft (Jake Rice) and one transferring closer to home at Virginia Tech (Ryan Kennedy).
The new rotation will consist of Butler transfer Jack Myers, a 6'7" RHP. He is the closest thing to a sure bet with his D1 weekend experience, and I expect him to get Friday nights. He'll probably be a low 90s guy in velo.
The rest of the rotation is less sturdy. Senior Luke Torbert returns after an up and down year, with the ups being high and the downs being low. He will fight for a weekend spot, or at worst the #1 midweek guy and a top relief option on weekends. Like Myers, he'll probably be in the low 90s with his velo.
The Owls bring in 6'3" 220 LHP John Bezdicek from D2 Southwest Minnesota State. He has similar size to lefty Ryan Kennedy (VA Tech transfer) and will be an older option. Same as Torbert, he could be a weekend starter, and worst case is probably the midweek guy. Look for Bez to sit around the high 80s or low 90s with his fastball.
Finally, we have 6'4" 205 RHP Connor Housley who was drafted out of HS by the Texas Rangers in round 17 in 2019. Can you guess where Coach Coe spent the last 12 years of his career? If you said as a scout for the Texas Rangers, you would be correct. Relationships matter! Housley is probably the biggest arm of the bunch topping out in the mid 90s, but can he keep his control/command consistently? He should also be one of the four top starters at the beginning of the season.
Heading to the bullpen for a second straight year are power throwing RHP Jared Rine who can run it up low to mid 90s and RHP Nathan Holler who will get you with movement and deception. Both had their ups and downs last season, but when they are going good, they are very good. Transfer RHP Ford Townsend and two way player LHP Brayden Eidson could also play key roles in the bullpen. The midweek starter will probably chip in on weekends as well. Other names to monitor in the pen are returnees Kolby Johnson, Makenzie Stills, Ty Butler, transfer Luke Cooper and freshmen Smith Pinson and Miller Riggins.
Switching to offense...we have lost a lot firepower, and again the coaches have had to fill spots on the fly. Not returning this year are our entire outfield (eligibility), leadoff guy/2B (transfer), 3B (eligibility) and starting catcher (draft).
The biggest names returning are defensive wizard at SS Tyler Simon and C Nick Hassan, with both expected to start. They will join Mississippi State transfer and College World Series Champion OF Josh Hatcher and 3B Cash Young as the two biggest boppers to transfer to us in the offseason. Both of those guys are expected to be among our most consistent hitters and make big impacts at the top/middle of the order. They were acquired by the new staff and will be one and dones due to eligibility. A transfer signed by former manager Mike Sansing is OF/DH Spencer Hanson who is guy more known for his bat than his glove. He should get some swings on opening weekend at DH, or maybe corner OF. South Carolina transfer Josh Shuler will also join them as an acquisition by Coe Coe this offseason. He is very young and coming back from an injury. He may not make the immediate impact from Day 1, but he will definitely get ABs this year. Shuler has huge upside, hopefully we can get some glimpses this year.
A new name to watch is Zac Corbin. He's not a transfer, but it sure feels like it. He was slated to be a top/middle of the lineup guy last season before he injured himself running the bases in the first game and missed the year. He could get time at 2B/OF/DH. Excited to see what Zac can do this year.
It was a similar situation to Corbin's with Brayden Eidson, due to injury. He missed a good chunk of last season and his role wasn't as clearly defined. He's a long and athletic two way player (lefty reliever) who can play both corner OF spots and 1B. Just like Corbin, he is another breakout candidate now that he is a year older and healthier.
Nick Colina is another returnee to watch. If you casually followed the team last season, it's much more likely that you will known Nick than Brayden or Zac. He got some playing time when some guys were out and made the most of it. He has some pop for his size, put up a solid OBP, and could be a very strong addition to the lower half of the lineup and maybe work his way towards the middle of it.
If you're into true freshmen getting time to shine, the guy to watch is Hudson Mimbs. He might get some time at 2B and could split with Corbin. I think you may see Gavin Patel in there as well before it's all said and done. Patel was a utility type at MIF/3B last season who could move across the diamond this year.
I think at first base you will see some combination of Patel, Colina, and Eidson. Donovan Cash could also get some consideration here, but will likely see more time as a DH. Donovan is a redshirt freshman, and if you haven't seen him before he is a big boy. When he walks to the plate, you can tell by his frame alone that he has some pop.
I think we will see a lot of rotating between our top bats early in the year, while seeing who can hit in actual game situations, which will thus determine the lineup that is on the field in conference play later on. I'd say only a certain number of guys have locked down their spot as well as their positions: Simon (SS), Cash Young (3B), Hatcher. (CF), Hassan (C). I think Corbin, Eidson, and perhaps Colina may be locked in solidly as well due to their bats and positional versatility, as they can shift between IF/OF. That leaves the DH and one spot in the lineup that Patel (1B/2B), Donovan Cash (1B), Shuler (RF/LF), Mimbs (2B), and Hanson (LF/RF) will factor into.
My guess at the opening day starting 10
P: Jack Myers C: Nick Hassan 1B: Gavin Patel 2B: Zac Corbin/Hudson Mimbs SS: Tyler Simon 3B: Cash Young LF: Nick Colina/Zac Corbin CF: Josh Hatcher RF: Brayden Eidson DH: Spencer Hanson
This will be an interesting year. It's a team with a lot of patchwork and bandaids, but with enough offensive firepower and pitching to finish in the top half of the league. Similar to last year, I think we could struggle on the mound until everybody gets settled in, learns their roles, and we see who can make magic happen when the lights go on. I wouldn't neccesarily call it a rebuild year, but I also wouldn't pick us as Top 3 in the ASUN either.
Future Forecast: We can rebuild this thing quickly with the right additions. So far we have a lot of high ceiling high school names inked for the Class of 2022 (2022 high school graduates), and I would expect a strong sprinkling of college transfers to fill in the gaps as the season goes on. As I've mentioned, a lot of this year's team is patchwork with one and done transfers who are meant to help sustain the performance on the field, while the first real recruiting class gets to campus in the Summer/Fall.