This is the second of a four-part series previewing the 2014 Stetson Baseball season. Today, we look at the pitching staff. The Hatters open the season Feb. 14 vs. Ole Miss at Melching Field in DeLand:
Headlining the list of returning pitchers from 2013 is senior Austin Perez. A second-team All-Atlantic Sun Conference selection last year, Perez was 7-2 with a 2.81 ERA last year. The left-hander led the Hatters with 66 strikeouts while tossing 89.2 innings.
“Austin had a really good fall,” said head coach Pete Dunn. “He can be our Friday night guy. He’s not the dominant, hard-thrower that a lot of people look to on a Friday night. But his velocity is better this year than it’s ever been.”
Junior right-hander Josh Powers also returns to the weekend rotation after what can best be described as a deceiving season. Powers posted a 1-8 record as a sophomore but also recorded a 3.41 ERA and tossed a team-high 105.2 innings. He also walked just 15 batters but was done in by poor runs support as the Hatters averaged just 3.3 runs in his 15 starts. A workhorse, Powers threw at least seven innings eight different times.
“Josh knows how to pitch,” said Dunn. “He’s a strike thrower. When Kurt Schluter went down last season we pushed Josh out of his comfort zone and made him our Friday night guy. He’s going to be out there on the weekend again this season. We’re just not sure yet what game he’ll pitch.”
If he's healthy, Schluter could be Stetson's Friday night starter or closer out of the bullpen. The fifth-year senior appeared in just three games last season before injuries sidelined him. When he's healthy, he can be dominant. The 2011 A-Sun Pitcher of the Year owns a 16-8 career pitching record.
Depending on where Schluter fits, Stetson’s number three starter job could be up for grabs. Sophomore lefty Adam Schaly filled that role for much of last season. If he wants to keep it he’ll have to improve upon a freshman campaign which saw him go 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA. Schaly tossed 50.1 innings and walked 31 batters with 30 strikeouts. Schaly had some memorable moments in ’13, holding Princeton to one run in six innings and blanking East Tennessee State over five innings during conference play.
“Adam pitched a lot for us last year but he struggled to throw strikes this fall,” said Dunn. “He has to throw strikes. This fall he was deep in the count too often and walked a lot of hitters. He’s got to get back on track. If he does he can really help us.”
A pair of talented freshmen will be pushing Schaly and the others for starting jobs. Right-handers Taylor Cockrell and Mitchell Jordan were both mentioned by Dunn as likely to see significant time on the mound.
Cockrell was an All-State and all-region selection as a senior at Lake Wales High, posting an 8-3 record while leading the Highlanders to the regional final.
“Taylor had a tremendous fall,” said Dunn. “He ranked very high in our player evaluations. We also let him swing the bat and he was probably our leading hitter as well. He’ll help us on the mound and with the bat, too.”
Jordan comes to Stetson after a stellar senior season at Lake Brantley High, where he helped his team to the 8A state title and earned Seminole County and Orlando Sentinel Central Florida Player of the Year honors. Jordan struck out 103 batters in 83 innings last year.
“Mitchell also had an outstanding fall,” said Dunn. “Those two freshmen are going to pitch a lot for us. They both showed that they’re ready to take the next step and pitch on the Division I level.”
While there will be several new faces in the bullpen, one of last year’s top arms returns to anchor the ‘pen. Sophomore right-hander Tyler Warmoth earned A-Sun all-freshman honors in 2013 after appearing in 31 games and posting a 5-2 record with three saves and a 3.61 ERA. He was even better in A-Sun play, going 4-0 with a 2.70 ERA.
Fellow sophomore Josh Thorne is also expected to fill an important relief role. The righty made 23 appearances as a freshman and was 3-1 with a 5.65 ERA in 36.2 innings.
“Tyler and Josh have to continue to be guys we can count on,” said Dunn. “Tyler had a bit of a tired arm so we let him rest in the fall. Josh just needs to be a little bit more consistent. They both should have big roles for us.”
Sophomores Garrison Banas and Ben Rakus should also have a chance to positively impact the bullpen. Banas, a left-hander, made 11 appearances last season while the righty-throwing Rakus tossed 14.2 innings in his 14 appearances as a freshman.
“Garrison had a lot of opportunity to pitch last year,” said Dunn. “He’s throwing in the high 80s now but he needs to be more consistent. He can be awfully effective when he’s going good.
“Ben throws hard. He’s a guy who has to step it up for us. If he does, he could be a weapon out of the pen.”
Several newcomers are set to make an impact out of the bullpen. Left-handed freshmen Tyler Keller and Griffin Fuller, and junior right-hander Trey Norris are expected to be important pieces for Dunn and the Hatters.
Norris is a strong candidate to fill the closer’s role, a job he handled quite well in his two seasons at Polk State College. He saved 26 games in his career at Polk State, including a school-record 14 as a sophomore when he helped lead the Eagles to an appearance in the NJCAA World Series.
“Trey is really going to help us in the bullpen,” said Dunn. “That’s what we brought him in to do. Along with Cockrell and Jordan, Trey was one of our three best pitchers during the fall. He was one of the guys who really stood out.”
Fuller and Keller each enjoyed an excellent fall and opened some eyes. Both could fill a variety of roles, from mid-week starter to situational reliever. Fuller was a standout at Spruce Creek High in Port Orange, going 5-3 with a 2.09 ERA as a senior. Keller was 3-0 as a senior at Pompano Beach High and had a 1.87 ERA as a junior.
“Fuller had a good fall,” said Dunn. “He’s a strike thrower. Keller really showed some maturity. He has one of the best left-handed pickoff moves I’ve ever seen.”
Freshman Danny Miller was thought to be a key member of the pitching staff, but the left-hander will likely miss all of the 2014 season after undergoing surgery in the fall. Redshirt freshman Frankie Romano may also make a contribution on the mound this season, though he missed significant time in the fall with an illness.