|Going into the 2012 season, the chances of Stetson having Kurt Schluter back for a senior season in 2013 was not especially strong. The only question mark was whether or not the defending Atlantic Sun Conference Pitcher of the Year could stay healthy.
The answer to the question over Schluter’s health was not an easy one to answer. He did not appear to have any residual effects from his season-ending injury from 2011, but he also did not appear to be the same dominant pitcher he was before the injury.
In 2011 Schluter posted an 8-0 record in 10 starts with a 1.40 ERA. Last year he won four of his first five outings and allowed just five earned runs in those five games, but then struggled early in A-Sun play.
After getting drafted in the 38th round by Boston, Schluter spent the summer pitching in the Cape Cod League and returned to campus with more confidence.
“We’ve talked about a few things with Kurt,” pitching coach Chris Roberts said. “The big thing is that he needs to get off to better starts in his games. He needs to come out throwing a little more aggressively early in the game. He tried to pace himself a little too much early in games last year.
“By backing off early, his command suffered. We’ve talked about him coming out guns blazing a little more early in games this year.”
While he wants Schluter to come out more aggressively early, Roberts said the focus for the Stetson starters is to try to go deeper into games this year, much like the model that has been successful for the Texas Rangers. With the starters more of a proven commodity, getting extra innings before going to the pen will take some of the stress off the younger arms that will follow.
Behind Schluter, there are three legitimate starting candidates returning to the squad, with a couple of newcomers looking for opportunities to break into the rotation.
The returning starters are sophomore right-hander Josh Powers, who earned freshman All-Conference honors last year by posting a 4-2 record with a 2.62 ERA in 11 starts, and junior left-hander Austin Perez. The wildcard in the mix is junior left-hander Cameron Griffin, who is moving into a starting role after working out of the pen last year.
“Griffin is a little bit of an x-factor for us,” Roberts said. “He’s a strong kid who won’t tire working as a starter, but he will need to conserve some pitches. He has to be more efficient with his pitches. He is working to get his body more under control. He has to learn to pitch at a manageable effort level instead of coming out of the pen and just throwing hard.”
With the two lefties in the mix, Powers may end up being the Sunday starter, giving Stetson a right-left-right look on the weekend.
“His numbers were real good last year,” Roberts said of Powers. “He has a very competitive nature and that helps him. He didn’t have the really big fastball last year, but that is coming. He had to rely on his breaking ball more than he would like, but he has three plus pitches that he can go to.”
Like Schluter, Perez never pitched at a consistent level last year after suffering an injury in 2011. His highlight game came at South Florida when he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in a one-hit, five strikeout performance. He worked as a mid-week starter and occasional weekend reliever and could work in that role again this year.
“You have to have those four starters, especially as you get further into the season,” Dunn said. “Most of the time the mid-week schedule is more difficult that the weekend schedule with Florida State, Miami and South Florida. Austin has that experience and likes that challenge.”
Even with those four pitchers established as the primary starters, there are options should one or more falter. The Hatters have a pair of freshmen left-handers who will be pushing to get their chance at a spot in the rotation.
“Schaly will probably get some starts,” Dunn said. “He is the most likely candidate because he has such a good feel for the game. He has been around the college game his entire life, he grew up in the game with his father and grandfather both being coaches. I don’t know how you quantify that, but I believe he is more comfortable in the college game than most other freshmen.”
While Schaly compares favorably with Perez in terms of velocity, Banas is more of a hard-thrower in the same vein as Griffin.
“He has a very high ceiling because of his natural ability and talent,” Roberts said of Banas. “Schaly is not going to over-power anyone, but he has good pitch-ability. Banas has a pretty good breaking ball. There are not a lot of hitters, left-handed or right-handed, who will be able to do much with it.”
Both of the young lefties will push for innings early and should have a chance to get their feet wet coming out of the bullpen before making their first college starts.
Schaly and Banas will have plenty of company in the pen from first-year players. Left-hander Brandon Diaz and right-hander Josh Thorne showed good ability in the fall and will be in the mix for relief innings.
“Both of those freshmen made good strides in the fall and are going to contribute,” Roberts said. “One thing we have from these young pitchers, especially from the left side, is velocity. Thorne has pretty good stuff, but we have to get him to be a better pitcher and let his stuff work for him.”
In addition to the true freshmen who will have a chance to pitch early, the Hatters also have three redshirt freshman hurlers, all right-handers, who have been in the program for a year, but will get their first opportunity to contribute this year.
The trio – Tyler Warmouth, Ike Greenspon and Ben Rakus – should all be in the mix for significant time on the mound.
“Big Ben is a hard thrower and is a strong candidate for late game action,” Roberts said. “We are looking for Tyler to fill a similar role as Tucker Donahue did. Greenspon has a good breaking ball and should be really good against right-handed hitters. He should fit into the role that Jake Boyd had last year.”
As he is among position players, the wildcard in the bullpen will be freshman right-hander Kevin Fagan.
“He is very free and easy out there on the mound,” Roberts said. “He is not going to have to work at it all the time to be pretty good. He could fit into a late inning role.”
With all the youngsters, the Hatters also have a pair of veterans in senior right-handers Joe Dye and Chad Rood back for the 2013 season. Dye appeared in just 24 games last year, but is capable of working every day with his submarine pitching style.
“He can throw every day, and we want him to throw every day,” Roberts said of Dye. “He is consistent and reliable. You know exactly what you are going to get when he is out there.”
Rood is coming off a solid summer when he pitched well for the DeLand Suns in helping that team to a Florida Summer League title.
“With all of these young players, we have to work to get a feel for the roles they will fill,” Dunn said. “We have to try to get their feet on the ground and stay the course with them early on as they get adjusted to the college game.”