Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dirtbags 2013 Preview: Starting Pitchers

12 more days. While you're waiting, find out just who the hell is going to be in the Dirtbag rotation this year.

Summary – The Dirtbags will have virtually an entirely new rotation in 2013 after losing two of their weekend arms (Shawn Stuart and Matt Anderson) to the professional ranks, the third (Ryan Strufing) to injury, and seeing their primary mid-week starter (Matt Johnson) graduate. Filling out this year’s staff will be a mix of JuCo transfers and players aiming to graduate from the bullpen. There are many talented arms in the mix, so pitching could remain a strength for the Dirtbags, but the weekend rotation may not be settled until several weeks into the season. We’ll get a good idea at who the best candidates are pretty quickly, since the Dirtbags will open up the season with five games in six days versus Vanderbilt and Arizona.

Shane Carle, Junior, RHP (2012: 3.21 ERA/1.10 WHIP/52:14 K:BB in 73 innings at Cabrillo College) – Just going by Aaron Fitt’s coverage, it seems Carle must’ve had one hell of a November. In late October, Fitt reported scouts “aren’t convinced (Carle) is an impact recruit.” Just three weeks later Fitt referred to Carle as the Dirtbags “likely Friday starter,” before writing an article in December claiming Carle had impressed scouts and was being clocked at 93 MPH. Perhaps Aaron’s initial assessment was just inaccurate. In any case, Carle joins the Dirtbags after two excellent seasons at Cabrillo College, where he was heralded both as a college pitcher and a professional prospect. In addition to leading Cabrillo to consecutive playoff appearances, Carle was ranked the 184th best pitching prospect in the 2012 draft, according to Baseball America, slating him ahead of now departed Dirtbag pitchers Matt Anderson (199th) and Shawn Stuart (203th). In addition to the fastball, Carle has a very good slider, working on a changeup, and in the past has mixed in a curveball. At 6’4”, 185 pounds, Carle’s draft stock may rise as he fills out. How that will translate to his D1 career remains to be seen.

Landon Hunt, Senior, LHP (2012: 2.08 ERA/1.62 WHIP/7:6 K:BB in 8.2 innings) – Despite having his entire Dirtbag pitching career equal less than one full game, Hunt has had his share of success at the collegiate level. Hunt turned in two solid seasons in the Moorpark College rotation, and this past summer alone threw over six times as many innings in the California Collegiate League than he has with the Dirtbags. Hunt had an excellent summer with the Conejo Oaks, which included a 49:6 K:BB and 0.94 WHIP. Armed with an improving fastball, curve, and a reliably good changeup, Hunt will vie for a rotation spot this spring, but should he fall short of that he should at least see a much more expanded role in the bullpen.

Jon Maciel, Junior, RHP (2012: 1.27 ERA/1.30 WHIP/16:17 K:BB in 35.1 innings) – Only Troy Buckley and his staff know who’s throwing the best of the weekend contenders, but merely going off of past performance Jon Maciel enters 2013 with the most impressive resume of the candidates. In each of his first two seasons out of the Dirtbag bullpen Maciel managed to keep his ERA below 1.3 and last year garnered an All-Big West second team selection. Maciel also has spent the last two summers pitching in the Alaksa League, where this past season he was rated one of the league’s top pitching prospects by both Perfect Game and Baseball America. Though he only tops out around 91 mph, Maciel has a nice repertoire of pitches that includes a slider and curve which has helped him to maintain a surprisingly low BABIP across his spring and summer collegiate career. One of the few red flags with Maciel is his unappealing K:BB ratio from last year. This may have just been an aberration, as his freshman year ratio was a nice 21:6 mark, and in 46.1 innings this past summer he posted a 36:11 ratio.

Ryan Millison, Junior, RHP (2012: 2.97 ERA/1.53 WHIP/60:39 K:BB in 97 innings with Sierra College) – Millison tossed five scoreless innings as one of the handful of starting pitchers in November’s Dirt vs. Bags series; putting him right in the thick of the weekend rotation mix. Though his 2012 numbers aren’t eye-popping, the 97 innings and two complete games he logged at Sierra College were more than any Dirtbag last season, and that workhorse ability may prove vital in a now-thinned out pitching staff.  His best pitch is the changeup, and the latest reports on his fastball had him clocking around 90 MPH. Millison’s 2012 walk rate was higher than almost all other returning Dirtbag pitchers and he continued to struggle with his command during a brief stint in summer ball, but if he can maintain a halfway decent command of the strike zone this spring he’ll have an excellent chance of holding down a rotation spot.

Nick Sabo, Sophomore, LHP (2012: 7.31 ERA/2.00 WHIP/10:5 K:BB in 16 innings) – Sabo was hit hard early in 2012 as a mid-week starter, though it’s worth noting most of that was against Pac-12 competition, and he showed respectable enough control for the season. Relying mainly on his changeup and curveball, Sabo’s fastball clocks out around the high-80s. The sophomore should contend for a weekend gig after having a solid fall, which included a fine inning-one hit performance in the Dirt vs. Bags series and, of course, received the coveted accolades of Mr. Aaron Fitt. If he’s not pitching on the weekend, Sabo seems likely to receive a slot in the rotation as a mid-week starter, before making another run at a weekend spot in 2014.

Jake Stassi, Junior, LHP (2012: 3.43 ERA/1.43 WHIP/9:7 K:BB in 21 innings) – Stassi has been a fixture in the bullpen each of the last two springs before logging some time as a starter in the summer. Despite an decent college career thus far, Stassi’s K:BB rate remains somewhat troubling, although his ratio while playing summer ball is significantly better. Like Sabo, Stassi works with a change, curve, and fastball in the high-80s. With the bullpen short on southpaws, it’s hard to imagine Hunt, Sabo, and Stassi all finding a spot in the rotation, so Jake will have to outdo his left-handed teammates to become a starter. If not, he’ll be a middle reliever in the bullpen.

Ryan Strufing, Junior, LHP (2012: 2.99 ERA/1.16 WHIP/52:31 K:BB in 90.1 innings) – In the midst of last year’s regional-race I became convinced Strufing’s near-shutout against Cal State Fullerton on May 26 had secured him the Friday slot for the 2013 season. In reality, it was more likely Strufing was going to return to the Saturday spot, which he held down throughout the 2012 season, but it’s a moot point now. Strufing will be on the shelf for all of 2013 while he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Depending on how the 2013 rotation performs, Strufing should be a good bet to be one of the Dirtbags top starters in 2014.

Projected Starters:
Friday: Carle
Saturday: Maciel
Sunday: Millison
Mid-Week: Sabo

Up next: The bullpen. I'm too tired to think of a more descriptive teaser. The next post is about the bullpen. Read it.