The age old question about how to use your best arms seems to be coming up frequently this spring, with the compacted 13 week schedule adding to the anxiety for college coaches on the Starter vs. Closer question.
Some programs still in a state of flux on this question include:
Nebraska: Soph-eligible RHP Mike Nesseth profiles as a future reliever, with a low ¾’s fastball that reaches the mid-90’s and a big sweeping slider, but he started the season in the rotation as coach Mike Anderson had to evaluate a young and inexperienced staff. When the young pitchers stepped up, Nesseth went back to closing and notched his first save Tuesday.
San Diego: Last week we talked about closer A.J. Griffin, who has received one start and throw 8 innings in one game in a relief role.
Texas Tech: Hard throwing sophomore Chad Bettis (3-0, 2.67, 2 SV) picked up a win and a save two weekends ago against Nebraska with 6.1 innings of sparkling relief. When Tech didn’t use him out of the pen on Friday or Saturday this past weekend, Bettis started and picked up the win with 8 solid innings.
Mississippi: 2008 2nd round pick Scott Bittle has been ineffective out of the bullpen (1-3, 5.06, 3 SV) and projected Friday starter Aaron Barrett has been even worse as a starter (0-1, 10.62), prompting talk of switching their roles.
Virginia Tech: Sophomore Jesse Hahn threw 64 innings as a freshman and established himself as a bright prospect for the 2010 draft. Switched to the closer’s role this year, Hahn has gone 0-1, 6.75, 1 SV in 9 innings, which projects him to only 23 innings on the year.
Missouri: Coach Tim Jamieson has been so dissatisfied with his starters beyond Kyle Gibson that he has resorted to “Johnny Wholestaff” games three times this year. Nine different pitchers all go one inning each. That really clouds the difference between starter and reliever. The 11-12 Tigers defeated Texas A&M 5-2 on Saturday using this approach after Gibson threw a complete game win on Friday.
-- It was earlier in the season and I missed it, but I noted that UCLA’s Erik Goeddel has made it back to the mound. The 2006 Aflac All-American right hander had TJ surgery in April, 2007 and hadn’t pitched since after redshirting in 2008. Hopefully he’s able to pitch more this spring and resume his very promising career.
-- Last week I mentioned Texas and their offensive problems. It caught up with the Longhorns quickly, as they were swept by Kansas (just not a basketball school!), scoring on 10 runs in three one-run losses. Soph OF Kevin Keyes drove home 6 of those runs, but Texas was unable to score a single run off the Jayhawk bullpen in eight innings. Kansas red shirt freshman Lee Ridenhour is looking strong, going 3-1, 1.82 thus far, including a "W" against Texas.
-- Auburn Soph OF’er Trent Mummey came to school as a 5-10 leadoff type with good speed and plus defensive abilities in centerfield. He’s now a big-time power threat, hitting .389-10-27 for the Tigers while leading the NCAA in runs scored with 41. Mummey has one more home run than his sophomore teammates Kevin Patterson and Hunter Morris do combined.
-- It could have been slotted into the “Starter/Reliever” thoughts above, but watch out for Vanderbilt freshman RHP and former Aflac All-American Sonny Gray. With a veteran starting rotation, coach Tim Corbin has been using Gray at the back of the bullpen and Gray has performed, going 1-0, 0.64, 3 SV’s. But don’t be surprised when Gray, an outstanding all around athlete, becomes the Friday starter as a sophomore.
-- One of the most pleasant freshman surprises early in the season as been 3B Matt Skole at Georgia Tech. Skole is hitting .387-7-25 thru 19 games, the first two figures leading the team. What catches your eye about the left handed hitting Skole is that he is 6-4, 245 lbs and agile. He didn’t have a classic swing when playing in WWBA events but he always squared up on the ball and drove it hard somewhere. His younger brother, Jake, is a top 2010 outfield prospect.
-- If you are looking for an All-American second baseman for the next few years, you needn’t look further than a couple of freshman. Matt Jensen of Cal Poly would be candidate A, the Mariners 11th round pick in 2008 is hitting .403-6-28 with 18 BB’s. LSU’s Tyler Hanover (.350-2-20) didn’t start for the first month of the season but the Tigers couldn’t keep his bat and glove out of the line up. Of course, that’s assuming that North Carolina’s Levi Michael (.337-8-26) moves to his natural shortstop position after this spring. Or that Rice’s Anthony Rendon (.367-7-28) stays at third base instead of moving to his more natural second base.