9/27/2011 7:30:54 AM
Nice article, K. IMO, Rice pitching this season should be off-the-charts; certainly the best since the Big 3 of 2003/04, but with much more talented depth (as those past staffs were really only five deep, with only one reliable bullpen arm)...and probably amongst the top 3 - 5 in the country. In addition to the know quantities that are Kubitza and Duffey (he was lights out as co-closer the second half of last season), both Simms and Chargois were exceptional in closer roles this past Summer in The Cape. Reckling has as good stuff as anyone on the staff, and opposing batters hit just .214 against him last year. His only problem is one of command, and he appears vastly improved in that regard so far this Fall (yesterday throwing 3 one-hit innings, with 4 Ks and 0 BBs). If Reckling throws strikes he is as good as anyone nationally. A bullpen anchored by at least two of the three amongst Duffey, Simms and Chargois (with either Duffey or Simms possible as a weekend starter), joined by veteran returnees Fant, McNair and Spurlin, should bring back memories of Rice's great 2008 bullpen (CSC, Bell, Price, Evers). And then there's Mason (who was even more highly regarded than Simms and Kubitza after his Junior high school saeason, before getting injured), LHP transfer Brad Kottman and the two true Freshmen studs (Stephens and Lemond). Put simply, Wayne Graham has never had a staff so deep and loaded...and Chase McDowell (weekend starter last season before going down with injury) should be fully rehabbed from TJS to see action on the mound (if needed) by the start of Spring intrasquads.
As good as Rendon is/was, he did not have a particularly good year in 2011. Yes, he got on base with his 80 walks, but he repeatedly failed in the clutch, and did not hit with much pop. Rathjen, Manuel and Ratterree provide three proven, upperclass hitters in the middle of the lineup...Stringer provides a proven left-handed bat towards the top of the order (I believe he hit .333 last year for JUCO champion Navarro)...and I'm expecting a breakout season for Shane Hamilton offensively. If Fuda returns to his Freshman and Sophomore years form (when he hit over .330 each season), and either McDowell or Lewis provide offensive punch from the left-side at 1B, the offense should be vastly improved and more than potent enough to support this pitching staff. (Unless McDowell or Lewis or true Freshman Ewing cannot demonstrate proficiency defensively at 1B, I suspect Chargois will be limitted to the DH role, as he is already being penciled in as one of our co-closers out of the bullpen.)
Defensively, this team cannot help but be improved, given the year under the belts for SS Hamilton and 3B Hoelscher (and, remember, Hoelscher had never played 3B before being forced there after Rendon's injury), and with Stringer replacing Ratterree at 2B. Catchers Manuel and Perrot have improved defensively each season, and provide veteran stability for the pitching staff...and you're not going to find two better defensive OFers than Fuda and Rathjen.
People forget that this team copped a national seed last season despite starting as many as five first time D-1 players in the field at times (Hamilton, Hoelscher, Cook, Chargois, Perrot and Aquino). This could be a very special team for the Owls, with realistic Omaha or bust expectations.
In Wayne Graham we trust.