Moving away from the offensive expectations of next season, it’s time to try and discuss the numerous uncertainties regarding next season’s pitching staff. The fact that I am mentioning this next sentence may be unsettling for many, but some of my assumptions regarding the pitching staff are based off of Perfect Game’s list of the class of 2013 Virginia Tech commitments (Virginia Tech normally doesn’t announce the newcomers until closer to the start of the fall semester).
I have seen numerous comments questioning the lack of pitching depth last season, which subsequently carries forward to the 2014 season. However, O’Keefe battled tendinitis throughout the season, McIntyre required surgery for a torn labrum, Mantiply missed the beginning of the season, Sean Kennedy became very ill during the season (and among other things, lost a lot of weight and was not physically capable to pitch most of the year), and both Brendon Hayden and Sean Keselica had to be shut down for injuries.
All of the aforementioned names would have seen very significant time on the mound, and I can’t blame Coach Hughes and Coach Mason for sticking with his veterans, especially during playoff time. With that being said, because of the somewhat surprising departures of O’Keefe and Eddie Campbell, Virginia Tech desperately needs Kennedy, Hayden, and Keselica to not only get fully healthy this offseason, but all three need to see quality innings with their respective summer teams. Below is the list of returning players listed as pitchers on HokieSports.com, as well as incoming freshman:
- Brad Markey RHP, rising senior (100 IP in 2013)
- Ricky Hodges LHP, rising RS-junior (9 2/3 IP in 2013)
- Sean Keselica LHP, rising junior (31 2/3 IP in 2013)
- Brendon Hayden RHP, rising junior (21 IP in 2013)
- Matt Tulley RHP, rising sophomore (1 IP in 2013)
- Phil Sciretta LHP, rising sophomore (0 collegiate innings)
- Kit Scheetz LHP, rising sophomore (0 collegiate innings)
- Josh Moore RHP, rising sophomore (0 collegiate innings)
- Tim Kelly RHP, rising sophomore (2/3 IP in 2013)
- Luis Collazo LHP, rising sophomore (17 IP in 2013)
- Andrew McDonald RHP, incoming freshman
- Aaron McGarity RHP, incoming freshman
- Luke Scherzer RHP, incoming freshman
- Garrett Hudson RHP, incoming freshman
- Mackenzie Krupp LHP, incoming freshman
- Lonnie Funderburk RHP, incoming freshman
- Joe Burris LHP, incoming freshman
As you can see, next season’s pitching staff does not have a whole lot of experience under their belts. It’s safe to assume that Brad Markey has a weekend rotation spot all but locked up, and if he produces a 2014 season anywhere close to what he did in the 2013 postseason, that will drastically help the Hokies’ chances of building off of their historic 2013 season.
Fortunately for the Virginia Tech coaching staff, their pitchers may not have much experience, but there is a great deal of potential with many of these players. Obviously potential alone will not get you very far in the ACC, but it’s not a bad place to start. Regarding the remaining two vacancies in the weekend rotation, your guess is as good as mine. At this point in time, I believe that we will see Sean Keselica, Sean Kennedy, Matt Tulley, and Andrew McDonald (yes, the incoming freshman) battle for the remaining weekend rotation spots.
For the sake of this article, I am going to slot Keselica as a mid-week starter/weekend reliever. He pitched okay in 2013, but I believe the other three have more upside, leading Hughes to let Keselica focus on offensive production. Sean Kennedy was a highly regarded prospect, but as I mentioned above, he became ill during the season and wasn’t able to accumulate many innings. From everything I have gathered, he has recovered and he has already thrown for the Baltimore Redbirds this summer. While he may not throw quite as hard, Kennedy reminds me a little bit of Justin Wright, and I think he has a very bright future in Blacksburg.
Matt Tulley was ESPN Boston’s 2012 Mr. Baseball Award winner (top high school player in Massachusetts). All he did during his senior season was go 7-1 with a 1.46 ERA, and a .159 opponents’ batting average, while accumulating 90 strikeouts in 59 innings. Tulley has a live arm, and while it remains to be seen if he is ready to start on the weekends next season, I think he will play a prominent role for next year’s team.
Lastly, we have incoming freshman Andrew McDonald. A lot can happen from now until next February, but the Ohio native checks in at 6’6”, 240 lbs., and he possesses every bit of talent one would expect from someone of his size. Perfect Game ranks McDonald as the 78th best RHP of the 2013 class, and I am surprised no teams took a flier and selected him late in this month’s MLB Draft. But I know the Tech coaching staff will welcome him with open arms, and will build off of Andrew’s 88-92 mph heavy fastball. As you would expect of an 18 year old of his size, there are some mechanical corrections to make, as well as the need to continue to develop his off-speed pitches, but I believe McDonald will make a very strong case to be in next season’s weekend rotation.
Moving on to the pitchers I anticipate having the most prominent roles, once again leads me to the very talented Brendon Hayden. Hayden could certainly be a candidate for a weekend rotation spot, but I opted to leave him off the list because in my mind, he is the most qualified candidate to step in and take over as closer.
Clark Labitan did a great job as closer last season, and it has become increasingly more common to see sidearm (or even lower) pitchers closing for college programs. This is the case mainly because most programs do not have a legitimate/prototypical power pitcher (if they do, chances are he is a starter) to come in and produce shutdown innings. Instead of using a pitcher with average to fringe above-average velocity, teams are opting for sidearm pitchers to give hitters a different look, produce groundballs opposed to fly balls, and because it is typically easier for these pitchers to quickly recover and throw on short rest. However, I believe Hayden has the electric type stuff to become a quality closer for the Hokies, and still be able to focus on being a position player.
The silver lining I’ve found when looking at the young and inexperienced Hokies pitching staff, is that lefthanders are plentiful. While this clearly does not guarantee results, lefthanders are typically more capable of being successful on the mound when they may be inexperienced and still learning how to pitch at the ACC level. At this point in time, I expect Ricky Hodges, Luis Collazo, Tim Kelly, Aaron McGarity, and Garrett Hudson to show the Hokies’ coaching staff enough to emerge as significant pieces of the Hokies’ 2014 bullpen.
Upon reading this article, I anticipate many Tech fans to feel very uncertain regarding next season’s squad, and I would have to agree with you. I don’t care if we’re talking about UNC, LSU, or any other perennial baseball powerhouse, there are going to be growing pains for a team that is tasked with replacing the middle of their batting order, two of their three weekend starters, as well as their two most prominent bullpen pitchers. Yes, it is easier to reload when you are bringing in recruiting classes like UNC and LSU do, but I think there is a lot to be excited about regarding the future of the Virginia Tech baseball program.
It will be very difficult to have a season similar to 2013, but that would be the case even without the departure of Pinder, Horan, Rash, Mantiply, and so on. It remains to be seen how quickly the coaching staff can overcome the growing pains and how this very young team adapts to the lack of familiar faces in the lineup and on the mound. In any event, there are a lot of very young players on this team that Hokie fans should be excited about for the next few seasons in Blacksburg.
Finally, here’s a list of Tech’s incoming freshmen. This class is ranked #52 by Perfect Game. Click for a larger image, which includes hometown and high school.