With Coach Tim Jamieson's team less than a month away from the first pitch of the season, InsideMizzou will take a look at what to expect from the 2009 version of the Tigers.
The most notable loss from the 2008 team will undoubtedly be All-America pitcher Aaron Crow. Crow dominated Fridays for the Tigers last year by going 13-0 with a 2.35 ERA, 127 strikeouts and four shutouts.
Looking to fill Crow's shoes as the next-in-line of All-America pitchers for Mizzou is junior Kyle Gibson (6'6", 195 lbs.). Gibson showed improved consistency last season as he became Missouri's second-best starter.
Over the summer, Gibson helped the USA National Team to a world championship by registering a 1.02 ERA. Mainly used as a reliever, Gibson tallied 25 strikeouts to only four walks in 17.2 innings pitched.
Looking to fill the second spot in the rotation is sophomore Nick Tepesch (6'5", 224). Tepesch is a power pitcher whose live arm lets his fastball touch the mid-90's. As a freshman last season, Tepesch was used almost exclusively out of the bullpen where he recorded four saves and an ERA of 4.85.
This fall, Tepesch showed improved command and break with his cutter and struck out 10 in just over five innings of work in the final Fall World Series game against his teammates.
Battling for the final weekend spot will be senior Ian Berger (6'1", 206) and sophomores Brad Buehler (6'1", 204) and Kelly Fick.(6'2", 191).
Berger, a left-hander out of Oak Park, Ill., started out last season on fire before hitting a few rough patches down the stretch. He finished the season 4-5 with a 4.54 ERA. Berger is an interesting candidate because of his experience and pitching style. While Gibson and Tepesch are hard-throwing, tall right-handers, Berger is a shorter left-hander who relies more on his control than velocity.
Buehler and Fick have a lot of ground to make up if they wish to unseat Berger for the final weekend spot in the rotation. Neither Buehler or Fick threw 20 innings last season and they both had an ERA north of 5.50.
If there was a weakness for the Tiger's pitching staff last year, it was their bullpen. This season the bullpen will be led by junior Ryan Allen (6'2", 200). Allen was the most successful arm out of the bullpen last season as he registered a 3.60 ERA and nearly a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Looking to help Allen out of the bullpen will be left-handed senior Scooter Hicks (5'9", 175). Hicks was seen as the closer for much of 2008 but relinquished that role to an extent towards the end of last season. Hicks should be the first lefty out of the pen for the Tigers.
Another arm who could be a key reliever in 2009 does not come out of the bullpen at all. Instead, junior Greg Folgia (5'11", 195), will likely come to the pitcher's mound from his post in left field. Folgia struggled from the mound last season, but hit nearly .300 with five homers. This season, the Tigers will need continued success at the plate in addition to help on the mound from Folgia and his low 90s fastball.
Assuming Berger wins the final spot in the weekend rotation, Buehler's repertoire should also play well in relief.
Anytime a team loses two starters to the draft, Crow and Rick Zagone, there are bound to be question marks on the pitching staff. Luckily for the Tigers, it looks like Gibson and Tepesch are poised to lead the rotation while the bullpen has become deeper.
If Tepesch can continue the growth he showed through the fall and the bullpen improves after returning intact, the Tigers should be in great shape on the mound for 2009.