2010 Carolina Baseball Report: Pitching

It has been said that baseball is a "game of inches," and it couldn't be more correct when it comes to pitching. The fact that a third individual (the umpire) is responsible for a split second judgment of a ball traveling 60'6" at +90 mph adds to the excitement... or frustration of the position.

The talent of the pitcher to throw from a height of 10" (from the pitching rubber) down to the catcher behind home plate adds to the complexities of college pitching. Since the umpire is an "uncontrollable entity," college coaches put a lot of time and effort into finding young men that can complete the task as pitchers. It only makes sense to find the best in your area and in the land; that is precisely what the University of South Carolina staff is doing.

The core of returning weekend starters from last year will be back in 2010... Sam Dyson (RHP, 9-4 -16app/15 starts,102ip, 5.21era), Nolan Belcher (LHP, 4-5 -16 app/13 starts, 82.2ip, 5.33era) and Blake Cooper (RHP, 9-4 -17 app/16 starts, 86 ip, 4.50 era). Also returning for a final year is Jay Brown (RHP, 3-0 -12 app/8 starts, 48ip, 3.35era), which gives a solid core of talent capable of improving their talents and honing their skills as starting pitchers. Collectively, their ERA from last year was 4.59, which was a tad lower than last year's cumulative staff ERA of 5.07, the highest cumulative total ERA in the new decade (2001-2009 seasons).

One could attribute some of the problems to youth (Belcher) that needed time to develop on the D1 level of play; or one could also attribute it to injuries of some very good relief pitchers (Westmoreland, CuJo, Price). It is arguable that Dyson wasn't up to his level of play, with a 5.21 REA and a 9-4 record (compared to a 4.09 ERA and 8-0 season in '08). Cooper needed a few weekday games early in the season to get up to speed for his Sunday in-conference starts. Brown's return (after an injury-laden career at Carolina) and his contributions in '09 were amazing and much needed for the advancement of post-season play.

As time passed in the '09 regular season, Carolina relied upon Senior Alex Farotto (LHP, 4-2 -20app, 7 saves, 4.96era) to come in as the reliever, and he did a superb job, providing leadership in that role. But too many injuries to key relievers over time and inconsistent relief from the bullpen made it more difficult for the South Carolina staff to make the call to the pen. Farotto's role got tougher and tougher as the team relied more and more upon his services. Given the circumstances, I tip my cap to these young men because they competed hard against all odds and fought valiantly. I tip my cap to Coach Calvi for his support of his pitching staff because he was instrumental in putting the pieces together and getting the group to work as a unit. Together, they did their share of getting us to a Regional game in Greenville, NC, and fell a little short of the team goal... Omaha.

2010 marks a new year and a new start for our pitching staff. Most of the returning staff have a lot to prove to themselves and to their critics. They know the level of performance in '09 can be exceeded in 2010. Based off of individual ERAs, Jay Brown had the best ERA in '09 (3.35) but was 2 innings short of 50 for the season. 50+ innings experience gives the best indication of what a pitcher brings into a season, and Jay was a pleasant surprise in '09. In four starts in '07, he was at 2-0 with a 4.66 ERA, 20 K's in 19 innings. Admittedly, his best games in '09 were weekday starts; but he managed to progress with each start given, working through his Tommy John surgery in '08, and progressing really well with his control in '09.

Concerning Jay's outlook for the additional year given him for this year, I expect his numbers will continue to get better. He may even return to the form he showcased during his time in the junior college ranks, compiling a record of 7-5 with four saves, a 2.24 ERA with 90K's in 74 innings. Those numbers aren't shabby and are very respectable for someone who can come in and provide middle relief/start on weekdays. He has taken on the burden in 2010 of being a team leader (captain), which is a role he played while at Young-Harris Junior College. If he keeps his ERA in the high 3.00's - low 4.00's, his extra time spent at Carolina will be well worth it. To be frank, a lot depends upon his progression and will correlate directly with how the team will progress in '10. The Gamecocks need a force in middle relief, which Jay Brown is well equipped to provide, and he proved it when he came in with six innings of relief of Blake Cooper in game 2 against UGA last season.

Sam Dyson may have the most to prove in 2010, but will have to do it in a shorter amount of time. Given the status from his fall surgery, he will be kept on a short leash by Coaches Tanner and Calvi early in season play. It would be ideal to limit his work early in the season and keep him on a short pitch count. It will provide him the proper amount of time to bounce back and will provide some "young arms" in the bullpen to come in and contribute early in the season.

Look for Sam to have his break out year in 2010. He will still come with a heated fastball in the mid to high 90's, but I get the feeling we will see him use more control in '10 than sheer brawn. His 78-82 mph curveball is a thing of beauty; his work towards perfecting his change-up (goes down and in) that comes in at 80-82 mph is an especially good pitch against left-handed hitters. He used it effectively last year against Kentucky, Vandy and UGA. I look for him to further develop, and it could be the difference maker for him. His off-speed pitches have always delivered K's and are a lethal combination with his fastball.

For Dyson, his success relates heavily to his ability to maintain control - the mental aspect of pitching. If he comes in from pregame warm-ups with command of most of his pitches, he is always good to go, and his coaches know this about him. They also know that if he gets frustrated with what he is capable of throwing (or has at his disposal) for the day, he can lose confidence in his abilities pretty quickly, as was done against Tennessee last year. Dyson and Justin Dalles were often allowed to call pitches on their own last year. Coach Tanner has commented that Kyle Enders will have similar luxuries of calling pitches behind the plate this year due to his experience and time spent as a Gamecock catcher. I am reasonably certain that Coach Tanner will permit Dyson and Enders to call pitches on their own this year. For Sam, it's all about throwing the pitches he is comfortable with on a given day, and that usually means a batter will be uncomfortable at the plate.

If Dyson catches fire early in conference play, I can see Belcher and Cooper elevating their games. It is a competition among them, and all three are very competitive. Their lives get a little easier when Dyson wins, but each one wants to make their own mark on their weekend starts. Coach Tanner's plan for Belcher may indeed have him move to the pen for awhile, but his competitive nature won't allow him to stay there long. I look for him to maintain his Saturday starts, having completed a full season of solid, competitive experience in '09. He has about five different pitches he can rely on (two- and four-seam fastball, curve, slider and changeup), but like Dyson, the change-up needs more work. I believe in Nolan Belcher; I believe he will be a much more consistent and improved pitcher as our sophomore starter.

I cannot wait to see Blake Cooper in action, because the memory of what I saw in his final game in '09 (against ECU) has stuck with me. His complete game was a thing of beauty, but his masterful performance of utilizing his off-speed pitches with plenty of movement on the ball has me hoping that it will carry over in 2010. Coach Link Jarrett, the Pirates hitting coach said, "You're not going to do a lot with 13 singles. Eventually, you've got to hit a few out of the park; you've got to have extra base hits." Blake did not allow them that luxury in his start against them.

I have always enjoyed watching Blake pitch, and he seems to have his best when the Gamecocks have needed it most - in the post season. No one keeps a batter on his toes like Blake can, and no one makes better use of his defense behind him than Blake does. If he can carry that post-season performance from last year and use it to his advantage during the entire season this year, he will be a tough man to beat. Blake has made the most of winter practice and scrimmages; carry-over into the season starting in February would be a positive sign from him.

Those that will back up the starters' efforts in 2010 are numerous; this was an area of concern in '09. It may become a "windfall" for South Carolina in '10. Guys like Jimmy Revan (LHP), Ethan Carter (RHP), Tyler Webb (LHP), Steven Neff (LHP), Matt Price (RHP), Alex Burrell (LHP) and about 9 others will become key factors in relief. Closers Parker Bangs (RHP), Jose Mata (RHP) and John Taylor (RHP) will become key to shut down hitters in latter innings and preserve wins. All totaled, there are about 19 active pitchers on staff; each one brings something different to the mound. Here are a few that have been impressive since fall:

Jimmy Revan, a sophomore transfer from SMC, brings a wicked change-up to the mound as a left-handed pitcher.

Tyler Webb, a left-handed freshman, stands at about 6'6" and 210 lbs., pitches from a high 3/4 arm slot and has balanced delivery. He keeps the ball down and has good arm speed. His fastball has good movement at 90 mph; Curve ball has "slurve" (mixed slider and curve) at around 76 mph. He can effectively mix 3 pitches very well. He had a good fall and winter camp at USC.

Ethan Carter (6'5", 205 lb.), uses a 3/4 arm angle to pitch in the high 80's and has touched 90+ mph in some of the national events in which he participated last year. He is projected to build on the velocity of his pitches. He has a good fast pitch that gets to the hitter fast, has a very good sharp slider and possesses very good command of it. Carter completes a three pitch mix with a change-up and sinker. He has had a productive fall and winter.

John Taylor, a 3/4 to submarine style pitcher has been impressive in the fall and winter practices. Last year, He threw 62.2 innings and struck out 54 while walking 15; opponents batted just .174 against him. He compiled a 3-1 record with a 2.08 ERA in 30.1 innings pitched in the 2009 season at Florence Darlington Tech, struck out 27 batters, and walked just eight on the year as well.

Jose Mata, (5'9", 180 Broward C.C.) also a submarine thrower, hurled 45 innings and finished with a 1.20 ERA and seven saves and was tied for 21st in NJCAA in saves last year. He struck out 37, walked just six and finished with 3-2 record at Broward in 2009. Mata has had a good fall and winter camp at Carolina. br>
One point stands out when you look at the names above. Most are entering their first year in D-I college baseball as freshmen or via the JUCO route. Coach Holbrook has made an effort to seek out the best pitching talent, starting in the home state. He got two of the best available in SC with Colby Holmes and Greg Harrison. The second priority was to get the best arms regionally - done with Tyler Webb and Ethan Carter. The third priority was to get some "seasoned" talent in the JUCO ranks: Mata, Taylor, Revan. Finally, to find the talent on a national scale that fits the staff's immediate needs, like pitcher transfer David de la Chappelle out of Howard College in Coppell, Texas.

The aforementioned recruiting trend will continue in 2010 recruiting (2011 players). The Gamecocks have in-state commitments from two of the three best pitchers: Forrest Koumas (RHP, Lugoff-Elgin H.S.) and Drake Thomason (RHP, Eastside H.S.). They also have a regional commitment from Mason Williams (OF/RHP) a speedster out of W.Orange H.S., Winter Garden, FL, and Logan Munson (LHP, transfer from UNC-CH), who is already attending classes and taking part in team practices. Commitments from some of the "seasoned" talent that is needed to cover lost starters from this year's team include Wes Cook (LHP, Central Alabama J.C.), Cameron Greathouse (LHP, Gulf Coast J.C.), Bryan Harper (LHP) and Donn Roach (LHP), both out of the Community College of Southern Nevada.

Both Harper and Roach were recruited heavily out of high school. Both played their freshman years at a D1 school (Harper- Cal State Northridge; Roach- University of Arizona) and both are Top 100 JUCO recruits ranked by PG Crosschecker (Harper #98; Roach #22). They are teammates on the projected #1 (by Baseball America) Junior College team in the U.S. Both are currently 2-0 (Harper 2 app/1 started, 0.00era; Roach 2 app/2 started, 1.38era) and will provide the Coyotes with significant pitching time in 2010. Coach Holbrook originally went to visit Harper, but Harper made it a point to introduce him to Donn Roach. Roach came to Columbia for a visit during the USC/Florida football game last fall and fell in love with our campus, its fans, the facilities and the thought of playing in a high profile conference.

Although it is difficult in college baseball recruiting to "guarantee" someone's arrival onto campus (especially ones that are high profile), it is a good bet that Roach and Harper will stay firmly committed to USC. This year will be good, but the best is yet to come.

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