Aggie Baseball 2008: On the mound

The Aggies lose two 11-game winners from a year ago, so the question is, who will fill the void? Aggie Websider's Lanny Hayes takes a look at the returners and newcomers that will take the mound in 2008.

Aggie baseball fans who trekked to Olsen Field for pitching in 2007 had just two names on their mind—Kyle Nicholson and David Newmann. The excitement was for good reason, as the two shared numerous postseason honors and were drafted in the top rounds of the MLB draft.

Perhaps just below that excitement, though, was the fear that a group of unproven, inexperienced arms sat just behind them. Nicholson and Newmann combined for a 2.51 ERA, but the rest of the team finished the season with a less-than-stellar 4.66 mark. The lack of consistent depth is what kept the Aggies as a .500 Big 12 club and was a large reason that the team was bounced from the Rice Super-Regional. However, the potential of that group had its moments of greatness, namely the late season run to the Big 12 and College Station Regional championships, both effectively out of the loser's bracket.

That group of concern enters the 2008 campaign as a sign of potentially great depth and gives the Aggies a very different recipe than last season on paper. No big names graces the top of the rotation, but those battle tested arms are joined by several talented newcomers who could help define the first consistent staff in the Rob Childress era.

The early season starters figure to be many of the names who came up large in spot-start and relief roles during A&M's deep 2007 postseason run. Kirkland Rivers (LHP, 2-3, 5.21 ERA in 2007) looks to be in the mix as an opening weekend starter, along with College Station Regional hero Kyle Thebeau (3-6, 4.67 ERA, 92 K in 79 IP) and Sophomore Scott Migl (7-3, 3.77 ERA).

One name to add to that group for fans to keep their eye on is true Freshman Barrett Loux. The hard throwing righty was a mid-round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers, but was highly coveted and reportedly offered second round money at the signing deadline. He declined, and the Tigers' poor fortune may pay immediate dividends for A&M as Loux is scheduled to start on opening weekend.

The tail end of contests feature a two-headed closing monster that should rank amongst the best in college baseball. The name you know is Jordan Chambless, who won't open the season at 100% but can be lethal when healthy. The name you should know is Travis Starling (1-0, 1.33 ERA), a righty whose control and craftiness helped carry the Aggies in the postseason (2 saves, 1 run allowed in 5 postseason appearances).

The condensing of the season schedule means many more midweek contests, as most weeks will see a Wednesday afternoon game follow the typical Tuesday slate. The mid-week starters will also be leaned on for middle relief roles in conference play and potentially much more.

Clayton Ehlert (1-1, 4.70 ERA), Michael Heard (0-0, 6.75 ERA) and Shane Minks (0-0, 9.82 ERA) are returners who will be looked to step in to these roles. Minks improved vastly toward the end of 2007, while Heard suffered an early season injury. Ehlert was scheduled to redshirt until the realities of the pitching staff forced him into action last April, and he served well in the role that he was asked to fill.

Childress won't have to lean entirely on veterans to fill these holes, as several newcomers grace the Aggie roster. Among the notable are transfers Carson Middleton and Matthew Speake, as well as freshman lefties Aaron Daab and two-way standout Brooks Raley.

While the lack of a true front line starter is a concern for Aggie baseball fans, there may be some hope on the horizon. Should any expected contributor not step up and become the Friday night starter that's needed, the potential return of transfer Alex Wilson could help that process.

The flame throwing righty transferred to A&M from Winthrop, just 18 months after being named Collegiate Baseball's freshman of the year and a third team All-American. Conventional wisdom says that he will be unable to pitch in the 2008 season, given the timing of his recent Tommy John surgery, but the official press release announcing his transfer suggested that he may be available in late 2008. Sources inside the program have also said that his rehab is ahead of schedule.

If he's available and is capable of returning to his pre-surgery form (two very big "Ifs"), Wilson undoubtedly has the talent to be staff anchor that could turn the Aggies' season into another special year.




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