For those not keeping score, that means the top of the rotation doesn't feature anyone who has started a major-college game.
Hamilton, though, is no stranger to the spotlight. A two-time all-conference selection at closer, the junior from Vancouver, Wash., is known for his fastball and hard slider. Over the offseason he added a third pitch – a changeup – to his repertoire and Lees is confident that will allow him to flourish in the rotation.
“He’s got pitches that go left, right and down, and then you add his competitiveness, how hard he trains,” Lees recently told Cougfan.com. “He’s got the type of mentality you want guys to have as they’re walking out to lead this team.”
Hamilton figures to attract plenty of Major League attention in the June draft.
McFadden, a flame-thrower from Yelm, was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 81 overall prospect in last June’s MLB draft. Jones, from Twin Falls, worked primarily in relief last season at College of Southern Idaho.
The fourth starter in the Cougars’ rotation is yet to be determined, Lees said, but junior Layne Bruner, sophomore Ryan Walker and freshmen Ryan Ward and Ryan Widell are in the running. Bruner may have the inside track, with Walker, Ward and Widell shaping up as bullpen cornerstones.
Walker started seven games last season and appeared in 18 others, while Bruner started two and appeared in another 17.
To replace Hamilton in the closer’s role, Lees said he’ll go with the committee approach, likely led by the three Ws: Walker, Ward and Widell.
The rest of the staff consists of Davis Baillie, Kevin Calderhead, Chandler Greenfield, Ty Johnson, Caleb McAlister, Scotty Sunitsch and Trenton Dupre.
Johnson is a former catcher. Three pitchers – freshman James Mullins and sophomore Curtis Bafus and Colby Nealy – are redshirting and second-year freshman Nick Leonard is injured, Lees said.
HERE’S HOW THE REST OF THE TEAM SHAPES UP:
Lees expects sophomore Brennon Kaleiwahea (hit .219 and made nine starts last season) and third-year sophomore Stefan Van Horn (no action in 2015) to handle the chores. “This was the area that needed the most improvement coming into fall ball,” Lees said. “Van Horn has made big strides, especially when he’s at bat. Kaleiwahea is never going to hurt the team when he’s behind the plate. He’s just going to be solid, catch the ball, and throw it down to second base. He’s more of a skill type kid, put the ball in play, bunt, things like that, whereas Van Horn has more power,” Lees said.
True freshman Jacob Thurber of Des Moines, Wash., junior Wes Loew (.254 with 16 starts last season) and senior Patrick McGrath (.119 and 12 starts) are battling. He said the three are doing a solid job but need to step up the hitting. Collectively, he hopes they can produce eight to 10 home runs.
The most important position on the field, Lees says, and two players are competing: sophomore Jack Strunc, who started 53 games and hit .245 at shortstop last season, and fourth-year junior Trek Stemp, who redshirted last season. Stemp also can play in center and right field.
Sophomore Shane Matheny (56 starts, .207 BA last season) and McGrath are the front-runners. Lees is “comfortable with either one of them starting at third.”
Justin Harrer – a true freshman from Sisters, Ore. – will get the bulk of playing time, though Matheny and Strunc also may play some here. “Matheny is a good player, and he gives us good depth at shortstop with Strunc,” Lees said. Fourth-year junior infielder Shea Donlin, who made 24 starts and hit .230 last season, may not make the team, Lees said.
The Cougars will feature six players, most of whom can play at least two of the three spots. The group is led by three veterans: Wes Hatten (.260 and 44 starts last season); Derek Chapman (.265, 38 starts) and Cameron Frost (.221, 36 starts). In addition, there’s Stemp, College of Southern Idaho transfer Dugan Shirer and true freshman Mason Cerrillo of Auburn, Wash.
“I think Cerillo is going to be a very good baseball player here. His attention to detail is good. He’s a good little hitter. He knows where the ball goes in the outfield all the time,” Lees said. “He may not have the arm strength yet, but he’s very accurate. He’s on the money every time.
“Stemp and Shirer have shined as high-end defenders,” Lees said. “Chapman’s done good. Frost has gotten better all the time … Hatten is very solid.”
OVERALL, LEES SAID THE COUGAR ARE better on defense than when he arrived and the offense is “better than the batting average (.239) showed last year.”
Lees says that the speed and power of the team is not where he’d like it, but he’s confident the Cougars are “going in the right direction.”
“I’ve seen growth in every kid. The biggest thing is our locker room is very strong, and I think kids feel like they can trust us,” Lees said.
“I don’t want to set a limit on these guys. The expectation is that we have to understand what we need to do day-to-day, pitch-to-pitch; just live in the moment and let the rest of the season take care of itself.
“I think going to Omaha (for the NCAA tournament) is important, I think winning a Pac-12 championship is important, but if you don’t take care of what you can right now, then that stuff doesn’t matter,” Lees said. “There will be things you can’t control, but the end result will match if you stay the course, if you stay within the process, if you know who you are and how you can serve this group.”
The Cougars open the season in San Marcos, Texas, with a four-game set against Texas State from Feb. 19-22 and then play four more in Edinburg, Texas, from Feb. 25-28 against three teams. WSU opens the home slate on Mar. 3 in the first of four games against Utah Valley.