Pitching has been the strong point for Columbus all season long and is one of the biggest reasons for the team's success. The Catfish are led by an outstanding starting rotation that features top prospects Joshua Butler, Jeremy Hellickson, Heath Rollins, and Wade Townsend.
Rollins, who is off to the best start of any Columbus pitcher, is emerging as one of the top pitching prospects in the entire South Atlantic League. In 11 starts, he is 6-0 with a 1.09 ERA, second lowest in the league, and an outstanding 69/13 strikeout to walk ratio. As of June 3, Rollins is also leading all undefeated pitchers in the South Atlantic League in wins. Rollins was recently named South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week for the week ending on May 29. He has only allowed 43 hits in 66.1 innings pitched to go along with a team best 0.96 WHIP. If Rollins continues to dominate at this level, he could earn a promotion in the very near future.
Butler, who was drafted out of the University of San Diego last summer, is also among the South Atlantic League Leaders with a 2.14 ERA in eleven starts. After scattering three hits in seven shutout innings, he picked up the win in Columbus' 2-0 victory over the Braves last night. For the season, he is 4-1 with 45 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.06. He has given up only 50 hits and allowed 15 earned runs in 63.0 innings.
After staying in Florida at the Devil Rays minor league complex for extended spring training, Hellickson, expected to anchor the pitching staff after a dominant season in the New York Penn League in 2006, missed the fist few weeks of the season. But the talented young right-hander has made up for lost time. In his first six starts with the Catfish, Hellickson is 2-1 with a 2.79 ERA and 24 strikeouts. He is currently ranked as the ninth best minor league prospect in the Devil Rays' farm system by Scout.com. The Iowa native, who has a 1.21 WHIP so far this year, has allowed only 24 hits in 29.0 innings.
Townsend has battled through numerous injuries since being drafted out of Rice University. But his once-promising career finally appears to be on on the right track. He is currently 3-4 with 3.48 ERA in nine starts.
Ryan Morse has been a force for Columbus as relief pitcher and spot starter. Headed into Sunday, Morse is 3-3 with a 2.91 ERA in 13 appearances, including six starts. A Southwest State University product, he has only allowed 17 earned runs in 52.2 innings. Closer Neil Frontz has been the top relief pitcher for Columbus this season. Frontz, who is 3-4 with a 2.36 ERA, is among the league leaders with eight saves.
Nevin Ashley, John Matulia, and Ryan Royster have been the leaders of Columbus' offense. Ashley, who is one of the top catching prospects in the South Atlantic League, is second on the team with five home runs and 27 RBIs. Matulia, one of only three Columbus regulars batting over .300, is leading the team in triples (5) and is second on the team in runs (28) at the top of the lineup. Royster has been the biggest run producer in the middle of the Columbus lineup. The left fielder is leading or tied for the team lead in all Triple Crown categories with a .315 batting average, 7 home runs, and 33 RBIS. He has arguably been the top hitter in the Southern Division of the South Atlantic League.
Speedy outfielder Desmond Jennings, one of the fastest outfielders in the entire organization, is also off to a solid start. Jennings is among the league leaders with 21 stolen bases and is leading Columbus with 32 runs scored. He is batting .287 with an on base percentage of .377, which also leads the team. Jennings has also flashed signs of power with three home runs and 9 RBIs. First baseman Matthew Fields is tied with Royster for the team lead with 7 home runs and 33 RBIs, but is only batting .228. Eckerd College product Craig Albernaz is batting .143 (3-21) with a RBI in limited playing time behind the plate. Albernaz is best known for his strong throwing arm.
The Catfish will play Rome again today in the second game of a four game series.