SFA Baseball 2012 Preview: Starting Pitchers The 'Jacks open up the 2012 season on Feb. 17 vs Portland in Beaumont.
Zack Taylor went 5-2 with a 3.20 ERA as a junior in 2011.
Feb. 6, 2012
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The Lumberjack baseball team put together a breakout season in 2012, winning a program record 37 games and coming up just one win shy of an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. This season the expectations are even higher with a veteran group poised to take the next step.
The Lumberjacks saw steady improvement on the mound in each of Johnny Cardenas' first three years at the helm of the SFA program, with the Lumberjacks' team ERA dropping each of those seasons; however, the `Jacks took a big leap forward in 2011, leading the Southland Conference with a 3.57 team ERA while posting the first ERA for the staff under 4.00 since the 1984 season.
SFA saw pitching spikes for the team across a balanced stat sheet despite having only two arms - twin brothers Jason and Jared West - named honorable mention all-Southland Conference. Still, a staff anchored by senior righty Zack Taylor has the makings of the deepest set of arms Cardenas has had at his disposal since taking over.
"We had a great year with our pitching last season, but we do feel as though we can be even better this year if we do what we are capable of," Cardenas said. "Zack (Taylor) had a great season for us last season, and we expect him to be good again this year, and Colton (Eubanks) showed us late in the year why he has all the makings of a very good starter in this league too. Also, with the addition of Chase Greening on Friday nights, we feel as though we are entering the season with maybe the most talented 1-2-3 guys we've had since being here."
Taylor had made just two starts in his first two seasons as a Lumberjack, but worked his way into the weekend rotation and was the Sunday starter for the `Jacks in each conference series of the year. He finished the year leading SFA in ERA (3.20), strikeouts (63), and innings pitched (81.1) while holding hitters to just a .235 batting average.
This season the fifth-year senior will be asked to hold down Sundays once again to open this season after more than doubling his career total of innings pitched as a junior.
"Zack was great for us on Sundays last season and to alleviate any extra pressure we went to him and told him that he was going to be our Sunday guy again so that we could just keep things rolling," Cardenas said. "He made great strides last season and we expect him to continue to mature this year with a developed swagger and dominate on Sunday games."
Taylor will be preceded in the weekend rotation to start the season by fellow right-handers Chase Greening and Colton Eubanks, each of whom have yet to start a game on the Division I level; however, both put together stellar seasons in 2011 and have Cardenas and his staff confident that their transitions will be seamless.
Greening, a local product from Lufkin, Texas, took his high school team to the Texas Class 5A state title game as a senior and used his first two years of college experience pitching at home for Angelina College. There he was the Roadrunners' top starter, posting a 10-2 record and a 2.61 ERA as a sophomore in one of the top junior college baseball leagues in the nation.
"We specifically brought Chase in to pitch on Fridays, and we told him that when we recruited him," Cardenas said. "He's not a strikeout guy, but he was very successful at Lufkin and Angelina by doing what he does, so our defense is going to have to play well but he will give us a chance every game to win because he doesn't give up cheap runs."
Meanwhile, Eubanks spent all of his junior season pitching out of the SFA bullpen, posting a 1-1 record with three saves and a 2.65 ERA. He walked just seven hitters in 34.0 innings of work, but was at his best late in the year when he pitched on each of the final two days of the Southland Conference Tournament. There he allowed just two runs in 8.1 innings of relief against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and in the championship game against Texas State, fanning eight and not walking a single batter.
In all, he allowed just four runs in his final 13 innings of the season, prompting Cardenas to consider and ultimately honor his request for a move to the weekend rotation as a senior. Since then he has done nothing but continue to impress and is currently slated to hold down Saturday assignments for the `Jacks.
"He was a bullpen guy for us last season and he accepted that role and was good at it," Cardenas said. "But moving forward he wanted to be a weekend starter in this conference and based upon what we know he is capable of and what he showed us late in the season, we felt as though he deserved that shot."
In addition to SFA's weekend rotation, Cardenas will also have an abundance of quality pitchers to turn to when the `Jacks take on midweek opponents such as Arkansas, Texas A&M, Rice and Texas. Cody Priest, Reid Landers, Brett Higginbotham and Kevin Bishop are all returners who made at least one start last year as either freshmen or sophomores and will likely be called upon not only in weekend relief, but as midweek starters while sophomore Fabian Arcizo is another youthful name who could be Cardenas could hand the ball to when games open up.
Those five, along with junior transfer Justin Choate - a righty who posted a 1.96 ERA and was an all-Region XIV selection last season at Texarkana College - easily give Cardenas more options to turn to than what he has had since taking over for the 2008 season.
"The biggest difference between last year's and this year's pitching staff is that we have a lot of options when it comes to midweek starters," Cardenas said. "And even those guys who aren't getting the ball as a starter still make us better in middle and long relief, and if something were to happen as the year goes on, we have confidence that in them if the situation came up that we had to hand the ball off on the weekend too."