SFA Baseball 2013 Preview: Starting Pitchers
Feb. 7, 2013
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks were just one win away from its second consecutive Southland Conference Tournament championship game a year ago, and this year with four preseason all-conference selections on board, another successful season seems to be in line for the `Jacks.
This is the second in a five-part series previewing the Lumberjacks, position-by-position, leading up to the 2013 opener at South Alabama on February 15 in Mobile.
The Lumberjacks saw their staff ERA go up nearly a full run from 2011 to 2012, but a strong finish to the last season and the return of a likely weekend rotation who made a combined 31 starts a year ago seem to have the `Jacks poised for a better, more complete season from its starters in 2013.
Head coach Johnny Cardenas was forced to tinker with his weekend rotation throughout the majority of last season, but eventually found a weekend trio that helped the `Jacks win seven of its final 11 games. Included in that trio of right-handers is a preseason all-conference choice and SFA's Friday starter who will be entering having picked up five wins a season ago.
Senior Chase Greening will be coming into the year being asked once again to front the rotation after a junior campaign that finished much stronger than it started. Greening, a Lufkin native, carried just a 7.50 ERA over his first six starts of the season before closing out the rest of the regular season with a 2.97 mark.
A control pitcher who works primarily in the strike zone and features an above average off-speed arsenal, Greening struck out just 48 batters in a team-high 82.1 innings, winning five of his 14 starts. After a solid fall, Cardenas feels like Greening is ready to put together a season similar to that which he put together as a sophomore at Angelina College before transferring to SFA.
"Chase showed toward the end of the year what he is capable of and that he can be a front-line starter in this league," Cardenas said. "Now we just need him to be able to do that out of the gate and carry us the way we know he is capable."
Greening will have plenty of help, though, starting with sophomore Cameron Gann. A native of Crandall, Texas, Gann was one of the true bright spots from a year ago for SFA. He started the year in the bullpen, but then was inserted into the weekend rotation midway through the year and immediately responded with consecutive complete-game wins vs UTSA and Northwestern State, both in series openers.
He ended up making 11 starts on the year and just missed all-conference honors with a 7-3 record and 2.62 ERA. Gann is a preseason all-Southland selection and is also coming off a strong summer and fall, topping out at 93-94 mph on the radar gun according to the coaches while playing on the East Texas Pump Jacks of the Texas Collegiate League during the summer.
"Cameron was a pleasant surprise for us, and if he just repeats what he did a year ago then we are going to be in great position to win a lot of weekend series," Cardenas said. "He did what we asked him to do and really stepped up and made some big starts for us when we were struggling mid year."
Closing in on the end of spring camp the final rotation spot still seems to be in the air, although returning senior Justin Choate looking to have the inside track for the job to open up the year. A transfer from Texarkana College last year, Choate went back and forth from the bullpen to starter throughout the year in making 23 appearances, a mark second only to last year's closer Alex Moshier.
Unfortunately for Choate, despite a respectable 4.13 ERA for the year, he turned out to be a hard-luck loser on multiple occasions, taking five losses to without being credited for a win. Still, he struck out 40 in 61.0 innings and walked just 16.
"Choate was big for us last year, much more so than the numbers show," Cardenas said. "He filled a number of roles for us last year and took a few losses he really should not have. Still, we couldn't have done what we did last year without him and toward the end of the year he was one of the guys we had the most confidence in."
Those three will be pushed for rotation spots by a trio of others, each of which will likely see early time out of the bullpen or in midweek roles, including right-handers Kevin Bishop and Kyle Cross, and lefty newcomer Sam Johnson.
Bishop, a junior from College Station, made one midweek start each of the past two seasons for the `Jacks, but has done the majority of his work out of the pen. Last year he logged 17.2 innings with a 2.55 ERA but only factored in one decision in his 14 appearances.
Meanwhile, Cross and Johnson will make up possible starters from SFA's ranks of newcomers with Cross coming off a strong fall and spring. A prototypical righty from Wharton County CC, Cross is in the mix for the Sunday job as well, but should he not land it will likely find himself as SFA's top midweek option. The `Jacks could also turn to the junior lefty transfer Johnson to mix things up after he struck out 43 in 57 innings with a 4.42 ERA last year at Galveston Junior College.
2013 Season Preview Schedule: