Feb. 11, 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 third 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.
Returners: Cody Priest, Brett Higginbotham, Fabian Arcizo, Cass Ingvardsen, Hunter Dozier
Newcomers: Cory Maltz, Garrett Powell, Justin Hunsaker, Blake Rhodes, Chris Hassold, Matt Mundkowsky
SFA has been the beneficiary of one of the strongest bullpens in the Southland each of the past five seasons, sporting one of the top closers the league has had to offer each of those years as well. Last year was no different with Alex Moshier ranking third the league with nine saves.
This season the `Jacks have a number of candidates for relief work, but none who have seen significant time in late-inning situations in an SFA uniform and none with more than Fabian Arcizo's 44.2 innings of relief work in a career. But the `Jacks still sport five bullpen returners who combined for a sub-4.00 ERA out of the pen a year ago, as well as six newcomers, including a pair of lefties and a projected starter in New Mexico transfer Cory Maltz.
The only two four-year arms for the `Jacks on the roster will open the year out of the pen in righties Cody Priest and Brett Higginbotham. Each spent time as a starter last season, with Priest making three starts and Higginbotham six, before each closed out the year in the pen.
Priest logged 35.1 innings a year ago and profiles as someone who could log key setup innings late in the game with his fastball-slider combination, while still having the ability to be able to be stretched out for long relief. Meanwhile Higginbotham burst onto the 2012 scene with a complete game victory over ULM early in the year before transitioning back to relief and changing his delivery from an overhand motion to a lower sidearm delivery the coaches believe will make him much more effective in relief, especially against right-handed hitters.
"We expect both of those guys to be good for us this season," head coach Johnny Cardenas said. "With them being seniors we have seen them develop each year, doing a little more and a little more each season. Now it is their last go-round and I expect them to be focused and a huge part of what success we are able to have."
SFA will also turn to three more returning arms to turn to in Arcizo, Cass Ingvardsen and Hunter Dozier, who made four appearances on the mound last year in addition to putting together an all-conference season at the plate. Arcizo logged the most bullpen innings of anyone not named Alex Moshier last season, putting up a solid 3.23 ERA in 30.2 total innings on the year in 15 appearances. Right behind him was another righty, senior Cass Ingvardsen who held opponents to a .269 average and closed out the year with a 3.81 ERA in 24 appearances.
Dozier made just four appearances last season, but showed flashes of why he could be a weapon on the mound and could be used even more as a late-inning option in a strikeout situation with a fastball over 90mph and a plus slider.
"We have depth in the pen this year, but we still are going to have to have guys step up and perform and probably have some better seasons than they have had before," Cardenas said. "Fabian has been pretty consistent for us the past two years and logged a good deal of innings, and we know Cass has the ability to be someone we can turn to late in the game."
Entering the season the coaching staff will turn to former New Mexico Lobo right-hander Cory Maltz to shut the door and take over closing duties. A former high school teammate of current Lumberjack infielder Freddy Villalobos at Houston's Westside High School, Maltz pitched for two years at Weatherford College before heading to Albuquerque where he made 13 appearances with a 4.64 ERA in a high-altitude league known for offense.
"We have a lot of confidence in Cory to come in and take over where Moshier left off," Cardenas said. "He was with us all of last year while taking his redshirt year so he really got to know the team and developed a lot of camaraderie with the guys, and gave us a chance to watch him and see first-hand what he has to offer."
Maltz is not the only transfer bullpen arm the `Jacks added for 2013 as right-hander Garrett Powell and lefty Justin Hunsaker will each be called upon to get key outs this year. At 6-2, 205 pounds, Powell hails from Sherman, Texas, and put up a 2.43 ERA in 17 outings for perennially strong Grayson County Community College last season. Meanwhile, SFA traveled west to pick up Hunsaker, who provides a left-handed presence in the pen, which is something the Lumberjacks have lacked in recent seasons. One of two pick-ups from Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona for SFA, Hunsaker tossed 32.2 innings for CGCC as a sophomore.
SFA also plucked away three high school arms from the Houston area, all of whom should pick up innings this season in a pair of righties Blake Rhodes (Klein HS), Matt Mundkowsky (Tomball HS) and left-hander Chris Hassold (Katy Cinco Ranch HS).
2013 Season Preview Schedule:
Feb. 5 - Catchers
Feb. 7 - Starting Pitching
Feb. 11 - Bullpen
Feb. 13 - Infielders
Feb. 13 - Outfielders