Editors Note: This is the second of a three-part series previewing the Central Michigan baseball program’s 2014 season. An in-depth look at the outfield was released on Wednesday, Feb. 5 and a preview of the infield was released on Thursday, Feb. 6.
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – The Central Michigan pitching staff appears to be the Chippewas’ biggest strength heading into the 2014 campaign.
The Chippewas bring back all but one pitcher from a staff that ranked fifth in the Mid-American Conference last season in earned run average and have bolstered their staff with the addition of talented recruits.
Junior right-hander Jordan Foley will be the Chippewas’ opening day starter for the first time in his career when the Maroon and Gold take the field versus UNLV on Friday, Feb. 14. Foley was recently named the No. 37 junior prospect in the country and top prospect in the MAC by Baseball America following a sophomore campaign in which he went 6-6 with a 3.08 ERA and ranked fourth in the MAC with 90 strikeouts.
“The biggest thing for Jordan is to continue to move on the path that he has followed to this point,” head coach Steve Jaksa said. “Ultimately, it is going to be his ability to focus on the job at hand. He is a talented young man, but now he needs to take that talent and turn it into a consistent effort each start.”
The return of senior right hander Pat Kaminska will also help the Chippewas in 2014 after an injury suffered last season allowed him to take a medical redshirt and return for a third season in the Maroon and Gold. Kaminska went 5-4 with a 3.05 ERA, including a 4-2 mark and 3.59 ERA in seven MAC starts, during the 2012 campaign, and was on pace for another solid season before his injury a year ago.
“When we lost PK last year it was a big loss for our program,” Jaksa said. “It put a little more pressure on the rest of our staff. Everyone’s role changed and that was unfortunate because he was on pace to have a very nice season. You know what you’re going to get from him every time he takes the mound. He is going to compete, fill up the zone and he doesn’t want you to come take the ball from him. We feel he is going to pick up right where he left off in 2012 and gives us that guy in our rotation that provides stability.”
The loss of Kaminska could prove to a be a blessing in disguise for the Chippewas as several freshman were forced into roles they weren’t expecting. However, those situations allowed the underclassmen to gain valuable experience that should pay off this season.
Left hander Adam Aldred (12 app./3 starts), right hander Taylor Lehnert (14 app./9 starts), right hander Jason Gamble (17 app.) and left hander Jimmy McNamara (18 app./5 starts) all saw significant time on the mound last year and will look to continue their development in year two.
Aldred’s development has been so impressive since the end of last season, the sophomore has earned himself a spot in the Chippewas’ opening-weekend rotation. The Woodlands, Texas native set the Butler Blue Sox record for lowest ERA in a season over the summer at 1.59 and has continued his development throughout spring practice.
“In all fairness to Adam, his stuff wasn’t quite ready for the position we put him in last year,” Jaksa said. “When we lost PK, Adam’s entire role changed. There were a couple midweek games that if we had more depth, his numbers wouldn’t have been as skewed because we wouldn’t have left him in games as long as we did.”
“Adam has put himself in a very, very good position to become a weekend starter and has earned that right to be a part of the rotation. His changeup is really good and as guys expand off the plate, he has the ability to throw a very good fastball inside. His biggest improvement since last season has been his ability to locate the ball on both sides of the plate and keep hitters off balance.”
True freshman Nick Deeg will fill the No. 3 spot in the Chippewas’ rotation behind Foley and Kaminska and Jaksa expects big things out of the highly-touted left hander. Deeg was named to Baseball America’s Top 100 prospect list of the 2016 draft and was signed by the Chippewas as the No. 2 rated prospect in Michigan by PrepBaseballReport.com and Perfect Game.
“Nick Deeg just goes out there and is tough on hitters,” Jaksa said. “He has been tough on people in the cage and was tough on guys during fall ball. He knows that he is tough on people and he goes about it a certain way that makes him vey successful. He has pretty good stuff and has a great feel for who he is as a pitcher. We don’t worry about the fact that he is a freshman because he is a calm kid that doesn’t get rattled and is rarely overmatched.”
Senior Kenton San Miguel (2-0/3.74 ERA/15 app.) and redshirt sophomore Blake Louscher (13 app.) are two left handers that add depth and give the coaching staff the ability to play the matchups with opposing hitters. The Chippewas also added junior college transfer Tim Black to their staff and the strike thrower will start the season in the bullpen as a pitcher who can chew up innings in tough situations.
“Timmy was a really good junior college starter that is going to change his role for us to start the season,” Jaksa said. “He is a strike thrower that can come out of the bullpen for us and is capable of chewing up a couple innings on back-to-back days.”
The bullpen’s main priority this season will be to lock down the middle innings in hopes to get the ball to the Chippewas’ closer, junior left hander Matt Trowbridge.
Trowbridge tied the second best mark in program history and ranked third in the MAC with nine saves last season, his first as the closer. After being named the team’s opening day starter at Louisiana-Lafayette a year ago, the hard-throwing lefty was moved to a different role and has embraced it as the team’s shutdown closer.
“Closing a game is tough,” Jaksa said. “Matt went through a lot last year and still ended up with nine saves. That is a lot of saves for a guy who had never closed game before. He has embraced his role as our closer and enjoys it. He knows his stuff is good and can battle through things when he may stub his toe a little bit. He trusts his stuff and now he has developed the mentality of pounding the zone on a more consistent basis.”
The Chippewas will open the season with a catcher-by-committee mentality, as juniors Tyler Huntey and Alec Ornelas and sophomore Dylan Goodwin all return. True freshman Robert Greenman will also vie for time behind the plate.
The competition between those four players has been healthy according to Jaksa and he believes the position will take care of itself through through the process.
“I think the catcher position will take care of itself,” Jaksa said. “There is a nice competitive battle going on there. All four guys are putting forth their best effort. What we will find out is who is best at receiving the ball and who is best at handling our staff on the field. We need a guy that can recognize our pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses and relay that information back to us in the dugout. Offensively, having the depth we have at the catching position allows us to make changes in the middle of the game if we need a pinch runner or a pinch hitter and we feel that depth has developed enough that we can make the changes when we need to.”
The Chippewas will open the season with 20 games on the road, beginning with a four-game series at UNLV Feb. 14-16.
Central Michigan baseball is on Twitter and Facebook. Follow the program’s official account (@CMUBaseball) and head coach Steve Jaksa (@CoachJaksaCMU22) to get insider news, information and team updates. The Chippewas can also be followed on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CMUBaseball.