In the final installment of three previews, GoHuskies.com takes a look at the Washington baseball team’s pitchers and catchers. The first day of full squad practice is Friday, Jan. 24.
SEATTLE – The prevailing characteristic in the Huskies’ infield and outfield is experience. The same holds true when talking about the pitching staff and catchers.
The Huskies return three catchers that combined to start all 56 games in 2013, while the pitching staff returns a group that amassed 60 percent of the team’s innings. Add in several returning arms from 2012 that redshirted last year due to injuries and Washington is poised to have a formidable stable of arms in 2014.
Let’s take a look at the Huskies’ pitchers and catchers.
Coach Lindsay Meggs and pitching coach Jason Kelly are fortunate to have eight players returning that pitched in 2013, two that pitched in previous seasons but redshirted last year due to injuries and a handful of newcomers that are ready to battle for spots in the rotation and bullpen.
Unfortunately, the Huskies did lose their Friday starter Austin Voth, a fifth-round selection in the Major League Draft by the Washington Nationals. Meggs and Kelly will have to find a way to replace Voth’s team-high seven wins, 105.1 innings, 98 strikeouts and 2.99 ERA, which was second amongst all UW pitchers.
Despite the loss of Voth, Meggs is confident that one of his veteran arms will step up and fill in as the team’s workhorse.
“Austin Voth is going to pitch in the big leagues. He is already putting up fantastic numbers at the minor league level. He was a 95 mile per hour guy who could throw a power slider. We are not going to put it into those terms,” Meggs said in regards to replacing Voth.
“On Friday, we are looking for someone who can keep us in the game who relishes that role of facing someone else’s number one guy,” Meggs added. “That can be many different types of pitchers.”
Versatile senior Zach Wright will likely get the first shot at filling the Friday slot. Wright appeared in a team-high 33 games last year – four starts – and was 4-5 with a 3.21 ERA in 70.0 innings of work.
“He has been in every role on this staff,” Meggs said of Wright. “He has started games, he has closed games, he worked out of the bullpen early in his career, he has pitched on the road, he has pitched here, he has pitched at LSU and he has pitched in several big games.
“We think Zach has the right make-up to go out on Friday and change speeds, mix things up, keep us in the game and go deep into the game. We think he is going to do a great job out of the chute and fill those shoes of Austin Voth.”
Juniors Jared Fisher and Jeff Brigham are the early favorites to complete the weekend rotation. Fisher was second on the team with 10 starts last year and compiled a 2-2 record, 3.20 ERA in 59.0 innings, while Brigham is returning after missing last year due to injury.
“’Fish’ took some big steps last year as a sophomore,” said Meggs of the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Fisher. “He was drafted right out of high school and has since gotten bigger and stronger, and in better shape, and has a better command of everything he does. We think following Zach, because he is a little more firm with the fastball, will be a good thing for Jared on Saturday.”
Brigham has battled through injuries in three years at Washington. He has potential to be one of the team’s top pro prospects with a fastball in the mid-90’s and a wicked power slider. And, if he can stay healthy, he will be a great option to finish off the weekend.
“Brigham is a proven commodity in terms of arm strength,” Meggs said of Brigham, who has pitched in 34 games, including 12 starts. “He has just never been healthy enough since he has been here to really be able to work in between starts to polish up on all of those things.
“We think the Sunday game is great for Jeff. That would round out the weekend and we feel good about those guys.”
Behind those three, Meggs is blessed with plenty of other experienced and young talented pitchers to choose from. Junior Tyler Davis has made 20 starts (9 last year) during his two-year career and is hoping to bounce back after going 2-7 with a 5.11 ERA last year as a sophomore.
“He struggled last year but we think we are over the hump with him,” Meggs said. “He is going to be very important for us if we want to have depth in the bullpen. We think he is somebody that can step in and is a proven strike thrower.”
Freshman left-hander Henry Baker is the favorite among first-year pitchers to earn mid-week starts after showing promise in the Purple and Gold World Series. But, like fellow freshman hurlers Mack Gaul and Alex Hardy, he may have to get his feet wet before being thrown into the fire.
“They are going to have to get hit around a little bit until they realize what this level is all about,” Meggs said about his freshmen.
“Henry is one of those freshmen who we are going to need to grow up quickly for us to have some depth mid-week starting games and to have some depth out of the bullpen as a lefty. One of the things we like about Henry is that he is a great competitor and is learning to be a little more consistent in the strike zone. He has an outstanding changeup already, which is rare for a young guy. If he can polish up his breaking ball he can be a guy that can step up and help us in this league, no question.”
Trevor Dunlap, Will Ballowe and Troy Rallings each made more than two starts last seasons. They may be asked to do so again this year, but initially they will be counted on to provide bullpen depth. Dunlap was particularly strong in his role last year, boasting a team-leading six saves and team-best ERA of 2.11.
“You can use Trevor in many different ways,” Meggs said of his 6-foot-7 senior righty. “He has experience closing games and he has experience being the first guy out of the bullpen. He is going to be a guy, who if we are going to have a deep bullpen, he is going to have to have a very good year.”
Rallings was effective in nine games, posting a 3.12 ERA, but missed the final month of the season with an injury.
Ballowe seemed to get his feet under himself this fall after going through typical growing pains as a freshman. The 6-foot-5 lefty was deemed the team’s most improved pitcher after the fall by Meggs and will be counted on getting out left-handed hitters and making an occasional start.
Junior-college transfer Brandon Choate also joins the Huskies’ pitching corps as a right-handed reliever. Choate helped the Corvallis Knights to the West Coast League championship this summer with a team-best 0.50 ERA and 5 saves.
The wild-card out of the bullpen for Meggs is senior Joshua Fredendall. Meggs is hoping Fredendall, who missed all of 2013 but was the team’s full-time closer in 2012 and notched 8 saves, is able to bounce back to solidify the bullpen by Pac-12 season.
“His recovery has been a little bit slow, but we think he will be ready when we open up Pac-12 play,” said Meggs. “If we can get him healthy, he is a proven closer in this league and could eat up some innings at the end of the game.”
Another wildcard this year on the mound is Robert Pehl. The right hander is better known for his stick, leading UW with 14 doubles in 2013. The two-time Cape Cod League veteran will also throw his name into the hat as a bullpen option.
The Huskies return three catchers who combined to make all 56 starts behind the plate for the Huskies last season. Senior Ryan Wiggins led the way with 27 starts behind the dish, followed by Austin Rei (17) and Parker Guinn (12).
Wiggins and Rei got the first shot last year as the starter, but eventually Guinn worked his way to the top of the rotation after getting hot at the plate down the stretch. After each of them had their moments last year, Meggs says the trio is even in the race for the starting job going into the start of practice on Jan. 24.
“They all have different skill sets and we would really be a better team when one of those guys distances themselves from the other two,” said Meggs. “That’s a critical part of where we are going to be in terms of the evolution behind the plate.”
Last season, Guinn had the highest batting average at .333, going 16-for-48. Wiggins has the most power potential of the group and had a strong fall.
Sophomore Duncan Hendrickson is also listed as a catcher on the roster, but has yet to see any action at the position.
Waiting in the wings is freshman Austin Henning out of Manhattan Beach, Calif. Henning will most likely get his feet wait in the bullpen warming up pitchers, but Meggs is very excited about his future as a Husky.