When the Cincinnati Bearcats were getting ready for the 2017 regular season, they were bullish on their pitching staff, or at least their top two starters. Andrew Zellner was coming off a first-team All-American Athletic Conference campaign and J.T. Perez had just thrown a career-high 91 innings while posting a 2.97 ERA.
As we inch ever closer to opening day, the Bearcats’ rotation looks much different. Zellner is gone and Perez didn’t have a great 2017. That will make for a major challenge for Scott Googins. Here’s how the starting staff will look and how the rest of the league will counter.
Perez is the pitcher on the roster with the most starting experience and probably the best stuff. The lefthander has struck out 130 batters in 191 1⁄3 innings over the last three seasons while posting an ERA of 3.88. However, he regressed a bunch last season, going 2-7 with a 4.42 ERA in 77 1⁄3 innings. His struggles even pushed him out of the starting rotation, as he pitched mainly in relief during the final half of the season. Googins needs a Friday starter to rely on, however, and Perez is the closest the Bearcats have to one.
Another left-hander may become the No. 2 starter, although A.J. Olasz still needs to prove that he can put together consistently effective outings. While he made the third-most starts on the team last season, his 5.35 ERA was higher than most.
David Orndorff was UC’s best pitcher in 2017, posting a 3.41 ERA in 21 games, including eight starts. He can hang a few Ks on the board (40 strikeouts in 63 1⁄3 innings) and is a good swing-man option to fill in as a starter and in the bullpen.
Depth for the starters is pretty solid, although most guys still have a lot to prove. A.J. Kullman (5.37 ERA), Nathan Kroger (4.38 ERA) and Reese Robinson (3.86 ERA) all got a shot at starting last year. I can’t imagine they will be denied more chances.
How the Opposition Stacks Up
Our pals at The UConn Blog have a nice rundown of the Huskies’ staff, but with strikeout assassin Tim Cate (102) in the mix, suffice to say this team will be built around its pitching. Cate is also a preseason all-AAC pitcher and a major prospect for the MLB Draft.
The Cougars have themselves an ace as well, with Trey Cumbie back to build on a brilliant 2017 campaign. He went 10-2 with 82 strikeouts in 101 1⁄3 innings pitched and an AAC-best 2.04 ERA while being named the conference pitcher of the year. Somehow that still inflated his career ERA after he posted a 1.29 mark in 2016, albeit in nearly half as many innings. Cumbie will be counted on to anchor a rotation that will have some new faces.
Joe Sheridan will be the Friday starter for the Knights. He earned a 10-4 record last season on the back of a 3.25 ERA across 72 innings pitched. He also struck out 64 batters. Chris Williams will play the role of No. 2 starter after he made 12 starts last season and pitched to a 2.65 ERA in 78 innings, including time in the bullpen. The Knights are hoping that one of them can be a workhorse like Robby Howell, who pitched a league-high 103 innings last season, but is now taking a crack at Minor League Baseball.
While UConn, Houston and UCF all have some fine pitchers to lean on, the Bulls have the best rotation. It starts with Shane McClanahan, who struck out an incredible 104 batters in only 76 innings. Peter Strzelecki didn’t have as many Ks, but he did earn a 2.42 ERA in 67 innings.
The Tigers were not a very good pitching team last season, with a team ERA of 5.12. Right-handers Jonathan Bowlan (4-5, 3.75 ERA) Connor Alexander (6-4, 5.08 ERA) are the top returning starters from last year, with Bowlan a guy that could develop into a front-end guy (78 strikeouts in 84 innings).
Entering his sophomore season, Jake Agnos is a budding ace. He had a 3.22 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 64 1⁄3 innings last year. Trey Benton (4.18 ERA, 74 strikeouts in 71 innings) is another arm to watch, while the rest of the rotation has to prove itself.
Chase Solesky should be the best starter on this steam now that J.P. France is gone. His 3.84 ERA last season tired with France for the second-best mark on the team. He only made eight starts, but that tied for the fourth-most on the team. Corey Merrill (5.06 ERA) will be an easier starter to replace than France.
Southpaw Cody Tyler made the most starts of any returning Shocker (11) but had a 6.24 ERA in 49 total innings. Tommy Barnhouse (6.04 ERA) didn’t do all that much better in 17 games (eight starts) and the rest of the roster is short on starting experience.