Coach Josh Holliday will no longer have the luxury of the greatest closer in OSU history in his bullpen in 2015. Brendan McCurry (19 saves 0.38 ERA) is now tearing it up in the Oakland Athletics minor league system. Also, relief ace Vince Wheeland (10-1 1.52 ERA 31 appearances) has graduated and is now with the Houston Astros.
Combined last season, these pitchers went 15-1 with a 1.10 ERA in 130 innings pitched. Wheeland was the glue that held the Cowboys together at times last year with his ability to pitch the team out of a jam in any situation. While McCurry was the best closer in all of college baseball last season. This dynamic duo will surely be missed and will not be easily replaced.
Although these two historically great pitchers are gone, OSU still has talent returning to the bullpen for the 2015 season. Blake Battenfield had an incredible freshman season in 2014, throwing 24 innings before allowing his first run. The right-hander went 4-0 with 1.69 ERA as a freshman! Let me say it again, as a freshman.
I'm not sure what role Battenfield will have in 2015 because of his versatility. Like Wheeland, Battenfield was used in a variety of situations last season and he excelled in nearly all of them. With the closer role kind of up in the air, I wouldn't be surprised to see Battenfield pitch the 9th inning a few times to try to earn the spot.
Another young pitcher that had great success as a freshman is Trey Cobb, who is another pitcher that could be considered to fill McCurry's shoes. Cobb was an essential piece down the stretch, pitching 5 1/3 shutout innings against Cal State Fullerton, helping the Cowboys advance to the super regionals. Since he has the ability to pitch multiple innings I could see Cobb getting used as a starter, but with the rotation full for now he will be used out of the bullpen.
Left-hander Alex Hackerott (4-1 3.00 ERA) had a very solid year being used as a situational reliever. Hackerott has a solid breaking ball that was very tough on left handed hitters last season in his 27 innings pitched. I expect Hackerott to be used mostly as a left-handed specialist again this year, but I could see him getting more innings in 2015.
I could see Garrett Williams (4-1 5.40) throwing his name into consideration for the closer role. Williams made 18 appearances (7 starts) as a freshman, recording an impressive 50 strikeouts in 41 2/3 innings. Like I said yesterday in my rotation preview, I love Williams' strikeout potential. Anyone who strikes out more than one hitter per inning on average should be considered a candidate to close. But I also think he will split his appearances again this year.
Coach Holliday recruited very well from the junior college ranks this year, Remy Reed and Koda Glover are two hard-throwing right-handers that will have a chance to earn innings out of the bullpen in 2015.
The Cowboys start off the season in Arizona, playing seven games against Pac-12 opponents. We will get a chance to see most of these guys pitch and maybe even some freshman will get some work during these games. Hopefully, by the time OSU takes the field at Allie P on Feb. 25th we will at least have an idea of who will attempt to fill McCurry's incredibly big shoes as the closer.