Pirates' Depth Paying Off
by Josh Spence

The East Carolina baseball team is off to a solid 16-6 start in 2006, and team depth has contributed directly.  With the emergence of an impressive freshman class, a couple of junior college standouts, and multiple arms rejoining the team in the bullpen after injury, the Pirates have many options at nearly every position on the field.  Quite the opposite of 2005, depth is the strong suit for ECU in 2006. 

The biggest turnaround for the Pirates has been the pitching staff.  Of course, well documented are the pitching woes from a year ago.  The Pirates bring back four guys (Sasser, Taylor, Mathews and Harrell) who were expected to contribute in 2005 that didn’t play because of injury.  Each of those four has been a factor this year, combining for fifteen starts and an 11-3 record between them.  Harrell hasn’t started, but has been a strong performer in eight appearances out of the Pirate bullpen.  In 2005 the Pirates were forced to use nine different starting pitchers because of a lack of depth, but thus far in ’06 have used only five.  The team had only thirteen pitchers throw in three or more appearances in ’05, and have already had the same number in ’06.
Depth has been on the Pirates' side this year but not only on the mound.  Some freshman contributions have really opened up the possibilities for first-year head coach Billy Godwin.  One of the most pleasant surprises has been red-shirt freshman Stephen Batts.  Batts was not a projected starter before the season, but it was a start in the outfield in the first game of the season that changed everything for the freshman out of Wilmington.  Batts, filling in for Jay Mattox, who was held out in a coaches decision, went 3-4 against Maryland, remained in the starting lineup and proceeded to hit safely in twelve of his first fourteen games as a collegiate player.

With Batts becoming a regular starter in the outfield, it gave Coach Godwin some options.  Jamie Ray, who’s batting average last year as a freshman was the second highest on the team, became the “fourth-man”, so to speak, in the outfield.  Ray has seen some starting action as of late, and along with junior college transfer Ryan Tousley, and Freshman Brandon Henderson, adds to the Pirates' depth in the outfield.

In the infield the Pirates have been relying heavily on newcomers.  Of course, Jake Smith has started every game behind the plate and Adam Witter has been at first the majority of the time, and Dale Mollenhauer is a solid shortstop for the Pirates as a sophomore.  That, however, is where the familiar names end.  Third base has been tied down by junior college transfer Jake Dean.  Dean has proved to be a great defensive asset at the hot corner, holding out as the last Pirate infielder to make an error.  Jake has also turned it up at the plate lately, hitting safely in seven of the last eight games. 

Second base has been by committee this year with several freshmen battling for the starting role.  Chris Buss seemed to be the starter at the beginning of the season, but made only 5 starts.  Drew Schieber has seen the majority of the time making 15 starts for the Pirates, but has given way recently to Ryan Wood who has started the last four games at second for ECU.  All three freshmen have shown tremendous upside, but all three have made mistakes.  Then again, what freshman doesn’t?  The three appear to be interchangeable and flexible, as all have been used at the same time in late game situations at assorted infield positions. 

Overall, the Pirates' depth has helped them win sixteen of their first 22 ball games, not bad for a team with a first year coaching staff and a bunch of new players.  The pitching we knew was strong, but lately the Pirates have picked it up offensively.  Especially in the bottom half of the order, credit the coaches for working with the lineup every day to put in the nine with the best chance in a particular situation.  With so many guys contributing, it's hard to get everyone playing time, but I’ve heard all year long that this is a close group that always pulls for each other.  The Pirates will need to continue to be unselfish if they hope to be successful the rest of the year.

Josh Spence