ARTICLE OF THE DAY
Pirates' Depth Paying Off
by Josh Spence
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.