BOCA RATON, Fla. – After nearly nine months since last season ended, the 2018 campaign begins this Friday night for Florida Atlantic University baseball. Throughout the fall and spring, many position battles raged on, and one lasted throughout this past weekend: the starting rotation to begin the year. This is the third and final position preview for the Owls, as Head Coach John McCormack breaks down the team’s 16-man pitching staff.
While 13 of the team’s 16 pitchers are returnees, one made up the bulk of returning starts, 15 compared to 21 combined in 2017 by the rest of that group. Even still, Jake Miednik was not handed the first night start, he earned it with his offseason performance leading up to Friday night.
“Jake is at the top of the rotation,” said McCormack. “He and (Kyle) Marman battled from the beginning of the fall until now, and it’s a tough call, but Jake edged him out by a hair. He has a little more experience being the first guy out, and that matters. He’ll be the first guy out to represent FAU on Friday night and set the tone for the weekend.”
In his first year as an Owl, the lefthander led the team in wins (seven) and strikeouts (75), and has been named to the Preseason All-Conference USA team in coaches’ voting, and by Baseball America pundits as their Preseason C-USA Pitcher of the Year.
This weekend’s No. 2 starter is the aforementioned Kyle Marman, who appeared in 20 games with two late-year starts a season ago. He has done more than just refine his pitching skills this spring, he has lost what he estimates to be 20 pounds heading into his junior year.
“Marman has done a wonderful job of altering his body and making himself into what he is today,” said McCormack. “He not only changed the look of his body, but it’s also made him better on the mound. The light turned on and he saw he could be really good, and he deserves to be the Saturday night starter.”
Sunday, the Owls will turn to a newcomer, in junior righthander Vince Coletti. The Hollywood, Florida, native, comes to FAU from Palm Beach State College, and McCormack believes he can quickly make the shift to DI.
“Vince quietly had a really nice spring,” said McCormack. “He has a true out pitch in that breaking ball, and he comes with starting experience at the community college level, so we feel really good about it.”
Another competition amongst the Owls’ staff was for the midweek starter, an underrated part of the rotation as this pitcher will face, among others, Florida, Miami, Florida Gulf Coast and UCF. Making the transition out of the bullpen will be sophomore righthander Nick Prather.
“Nick is young and is coming off just under 20 innings last year (16.2 to be exact) plus probably 30 in the summer,” said McCormack. “He’s a three-pitch guy that has really, really improved and he puts us in the best position on that Tuesday night. He’s been one of the more consistent guys that we have.”
That leaves a dozen guys battling for innings out of the bullpen, with various roles therein. A valuable slot, according to McCormack, is the long-to-middle portion of the staff, especially in the early season, and he has a handful of arms in mind there, including Blake Sanderson.
“Sanderson has a valuable role for us, as a bridge guy, especially early in the year when the pitch counts are such an issue for everyone in college baseball,” said McCormack. “He works quick, fields his position really well and knows how to pitch with runners on. His experience is very valuable.”
Sophomore righthander Mike Ruff is another person that could fit into this role, while Marc Stewart and Nick Swan, each with plentiful starting pitching experience with the Owls, will serve as early-season long relief from both sides (Swan, a junior lefty, and Stewart, a senior from the right side).
“Mike is a big strong guy, I think the beauty of him is he can give you multiple innings,” said McCormack. “He has a plus fastball, in the mid 90’s, his breaking ball is good and changeup is solid and he’s a big physical guy that is durable. Swan and Stewart have a wealth of experience that we’re going to use to our advantage in multiple situations.”
McCormack looks towards a quartet of pitchers to setup the ninth inning. From the right side, it’s two veterans in senior submariner Drew Peden, and the Owls’ first-ever fifth-year grad transfer, Matt Harris from Elon University.
“Peden and Harris will be the righthanded setup guys,” said McCormack. “Peden was tremendous for us last year and it gives you the luxury of using him early to get righthanded guys out or save him for later. You can pitch him a lot during the week. His versatility is his strength. Matt is new to us, a graduate transfer from Elon, he’s more traditional. Has a really good fastball and his secondary stuff is good. Very aggressive-type guy. He will have a chance to get us valuable outs before the ninth.”
“Clemente and Poore will be the options from the left side,” said McCormack. “Weston carved himself a really nice niche last year and he’s going to continue to do that, getting lefthanded hitters out. He’s unbelievable off the field (and was voted team captain by his peers). As for Jordan, after a year of playing centerfield and pitching just eight innings, we need to make sure we put him in situations where he can be successful. He has a fantastic arm and is real athletic, he has a long career ahead of him and we need to make sure we handle him correctly.”
Those four will look to bridge the gap to the Owls’ new closer, junior college transfer Zach Schneider.
“Zach is a sidearm guy, he was the closer at Polk State College last year, so he’s familiar with getting the last three outs,” said McCormack. “He has a sweeping breaking ball, a fastball that runs a little bit, and he is an excellent athlete off the mound. Zach is a high-energy guy and fans will really like watching him pitch.”
Though the above members of the staff are expected and hoped to succeed where they are slotted, the coaches are excited about three more guys that don’t yet have defined roles.
“Mark Nowatnick and Dylan O’Connell are wild cards,” said McCormack. “Nowatnick is coming off a really good year, but with injuries, we’re not sure where he fits yet. He has done everything for us over the three years, it’s just a matter of health. Dylan, a year off Tommy John, needs to get his feet wet. He has a plus-plus breaking ball, but we have to be cautious and we have to put him in situations to be successful. Also, redshirt freshman Chris Moore looks to fight his way into the mix after sitting out last year. Coming off his redshirt year, he’s a tall, lanky guy, and sometimes they need a little bit more development, so he is still working into his body and we’re going to continue to work on that with him.”
First pitch Friday night is 6:30 p.m. from FAU Baseball Stadium. For individual game or season tickets, visit http://www.fausports.com/tickets/baseball-tickets.html or call 1-866-FAU-OWLS.