Believe it or not, we’re sitting at 30 days away from the start of the college baseball season. In case you’re a little bit behind on the countdown we’ve been running, you can get caught up with our index page here.
If you were to play a college baseball word association game and someone said “Rice Owls,” your response would probably be “pitching.” In particular, under Wayne Graham, Rice has been known for putting standout rotations on the field, and this year’s rotation should be no different.
The first two spots in the rotation seems basically set with guys who are known quantities to varying degrees.
Leading the way will be senior lefty Blake Fox, who has had an incredible career with the Owls. Over the course of his first three seasons on campus, Fox has gone 26-2 with a 2.45 ERA over an astounding 220.2 innings of work. Not many college pitchers have the opportunity to throw more than 300 innings in their college career, and that speaks to how durable and effective Fox has been. He has established a clear baseline for what the team can expect from him.
According to reports in the fall, such as this one from Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball.com, Fox’s velocity has been up, and that could be a huge catalyst in taking him from a quality, dependable starting pitcher to a dominant one.
The Rice rotation will also feature big righty Jon Duplantier. Because of injury, he doesn’t have nearly the on-field track record that Fox has, but the quality of his raw stuff is well-established. He’s a guy that can run his fastball up into the mid-90s, enough to simply blow most guys away, assuming he can control the offering, and that is the big question with Duplantier.
As a freshman in 2014, he showed the ability to dominate, striking out 58 hitters in 59 innings, but he also walked 38, which is a few more than he probably would have liked. Then, there’s also the question about how well he will bounce back after missing all of 2015 with injury. All signs point toward him being back to full strength, but it won’t be surprising if it takes him a couple of starts to knock some game rust off and get going.
Who, exactly, slots in after those two is still up in the air, but Graham is not without options.
One such option is Glenn Otto, who was really, really good last year, primarily out of the bullpen. In 41 innings spread over 23 appearances, he struck out 65 batters and had both a minuscule ERA (1.54) and batting average against him (.142). Like Duplantier, he also features electric stuff, and if he can be properly stretched out to work deep into games, he can be a real weapon.
Also in the mix will be Ricardo Salinas, who spent some time in the rotation a season ago as a freshman. He was a little bit up and down, going 3-2 with a 4.65 ERA, but he is coming off of a big summer in the California Collegiate League with the Neptune Beach Pearl. Out there, he went 6-1 with a 2.25 ERA. In 40 innings of work, he struck out 41 and walked just eight.
Rice is going to need some players to step up offensively in place of guys like John Clay Reeves and Leon Byrd, and if they can find pieces to plug into those holes quickly, they have a chance to be quite good once again in 2016, thanks in large part to a super-talented starting rotation.