When you think of ace starting pitchers in college baseball, you might think the SEC, or the Pac-12, or even the ACC, with the likes of Miami and Florida State regularly developing standout starting pitchers.
You’re probably not going to immediately think of the MAC, but in 2016, you should.
In the coming season, the league will be showing off a bumper crop of top-flight ace pitchers worth following.
It starts with Eric Lauer of Kent State. The 6’3″ lefty is coming off of an incredible season for the Golden Flashes. He had something of a hard-luck 5-4 record, but he sported a 1.98 ERA and struck out 103 in 86.1 innings of work. Opposing batters hit just .203 against him. Combined with Nick Jensen-Clagg (8-5, 2.88) and Andy Ravel (6-2, 3.13), he was a part of an incredibly successful starting rotation.
He’s not getting it done with guile and deception, either. Lauer is a big-time MLB prospect. He returned heads this past summer in the Cape Cod League by putting up a 2.04 ERA and striking out 50 hitters in 39.2 innings. D1Baseball.com has Lauer ranked as their 29th-best prospect, while Baseball America has him a few notches higher at 16th.
Nick Deeg of Central Michigan is another hurler making waves. The junior has had two quality seasons on campus. As a freshman, he went 5-4 with a 4.08 ERA. He followed that up with a sophomore campaign that saw him finish 8-5 with a 3.11 ERA. That’s a pretty good resume already, but he really put himself on the map with his performance in the Cape Cod League after the 2015 season. With the Orleans Firebirds, he had a 2.05 ERA in ten appearances (eight starts), striking out 46 and walking just ten in 48.1 innings of work.
In another region of the state, Keegan Akin of Western Michigan has made his mark as well. Like the others, Akin helped himself greatly after a stint on the Cape. With the Bourne Braves, he that he could be dominant, even against elite competition. In eight appearances (seven starts), he had a 2.70 ERA and struck out 39 batters in 33.1 innings. His sophomore season of 2015 was a little bit up and down on the way to finishing with a 4-5 record and a 4.33 ERA, so the Broncos will be hoping that his experience in the summer will be a launching pad for a huge junior campaign in 2016.
Finally, Zach Plesac at Ball State is worth watching. Plesac’s background is a little different than the other three because he hasn’t been a weekend starter for his entire time on campus. In fact, as a freshman, he was an effective swingman for the Cardinals. In that season, he appeared in 25 games (six starts) and had a 2.12 ERA with six saves. Last year, he moved into a full-time starting role and handled it ably, going 5-5 with a 3.27 ERA.