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For my money, one of the greatest things about college baseball is watching the development of players from the time they step on campus as freshmen until they leave the program, either as a draftee, as a graduating senior with a degree in hand, or both.
Sure, it’s fun to watch the transcendent star who arrives as a can’t-miss prospect and leaves college baseball as a high draft pick, but it’s more rewarding as a fan to see someone work their way up from being a non-factor, to a bit player, and then to a star.
The story of Justin Sinibaldi from Nicholls State follows the latter path.
As a freshman in 2013, he had a 7.45 ERA in 9.2 innings of work. In his sophomore season, he had a 5.40 ERA in an even 10 innings.
In 2015, as a junior, things clicked for Sinibaldi and he became one of the most effective starting pitchers in the country. He went 10-1 with a 1.40 ERA. He wasn’t overpowering, but his command was fantastic, as he walked just 16 in 77.1 innings. Opposing batters hit just .245 against him, and he only allowed seven extra-base hits (all doubles) on the campaign. When it was all said and done, he was named the Southland Conference Pitcher of the Year. Together with Grant Borne (who was 6-5 with a 1.48 ERA and a .199 BAA), he was a part of one of the best one-two punches in the nation.
On a quick aside, Nicholls State under head coach Seth Thibodeaux has quietly become a place that cranks out high-quality pitchers year after year.
Last year, in addition to Sinibaldi and Borne, the Colonels also featured Ryan Deemes (5-4, 2.29) and Marc Frazier (3-5, 3.55), two quality swingmen who did a little bit of everything, and three regularly-used relievers (Stuart Holmes, Robbie Petty, and Jason McDonald) who had ERAs of 2.86 or lower. Holmes in particular was dominant, as he had a 1.11 ERA, saved 15 games, and struck out 36 batters in 32.1 innings. Overall, as a team, they had a 2.47 ERA.
Two years ago, they had a 2.60 team ERA, led by starting pitchers Taylor Byrd (8-3, 1.92), Brandon Jackson (4-2, 2.19) and Borne (8-3, 2.97). Six relievers in that season had ERAs of 3.09 or better.
On paper at least, Nicholls will lean heavily on Sinibaldi next season, as Borne, Deemes, and Frazier, the three other pitchers from last year’s team that saw significant time as starters, are all gone. Something tells me, though, that, given their penchant for developing pitchers, even if he’s the best of bunch, Sinibaldi will be far from alone in the rotation by the end of the season.