After former-staff ace Aaron Slegers was selected in the fifth round of this year’s MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins, the University of Indiana starting rotation will put the ball in the hand of senior Joey DeNato, who will be expected to lead the Hoosier pitching staff to a second straight College World Series appearance in 2014.
Indiana has every reason to be optimistic heading into the 2014 season after coming off perhaps one of their best seasons in school history. Junior catcher Kyle Schwarber, one of the premier bats in the country and a potential first rounder in next year’s draft, and senior third baseman Dustin DeMuth, a hard-hitting talent who was selected in the eighth round of this year’s draft by the Twins, will help solidify and lead a talented offense that surprised many throughout the 2013 postseason.
While both Schwarber and DeMuth bring key leadership to the table, perhaps the primary cog of significant direction will be placed in the left arm of DeNato, who will inherit the role of Friday night starter and staff leader of a rotation that is boosted by the left-handed duo of Kyle Hart and Will Coursen-Carr.
DeNato was superb for the Hoosiers in 2013, especially when it mattered most as the then-junior southpaw was dominant in postseason play for an Indiana team that was able to break through for their first CWS appearance in school history.
The University of Louisville baseball team was only shutout on two occasions in 2013, both of which came against the Hoosiers. And the starting pitcher in both of those contests was DeNato.
While the first occurred in the season opener, the second came in the College World Series opener, as DeNato turned in what was arguably the strongest outing of his career. DeNato turned in a complete-game shutout, stifling the Cardinals offense for just four hits, while registering eight strikeouts and surrendering three walks.
Although the Hoosiers would be ousted from the postseason by Mississippi State, DeNato was impressive, posting a 3-0 record and 2.16 ERA while holding batters to just a .191 batting average. Not to mention, the Indiana southpaw led the Big 10 conference in wins (10) and strikeouts (87) during the regular season.
Despite the flashes of brilliance that DeNato displayed throughout the postseason, one has to wonder whether he will be able to keep up the momentum throughout the course of the upcoming season, especially given the presumed role of Friday night starter.
He has had a history of wearing down late in the season, which combined with his workhorse mentality and relatively small frame (5-10, 180), may be of concern down the stretch in 2014 (in that CWS opener, DeNato worked his pitch count to 136).
Through all of the concerns, DeNato has garnered the support of his coaching staff and the manner in which he dominated opposing offenses in the postseason should serve as encouraging signs for the future.
“In the beginning, I think I had butterflies, nervousness,” said DeNato following his CWS start against Louisville. “But as the game went on, I think my pitches did get sharper and I was getting ahead in the count more often.”
Although he was eligible for the draft this past year, he did not attract attention from any professional team. While his relatively small frame and underwhelming velocity may have shied most teams away, DeNato will be determined to harness the skill displayed in 2013 and carry it on into the coming season.
Much like the aforementioned post-game statement from DeNato, he will need to ensure that his stuff stays sharpened and that he executes each of his respective pitches with great effect. Along with Slegers, DeNato was able to anchor an inconsistent starting rotation that had 11 different starters last season.
DeNato, with the supporting cast on his staff and the offensive battery led by the likes of Schwarber, has the keys to succeed and in turn, help the Hoosiers succeed towards another conference championship and visit to Omaha.