Summer baseball is a typical time for players to stay in shape and work to improve their games for the following spring.
That’s mostly the case for Southern Miss pitcher Hunter Stanley.
Except the All-American closer is working towards something different, which is building towards becoming a starter rather than a reliever.
“(Southern Miss pitching coach Christian Ostrander) and I have talked about it a few times,” Stanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think it’s definite, but we pondered here and there. We have to see how the staff plays out.”
Switching a talented closer to a starting role is not unheard of at Southern Miss as many remember Nick Sandlin’s successful season, in which he struck out 144 batters and walked just nine batters back in 2018.
“With these guys in some of our conversations after the season was canceled, we talk about what to work on and stuff,” Ostrander said. “I told (Stanley) that I don’t think it wouldn’t hurt you to try and go a little bit more length and try and build the pitch count up a little more. It’s a possibility that you start next year.
“Often, if you can have one of your best guys on the mound throwing as many innings as he can, the better. We want him to throw meaningful innings.”
Starting is not something new for Stanley as he split between playing the infield and started multiple ties at Meridian Community College. In his sophomore season, Stanley made 14 starts in 20 appearances and struck out 101 batters and walked 14 in 74.1 innings.
That season, Stanley also earned the NJCAA Division II level Rawlings Golden Glove as he hit .385 that season.
In high school, the Hammond, Louisiana native also had starting experience as he logged a team-leading 52.2 innings in which he struck out 68 batters while walking 11 batters in his senior season.
“What I saw in him during the recruiting process was a strike-thrower, which is my kind of a guy,” Ostrander said. “He was a guy that filled up the zone. He had some good strength, an ok breaking ball. His third pitch was a changeup, but he didn’t really have one that he had confidence in, so we worked really hard on that. You really see a guy that’s maturing, and that was kind of green. He didn’t have a ton of reps and experience as a pitcher. I still think his best days are ahead of him.”
One of the main challenges for Stanley is becoming reacquainted with being on the mound longer and pacing himself.
“It’s not a big change,” Stanley said. “I have experience with it. It’s definitely a little challenging when you come out of the pen for a year and a half and then go back to starting roles. It’s a little different mindset as far as learning to keep your stamina instead of just blowing and going for two innings.”
However, the main focus is for Stanley to add a third pitch to his repertoire. Currently, Stanley throws a fastball that reaches 95 mph and has an efficient slider, but he is hoping to add a changeup.
“Three pitches are definitely huge for a starter, and that’s what me and (Ostrander) have talked about it, which is getting that third pitch,” Stanley said. “I think that would be a better fit for a starting role. It definitely has been (the main focus). That was the main reason I wanted to pitch this summer so I could work on my changeup.”
Earlier in the Deep South Summer Collegiate League season in one of Stanley’s longest outings since junior college, he recorded eight strikeouts, walked three batters and allowed two hits in four innings. Stanley also earned the start for Team McCarty in the championship game in which he threw 10 strikeouts in four innings of work.
“You can get by with one or two good pitches one time through an order or an inning late in the game,” Ostrander said. “But you need three if you want to get through a lineup at this level to get them out with that fastball. It’s just about becoming more complete. We want to make him use that pitch more in a live setting so that when we use it come, spring, he’s got some experience with it.”
If Stanley makes a move to starter, the Golden Eagles could potentially have four right-hander pitchers between Stanley, Walker Powell, who held a 1.24 ERA last season, Ben Ethridge, who recorded a 2.29 ERA and Gabe Shepard who held a 3.97 ERA.
“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t think that was exciting,” Ostrander said. “That’s a plus for our program and our fan base. We just have to go out there and do our part and get these guys prepared and ready for that. They have to do their part, but they have to go show it. With all the guys returning and the guys we have coming in that are new, I feel really good about.
“Hunter is a very talented young man. He’s very coachable. Guys like him are going to get it. How quick it happens, we’ll see. I think this spring, you’ll see a guy out there that has that ability 100 percent.”