Golden Eagle pitching to showcase influx of youth

By ANDREW ABADIE,

The Southern Miss pitching staff features an unprecedented amount of depth and youth for the upcoming 2020 season.

 

Despite losing eight pitchers and 254.2 innings from a season ago, Southern Miss’ pitching staff returns key pieces from last year. Notably, Cody Carroll, who accounted for 63 innings last season, will take a medical redshirt but will be available for next year. 

 

Most importantly, Southern Miss has two of its three weekend starters figured out.  

 

Right-handed pitcher Walker Powell returns for his fourth season with Southern Miss. Powell, who was chosen as Preseason All-Conference, led the Golden Eagle staff with 99.1 innings pitched and had a 73-13 strikeout-walk ratio. 

 

“You look at Walker the last two years and he’s pitched almost 200 innings,” pitching coach Christian Ostrander said. “I know what I’m going to get out of Walker he’s not the flashiest, is not going to throw the hardest, he’s efficient, you have to hit him to beat him. He’s going to give up some hits and that’s okay. If we play defense behind him, then we’ll be okay. He’s been through it.”

 

Also returning to the mound is the hard-throwing Gabe Shepard who topped at 98 miles per hour last season. The right-hander came into the regular rotation towards the end of the season but came away with numerous postseason heroics. Now fully healthy, Shepard will be looked to as a regular weekend starter. In just 30.2 innings pitched, Shepard posted a 2.35 ERA and racked up 46 strikeouts. 

 

“For that young man, it was all about once he got to a year, mentally,” Ostrander said. “It’s been a year after his surgery, and he has kind of exhaled and has just done what he has done. He hasn’t really missed a beat. He has thrown the ball well. He’s throwing it hard and wants it.”

 

Southern Miss is still searching for its left-handed starter, which for the last two seasons was Stevie Powers. However, the Golden Eagles have three viable options. 

 

Josh Lewis saw minimal time on the mound last year, mostly as a reliever. However, Lewis threw his name into the discussion after his performance against LSU in the Baton Regional. Despite throwing just a total of 29 innings, Lewis held the Tiger offense to three runs and until the seventh inning before the Southern Miss bullpen failed to get him out of a jam, which ultimately costed the game. According to Ostrander, the primary key for Lewis is developing consistency.

 

“He’s not an overpowering pitcher that’s going to get away with mistakes, so he needs to be efficient and make things happen early in the counts,” Ostrander said. “He knows that. What will allow him more success is throwing the fastball anytime he wants into his spot and [being able to] drop a curveball or changeup. It doesn’t have to be the best or hardest; he just has to be able to mix it up.” 

 

Another left-hander being considered for the starting role is Ryan Och. Och came on strong as a hard-throwing reliever at the start of last year, but due to arm injury, he missed the second half of the year. Och, who throws between 90-91 mph, finished last season with a 3.38 ERA in just 16 innings logged. Och had successful surgery in the offseason and, on multiple occasions, has proven to be a strong relief pitcher again. 

 

“His very top rib on his left side was removed to free up room,” Ostrander said. “What was happening in a certain position of his throwing motion was pinching a nerve, and he would lose feeling in his hands. It’s not a good thing when you are pitching and can’t feel your fingers.” 

 

Ostrander has had a history of turning relief pitchers into successful pitchers, most notably Nick Sandlin and Stevie Powers. However, as the season goes on Och’s load will look to increase, but to be an immediate starter for the season seems unlikely. 

 

“He’s got the stuff to start, but it’s about what’s best for him right now,” Ostrander said. “We have to build him up. After taking such a lengthy time off, we have to build him back up. If he never ran into that situation last year, there is no telling how many innings he would have got. He was throwing twice a weekend. I think right now; it’s all right there in front of him.” 

 

The last left-hander in the discussion is freshman Chandler Best who has had consistent strong outings in the preseason scrimmages. Best finished high school with a 1.08 career ERA, totaled 333 strikeouts, and a 35-2 record on the mound. Best throws between 87-90 mph with numerous pitches at his disposal.

 

“Chandler had a phenomenal high school career and is a competitor,” Ostrander said. “I love him and think he is going to be a stud here. I think he’s got a lot of good things ahead. He’s got the stuff physically right now to do it, but there’s more to it than that. It’s not just the physical; it’s mental. He’s not going to be scared or any of that stuff. He’s settling in and handling things.” 

 

Outside of starting pitchers, one key figure returning to the bullpen is Hunter Stanley. Stanley was named to the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Watch List after his electric season as USM’s closer. Stanley made a team-high of 29 relief appearances, which included four saves. Stanley finished last season with a 5-2 record and posted a 3.07 ERA in which he threw 36 strikeouts and walked 10. 

 

“I wouldn’t trade [Stanley] for anybody,” Ostrander said. “I know I can give him the baseball. I know if he gets beat, it’s because they beat him. He didn’t beat himself. Not because he didn’t compete, not because of anything. I know what he is going to give. As a pitching coach, the most important thing you can have is when you know you can put a guy out there and know what you are going to get.” 

 

Stanley, Powell and Shepard account for 171 of USM’s 294 returned innings. 

 

While the Golden Eagles have multiple options with their returning pitchers, Southern Miss will and have to turn its freshmen pitchers. Of Southern Miss’ nine members of its freshmen class, six of which are pitchers. 

 

Along with Best, another freshman pitcher that could find his way into a starting role is Dustin Dickerson. However, Dickerson will split his time between playing shortstop and throwing on the mound. 

 

“Selfishly, I love him on the mound,” Ostrander said. “I’m going to have to let things play out. He is so valuable to us defensively too. I think Dustin can get on the mound and help us tremendously.”  

 

One notable freshman reliever is 6-foot-6-inches Blake Wehunt, who throws between 90-92 mph. 

 

“Blake has been very coachable,” Ostrander said. “He’s done a lot of work since he got here. He’s changed a lot and he would probably tell you that he is a different pitcher than he was and needed to be, in some respective. Compliments to him because he has really stuck with it and worked hard.” 

 

According to Ostrander, he is cautiously optimistic about the depth and talent of this year’s pitching staff. 

 

“I really like the mixture that we have of the new guys some young and some youth,” Ostrander said. “I don’t have to force them in some tough situations early but get their feet wet and let them grow a little bit. They are going to have some older guys around them with some experience to tote the load with somethings. I think it’s a great mixture. I love the staff. I love these guys. They have worked hard. It’s a puzzle and you just have to see where it all goes.”

The Southern Miss pitching staff features an unprecedented amount of depth and youth for the upcoming 2020 season.

Despite losing eight pitchers and 254.2 innings from a season ago, Southern Miss’ pitching staff returns key pieces from last year. Notably, Cody Carroll, who accounted for 63 innings last season, will take a medical redshirt but will be available for next year.

Most importantly, Southern Miss has two of its three weekend starters figured out. 

Right-handed pitcher Walker Powell returns for his fourth season with Southern Miss. Powell, who was chosen as Preseason All-Conference, led the Golden Eagle staff with 99.1 innings pitched and had a 73-13 strikeout-walk ratio.

“You look at Walker the last two years and he’s pitched almost 200 innings,” pitching coach Christian Ostrander said. “I know what I’m going to get out of Walker he’s not the flashiest, is not going to throw the hardest, he’s efficient, you have to hit him to beat him. He’s going to give up some hits and that’s okay. If we play defense behind him, then we’ll be okay. He’s been through it.”

Also returning to the mound is the hard-throwing Gabe Shepard who topped at 98 miles per hour last season. The right-hander came into the regular rotation towards the end of the season but came away with numerous postseason heroics. Now fully healthy, Shepard will be looked to as a regular weekend starter. In just 30.2 innings pitched, Shepard posted a 2.35 ERA and racked up 46 strikeouts.

“For that young man, it was all about once he got to a year, mentally,” Ostrander said. “It’s been a year after his surgery, and he has kind of exhaled and has just done what he has done. He hasn’t really missed a beat. He has thrown the ball well. He’s throwing it hard and wants it.”

Southern Miss found its left-handed starter, which for the last two seasons was Stevie Powers. 

Freshman Chandler Best will get the nod for Sunday. Best had strong outings in the preseason scrimmages. Best finished high school with a 1.08 career ERA, totaled 333 strikeouts, and a 35-2 record on the mound. Best throws between 87-90 mph with numerous pitches at his disposal.

“Chandler had a phenomenal high school career and is a competitor,” Ostrander said. “I love him and think he is going to be a stud here. I think he’s got a lot of good things ahead. He’s got the stuff physically right now to do it, but there’s more to it than that. It’s not just the physical; it’s mental. He’s not going to be scared or any of that stuff. He’s settling in and handling things.”

However, the Golden Eagles have two other viable options if Best does not find his strind early on as well as other starter options.

Josh Lewis saw minimal time on the mound last year, mostly as a reliever. However, Lewis threw his name into the discussion after his performance against LSU in the Baton Regional. Despite throwing just a total of 29 innings, Lewis held the Tiger offense to three runs and until the seventh inning before the Southern Miss bullpen failed to get him out of a jam, which ultimately costed the game. According to Ostrander, the primary key for Lewis is developing consistency.

“He’s not an overpowering pitcher that’s going to get away with mistakes, so he needs to be efficient and make things happen early in the counts,” Ostrander said. “He knows that. What will allow him more success is throwing the fastball anytime he wants into his spot and [being able to] drop a curveball or changeup. It doesn’t have to be the best or hardest; he just has to be able to mix it up.”

Another left-hander being considered for the starting role is Ryan Och. Och came on strong as a hard-throwing reliever at the start of last year, but due to arm injury, he missed the second half of the year. Och, who throws between 90-91 mph, finished last season with a 3.38 ERA in just 16 innings logged. Och had successful surgery in the offseason and, on multiple occasions, has proven to be a strong relief pitcher again.

“His very top rib on his left side was removed to free up room,” Ostrander said. “What was happening in a certain position of his throwing motion was pinching a nerve, and he would lose feeling in his hands. It’s not a good thing when you are pitching and can’t feel your fingers.”

Ostrander has had a history of turning relief pitchers into successful pitchers, most notably Nick Sandlin and Stevie Powers. However, as the season goes on Och’s load will look to increase, but to be an immediate starter for the season seems unlikely.

“He’s got the stuff to start, but it’s about what’s best for him right now,” Ostrander said. “We have to build him up. After taking such a lengthy time off, we have to build him back up. If he never ran into that situation last year, there is no telling how many innings he would have got. He was throwing twice a weekend. I think right now; it’s all right there in front of him.”

Outside of starting pitchers, one key figure returning to the bullpen is Hunter Stanley. Stanley was named to the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Watch List after his electric season as USM’s closer. Stanley made a team-high of 29 relief appearances, which included four saves. Stanley finished last season with a 5-2 record and posted a 3.07 ERA in which he threw 36 strikeouts and walked 10.

“I wouldn’t trade [Stanley] for anybody,” Ostrander said. “I know I can give him the baseball. I know if he gets beat, it’s because they beat him. He didn’t beat himself. Not because he didn’t compete, not because of anything. I know what he is going to give. As a pitching coach, the most important thing you can have is when you know you can put a guy out there and know what you are going to get.”

Stanley, Powell and Shepard account for 171 of USM’s 294 returned innings.

While the Golden Eagles have multiple options with their returning pitchers, Southern Miss will and have to turn its freshmen pitchers. Of Southern Miss’ nine members of its freshmen class, six of which are pitchers.

Along with Best, another freshman pitcher that could find his way into a starting role is Dustin Dickerson. However, Dickerson will split his time between playing shortstop and throwing on the mound.

“Selfishly, I love him on the mound,” Ostrander said. “I’m going to have to let things play out. He is so valuable to us defensively too. I think Dustin can get on the mound and help us tremendously.” 

One notable freshman reliever is 6-foot-6-inches Blake Wehunt, who throws between 90-92 mph.

“Blake has been very coachable,” Ostrander said. “He’s done a lot of work since he got here. He’s changed a lot and he would probably tell you that he is a different pitcher than he was and needed to be, in some respective. Compliments to him because he has really stuck with it and worked hard.”

According to Ostrander, he is cautiously optimistic about the depth and talent of this year’s pitching staff.

“I really like the mixture that we have of the new guys some young and some youth,” Ostrander said. “I don’t have to force them in some tough situations early but get their feet wet and let them grow a little bit. They are going to have some older guys around them with some experience to tote the load with somethings. I think it’s a great mixture. I love the staff. I love these guys. They have worked hard. It’s a puzzle and you just have to see where it all goes.”