K-State Baseball 2014 Preview: Pitchers

Sophomore Blake McFadden will miss the year after breaking his elbow. - Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The infield? Secure. The outfield? A complete unknown. The pitching staff? Well... it's a work in progress.

On the one hand, the infield returns everyone. On the other, the outfield was decimated. The pitching staff sits right in the middle, and the biggest question there isn't whether they can reload or rebuild, but whether they can improve.

DEPARTED
NAME ERA W-L SV
Joe Flattery 3.86 5-4 0
Tanner Witt 3.18 0-0 7
Jake Doller 3.54 2-3 0
Gerardo Esquivel 3.99 2-2 1
Hayden Nixon 5.89 2-0 1
Josh Smith 9.00 0-0 0

The losses are painful, but manageable in context. Flattery made 13 starts; he's graduated and signed with the Tigers, undrafted. Doller also graduated, taking nine starts with him. That's about a third of the load, but it's important to remember that a couple of freshmen did step into the rotation late in the season. Esquivel wasn't particularly heralded, but his departure is also a nagging loss; his four-plus innings in the regional final against Arkansas were a critical piece of the Wildcats' regional win, and earned all-regional honors. After not making an appearance in game two of the super-regional, Esquivel was rumored to be in line to start the final game of the super-regional against Oregon State, but Brad Hill made the startling decision to send closer Jake Matthys to the hill. Esquivel came on to relieve Matthys, and his effort helped keep the BatCats' hopes alive in a tight contest. He wasn't a star for the 2013 'Cats, but diehard fans are going to fondly remember Esquivel for a long time.

RETURNING
# NAME TH HT WT YR FROM ERA W-L SV
21 Landon Busch L 6'1" 200 So. Brookings SD 4.58 0-0 1
12 Jake Matthys R 5'11" 180 So. Spring Lake Park MN 2.05 9-2 9
29 Levi MaVorhis R 6'1" 195 So. Everett WA-Archbishop Murphy 4.77 5-0 0
23 Blake McFadden R 6'1" 200 So. Savannah MO 4.97 6-3 0
33 Jared Moore L 6'0" 200 Sr. Boulder CO 3.73 4-0 0
31 Jordan Witcig R 6'4" 190 So. Kansas City MO-Staley 3.68 0-0 0
20 Matt Wivinis R 5'11" 190 Jr. Downers Grove IL-South 4.72 6-2 0
45 Nate Williams R 6'2" 225 Jr. Valley Center KS 2.81 4-3 0

This is a deep returning staff, and the only real question is whether the young starters can take the next step and become solid mainstays in the rotation. MaVorhis moved into the rotation late in the season and established himself as the likely ace of the staff in 2014; indeed, he's been named the opening day starter for tonight's clash with Cal Poly. Senior Jared Moore is the dean of the staff; he didn't start a game last year, but is expected to move into the rotation after a solid year in the bullpen. The final piece of the rotation as the season begins is soph Jordan Witcig, whose only start last year was in the Big 12 Tournament final against Oklahoma. Prior to that, however, Witcig had only allowed a single run in six appearances. McFadden was also a solid part of the rotation, but he's suffering from a fractured elbow and is out for the year; Wivinis is also sidelined after shoulder surgery. That means depth is going to be an issue.

The bullpen is anchored by freshman All-American and All-Big 12 first team closer Jake Matthys, who was absolutely dominating in 2013. Opposing hitters only managed to hit .186 against him, and both that and his 2.05 ERA are slightly inflated by that super-regional start against Oregon State, where he wasn't bad, but wasn't perfect. Matthys enters the year as a third-team pre-season All-American. Landon Busch didn't see a lot of work last year, but he's the most experienced healthy arm in the 'pen. Nate Williams, the primary set-up man for Matthys last year, is out for the year; he, like Wivinis, had to get his shoulder worked on in the off-season.

NEW FACES
# NAME TH HT WT YR FROM
30 Jordan Floyd L 6'2" 230 Fr. Topeka KS-Shawnee Heights
22 Jake Fromson R 5'10" 175 Fr. Lee's Summit MO
24 Nate Griep R 6'2" 185 Fr. Omaha NE-Millard West
14 Colton Kalmus R 6'2" 190 Fr. Rowlett TX
35 Ethan Landon R 6'4" 200 Fr. Sioux Falls SD-Lincoln
44 Jon Roblez R 6'3" 210 Fr. Kansas City KS-Bishop Ward
34 Jake Whaley R 6'4" 230 Jr. Marshalltown (IA) CC/Marshalltown IA
13 Braxton Wilks L 5'11" 175 Fr. Sugar Land TX-Episcopal

Jake Whaley, who tossed a no-hitter two years ago for Marshalltown CC, averaged over 12 strikeouts per nine innings in Iowa. The remaining newcomers are all freshmen. Griep and Kalmus redshirted last year, so they've at least got a year in the program; Kalmus sported a 1.66 ERA in high school, while Griep was a Louisville Slugger High School All-American. The incoming freshmen include Floyd, a Kansas 5-A All-State selection last year who passed up the money from a 25th-round selection by the Yankees, and two other All-Staters in Roblez (Kansas 4-A) and Landon (South Dakota). As he showed last year, Brad Hill isn't afraid to rely on freshmen on the hill, so some of these guys are going to be important -- especially as the staff deals with the loss of three important pieces due to injury and another three to graduation. The season may well depend on these guys.

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