Looking at Southeastern Louisiana Part Two: Bullpen

Ryan Collins will be counted on to lead the way for the Southeastern bullpen in 2009
Ryan Collins will be counted on to lead the way for the Southeastern bullpen in 2009

FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE

HAMMOND – With Opening Day fast approaching, the 2009 edition of the Southeastern Louisiana University baseball team continues to take shape. As they size up their squad for the new year, the Lion coaching staff can take comfort in the fact that the Southeastern bullpen, one of the keys to the 2008 team’s success, might be even better in 2009.

“Our guys in the pen did a very good job last year,” head coach Jay Artigues said. “We were a little thin in that area, but this year we’re a lot deeper than last year. We have a lot of guys coming back, we’ve added some new arms that can really contribute and there are a couple of guys coming off of injury that really gives us a lot of depth. When you look at us on paper, we’re a pretty young club, but we’re also pretty mature. We have most of our guys returning this year and a lot of them will be coming back next year as well. So I’m anxious to see what this group can do.”

The most reliable arm in the 2008 Lion bullpen returns in 2009. Right hander Ryan Collins returns for his senior campaign after an impressive junior year.

Collins proved to be a workhorse out of the Southeastern bullpen, leading the 2008 Lions with eight wins, going 8-3 with a 3.11 ERA (19 ER/55.0 IP) despite making all 23 appearances in relief. Collins posted a team-high six saves, struck out 39 batters and walked just 15 for a 2.6 K/BB ratio and a 6.38 K/9.0 IP mark. Collins posted 13 scoreless outings and allowed one earned run or less 16 times. In long relief, Collins logged more than 1.0 IP of relief in 17 of 23 outings, going 8-2 with three saves and a 2.77 ERA (12 ER/39.0 IP) in those games.

Complementing Collins from the other side of the mound will be junior lefthander Phil White. The 6-0 southpaw went just 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in six appearances as a sophomore, but has impressed the Lion coaching staff with improved velocity and movement during the offseason. White will look to return to the form that saw him go 1-1 with a 4.70 ERA (12 ER/23.0 IP) in 18 appearances (one start) as a freshman.

Sophomore lefthander David Smith continues to impress the Lion coaches during preseason workouts. Improved control and velocity have Artigues and his staff considering starting duties for Smith. However, the bullpen would welcome another hard-throwing lefty should the starting rotation settle itself.

Senior Brian McCants rounds out a trio of Lion southpaws looking to give the 2009 bullpen a more balanced look. The outfielder/lefthanded pitcher has made two appearances on the mound in 2008 and held Southern Miss scoreless in his season debut, striking out the side in his 1.0 inning of work on April 30.

After spending most of his time in the Southeastern outfield in 2008, McCants has shown improved control in bullpen sessions and could see more time on the mound in 2009.

In addition to a strong corps of returning arms, the Southeastern bullpen welcomes back a pair of “Tommy John” surgery recoverees and a number of newcomers ready to help spread out the workload.

Senior righthander Robert Rugg, who sat out last season after undergoing “Tommy John” surgery on his
right elbow, will provide another veteran presence for the Lions. According to coaches, Rugg continues to progress in workouts and remains on track to return to the hill.

The Houston, Texas native posted impressive numbers as a junior in 2007, striking out 24 batters in 18.1 innings while walking just six for a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.00 and a strikeout-per-nine-inning mark of 11.78. Rugg made 15 relief appearances, holding opponents scoreless in nine, and allowing one earned run or less in 14 of 15 outings, and will look to repeat that success in his final year.

Also returning from injury is sophomore right hander Justin Schneider, who underwent the same procedure as Rugg and sat out his entire 2008 freshman campaign. According to coaches, Schneider continues to progress in bullpens and will look to return to the form that saw him go 7-0 with a 0.93 ERA, 87 strikeouts and three no-hitters in his senior year at Grace King High School.

Junior righthanders Chris Franklin and Josh Bailey join the Lion bullpen after standout junior college careers at Jefferson State Community College and LSU-Eunice, respectively.

Franklin has impressed Artigues with a closer mentality and good movement on an exploding fastball. Meanwhile, Bailey brings a workhorse pedigree after posting a lot of innings and showing good command en route to helping LSU-Eunice to a JUCO Division II national title.

Freshmen righthanders Josh Janway and Taylor Wax have also impressed during their first college preseason and could see time throughout the year.

However the bullpen shapes up, Artigues and his staff remain confident that this year’s group will be a tremendous asset during one of the most competitive schedules in the country.

“Playing five nights a week against this schedule, it’s really important for us to have that kind of depth,” Artigues said. “That’s why I’m really excited about this year’s club. We have enough depth in our bullpen to take the workload off our starters. They aren’t going to be pressured to go to deep in the game early in the season. So, hopefully, everyone will stay fresh throughout the year.”

The Lions will open the 2009 season against Eastern Illinois, the defending Ohio Valley Conference Champions, on Feb. 20. First pitch is set for 1 p.m.

The Returners:

Ryan Collins – Sr. – RHP – 5-11 – 185 – Chalmette, La./Baton Rouge CC

Jay Artigues Says: “We look at Ryan not as a closer, but as a stopper. He can come in during the fourth inning and shut teams down or come for the ninth and close the game. He’s got the right mentality and the kind of stuff it takes to be successful in that role.”

Phil White – Jr. – LHP – 6-0 – 236 – Marrero, La./Holy Cross HS

Jay Artigues Says: “Phil’s velocity has really jumped up this offseason. He’s shown good movement on his pitches, and when he’s on he has electric stuff from the left side. He could see a lot of time out of the pen for us.”

David Smith – So. – LHP – 6-2 – 215 – New Orleans, La./Brother Martin HS

Jay Artigues Says: “David Smith is another lefty with a lot of movement. He’s done a great job in the offseason of improving his control. He has so much movement on his fastball and now he’s learned how to control that. If he stays that way, he could really compete for a spot as a starter as well.”

Brian McCants – Sr. – LHP/OF – 6-0 – 183 – Slidell, La./Mississippi Gulf Coast CC

Jay Artigues Says: “Brian has a shot at getting time on the mound and in the outfield this year. He has really done a good job throwing strikes in his bullpen and we liked the stuff that he showed in limited action last year.”

Robert Rugg – Sr. – RHP – 6-5 – 239 – Houston, Texas/Garden City CC

Jay Artigues Says: “Robert has done a great job coming off of “Tommy John” surgery. He missed all of last year, but has been working hard in rehab to get back on the mound. It will be great to see him out there again this year because he gives us another veteran presence with good stuff coming out of the pen.”

Justin Schneider – So. – RHP – 6-0 – 180 – Kenner, La./Grace King HS

Jay Artigues Says: “Justin is another guy who has worked hard to recover from “Tommy John.” He posted big numbers in high school and has shown some dominant stuff when he’s fully healthy, so we’re looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

The Newcomers:

Chris Franklin – Jr. – RHP – 6-0 – 202 – Oneonta, Ala./Jefferson State CC

Jay Artigues Says: “Chris has a closer-type mentality and great makeup. He’s got good stuff to. He reminds me a lot of Ryan Collins. He throws strikes, gets outs and can come in when we need him.”

Josh Bailey – Jr. – RHP – 5-11 – 197 – Baker, La./LSU-Eunice

Jay Artigues Says: “Josh did a great job at LSU-Eunice last year. He was a big part of that JUCO championship team. He stays down in the zone and gets his curve over for strikes. If he can keep doing that, he could see a lot of time.”

Josh Janway – Fr. – RHP – 5-9 – 167 – Baton Rouge, La../Parkview Baptist

Jay Artigues Says: “Josh is a good athlete and picked up a lot of honors at Parkview. He’s young, but he has the potential to get some time.”

Taylor Wax – Fr. – RHP – 6-0 – 166 – Baton Rouge, La../Parkview Baptist

Jay Artigues Says: “Taylor is another freshman from Parkview who could see some time for us. Like Josh, he was part of a state-title winning team last year. He’s another kid with some potential.”