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CBD Journal with Drake Browne (Feb. 29th)

Hello again. The baseball season is officially underway. It is an exciting time of the year, and it has been a lot of fun watching our team in action. Before I start writing about our ongoing season, I would like to finish what I had started a few weeks ago, with my preview of the Southern Conference. As you recall from my previous post, I was able to compile a list of six hitters to look out for in the SoCon by looking back on my personal experience in the league.

I like to consider myself a two-way guy, so I felt that I could write the same type of post focusing on the pitchers in our league. Unfortunately, once I sat down to construct my list, I faced a harsh reality. My perceptions of my days as a hitter are a little skewed. I like to remember myself as a powerful bat off the bench, who was often called on in the late innings when the game was on the line.

In reality, my 17 career at bats in two years is less than 4% of the at bats that most Paladin starters have seen over that time period. My teammate Will Muzika has more home runs in that time span than I have at bats. Working through these statistics was tough for me, and it made me re-think my credibility to talk about SoCon pitchers. So, I was able to swallow my pride and do the right thing, which was to “phone a friend.”
Niko Fraser is a Junior OF for the Elon Phoenix.

He is a talented player, whose double down the left field line ended my relief appearance in our Thursday night game last year. I knew that his ability to smoke one of my “heaters” would give him a lot of “street cred” around the league and qualify him to asses all of the pitchers in the conference. After stumbling across the blog that he writes for the Phoenix, I was thoroughly impressed and I knew that I had to get his help with my SoCon preview. So, here is what my main man Niko had to say:

I would argue that hitting a round ball with a round bat at a perfect spot at the perfect moment is the hardest feat in all of sports. Now, make that round ball come at you like a rocket or dance around like a fish out of water and you have yourself the task of a SoCon hitter on a Friday night against these five hurlers.

The competitor in me has a hard time bragging on guys who aren’t my teammates, especially those who I’m going to be facing off against this season, so I’ll ease into this with the Phoenix “ace”.

The first time I ever faced Webb was my junior year of high school in Jacksonville, Florida. We both knew that we would be wearing the maroon and gold together in a couple years so the battle was for bragging rights. I knew that the in-town-rival ace was good going into the game, but after tagging on an 0-3 stat line to my name I was all the more thankful that my last name would be penciled into the same side of the lineup as his in the future. After two years wearing the same jersey, I have seen no one make as many Division 1 baseball players appear as confused T-ball players than him during one of his “Webb Gem” performances.

The next “ace” on the list is Wofford’s Friday night pitcher, Cash Collins. I was Cash’s teammate this past summer playing for the Madison Mallards in the Northwoods League and his name fits the bill, he is money. In my time as a college baseball player I’ve learned many lessons, one of them is that there are throwers and there are pitchers. By that, I mean that simply running up the MPH’s and having a curve ball that drops off the table won’t make you a pitcher, throwers might get drafted but pitchers make you look stupid. Cash is a bona fide pitcher. If it’s Friday night in Spartanburg, SC in the coming months, get your money’s worth with Cash. Also, whoever invented stirrups should thank Cash immensely, because he perpetually makes them look good.

The next pitcher hounding down batting averages is the Samford Bulldog, Lex Rutledge. Lex played a key part in my freshman-year-realization that college baseball is very different than high school. Lex’s left arm must have been fashioned in the same fire as Cliff Lee’s arm, offering a mid-90 MPH fastball and an electric curveball that gave me whiplash the first time I saw it. They say that in order to be a good baseball player you should “never let your highs be too high and your lows be too low”, well if I’m ever tempted to get complacent on a “high” I’ll find myself bat in the cage with the bitter taste of the humbling at bat I had against Lex my Freshman year with a runner at third and no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning at Elon.

We’ll leave the rest of that story to the guy on deck, who had the same opportunity as me four pitches later, but with one out.

Ryan Arrowood, an Appalachian State Mountaineer, also brought me down from any mountain I may have been on prior to my at-bat against him. Arrowood must have been throwing a crooked arrow at me because I didn’t hit any wood in my at-bat against him.

Chris Beck, Georgia Southern’s power-right-hander, is my final pitcher of praise.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to face off against Beck because of an injury this past season but I do remember him from two years ago, and I also watched closely as he made the SoCon Championship run between Elon and Ga Southern closer last year. Leading the SoCon in strikeouts last year, with 109, Beck seems to be fighting with Rutledge for the most preseason hype in the department of the MLB draft and his seven strong innings against the Phoenix last year prove the hype’s credibility.

So, there we have it, those are some pitchers to watch out for in the SoCon this year. Judging by their performances in the first two weeks of the season, I would say Niko’s comments are spot on. Arrowood was able to gain praise as the conference pitcher of the week, after throwing seven shutout innings in App State’s victory over No. 7 LSU. All of the other pitchers that he mentioned have also been throwing the ball quite well.

I will be back soon to give you all some insights on the Paladins’ and some personal stories about my role now that I am on the DL. Make sure to keep supporting your local college baseball programs, and keep an eye out for my upcoming posts.

#32 in the media guide, #1 in your hearts,
Drake Browne