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2016 Baseball Position Battles: Relief Pitchers

Baseball season starts this Friday with a 3 game series at The Hawk against the University of San Diego Torreros. Back to the only sport that matters. Today, we take a look at the key members of the bullpen (and yell "Funky butt-lovin'!").

One of at least three options to close on this team.
One of at least three options to close on this team.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Today, I'll take a closer look at the three Dores who will likely play prominent roles in the bullpen (with a bonus look at another intriguing option to close).

Stay tuned later in the week, when I will make season predictions (and ask you to do so, as well), and preview the opening series against the University San Diego Torreros.  Make sure to check earlier articles about outfieldersmiddle infielderscorner infielderscatchers, and starting pitchers.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree; in Nashville, we've got Hawkins Field.

*This screenshot from Frinkiac has no relevance to baseball, but there were no relief pitchers brought in as ringers to Mr. Burns' Nuclear Power Plant softball team, so I've got nothing for you there.

Relief Pitchers

For this column, instead of following the format of the other positional battles, in which I preview all who might battle for each role, I'll just look at the three veterans who will likely pitch in the most meaningful back of the bullpen situations (see yesterday's column on starting pitchers to read about Donny "The Element" Everett, who could also lock down the closer's role this year before moving into the rotation in '17).  Why am I doing it this way?  Well, by very definition, all non-weekend starters will be competing for bullpen and mid-week starts (which are often Johnny Wholestaff games for bullpen pitchers to get some work in), so it's either do it this way, or write 10,000 words.

Shut up.  I'm not writing 10,000 words.  This is my 6th positional preview I've written this week!  I have a job, people!

#35 LHP Ben "Dat Gun" Bowden

Junior L/L 6'4" 245lbs

2015 Stats: 6-1, 2.89 ERA, 37 1/3 IP, 11.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, .232 b/avg, 1 HR allowed

Likely 2016 Role: Closer

Before you run to the comments, know that I am well aware that Bowden is currently working with the starters, but this does not tell us a whole hell of a lot about his likely role.  Let me explain:

1) At the moment, Kyle Wright, K-Chow, and Donny "The Element" Everett are dinged up and/or not options to start on opening weekend.

2) Bowden has walked the left hand path in the bullpen the past two years, and might be asking for a shot to start to improve his draft status.

3) Point #2 is no small deal, as MLB teams always look to start bullpen guys off as starters to maximize their innings value.  Corbs will honor that in early competition, but as roles sort themselves out, Bowden will not fight being moved to the back end of the bullpen where he is most comfortable.

4) If Bowden can show early on that he's able to go deep into games and throw three pitches, he will have effectively helped his draft stock, even if (when) Corbs moves him to the closer role as we near postseason play.

5) Bowden is, by far, our most experienced reliever.

6) His mid to high 90s left-handed heat (la flama sinistro!) and high K/9 rate will play better in the closer role, as he can rear back and fire it, rather than have to pitch to contact to stay deep into games.

7) Bowden does have a tendency to work deep counts or elevate his pitches in the zone, which are not good traits for a starter.

8) Though we will not know until he tries, Bowden has not shown in '14 or '15 that he can control three pitches.  A 2 pitch pitcher (fastball + curve/slider/change-up) can make an effective closer, as long as those 2 pitches are dominant, but usually, teams will figure such a pitcher out by the 2nd or 3rd time through the lineup.

9) Once the three starters mentioned are ready to return to the mound, they're going to start (except for Everett, possibly) as they're all better suited for the role.

10) It's about maximizing potential returns, and Bowden is just more valuable out of the bullpen with the depth we have in the starting rotation.

Nickname Explanation: I shouldn't have to explain this to southerners, so let me just say it's a play on words based on a famous phrase uttered by another famous Bowden.  If you don't immediately get it... well... that's just Dat Gum ridiculous.  Other nicknames considered:

1) "La Flama Sinistro" (but it didn't make sense to have him speak Catalan).

2) "Ol' Hilltopper" (based on the 7th c Anglo-Saxon origins of the name "Bowden").

3) "That Ol' Cape Magic" (based on a Richard Russo novel and Bowden's impressive performance in this year's summer Cape Cod league, which has elevated him to first round consideration as a MLB prospect).

"Dat Gun" won out due to simplicity and how enjoyable it will be to yell when he blows heaters past anyone he faces.

#32 RHP Hayden "Cold" Stone

Junior R/R 6'0" 185lbs

2015 Stats: Eh... let's ignore them, as they were indicative of a catastrophic arm injury that robbed the K-Reamer of his '15 season.

2014 Stats: 4-0, 1.71 ERA, 58 IP, 12.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, .197 b/avg, 1 HR allowed

Likely 2016 Role (eventually): Closer or Set-Up Man

Let's start with the good news from the recent baseball banquet:

In 2014, then freshman Hayden "Cold" Stone, aka The K-Reamer, aka The Cold Stone K-Reamer, had the most unhittable pitch in all of baseball, and Corbs had such confidence in him, he was the pitcher of record in our national title winning game.  In other words, his spike slider and bulldog mentality on the mound was integral in allowing us to remove the stone of shame, and...

As such, The Cold Stone K-Reamer was the odds on favorite to lock down the closer's role last year.

Then, you know... this happened.

Corbs will certainly not rush the K-Reamer back, but by late March, it will be about a year since the surgery, so expect to see him eased back in mid-week games and such before he is fully able to spike that slider into submission.  However, if he can regain the magic shown his freshman year, wouldn't you want the ball in his hand in the most crucial situations?

Speaking of...

#40 RHP Collin "Rowengartner" Snider

Sophomore R/R 6'4" 190

2015 Stats: 0-0, 2.41 ERA, 18 2/3 IP, 4.3 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, .246 b/avg, 1 HR allowed

Likely 2016 Role: Pitching wunderkind Henry Rowengartner

You read that correctly.  At the baseball banquet, Coach Corbin said the sophomore kid from Murfreesboro added 10mph to his fastball this year.  Now, many armchair speculators are going to start coughing *steroids* louder than you can imagine, but I'm not going to do that.  Fact is, the kid was a tall, lanky, projectable righty when he got here a year ago, and those types tend to increase their velo with added strength.  That said, adding 10mph in one year is just crazy talk, so I'm going to assume he slipped on a baseball, broke his arm, and then, once the cast was removed, slapped his doctor's nose so hard, he could only shout, "Funky butt-lovin'!"

That is a science fact.  A science fact!

Speculation aside, not only has Corbs reported on a Rowengartner-esque heat increase, but has claimed Snider will be the man he calls for in "tough situations."  Whether that means he'll be relied on to deliver the "high, stinky cheddar," or will lob the final pitch of the season underhanded when, after he slips on yet another ball, thereby reversing his increased velocity, he notices his mother in the stands, calling for the underhanded Eephus, striking out the last batter, and leading us to our 2nd CWS title in 3 years... is not for us to know quite yet.

Either way, his mom is totally making out with Gary Busey.

Oh, and Snider's entrance music just has to be this.  Just has to.