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2022 Position Previews: Relief Pitching

Baseball season starts Friday with a home series against Okie State. I will publish position previews once per day on: 1) Starting Pitching, 2) Relief Pitching, 3) Infield, 4) Outfield, and 5) Catchers.

NCAA Baseball: Nashville Super Regional-East Carolina vs Vanderbilt
Marbles.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Like every season, the depth of Vanderbilt’s pitching staff pushes many who could start at other college programs, and even other SEC programs, into the bullpen. Click here to see who I think will round out the weekend rotation.

The Dores have the chance at a good bullpen (especially if Maldo and McBain are the two back of the pen arms), but similar to the starters, I don’t expect this pen to be as stacked as last year’s. Still losing Luke “The Law” Murphy and Hugh “Big Fish” Fisher to the draft (and Ethan Smith transferring to the Chuggers) is not exactly the same as losing Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker from the starting rotation. Of course, if Sam Hliboki is able to come back this season, that could make a big difference. *Note: I will leave him off this preview at the moment, as it is unlikely he will return until late in the season... and even that might be optimistic.

Potential Closers and Set-Up Men

#29 Jr. RHP Nick Maldonado

(1-2; 2.31 ERA; 28 appearances; 0 starts; 50 & 2/3 IP; 10.5 K/9; 9 Saves)

The answer to “Where’s Maldo?” may well be the true wild card to this season. Though if it were up to me, I’d keep him at closer (and McElvain as the set up man) and let the kids battle it out for the starting rotation. However, as we all know, a prospect will make a lot more money in the draft if teams believe he can start rather than just be in the bullpen. As such, Maldo has a world of incentive to kick down the door and break into the weekend rotation, even if it might not make as much sense from a roster construction perspective. Generally speaking, in college baseball, the most important pitchers are your Ace and your Closer. Have a shutdown guy at both of those spots and you have a chance at winning the whole thing. Having an Ace #2 guy like we had last year was just a luxury that almost never happens. Still, Maldo could win the competition outright, or the kids could stumble early, forcing Brownie’s hand. Either way, he’s a guy to watch.

Per Corbs’ press conference on Monday, it looks like the plan is to begin the year with Maldo in the starting rotation.

Still, the Dores have done this before—see Ben Bowden—and often the veteran returns to the bullpen by the end of the year. Again, the situation is fluid.

We know what he can do in the closer role.

#35 Jr. RHP Chris McElvain

(5-1; 4.34 ERA; 22 appearances; 1 starts; 45 & 2/3 IP; 11.4 K/9; 2 Saves)

Last year, I wrote:

McElvain has a big arm, but is a work in progress as a pitcher. He’s got all the ingredients, though, so let’s give him time to work with Brownie—as Carl Weathers would say, “That’ll make a fine stew!”

Now, McBain is one of the most improved pitchers on the team, and could be anything from a Closer to a Set-Up guy to a weekend starter (my preference is for the former two, of course). He throws hard, throws strikes, and is useful in any situation. As long as Maldo is in the closer role, I expect McBain to be the high leverage reliever. In other words, this will usually mean the 7th and 8th inning guy, but he could also be the guy you go to when the starter has loaded the bases early.

Returning Relief Pitchers

*Note: I listed them in order of number of 2021 appearances.

#66 Jr. RHP Thomas “The Mayor” Schultz

(4-2; 4.09 ERA; 14 appearances; 9 starts; 44 IP; 8.2 K/9; 0 Saves)

#33 So. LHP Hunter Owen

(0-0; 10.26 ERA; 14 appearances; 0 starts; 16 & 2/3 IP; 10.3 K/9; 0 Saves)

#30 So. LHP Nelson “Son of Sam” Berkwich

(1-0; 3.07 ERA; 10 appearances; 0 starts; 14 & 2/3 IP; 11.7 K/9; 0 Saves)

#44 So. RHP Donye Evans

(0-0; 4.76 ERA; 8 appearances; 0 starts; 5 & 2/3 IP; 9.5 K/9; 0 Saves)

#36 So. RHP Grayson Moore

(0-0; 9.00 ERA; 5 appearances; 0 starts; 6 IP; 9.0 K/9; 0 Saves)

#46 So. RHP Gage Bradley

(0-0; 13.50 ERA; 2 appearances; 0 starts; 2 IP; 13.5 K/9; 0 Saves)

#77 So. LHP Brett “Mmm...ormon Bop” Hansen

(N/A)

Though Hansen did not see the mound last year, here’s what I wrote about him in last year’s preview.

MLB.com Top 200 Ranking: Unranked (He was a top 100 prospect in the ‘18 MLB Draft).

Perfect Game Rating: 9.5.

Hansen has spent the past two years on his Mormon Mission, so while he’s a freshman, he’ll be as old as a junior. Let’s just hope he has been working on his game, as he could be a much-needed veteran(ish) lefty out of the pen. He was the #1 LHP in his class in the state of California, so Hansen could be a big piece to this team that’s not being reported on yet.

The Young Guns (Freshmen)

*Note: What I write about the future starters is pasted, verbatim, from what I wrote about them in the 2021 MLB Draft 2nd through 20th Round Primer: The Commits.

#95 Fr. LHP Devin Futrell

Here’s the scouting report from MLB.com:

American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla., has a very long history of producing outstanding Draft talent, most recently first round infielder Triston Casas in 2018. It’s not been as successful on the pitching front, with Shaun Anderson the lone arm to come out of the program to make it to the big leagues, by way of the University of Florida. Futrell, a super-projectable left-hander, has the chance to become the second, though he might need to follow the same college route first.

It’s easy to dream on Futrell’s stuff improving as he fills out his 6-foot-5 frame. Right now, his fastball sits in the 88-90 mph range, commanded fairly well and thrown with decent life. His changeup is his best secondary offering at present, sold with good arm speed and thrown with good sink when at its best. He throws a slower 12-to-6 curve in the low-70s that will need some tightening at the next level.

Futrell does a decent job of repeating his delivery and staying around the strike zone, though like with a lot of young arms, he needs to refine his overall command. There are some definite starting pitcher attributes here, but it might take some time for it to all click, with the added challenge of trying to sign him away from his commitment to Vanderbilt.

Perfect Game Rating: 10

#17 Fr. LHP Ryan Ginther

Here’s what Perfect Game has to say about him:

Ryan Ginther is a 2021 LHP/OF with a 5-11 201 lb. frame from Hendersonville, TN who attends Station Camp. Strong athletic build. Up tempo aggressive delivery that he controls well, 3/4’s arm slot, very fast arm coming through. Fastball topped out at 94 mph and explodes on hitters at the plate, lots of deception with his angle and fast paced delivery, fastball rides up in the zone and gets over barrels consistently. Solid slider with big sweeping depth at times. Pounded the strike zone to both sides of the plate and was in complete command while creating very uncomfortable at-bats. Stuff has jumped forward over the past year. Very good student, verbal commitment to Vanderbilt. Named to play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic.

Perfect Game Rating: 10

#98 Fr. RHP Greysen Carter

Here’s what Perfect Game has to say about him:

Greysen Carter is a 2021 RHP/OF with a 6-4 205 lb. frame from Louisville, CO who attends Fairview. Big and strong athletic build with the chance to get even stronger. Hands over the head delivery, compact arm action in back with over the top arm slot that creates big angle to the plate, stays on line well, very little upper body lean off line for his arm slot. Fastball topped out at 93 mph with occasional nice cutting action, holds his velocity well from the stretch, fastball gets on hitters quickly, no reason he can evolve into a steady mid-90’s thrower when physically mature. Firm change up to slow down hitter’s bats a bit, tends to slow arm on his curveball, primary fastball pitcher at present. Switch-hitter who is much stronger at present from the right side, hits from a spread stance with a deep load and fast level swing, generates power to the middle of the field right handed and projects lots of power. Excellent student.

Perfect Game Rating: 10

#97 Fr. RHP Bryce Cunningham

#4 RHP in the state of Alabama.

#50 Fr. RHP Kyle Magrans

#7 RHP in the state of Tennessee.

#55 Fr. RHP Colton Regen

#8 RHP in the state of Tennessee.