Projecting West Virginia's Pitching Rotation
West Virginia needs to replace three-quarters of its 2019 pitching rotation but there is talent a plenty among the Mountaineer hurlers this season, as there is on the roster as a whole.
As with Mountaineer Maven's starting lineup projection, the rotation here is full of unproven talent and immense potential.
With a trio of breakout candidates, Randy Mazey’s pitching staff is largely unproven but has the chance to show that they can step in and not miss a beat from one of the most impressive staffs in recent memory.
The lone returner from the stellar 2019 rotation should move into the marquee Friday night spot. Jackson Wolf had a rough go at times throughout last season but a strong off-season, paired with an imposing 6’7” frame, gives the junior left-hander momentum coming into the new year.
Pitching to a 3.03 ERA in seven appearances while helping the Cotuit Kettleers to a championship in the elite Cape Cod League, Wolf is now the elder statesman of the Mountaineer staff and will be relied upon in some of the season’s biggest games.
The Gahanna, Ohio native has all the tools to be a standout for the Mountaineers and even former West Virginia ace and current Toronto Blue Jays prospect Alek Manoah had a more unassuming first two years in Morgantown than Wolf.
As evidenced by his performance against then-number one Oregon State last season, Jackson Wolf can turn in on when the lights are brightest, and he will have the opportunity to do just that at the top of the Mountaineer rotation in 2020.
The number two on Randy Mazey’s staff looks to be another Ohioan, as well as one of the team’s biggest breakout candidates with sophomore right Ryan Bergert looking like he will hold down the Saturday role.
Bergert emerged late in the season, starting a pair of high stakes postseason games and ending his freshman campaign on a 19.1 inning scoreless streak. This included his first career start in the Big 12 Conference tournament semifinal against Texas Tech, tossing five innings of one hit ball, and three scoreless innings against Texas A&M in the NCAA Regional.
His name has to be considered when discussing breakout candidates for the Mountaineers based on his outstanding freshman track record, striking out better than a batter per inning and earning Big 12 All-Tournament team honors.
A young player like Bergert is just what the doctor ordered for West Virginia as the coaching staff tries to replace a phenom like Alek Manoah. If his freshman performance is any indicator, Ryan Bergert may be on track to follow in his footsteps as the Mountaineers’ next ace.
This is where things start to get murky. West Virginia is very inexperienced in the starting pitching department beyond Wolf and Bergert but there are several candidates for the job.
From a pure projection perspective, one of the best options for the Sunday starter spot is another former freshman standout, Zach “Otter” Ottinger.
Ottinger formed a duo with Bergert late last season, piggybacking off of his teammate in both of the latter’s starts, combining for 7.1 strong innings against Texas Tech and Texas A&M. These performances showed immense mental strength from the now-sophomore and proved he has what it takes to start at the college level.
“Otter” used outstanding control to hold hitters at bay a year ago, issuing just six walks in 20 innings of work while setting down 19 opponents on strikes.
The final two spots in the Mountaineer rotation appear to be up for grabs heading into the opening weekend but Zach Ottinger’s performance last season should give him the inside track on one of those positions.
The biggest wild card in the battle for starting pitching positions is junior college transfer Haden Erbe. One of the top JUCO prospects in the nation according to Perfect Game, the product of Seminole State College will certainly have an impact in the upcoming season.
Injuries led the Louisiana native to the junior college ranks after beginning his career at UL-Lafayette but his move to West Virginia will give him the chance for redemption at the highest level.
The Mountaineers need starting pitching and Erbe brought that early, getting the ball in each of the spring games contested against Marshall. Just as JUCO transfer Nick Snyder exploded onto the scene in the mid-week role last year, Erbe may be able to do the very same thing in the 2020 season.
Despite inexperience, the West Virginia pitching staff is riddled with potential heading into the new campaign. With young talent, a proven leader, and newcomers galore, coach Randy Mazey will certainly have the pitchers to compete in the Big 12 this season.
The Mountaineers open the season Friday night with a trip to Jacksonville University.