HOUSTON -- New faces, young arms and a mix of front end talent will highlight the Houston Baseball pitching staff, led by senior ace Austin Pruitt in 2013 for head coach Todd Whitting.
Along with a mix of newcomers among the pitching staff will be all newcomers taking over the reigns behind the plate, as Houston returns no players from the catching staff from a year ago. Junior transfer Caleb Barker will spearhead the Houston staff behind the plate with several freshmen continuing to progress.
CATCHING BREAKDOWN "I think one of the toughest things to do in our program is be a first-year catcher," Whitting said. "The system that we run is pretty complex regarding pitching selection, pitch calling and controlling the run game as well. The newcomers have done a good job with it and we have put in double-time in that aspect of our game over the past two weeks and they have taken to the system really well."
"Caleb Barker is a veteran player. He will be our starting catcher on Opening Day," Whitting said. "He has done really great job being the quarterback of the ball club."
Caleb Barker | Junior Transfer | Keller, Texas | Grayson CC · Helped 2012 Grayson CC team to a Conference Championship · Hit .369 with a homerun, eight doubles and 37 RBI · Was a 2012 First Team All-Conference selection · Helped 2011 team to a Region V Championship and a NJCAA World Series berth · Was a three-year letterwinner for Keller High School under head coach Rob Stromp · Was a two-time All-District performer · Helped team to a District Championship his sophomore season
"Once Jacob Campbell recovers from surgery from last year, I fee like he has the chance to become a really exciting player for us this year and moving forward. His future is really bright in the program."
Jacob Campbell | Freshman | Alvin, Texas | Alvin HS · Helped Alvin HS team to three straight playoff appearances · Was a two-time First Team All-District selection · Named to Houston Area 5A All-Star Team twice and Greater Houston Baseball team in 2012 · Honored as Alvin's Team MVP during his senior season · Named Newcomer of the Year and Honorable Mention All-District his freshman season
"Those two guys [Barker & Campbell] have done a really good job behind home plate and I expect us to be extremely solid at the catching position."
PITCHING BREAKDOWN With the hiring of assistant coach Frank Anderson, Whitting and staff have been able to land several top local freshmen and junior college pitchers that will make immediate impacts this season.
"I was really excited this summer to bring Coach Anderson on board," Whitting said. "He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, having been in Division I baseball, at a very high level, for many years. Already, before we play our first game, he has had a major impact on our pitching staff. His work ethic with them is relentless and he is focused on turning our pitching staff around. I have always thought he is one of, if not, the best pitching coaches in the nation and we are very fortunate to have him at the University of Houston."
To this point, Whitting is pleased that there are options for the weekend rotation as several guys have come in and impressed the staff this off-season following strong high school and junior college campaigns.
"We have three to six guys who will vie to be a part of our weekend rotation and that alone, is exciting," Whitting said.
"I'm thrilled we have our Friday night starter back from last year in senior Austin Pruitt," Whitting said. "Although his record didn't reflect his ability in 2012, I thought he pitched well. He kept us in just about every game he threw last year. I expect him once again to anchor our pitching staff."
STARTING PITCHING Austin Pruitt | Senior-1L | The Woodlands, Texas | Navarro JC · Made a team-high 14 starts as the Cougars' go-to pitcher in debut season at Houston · Tossed a team-best 91.0 innings · Went 5.0 or more innings in 12 of 14 starts · Earned first win as a Cougar vs. Sam Houston State (March 13) · Other two wins came at Southern Miss and at No. 6 Rice · Made eight starts in C-USA play · Opened 2012 with a 4.1 scoreless inning effort · Played two seasons for head coach Whoa Dill at Navarro JC · Was a member of the 2011 National JUCOC World Series Championship team · Led nation with an 0.81 ERA · Named 2011 Region XIV East First Team All-Conference pitcher
"A newcomer that will work in our weekend rotation is Daniel Poncedeleon," Whitting said. "He is a big, tall, pro-prospect type of player, who I can see pitching on Saturdays or Sundays for us all year."
Daniel Poncedeleon - RHP | Junior Transfer | La Mirada, Calif. | Cypress JC · Played sophomore season at Cypress Junior College · Played freshman season at the University of Arizona · Drafted in the 38th round of the 2012 MLB First Year Player Draft by the Cincinnati Reds · Played a year for La Mirada High School under head coach Kim Brooks · Named 2010 All-Athlete of the Year; First Team All-League pitcher · Drafted in the 24th round of the 2010 MLB First Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays
"Matt Hernandez, who also had a few starts for us during the weekend rotation last year, is also developing nicely and you could see him in the mix as well," Whitting said.
Matt Hernandez - LHP | Senior-1L | Baytown, Texas | Goose Creek Memorial HS · Earned first win as a Cougar in 2012 season finale vs. Memphis in C-USA Championship · Recorded 24 strikeouts in 32.2 innings pitched · Made starts against Texas A&M-CC, Texas Tech, Marshall and Memphis · Made one appearance in right field during the Memphis series · Played two seasons under Harvey MacIntyre at Blinn JC · Named to 2010 Texas-New Mexico JC All-Star Team
"Aaron Garza is back for us as a spot-starter from a year ago, having thrown in the weekend rotation and during midweek contests," Whitting said. "He is having a really good spring thus far and I look for him to contribute even more this year."
Aaron Garza - RHP | Sophomore-1L | Galveston, Texas | Galveston Ball HS · Made 10 starts on the bump for third-best on the team as a true freshman · Served primarily as the Cougars' midweek starter · Earned first collegiate win during opening weekend against Delaware · Fanned a season-high six in a win over UTSA for second win of the year · Went at least 5.0 innings in four of his 10 starts
"Another newcomer we are excited about is Jake Lemoine, a drafted pitcher out of Bridge City, Texas," Whitting said. "As a freshman this year, he is making noise to be one of those weekend guys."
Jake Lemoine - RHP | Freshman | Bridge City, Texas | Bridge City HS · Helped Bridge City HS team to four straight District Championships and two Regional Quarterfinals in final two years · Led 2012 squad with a perfect 12-0 record · Named 2012 Beaumont Enterprise Super-Gold Baseball Player of the Year, All-Leader Baseball MVP, SE Texas Coaches Association Player of the Year · Earned District Newcomer of the Year and First Team All-District honors in 2011 · Finished 2012 with an ERA of 1.61 in 69.0 innings pitched; fanned 105; allowed just 32 hits · Drafted in the 2012 21st round of the MLB First Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers
"Two freshmen that our staff is extremely excited about as well are Grant Slaughter and Jared West," Whitting said. "These two guys will get considerable time and if they continue to develop, could be an option for us on the weekend as well."
Grant Slaughter | Freshman | Cypress, Texas | Cy-Ranch HS · Led Cy-Ranch team to a 5A State Championship in 2012 · Named Houston's 5A MVP as a pitcher · Was an All-District and All-State award winner · Honored on the Greater Houston All-Area All-Star team · Finished season with an 11-2 record and a 0.42 ERA
Jared West | Freshman | Frierson, La. | North DeSoto HS · Helped North DeSoto team to a State Championship during senior season · Finished with an impressive 12-1 mark and a 1.01 ERA with 158 strikeouts an only 15 walks during 2012 · Named District MVP, Shreveport Times All-Area Pitcher of the Year, Louisiana Baseball Coaches Association All-State 3A Pitcher of the Year and LSWA First Team pitcher honors, First Team All-District · Named District Co-MVP, First Team All-District, Shreveport Times All-Area First Team pitcher, District First Team All-Academic and LHSAA First Team All-State pitcher his junior year · Drafted in the 39th round of the 2012 MLB First Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates
BULLPEN PITCHING "Out of the bullpen this year, I'm expecting big things from sophomore Ryan Vruggink," Whitting said. "He probably has as good of swing-and-miss stuff as anyone on our team, which is what I like to see coming out of that bullpen."
Ryan Vruggink | Sophomore-1L | Houston, Texas | Clear Brook HS · Made 14 appearances for fourth-best on the team in true freshman season · Held opposing hitters to a team-low .222 average · Allowed just two extra base hits all season · Held a 0.00 ERA through first three appearances · Made collegiate debut in win over Delaware; tossed 1.0 hitless inning with two strikeouts
"Another strong arm coming out of our bullpen will be junior Chase Wellbrock," Whitting said. "He has had a great fall and has developed even more during spring practices. As a veteran player, he brings a lot of confidence who has seen success in a Cougar uniform."
Chase Wellbrock | Junior-2L | Richmond, Texas | Alvin CC · Tied for most wins on the team with three in 2012 · Pitched a career-long 7.0 innings in relief in a win over Lamar (2012) · Was Houston's go-to bullpen guy with 16 appearances · Notched first career save against Memphis in C-USA Championship (May 25, 2012) · Earned a win in the season opener vs. Delaware · Pitched 6.0 innings with six strikeouts in first career start vs. SFA (Feb. 22, 2011)
"Also out of the pen is Tyler Ford, a left-handed pitcher, who will pitch out of the backend for us this year," Whitting said. "With the combination of him and fellow junior college pitcher Dylan Rucker, we have several new guys who have shown well to this point and we are looking forward to what they can contribute this season."
Tyler Ford | Junior Transfer | Richmond, Texas | Alvin CC · Played two seasons under head coach Brian Alexander at Alvin Community College · Selected to the NJCAA All-Star game · Played four seasons at Travis High School under head coach Jody Albright
"I still think, to this point, that we don't have the depth we would like to have as we move forward, but this is definitely a great start with these additions to our roster and pitching staff," Whitting said. "I think the top end of our pitching staff has a chance to be really good and exciting this season."
UP NEXT The Cougars will open their 2013 season officially at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15 by hosting Northeastern University in a three-game series (Feb. 15-17) at Cougar Field. For more of the latest news and highlights, visit www.UHCougars.com.
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