Feb. 7, 2014
HOUSTON - When you describe the success of a program year in and year out, pitching and catching always becomes the topic of discussion. Houston Baseball will look to several key returners and use the depth it has available to gear up for another successful season under pitching coach Frank Anderson.
The Cougars will look to junior RHP Aaron Garza, sophomore RHP Jake Lemoine and sophomore LHP Jared West as key contributors within the starting rotation for Houston. The rotation hasn't been set, which can in turn, be a good thing.
Anderson and the Cougars have options and whether it's a returner or a newcomer that has made strides this offseason, each pitcher on the bump for Houston will pitch competitively.
"This offseason, the main focus has been for the ones who had success a year ago to take another step forward," said Anderson. "They have done a pretty good job this offseason accomplishing that and they understand the role we need them to take on this season."
"We have quite a bit of depth with new guys this season," said Anderson. "We need to fill these new guys in and see where they fit into our pitching staff."
A 10-win pitching season by senior Austin Pruitt and a seven-win season by Daniel Poncedeleon highlighted Houston's 2013 success. The Cougars will need to fill these roles this season as that duo is longer with the program, but the return of Garza and Lemoine is expected to be an extremely exciting combination as Houston's 1-2 punch.
Garza is coming off his second season as a Cougar, notching five wins a year ago. He was a consistent force for the Cougars, primarily as the midweek starter. His ability to throw strikes made his success notable as he finished the year with just 18 walks to his 43 strikeouts.
TOP STARTERS - RETURNING
Aaron Garza | RHP | Junior-2L | Galveston, Texas | Galveston Ball HS
· Made 13 starts for the Cougars in 2013, primarily as the midweek starter
· Finished 5-5 with a 3.88 ERA
· Walked just 18 to his 43 strikeouts
· Has pitched 106.1 innings in his two-year career
· Earned key wins over Baylor and Texas last season
· Two-time Commissioner's Honor Roll recipient
Lemoine made an impressive showing during his true freshman campaign, compiling seven wins for the Cougars, one shy of the Houston freshman all-time win record. His 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame will once again be a strong presence for the Cougars.
Jake Lemoine | RHP | Sophomore-1L | Bridge City, Texas | Bridge City HS
· Finished 2013 with seven wins - second-best on the team and one shy of the Houston all-time win record by a true freshman
· Compiled a 3.49 ERA in 18 appearances and 10 starts
· Opened 2012 with a 4-0 record through first eight starts
· Didn't allow an earned run in first five appearances, totaling 13.1 innings
· Struck out 21 hitters in final four appearances
· Named to C-USA All-Freshman Team
West may have only made five appearances and two starts during his true freshman campaign last season, but Anderson has high hopes for the 6-foot-6 lefty as he has shown great improvement this offseason.
Jared West | LHP | Sophomore-1L | Frierson, La. | North DeSoto HS
· Made five relief appearances and two starts as a true freshman in 2013
· Struck out five in 7.1 innings
· Didn't allow an extra-base hit
· Left-hander that stands 6-foot-6
With a week until the season opener, Anderson hasn't made any final decisions on his starting rotation. You may see efforts from newcomers in junior transfers Kyle Dowdy (RHP - San Diego, Calif.), David Longville (RHP - Mission Viejo, Calif.), Taylor Cobb (RHP - Houston, Texas) and sophomore junior college transfer Bubba Maxwell (RHP - Vidor, Texas) as well as freshmen Andrew Lantrip (RHP - Livingston, Texas) and Kirby Peek (RHP - Jersey Village, Texas).
Out of the pen is where Anderson will look to top returners Tyler Ford (LHP - Richmond, Texas) and Chase Wellbrock (RHP - Brenham, Texas). The duo combined for 41 appearances last year, while tallying 13 of the Cougars' 15 saves. They are balanced with Ford from the left side and Wellbrock from the right.
Both Ford and Wellbrock have proven their ability to throw long-late inning relief efforts as well as come in and shut an opponent down and tally the save.
Wellbrock, who served as Houston's closer last season, is coming off a dominant year with 11 of his 12 career saves. He worked for the Cougars in 25 games and was a consistent force when called upon.
TOP RELIEVERS - RETURNING
Chase Wellbrock | RHP | Senior-3L | Brenham, Texas | Brenham HS
· Was the Cougars' go-to reliever last season
· Made 25 appearances for eighth-best in the league
· Tallied 11 saves to finish among the Top 5 in C-USA
· Struck out 37 in 42.1 innings out of the pen
· Became the first Cougar since 2009 to record double-digit saves (11)
· Recorded saves in wins over Texas A&M, Texas, Memphis, Southern Miss (x2)
· Didn't allow an earned run in last 10 appearances
· Walked just six hitters all season and only one in conference play
· Three-time Commissioner's Honor Roll recipient
· 2012 Team Academic MVP
Ford brings a bulldog mentality to the relief staff as his left-handed arm can pound the zone and make hitters miss. He showcased the ability to pitch long late-inning outings a year ago as well as go in and create havoc on one hitter during a matchup situation.
Tyler Ford | LHP | Senior-1L | Richmond, Texas | Alvin CC
· Made 16 appearances out of the pen for the Cougars in 2013
· Finished 2-1 with two saves
· Was primarily Houston's set-up pitcher late in relief
· Struck out 27 in 25.0 innings
· Played two previous seasons at Alvin Community College
· 2013 Commissioner's Honor Roll
Anderson is excited about the relievers he will look to this season as junior college transfer Jared Robinson (RHP - Lubbock, Texas) made significant strides this fall and showed well during the Red-White World Series and the Alumni Game. Also junior transfer Matt Locus (LHP - Katy, Texas), a lefty specialist that allows Anderson to play with matchups, while Peek could see action out of the pen as well as he has shown the ability to throw strikes late during preseason scrimmages.
"The strength of this staff will more so be depth," said Anderson. "We want our staff to throw strikes, pound the zone, and be competitive. That is what we ask of them. A lot of guys may have better stuff, but without competing on day-in and day-out basis, they won't be successful."
Controlling the pitching staff and managing the game behind the plate for the second straight year will be senior catcher Caleb Barker. He stepped in during his debut season as a Cougar and showed consistency and ability to manage a game and drive in runs offensively for the Cougars.
"[Caleb] Barker started just about every game for us last year," said head coach Todd Whitting. "He's the anchor back there. He's extremely steady. He led the league in RBI's last year at one point and was hitting well over .300. He knows the pitching staff, and our pitching system as far as how we hold runners on and the picks. We run a pretty extensive system to control the run game, and Barker has picked that up very well. I expect him to have an above-average year this year, and be one of the main players that makes us go."
Caleb Barker | Senior-1L | Keller, Texas | Grayson County CC
· Was Houston's starting catcher in his first season as a Cougar
· Appeared in 57 of the 58 games, making 54 starts
· Hit .251 with 53 hits, 28 runs scored and 43 RBI
· His 43 RBI were second-best on the team and among the Top 5 in the league
· Fielded .990
· Led Houston with 12-multi-RBI games
· Played two seasons at Grayson County College
· Was a 2013 Johnny Bench Award Watch List honoree
· Named a C-USA Academic Medal and to the C-USA All-Academic Team
· Honored on the College Classic All-Tournament Team
Looking to back up Barker will be sophomore Jacob Campbell.
"[Jacob] Campbell is coming off of surgery," said Whitting. "He should be ready about mid-season to catch if needed. He's ahead of schedule right now with his throwing. You could also see Campbell in the DH role on day one as well. He's had an outstanding spring practice so far with the bat and he's really progressed nicely on the offensive side. We just have to get him healthy and get him to where he can throw the ball around."
Jacob Campbell | Sophomore-1L | Alvin, Texas | Alvin HS
· Played multiple roles in his true freshman campaign
· Primarily used as the Cougars' designated hitter
· Appeared in 39 games with 33 starts
· Slugged .375 with three homeruns, two triples and five doubles
· Was 6-for-8 in stolen bases
· Didn't commit an error in 21 putouts behind the plate
Whitting also mentioned senior Daniel Smith and freshman Jordan Stading working out as catchers this offseason. Smith took on a few games in the catching position in 2013 to relieve Barker a bit late in the season.
"The thing I look at for Smith is if he can get back there and just be steady," said Whitting. "Just take care of the baseball, and control the pitching staff, and work with those guys to keep things under control if he has to go in the game."
"[Jordan] Stading right now is a third baseman for us, and a kid we've put behind the plate for an emergency situation, and possibly down the road we'll make a position change with him," said Whitting. "He's athletic and he has good hands. He's a big kid who can throw well, and has great savvy for the game. You could see Jordan getting some time behind the plate this year as well."
Houston Baseball is less than two weeks away from the start of the 2014 season. The Cougars will welcome Nicholls State to Cougar Field on Feb. 14-16 for a three-game, opening weekend set. Game times are slated for 6:30 p.m. (Friday), 6:30 p.m. (Saturday), 1 p.m. (Sunday).
Come out and support YOUR Cougars and take advantage of all the promotional days, including FRIDAY FRENZY, Bingo at the Ballpark (Saturday) and Kids Day (Sunday).
Any kid 8th grade and under wearing a Houston Baseball Camp t-shirt to any home game will received FREE ADMISSION!
A LOOK AT THE 2014 SCHEDULE
Houston Baseball will once again take advantage of its home crowd by playing 33 home games at Cougar Field, including seven of the first eight games. Following a trip to California, the Cougars will return home to host the next 13 games during the month of March, which includes Baylor, Rice and the opening of conference play with Memphis.
Houston will open its 2014 slate by hosting Nicholls State in a three-game series on Feb. 14-16. This year will mark the first time since 1988 these two programs have met on the diamond with Houston owning a 28-13 overall record.
Houston is also set to host non-conference opponents Michigan (Feb. 21-23) - for the first time since 1998, McNeese State (Feb. 26), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (March 4), Baylor (March 11), Towson (March 14-16), College of Charleston (March 21-23), Texas State (April 8), Sam Houston State (April 22) and Prairie View A&M (May 6).
The Cougars will compete for the first time in the inaugural American Athletic Conference and will welcome Memphis (March 28-30), Louisville (April 11-13), USF (April 17-19), and UCF (May 2-4) to Cougar Field as part of league play.
SEASON TICKETS ON SALE NOW
By visiting UHCougars.com, clicking the Tickets link and following the appropriate links or by clicking here, fans can begin purchasing and requesting specific seats within the friendly confines of Cougar Field.
Reserved Houston Baseball season tickets will be allocated after the renewal deadline (Friday, January 17, 2014). General Admission seats include 33 "Anytime Tickets". You may use one ticket to each home game, 33 tickets to one game, or any combination in between.
General Admission season tickets start for as low as $150 (33 home games/$4.50 per ticket), while Reserved season tickets start at only $200 (33 home games/$6.00 per ticket).
Families can purchase the Family Plan for just $399, which includes two adult and two youth General Admission tickets to each of the 33 home games. The Family Plan does not include the "Anytime Tickets" package.
Fans also can purchase season tickets by visiting or calling the Athletics Ticket Office at 713-GO-COOGS (462-6647) or 877-COUGAR-5 (268-4275).
Stay up to date with all Houston Baseball news and highlights by following us on Twitter @UHCougarBB or on Facebook at /HoustonCougarBaseball. Fans can also follow head coach Todd Whitting @toddwhitting on Twitter.