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2017 BYU Baseball preview: Pitching Staff

The Cougars will score a lot of runs this season. Will they be able to keep their opponents off the scoreboard?

BYU Photo/Mark Philbrick

Everything in baseball ultimately comes down to pitching. Dominant pitching always beats out elite hitting.

The 2017 Bat Cats will almost certainly having one of the NCAA’s best offenses. The question for this season is whether or not the Y have a pitching staff that can stay healthy enough and perform at a level high enough to carry the Cougars to a NCAA Regional.

BYU head coach Mike Littlewood returns 9 of his pitchers from last year’s staff. Here is how they performed in 2016.

BYU Pitching in 2016

Pitchers ERA W-L Starts Saves IP Hits Runs Earned Runs Walks K Opp. Batting Average Wild Pitches WHIP
Pitchers ERA W-L Starts Saves IP Hits Runs Earned Runs Walks K Opp. Batting Average Wild Pitches WHIP
RUCKER, Michael* 2.73 11-1 16 0 102.1 80 38 31 31 94 .215 4 1.085
ROGERS, Hayden 3.5 5-3 11 0 61.2 72 34 24 18 36 .288 1 1.459
WALKER, Easton# 3.51 1-1 1 1 33.1 37 20 13 11 23 .285 3 1.44
CENATIEMPO, Keaton 3.54 3-2 1 3 48.1 50 20 19 16 32 .269 1 1.366
BUFFO, Maverik 3.63 6-2 11 0 44.2 46 21 18 17 34 .266 3 1.41
BURRUP, Bo 4.54 3-2 0 1 39.2 42 21 20 20 18 .278 6 1.563
WILLIAMS, Connor 4.85 1-1 9 0 29.2 24 25 16 40 30 .224 9 2.157
MARSHALL, Mason 5.24 3-3 0 3 44.2 47 26 26 19 39 .273 4 1.478
GATES, Riley 5.72 2-1 4 0 28.1 19 21 18 22 34 .198 14 1.447
WOOD, Jordan 6.44 1-1 1 1 29.1 30 22 21 7 22 .259 7 1.261
BUSSE, Triston^ 3.38 0-0 0 0 2.2 2 1 1 1 4 .200 1 1.125
BRINKERHOFF, Zach^ 3.95 1-0 0 0 13.2 18 11 6 9 5 .333 2 1.976
MOTES, Kendall 9 0-0 0 0 3 5 3 3 3 4 .357 0 2.667
Returning Pitchers 4.51 24-15 37 8 329.1 335 193 165 162 249 .268 45 1.509

*Drafted by the Chicago Cubs

#LDS Mission to Peru

^Medical Redshirt

It always hurts a pitching staff when it loses an All-American like Michael Rucker. Rucker was a terrific day 1 starter for the Cougars. He was a strikeout maven and simply never had a bad outing.

However, the Cougars have a lot of arms that provide good reason to believe in this team’s chances. After all, most of this group was part of last season’s regular season West Coast Conference championship. Not to mention their contributions to the national top 25 ranking the team carried for most of the season before injuries decimated their starting rotation.

Here is the 2017 BYU pitching staff.

Starting pitching

BYU right handed pitcher Maverik Buffo
BYU Photo

This season, junior right-hander Maverik Buffo will be looked to take on their opponent’s top hurler in series openers.

The part of Buffo’s game that stands out is his competitiveness. Buffo showed a mental toughness on the mound to handle different difficult scenarios.

1 out, man on 1st and 3rd, middle infielders at double play depth. Buffo will force the grounder to short.

3-2 count, bases loaded, need a pitch to pound the zone without being a meatball? Buffo will come through.

Buffo had a couple of pitching gems in 2016. He smoked the St. Louis Billikens over 8 scoreless innings where he gave up 6 hits — all singles — and stuck out 4 batters.

Later in the season on the road in Portland, Buffo dominated the Pilots over 6.1 innings surrendering 6 hits with no walks, 1 run, while striking out 10 batters. Take a look at the highlights from that performance.

Typically, Maverik Buffo was effective by confusing batters and locating his 3 or 4 pitches. Sure, he can throw hard. But the key for Buffo is managing the game and recording the outs. He doesn’t get out of jams by reaching back and blowing the ball by, he forces pop ups. This approach to the game will be key for Buffo especially as he is returning from a serious injury.

In 2016, Buffo suffered a season ending injury to his ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm. The question for the Cougars ace is how his arm is feeling and firing. A great indication for fans is the faith that head coach Mike Littlewood has placed in Buffo to be at the top of their rotation. Even still, Buffo’s health will be something to watch for and may be cause for earlier pitching changes.

The prospects of Buffo’s 2017 campaign should be met with cautious optimism.

The rest of the starting rotation were indicated in a BYU baseball press release to be Brady Corless and Bo Burrup.

Brady Corless redshirted in 2016. Corless, who transferred to BYU following a stint at Salt Lake Community College, did play in 2015 for the Cougars. The senior right hander started 8 games and pitched 47.1 innings while surrendering a .299 batting average to opponents while recording a 5.51 ERA. Corless struck out 33 batters and walked 21 of them.

Bo Burrup served last season in the bullpen. He was called upon in 25 games pitching 39.2 games. The 6-foot-5 lefty stuck out 18 and walked 20 batters. The Idaho native recorded a 4.54 ERA. He will be debuting as a starter for the first time this season.

Left handed relievers

The Cougar bullpen will have a ton of experience returning as well as a couple exciting new faces.

Junior left handed pitcher Hayden Rogers
BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey

Hayden Rogers started last season in the pen, but was moved to starting role following Buffo’s injury. Rogers started 11 games and went 5-3 in his decisions. Hayden had a 2-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio over his season.

Unfortunately, Rogers’ season ended early due to injury.

He returns to the Cougars’ bullpen as BYU’s most experience pitcher having recorded the most innings pitched in 2016.

Riley Gates has an absolutely wicked off-speed arsenal. The amount of movement he generates on his pitches is truly impressive. Gates also started games last season in placed of injured pitchers. Riley threw a team-best .198 opposing batting average. He struck out 34 batters in just 28.1 innings of work for a team-best K-to-IP ratio. Controlling his vicious slider is his quest. Gates threw a team-high 14 wild pitches with men on base and beaned 9 batters he faced. He also walked just under an average of 1 batter per inning. The hope is that Gates, a junior, will be more consistent in his ability to pound the zone because when he’s locating his stuff it is impossible.

Aaron Cross is an exciting addition to the Cougars pitching staff. Cross transferred from Grosmont Community College. Cross was utilized primarily as a closer in junior college.

Cache Valley native Rhett Parkinson, a redshirt junior, and freshman 6-foot-4 200-pound Matt Favero round out the Cougar lefties.

Right handed relievers

Senior right hand pitcher Keaton Cenatiempo
BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey

Keaton Cenatiempo would come into games in relief and it was always “dinner time.” Cenatiempo’s side arm delivery and veteran presence gave BYU several critical performances. By the end of last season, Cenatiempo took his place as Mike Littlewood’s most trusted reliever. The Cougars looked to Cenatiempo to do everything from clean up bases loaded jams, long relief following a bad performance by a starter, and closing. The best part about Cenatiempo is that whatever signal is sent in from the dugout, he will deliver the pitch right where it was called for. Cenatiempo is a senior who gives up few runs in any scenario.

Mason Marshall has served primarily as a closer for the Cougars. Mason Marshall is a blast to watch pitch. He works from the mound with a fierce temperament. Marshall pounds the strike zone with off-speed pitches. When he is locked in, Marshall is impossible to hit hard. Like most off-speed specialists, if his pitches hang he becomes easier for batters to figure out. Marshall is 2 saves away from becoming the program’s all-time leader in saves dethroning Ryan Hancock.

Conner Williams has a crazy strong arm. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Williams was used as a starting pitcher on 3rd or 4th games of series last season. The key with Conner’s game is control. He has a ton of heat — it just struggles to find the zone consistently. He struck out 30 batters in 29.2 innings of work. Williams’ was tough to hit as he surrendered a .224 opposing batting average. Conversely, Williams walked a team-high 40 opponents in just 29.2 innings. If Conner can get his strong right arm to consistently locate his dominate fastball, he’s a #1 pitcher in the rotation level talent.

The rest of the right handers in the bullpen are sophomore Jordan Wood, freshman Jackson Bishop, senior Kendall Motes, and freshman and name of the year candidate Shep Shepard.

Takeaways

There is a lot to like about the pitchers on this BYU team. There are a bundle of players that know how to compete and take the mound with a winning approach. That is a terrific place to start.

None of the starting pitchers have overpowering stuff. All of them will need to locate all the pitches in their arsenal and rack up the outs. The composure and approach for the starters will be crucial. This will be where the Cougars coaching staff will earn their money.

The bullpen should be able to give flexibility to the Y. While the top 3 or 4 arms in the bullpen are trusted quantities, the effectiveness of the depth of the bullpen is unproven.

As always, health will be key. If the top Cougar pitchers can stay healthy for the season, they will have a chance to win another WCC title and perhaps a place in a NCAA Regional.