Feb. 13, 2008
If pitching is truly the key to winning championships in baseball, then the 2008 Bulldogs could be playing late into the spring. Butler's entire starting rotation and almost every one of the relievers will be back in uniform this season, and an influx of rookie arms could make the Bulldogs' staff one of the best in the Horizon League.
Despite several key losses from last spring, the Butler position players also had an excellent fall season, but injuries to several starters during the summer months hindered the coaching staff's ability to get a feel for a true lineup. How quickly those injured players return and how quickly the freshman players are able to adjust to the college game will be key to the team's success in 2008.
The Bulldogs return 12 of their 14 arms from 2007 that combined for 448.1 of the 476 innings pitched last spring. Included in those figures are two of the top 10 pitchers in the Horizon League in senior right-hander Jon Dages and senior southpaw Bryan Bokowy.
Dages, who is in line to be Butler's ace for the second year in a row, finished ranked in the top-10 in the Horizon League in six categories, including starts (16 - 1st), ERA (3.40 - 2nd), strikeouts (62 - T-2nd) and innings pitched (98.0 - 4th). Bokowy, meanwhile, finished ninth in the conference in both ERA (4.36) and strikeouts (51).
Junior right-hander Ryan Kruszka will round out the weekend rotation after boasting an impressive 2.96 ERA in 54.2 innings of work.
Senior righty Brian Deter, who battled through an injury-plagued 2007 to finish fourth on the team with 52.2 innings pitched, could see time as either a starter or a closer. Junior Evan DePotter or sophomore Tyler Szymczak, who combined for 21 relief appearances last season, could also be used in a closers role.
Junior southpaws Joe Ochs and Matt Sokolowski, as well as junior righty Jeff Sinkiewicz, saw the majority of playing time out of the bullpen in 2007 and will be the top veteran relief arms this season as well. Redshirt freshman Chris Denney, sophomore Jamie Feldheiser and junior Tyler Tepe could also be turned to for bullpen help or the occasional spot start.
The Bulldogs lost a key part of the lineup to graduation last spring in catcher Joe Dempsey, who provided a consistent power source in the middle of the lineup during his four seasons with the team.
Butler will have no shortage of options to replace the former backstop, however, with three veterans and a pair of rookies who could help to fill the void.
Junior Alex Montagano served as the primary back-up to Dempsey last season, batting .282 with 13 runs scored while starting in 28 of 35 games played. Injuries cost him valuable playing time over the summer, but he should be ready to go for the start of the 2008 season.
Junior Austin Nickol, who Farley believes might be the team's top defensive backstop, showed improved performance at the plate during the fall thanks to his time in the weight room during the off season. He saw action in 10 games last season, including a pair of starts.
Senior Kyle McLaughlin adds a veteran presence and a consistent bat to the catcher's spot. He could also see playing time as a designated hitter or in right field.
The Butler outfield will feature a trio of veteran regulars with a deep corps of freshman talent waiting in the wings.
Junior Colin Ziegel will likely earn the starting nod in right field after finishing third on the team with 19 RBI a season ago. He boasted a .351 on base percentage and a .375 slugging percentage after earning the start in 31 of his 44 games played.
Senior Nate Hart is in line to replace departed centerfielder and all-league team member Dustin Bucalo. Hart had a solid season in 2007, ranking fourth on the team with a .388 on base percentage while scoring 16 runs and driving in 12. He also played solidly in the field, committing just one error for a .968 fielding percentage in 41 games played.
Junior Rick Betsch had a break-out season in 2007. The team's second-best returning hitter, he batted.310 with 22 runs scored and 17 RBI during the spring and continued to impress in summer ball, earning a spot on the Great Lakes League All-Star Team. A late-season shoulder injury set him back during the fall, but he should be the favorite in leftfield at the start of the season if he is healthy.
Freshman Luke Duncan impressed the coaches during the fall with a strong arm and solid bat, while walk-on freshman Rahdric Dix displayed impressive speed and good arm strength. Primary infielders such as sophomore Bobby Mosser and freshmen Steve Darragh and Kevin Rotherham also took outfield reps in the fall and could give the Bulldogs some outfield options in the spring.
Anchoring the Bulldogs' infield once again will be senior shortstop Joe Pauley, who is coming off yet another outstanding season in 2007. The squad's top returning hitter (.324), Pauley finished as the team's leader with 55 games played, 41 runs, 68 hits and 11 doubles last season and will be relied upon to solidify the top of the batting order and the middle of the infield. Freshman Kevin Rotherham could also step in at short during the year.
Senior Ryan Neat is tabbed as the starter at first base following a strong 2007 campaign in which he batted .281 and slugged .378 while boasting a .988 fielding percentage. Sophomore Garrett Curless and freshman Dan Robinson will add depth.
Second base could feature a battle for the starting role between sophomore Jason Jamerson and sophomore Bobby Mosser. Jamerson earned Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America honors last season after batting .273 with 18 runs scored and 17 RBI. Mosser saw action in 10 games during his rookie campaign, picking up a pair of hits and scoring three times. Duncan could also see playing time as a back-up at second.
Freshman Grant Fillipitch will be thrown right into the fire in his first season with the team as the Bulldogs' first option at third base, while rookie Steve Darragh and sophomore Kyle Schultz will provide reserve innings.
A challenging non-conference schedule preludes an always competitive Horizon League slate. The Bulldogs open the year on the road with a four-game set at Kentucky and travels to Louisville and Indiana later in the season.
Butler will spend plenty of time in Indianapolis this year, with 19 games set to be played at Bulldog Park and an April 2 contest downtown at Victory Field, home of the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians.
Conference foes Cleveland State, Milwaukee, Wright State and Youngstown State, as well as new league member Valparaiso, will all make stops at the Butler campus this season. The Horizon League Championship runs from May 20-25.