BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The UAB baseball team returns over 90 percent of its innings from a season ago and a pitching staff that had a 4.06 ERA last season, the sixth-lowest in program history. The Blazers have pieced together three straight seasons of top six marks in ERA but also enter the year with no returnees at catcher.
Projected Starters (alphabetical order if multiple listed)
Catchers: Nathan Anthes - Stephen Dobbs – Jim Jeffries – Pierce Ressmeyer
Weekend Starters: Ryan Ruggles – Garrett Whitlock
Other Starters: Kyle Davis – Isaiah Gonzales-Montoya – Tanner Graham – Adam Lamar – Thomas Lowery – Austin Thomas
Bullpen: Matthew Calvert – Cory Eller – Carson Jones – Lowery – Dylan Munger – Sylvester Toe
“I’ve always believed pitching and defense is the equalizer,” said head coach Brian Shoop. “If you’re good in those two areas, you can compete with anybody. When we’ve been good, we’ve been good pitching. We think we have a chance to be good again.”
The Blazers will feature a new face behind the plate, but a quality athlete no matter who gets the majority of the starts this season. Stephen Dobbs, cousin of former Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs and fellow Blazer Tyler Tolbert, is likely to be the starter opening weekend after transferring in from Wallace-Hanceville Community College. Nathan Anthes (younger brother of former Duke catcher Reed Anthes), Jim Jeffries (part of the first program in Illinois to win three state championships in a row in over 75 years), and Pierce Ressmeyer (senior transfer who batted .303 at GSU Perimeter last season) are competing for playing time at catcher as well.
“We lost our whole catching core,” said Shoop. “We have three freshmen catchers and a senior transfer. It could go a lot of directions.”
Garrett Whitlock will be the opening day starter for the Blazers versus Creighton. The sophomore is a right-hander that pitched well across 25 games last season with one start. Whitlock posted a 3.00 ERA and 4-5 record with 46 strikeouts over 51 innings. He will look to build upon the momentum built at the end of last season, as he allowed just one run over his final three appearances (5.2 innings). Whitlock was rated the sixth-best prospect and third-best pitching prospect in Conference USA by D1baseball.com entering the year.
Left-handed Ryan Ruggles will take the mound on Saturday. “Rugs” pitched in 17 games a year ago with 15 starts, led the team with a 6-4 record and held a 4.18 ERA over 71 innings with 44 strikeouts and only a single home run allowed.
UAB has yet to officially tab a Sunday starter but have a plethora of options. Adam Lamar (LHP) split his time between starting (10 games) and the bullpen (12 appearances) last season and held a 2.93 ERA, the lowest mark on the team among starters. Austin Thomas (RHP) is another familiar option after pitching in 16 games with five starts a year ago. The Blazers may also turn to JUCO righty Carson Jones (ACCC 2016 Pitcher of the Year) or to lefty Thomas Lowery, who has been a fiend out of the bullpen over his career, ranking third in UAB history with 15 saves, eight of which came last year. Tanner Graham, last year’s opening day starter, is another right-handed option.
“Our guys competed but we took some lumps and weren’t as good last year,” added Shoop. “This year, we return the majority of our meaningful innings. We had the majority of our pitching staff decide to stay over the summer because they wanted to train here. We have experience, hunger and commitment. Time will tell if we have another Chase Mallard or James Naile. You have to earn that and do that over the season. We’re not sure of that yet, but we’re going to have good depth and think it’ll be the best depth we’ve ever had.
For more information on the UAB baseball team, follow the Blazers on Twitter (@UAB_Baseball). For more on all Blazer sports teams follow the official social media accounts of UAB Athletics on Twitter (@UAB_Athletics), on Facebook (Facebook.com/UAB.Blazers), on Instagram (@UAB_Baseball) or on Snapchat (@uabathletics).