ECU looks to lineup for a lift

Published 7:39 pm Wednesday, January 25, 2012

East Carolina DH Chase McDonald (pictured above) and the rest of the Pirates’ sluggers will look to lead the team while coach Billy Godwin sorts out his pitching rotation. (WDN File Photo)

GREENVILLE — At this time last year the Pirates asked a veteran-heavy pitching staff to lead the way while its young hitters got their feet under them. This year it’s time for those hitters to return the favor.
With the departure of longtime ace Seth Maness, along with last year’s breakout star Mike Wright and East Carolina’s all-time saves leader Seth Simmons, the Pirates are hoping that an experienced and talented lineup can power them until the pitching situation gets settled.
“Just flip it from last year when we had the veteran pitching staff compared to the younger hitters,” East Carolina assistant coach Dan Roszel said. “I think this year we will probably have to rely on (the hitters) a little bit more and hope they hit and give the young guys a chance to go out there and find their way.”
Led by four-time all-conference USA selection Maness (10-3, 1.71), who was selected in the 2011 MLB draft along with fellow pitchers Wright (6-4, 2.79,) Simmons (6-2, 2.78), Brad Mincey (6-4, 1.57) and Shawn Armstrong (3-1, 4.63), the Pirates finished the year with the seventh-best staff ERA in the nation (2.67) en route to a 41-21 record and a trip to the NCAA regionals.
That dynamic staff took the pressure off of an ECU lineup that placed 98th in the country in runs scored (335), 66th in home runs (37) and 65th in batting average (.296.)
That lineup is expected to increase its production while senior lefty Kevin Brandt (7-3, 2.26) battles for the No. 1 spot in the rotation with newcomer Jhrarel Cotton, a junior from the Virgin Islands, and junior lefty Tyler Joyner who, along with expected starting second baseman Bryan Bass, is back with the team after serving year-long NCAA suspensions.
“Coming out of the fall, if I had a gun to my head today, (the rotation) would probably be Joyner, Brandt and Cotton in really no particular order right now,” East Carolina head coach Billy Godwin said.
The closer role is just as open as the competition is headlined by freshman Dylan Dickens and INF/pitcher Drew Reynolds.
“I’ve coached some very good teams that were closer by committee but I preferably would like to have a solid, solidified closer. But, I think (closer by committee) just might be what you see early in the year,” Godwin said.
“You got guys like Dylan Dickens that is a side-armed freshman … He’s really intriguing and is the first true submariner that I’ve had here. He did some really good things in the fall.
“Drew Reynolds, who played for us last year, really had an outstanding fall on the mound and he will also be a position player too. I think he has a lot of the intangibles.”
With the return of sluggers like catcher Zach Wright, who hit a team-best 13 home runs and was chosen in the sixth round of the MLB draft before deciding to come back for his senior season, hulking 6-4, 262-pound sophomore DH Chase McDonald (.314, 4 HRs), hard-hitting 6-4, 213-pound junior third baseman Corey Thompson (.328, 6 HRs) and the addition potential middle of the lineup threat JUCO transfer OF Jay Cannon, East Carolina’s lineup has a chance to be stellar.
With the loss of leadoff hitter and Washington native Trent Whitehead, a four-year starter in center field, the Pirates are still auditioning table setters. However, junior OF Philip Clark (.310, 13 SBs) and sophomore SS Jack Reinheimer (.311, 3 SBs) got some experience at the top of the order last year after Whitehead was moved to the three spot and are the lead contenders to head the lineup.
“I like Phillip Clark, he spent some time there last year. I like him there and he’s really matured as a player and a hitter,” East Carolina head coach Billy Godwin said. “I like Jack, he can be a two hitter or a leadoff guy. He’s probably our fastest position player.”
Overall, Godwin felt like he can put out a solid 1-9 every day.
“I like our lineup. It’s kind of an old school, traditionally lineup where we’re going to have some table setters at the top and we’re going to be able to put some guys that are RBI producers in the middle and then we’re going to have some guys down in the lineup that are very gifted and skilled.
“It reminds me a little bit of the ’09 team with its versatility. No hitter is exactly the same guy, they’re all different and I think that makes it pretty tough for people to prepare for us.”
The Pirates’ versatility also extends to the field where they have several athletes that can play different roles. Returning to their positions from a year ago are Reinheimer (SS), Wright (catcher), Thompson (3B), Wooten (1B), Clark (RF) and Ben Fultz (LF). Competing for the center field spot left vacant by Whitehead will be Cannon and Chris Gosik and second base appears to be Bass’ to lose.
The Pirates will hold their first official practice on Friday as they prepare for their Feb. 17 season opener against Milwaukee.