SIUE at Lipscomb
2013 Season Preview
The more things change, the more they stay the same, goes the old saying. Things have changed for SIUE baseball. For the first time in 34 seasons a new man will lead the Cougars when the season opens Friday at Lipscomb. Tony Stoecklin assumes the Head Coach position after Gary (Bo) Collins stepped aside this past summer.
"Baseball philosophy-wise and strategy not much changes," Stoecklin said. "Bo and I are similar in a lot of ways, but I am going to be myself."
While 2013 will be Stoecklin's first as the program's head coach, he's long been a part of SIUE Cougars baseball, first spending two seasons as a successful pitcher and then returning to spend 13 seasons on the staff as a pitching coach and more recently the Associate Head Coach. Stoecklin admits that relinquishing control of the pitching staff was difficult to start.
"I've been the pitching coach for 13 years," Stoecklin said. "That's been my identity. Now that has changed a little."
Former Major League pitcher Jason Isringhausen has taken on some of that responsibility.
"He's helped our pitchers already a tremendous amount," Stoecklin said. "He's given our guys confidence that they can succeed."
Stoecklin said he realized it would be to his advantage to delegate the pitching responsibilities.
"I'm going to like just being a head coach and taking care of the entire program instead of trying to take care of the entire program and focus on pitching as well," he said. "That will free me up and allow me to do a better job of being a head coach."
Stoecklin also is confident he's ready for the step up in responsibility.
"I'm sure there'll be a learning curve," he said. "I'm ready to go. I'm ready to be a head coach and to go out and lead the charge."
Stoecklin said the team's goals are clear in the first year that SIUE can qualify for the postseason.
"Our No. 1 priority is to make the conference tournament," he said. "Our seniors spent three years playing for little more than pride. They want to be the first SIUE baseball team to qualify for the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.
"I believe we're up to the challenge," Stoecklin continued.
The Cougars return 19 letter winners from a team that finished 27-28 in 2012. SIUE finished its first OVC season at 13-14 and in sixth place. The Cougars would have qualified for the OVC tournament last season had they been eligible. Like most teams, the 2013 squad's fate will likely be decided based on pitching.
Preseason All-OVC starter Travis Felax will anchor the Cougars' pitching staff and is slated to be the Friday night starter for the second consecutive season. Felax was among the OVC leaders in several categories as a sophomore. He led the Cougars with a 6-5 record in 15 starts. He was ninth in the OVC with 69 strikeouts and fourth in the league with 95.2 innings pitched.
"I believe he's one of the best pitchers in the conference," Stoecklin said. "He's tough, he competes, and he has great command."
Staples was 1-2 in 15 appearances, including eight starts, in 2012.
"He's thrown very well in scrimmages," Stoecklin said. "Here's a big strong lefty who has lacked command in the past. Now he's shown command."
McDowell made 17 appearances and five starts as a junior. He was 3-5 with 23 strikeouts in 41.1 innings.
"Brooks has shown flashes of being a dominant pitcher at times," Stoecklin said. "He probably has one of the best fastballs that I've seen since I've been here because it's heavy and it moves so much."
Another senior, Tony Schaeffer, will move to the closer's role. Schaeffer appeared 22 times out of the bullpen finishing 1-0 with a save last season. He struck out 26 hitters, while walking only 10, in 43.1 innings. The lefty will be asked to fill the shoes of departed All-American Dustin Quattrocchi.
"In scrimmages he's really spotted his fastball, and his breaking ball has gotten better," Stoecklin said. "One thing I know about Tony is that he's going to go out there and compete every day. He's not going to back down from anybody."
"So far in scrimmages he's done a good job in lefty vs. lefty matchups," Stoecklin said of the senior. "He gives me an option late in games."
Fellow sophomore Ryan Daniels is coming off an injury last season and is projected to be ready to pitch for the Cougars sometime in March.
"He's a big missing piece of the puzzle for this pitching staff," Stoecklin said. "It's been a blow losing maybe the best arm in the conference."
Six of SIUE's 14 pitchers are true freshman who will compete for time in the bullpen but also the midweek starting spot.
Sam Hopkins, the 2012 St. Louis Post-Dispatch Metro Pitcher of the Year, is among the talented underclassmen.
"We know Sam is familiar with winning," Stoecklin said. "He brings a winning attitude, and he is determined to be successful."
J.D.Williams, a right-hander from Kansas City, Mo., also could play a prominent role.
"He has a bright future. He has three quality pitches," Stoecklin said of the freshman. "The only thing he really lacks is experience. He'll have a shot at the midweek starting job."
The Cougars lineup will consist largely of experienced players. Seven of SIUE's nine spots in the lineup will be filled with upperclassmen, including four seniors.
Seniors Travis Becherer (CF), Joel Greatting (1B), Matt Highland (DH), and James Vazquez (2B) will be joined by juniors Devin Caldwell (RF), Chase Green (SS) and Brian Sipe (C) in the projected starting lineup for Stoecklin and the Cougars.
Becherer will play centerfield after starting primarily as the leftfielder last year. He was third on the team with a .302 average while leading the team with 65 hits. He was third on the team with 14 doubles.
"He'll be our leadoff hitter and our centerfielder," Stoecklin said. "He had an outstanding year last year. I think he'll continue to do the same."
Greatting started all 55 games as a junior and led the team with eight home runs and 102 total bases. He was second on the team with 40 RBIs.
"I expect Joel to hit in the middle of the lineup and drive in a whole bunch of runs," Stoecklin said. "He consistently hits the ball hard. Typically his outs are hard hit."
Highland finished ninth in the OVC with a .338 batting average. His average jumped to .368 in OVC games.
"I'm going to ask him to DH and hit in the middle of the order all year," Stoecklin said. "I think he'll be one of the better hitters in the league again this year."
Vazquez played in 52 games last season and will be the Cougars' starter at second base. Hitting near the top of the lineup, Vazquez led the team with 27 walks.
"He needs to have a better year as a senior," Stoecklin said. "I think he feels that he under-performed."
Caldwell hit .314 with a team-high 53 RBIs on his way to earning a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American award in 2011. Last season his average dipped to .266 though he led the team with 17 doubles and 45 runs scored.
"He's made the adjustments necessary to get back on track," Stoecklin said of Caldwell. "I think he'll put that year behind him and move forward."
Green has started all but one game in his Cougar career, all at shortstop.
"I think Chase is the best shortstop in the OVC. Defensively I don't think there's anybody close to him," Stoecklin said. "At the plate he'll do a better job this year."
Green hit just .130 through the Cougars' first 14 games last year. After some adjustments at the plate, he rebounded to hit .295 in the team's final 40 games.
"The second half of the season he hit really well. Hopefully he'll pick up where he left off," Stoecklin continued.
Sipe moves into the full-time starting catcher position after playing in 29 games last year, making 18 starts.
"We expect Brian to be our No. 1 guy," Stoecklin said. "He has all the tools to be successful. He's hard-nosed behind the plate."
Sophomore Nick Lombardo is projected to start in left field. Lombardo played in 34 games as a freshman and made 23 starts.
"So far this spring he's shown good bat speed, and made really good contact at the plate," Stoecklin said.
Redshirt freshman Ryan Mansfield is projected to start the year as the Cougars' third baseman.
"He's going to have the opportunity to play quite a bit at third base," Stoecklin said. "I really like his swing."
Fellow redshirt freshman Skyler Geissinger figures to be in the mix for time at third base, but Stoecklin said he is a versatile player.
"He could be a good utility player," Stoecklin said of Geissinger. "You could play him at any infield position and the corner outfield spots. He's going to push someone for playing time."
True freshman Jacob Stewart could figure into the mix on the infield when he's not pitching. Sophomore Mike Monoghan and freshmen Jake Michalak also will have opportunities for the Cougars on the infield.
"His swing is better," Stoecklin said of Seevers. "He'll push for playing time as long as he continues to improve."
Stoecklin likes the team he has assembled, and likes SIUE in the OVC, but said it won't be easy.
"If you don't come to play every weekend in the OVC you'll lose," he said.
"We'll prepare to play every weekend," he continued. "If you take a break and you don't come to compete, you'll get beat."