Weekend Starter #1 - Tony Watson
Watson is the unquestioned ace of the staff. A 2007 pre-season All-American after an outstanding 2006 campaign, he's set to become one of the premier pitchers in the Big 12, if not the nation. There's been virtually no level where Watson didn't suceed. He struck out over 500 batters in his high school career, and then came to Nebraska and was named a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American after recovering from shoulder surgery his redshirt freshman season.
While Watson struck out only 6.21 hitters per nine innings last season, he was still very effective, posting a team-low 2.78 ERA. He limited opposing batters to hitting a mere .236, lowest among starters. His batting average on balls in play was .305 in 2005, and .280 last season. Normally those would be low for college ball, where the average is .340, but in light of the Huskers' excellent defense lowering the team BABIP to .297, I'm not concerned that Watson is getting lucky. I think his numbers are legit.
Weekend Starter #2 - Johnny Dorn
Johnny Dorn had a fantastic freshman year. It was one of the most impressive freshman starting pitching seasons that Nebraska, or any other Big 12 school, has seen. Dorn won 12 games, posted a 2.16 ERA, and limited hitters to a minuscule .199 average.
But then everything fell apart, relatively, in 2006. Dorn's ERA nearly doubled, his strikeout rate plummeted, and his walk rate increased. He allowed a much high .274 batting average. The elbow ligament that he injured in the College World Series, which caused him to miss fall practice, seemed to be bothering him. His BABIP shot up seventy points as his luck reversed itself , and the pendulum swung back to normal.
Coming into 2007, though, all reports indicate that Dorn has fully recovered from his elbow problems, and has put his strong work ethic to good use. Assuming that he's somewhere in bewtween his stellar freshman form and his disappointing sophomore season, he should be a very solid #2 for the Huskers this year. An ERA of 2.90-3.10 with a 3:1 SO:BB ratio isn't out of the question.
Weekend Starter #3 - Charlie Shirek
While I'm optimistic about Charlie Shirek (former Husker Phil Shirek's brother), I'm not fooled by that low 3.23 ERA. Shirek only struck out 3.75 batters per nine innings, a very low rate. He walked nearly as many as he struck out, and his low batting average against of .257 is influenced a bit by the marginally lucky .284 BABIP he had.
That being said, Shirek put up those numbers as a freshman, and he's more than capable of improving leaps and bounds. While he's not the same type of pitcher, you should keep in mind that Joba Chamberlain had a poor freshman year at Nebraska-Kearney, posting a 5.23 ERA.
Shirek has an excellent high school and summer baseball background, with Baseball American naming him the top prospect from North Dakota and the second best prospect in the Northwoods League after his senior year. If he can get his SO:BB ratio under control, he can be a very effective pitcher, and give Nebraska a huge edge this year.
Mid-week Starters - Drew Bowman / Tim Radmacher / Jon Klausing / Drew Schwab / Mike Nihsen
Husker head coach Mike Anderson has been talking a lot about Drew Bowman competing with Charlie Shirek for the #3 weekend spot in the rotation. Bowman, a transfer from Arizona State, had a rough 2006, but has impressed Anderson so far. He had an underwhelming performance in the Red/White series, but nearly every pitcher was lit up during those games.
Tim Radmacher started three games last season for the Big Red, putting up very decent numbers. He benefited largely from an unsustainably low batting average against, but anyone who can strike out 14 hitters in 10 innings of work has some talent.
Jon Klausing has been a swingman for the Huskers over the past three years, working a mid-week start when called upon, but mostly coming out of the bullpen. It's possible he'll get a few starts, but a low strikeout rate and a stacked rotation will limit him.
In very limited action in 2006, Drew Schwab posted good, but meaningless numbers. Schwab pitched nearly as many innings in the Red/White series than he did all of last season. In that series, he gave up seven runs on five hits over 2.0 innings, but only one run was earned. Regardless, he was smoked in that game. It's impossible to draw conclusions based on what he's done so far at Nebraska, though, since we have so little data to look at. In high school, Schwab posted ERAs below 2.00, led Omaha Westside to a state title, and was a two-time All-Nebraska selection. He was also named to the All-Midwest team after his senior year. He was limited by injuries last season, but should be ready to contribute both out of the pen and in the mid-week rotation this year.
Mike NihsenNihsen, a true freshman out of Ralston High, absolutely dominated the Northwoods League this past summer. He posted the third best ERA in the league, a slim 1.04, and tied for the league lead in wins with nine. Nihsen will likely skip a redshirt opportunity and appear as a mid-week starter and weekend reliever once conference play begins.