As we get ever closer to the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ season opener in Round Rock against the Purdue Boilermakers on March 5th, Husker fans are stirring at the excitement of the return of Big Ten Baseball. We continue our team previews this week by taking a look at who will be on the mound this year for the Cornhuskers.
For last year’s short-seasoned Husker squad, pitching was the biggest uncertainty surrounding the team. That is the case heading into the 2021 season as well. A staff that finished the 2020 season 7-8 overall, gave up 95 runs over just 130 innings through 15 games. This must improve to win games in 2021.
This year, head coach Will Bolt and the rest of the coaching staff are very optimistic about the talent developed over the winter as well as some of the new faces that have been brought into the program. On an appearance on the Husker Sports Network, Coach Bolt was asked about the state of the team going into the 2021 season and stated how excited he was to have such a talented group.
“I feel good about our one through thirty-eight” Bolt said. “Right now I feel like every guy can bring a little bit of something to the table, you can’t always say that every year about every team.” With the shortened 2020 MLB Draft, few players ended up leaving the program and Nebraska is returning a majority of seniors.
All things considered Nebraska has a lot of young and exciting talent heading into the 2021 season, and we will continue to see how the pitching shapes up as Nebraska eyes a return to the Big Ten tournament to make up for a disappointing elimination in 2019.
A name familiar with most Nebraska baseball fans to be excited about is Top Left Handed Pitching Prospect, Cade Povich. In 2020 the Bellevue West (Bellevue, Neb. ) grad and South Mountain Community College (Phoenix, Ariz.) transfer led the Huskers in strikeouts (26) and innings pitched (21.1) while starting four games on the mound which was tied for most on the team. Leading the Big Ten with a (26:2) strikeout to walk ratio. He finished the year with a 2-1 record and a 5.06 ERA. Povich enters his junior season as one of the more exciting arms in the Big Ten and hopefully is poised for a breakout year on the bump.
Another name for Nebraska fans to get familiar with if they haven’t already is senior Chance Hroch. A graduate transfer out of New Mexico State, the right-hander played a key role in the Aggies pitching staff the last few years. He finished 2020 with a 2-1 record with a 4.68 ERA compiling 20 strikeouts in 25.0 innings. Hroch went 10-1 with a 2.74 ERA in 2019 for the Aggies and is one of the teams projected weekend starters. His highly successful track record and age make him a sure anchor for this staff.
Under Hroch and Povich on the depth chart a lot of starts will be up for grabs. However a pair of junior righties in Shay Shanaman and Koty Frank look poised to take on a good chunk of those starts. Shanaman has been effective predominantly out of the bullpen for the Cornhuskers the last two years owning a 2-2 record with a 6.97 ERA in six appearances all out of the pen. In 2019 he came out of the bullpen 19 times, tied for third on the team. A trusted member of the staff, Shanaman however is currently a starting pitching candidate as the Huskers try to figure out where they want their arms.
Frank joins the staff this year out of Eastern Oklahoma State College, where he spent his last two years. He leaves EOSC in the top five in program history finishing in career ERA (3.33) and strikeouts (127) and seven complete games in 19 starts. He went 5-0 with a 1.58 ERA and two complete games in 2020.
Another pitcher who was expected to receive some starts on the mound is the 6-5 power righty, junior Colby Gomes. Unfortunately, Head Coach Will Bolt confirmed in a baseball press conference Tuesday morning that Gomes will not pitch in 2021 due to a shoulder injury. This leaves a hole in the rotation that the Huskers will have to fill in the first few weeks. Gomes served as the Huskers closer in 2019 recording 13 saves, good enough for fourth in the Big Ten and receiving first-team NCBWA All-America honors. In 2020, Gomes was tied with Povich for games started at four, finishing with a 0-1 record and a 6.89 ERA through 15.2 innings.
The Huskers are surely to mix around their starters throughout the first few weeks of the season and some of the younger guys will get a chance to see what they can do. Top Prospect, southpaw Kyle Perry will be out for the year following summer Tommy John Surgery. Others likely to see some starting action at some point are Jake Bunz, Braxton Bragg, Max Schreiber, and versatile captain Spencer Schwellenbach.
In regards to the Nebraska bullpen, several arms will be tried out in many different situations for the Huskers, leaving quite a few question marks as to how they will use their pen. However with many live arms that touch 90 consistently, the Huskers have a lot to be excited about. With the loss of Gomes, the bullpen will be shifted around a bit to find and establish a closer for the team, with a few players probably going to be put into save situations.
A consistent arm out of the pen the last few years has been the 6’5 senior Max Schreiber. Schreiber has been one of the most consistent arms for the Huskers since 2018 and is a frequently turned to option for them. Schreiber made six appearances in 2020 including one start while finishing with 19 strikeouts in 15.2 innings which led the staff. Schreiber also led the team in ERA (4.60) and opposing batting average (.234).
No Nebraska baseball fan is unfamiliar with the name Spencer Schwellenbach. Schwellenbach is ready to make a big impact on the field in many different ways. A captain and Nebraska’s primary shortstop, Schwellenbach hits at the top of the order and plays solid defense in the middle of Nebraskas infield.
A prized arm coming out of high school, health has deteriorated his ability to pitch at the college level yet. However a healthy and rested Schwellenbach enters the 2021 season with a mid 90s fastball and a very nasty breaking ball and as of right now is penciled in to be their closer coming out of the gate. At Saginaw Heritage (Mich.) high school his senior year in 2018 he went 18-6 with a 0.78 ERA in 154 innings pitched with 233 strikeouts and only 27 walks. Nebraska fans hope that he can find that pitching talent and translate that over to the program this year.
Texas A&M transfer and Lincoln local, Cam Wynne will also see some action out of the pen this year for the Huskers. Wynne made just two relief appearances for the Aggies before the season was cut short. in 2019 however he played for Johnson County Community College where he went 2-1 in 29 relief outings 38 strikeouts in 27 innings. Wynne features exciting arm strength that should get him a good amount of calls out of the pen later in games.
Jaxon Hallmark has been a major part of the Huskers offense since he was a freshman in 2018 and is penciled in as Nebraska’s starting center fielder heading into 2021. However he has also made 6 appearances out of the pen since the start of 2019 as well and should see limited action out of the pen.
Other notable options out of the pen are Trey Kissack, who owned a 1.42 ERA through six appearances in 2020. Quinn Mason, who allowed one earned run in six innings in 2020. Tyler Martin, who has made 13 relief appearances since the beginning of the 2019 season for the Huskers with 11 strikeouts. As well as a mix of Ethan Bradford, Sawyer Diederich, Caleb Feekin, and Braxton Bragg.
Nebraska’s versatile lineup offensively should be able to hold up with any other lineup in the Big Ten. Arguably the most athletic 1-9 in the conference, the key for success for this team would be for their younger talented arms to continue and show development this season. If their pitchers can do some work and keep runners off the base paths, the offense should be in good shape to give the team some runs.
The loss of Colby Gomes and Kyle Perry are big losses for this team and the first couple weeks for the Huskers will see a lot of moving pitchers around in different spots, but ultimately there is no denying the rest of the teams upside. With a lot of returning talent and many high level live arms coming out of the bullpen, Nebraska fans have a reason to be optimistic this year about their pitching staff.