A strength of VCU's 2010 CAA Championship squad, the Rams' pitching staff appears to be poised for another big year in 2011. Last season, VCU's hurlers were a group of talented, albeit inexperienced, pitchers. However, following with a year's worth of seasoning and a taste of success, this staff seems ready to lead VCU back to the winner's circle.
Junior Seth Cutler-Voltz (8-4, 3.47 ERA) [pictured, left] returns after an All-CAA campaign last season and will serve as the anchor of VCU's rotation. Cutler-Voltz is a right-handed workhorse with excellent command. After a nondescript freshman year, he enjoyed a breakout sophomore season, leading the league in innings (119.1) while racking up eight wins and a 3.47 ERA.
"He just controls the running game so well and has good command of what he does and doesn't get outside of himself," Keyes said. "He'll probably be in that Friday role for us again this year."
Sophomore Kyle Haynes (3-3, 5.60 ERA) [pictured, right] is expected to compete for the No. 2 spots in VCU's weekend rotation. Haynes has shown improved velocity in the 89-92 mph range and consistency with all three of his pitches (fastball, slider, changeup) through fall workouts and is poised for an outstanding 2011 season.
"I think last year when he got hit, like a lot of freshmen, you start to pick a little bit," Keyes said. "I think he's made it past that stage now."
Sophomores Blake Hauser (4-4, 7.07 ERA) and Ryan Farrar (4-5, 8.14 ERA), as well as senior righty David Benson and junior right-hander Michael Graham (4-4, 7.86 ERA) will also battle for starts in VCU's rotation.
Hauser, drafted by the Cleveland Indians out of Manchester High School, is fully recovered from a hernia condition he suffered last year. Hauser is a hard-throwing righty with a dynamic repertoire and unlimited potential.
"The key for him is command, just repeating his delivery," said Keyes. "Because his stuff is really dynamite."
Farrar and Graham are lefties with experience. Graham made 11 starts for the Rams last season, while Farrar became one of VCU's most-valuable arms down the stretch. Benson is a senior transfer who has played previously at Centenary and Everett Community College. His experience could prove valuable to this staff.
Despite the loss of closer Robbie Andrews to graduation, VCU's bullpen looks formidable again.
Senior Jonathan Watson (4-2, 2.51 ERA) was, simply, one of the best pitchers in the CAA in 2010. Watson, a hard-nosed right-hander, made 31 relief appearances last season and threw 61 innings, limiting opposing hitters to a staff-best .225 average. Watson's 2.51 ERA ranked third among league pitchers.
"The bottom line is, he just competes," Keyes said. "He's got a good slider, comes at the hitters and controls the running game pretty well and has a great changeup. So, he's got three pitches late in the game."
Watson, along with junior Kyle Pelchy (2-0, 4.65 ERA) and freshman Ryan Morrison are expected to share set-up and closer duties, an approach that will be dictated by match-ups and game situations.
A number of other arms will comprise the rest of the bullpen. Sophomore Brennan Huelse (1-1, 4.35 ERA) is a durable left-hander that will be available in relief or as a spot starter. Junior right-handers Josh Alford (0-0, 6.75 ERA), Dylan Auker, a transfer from San Jose Community College, and Chris Skaklee will also have opportunities in short relief out of the 'pen. Redshirt freshman Seth Greene is likely to fill a long relief role for the Rams.
The emergence of junior Taylor Perkins (.295 BA, 31 RBI) [pictured, left] solved the Rams' catching quandary last season. In addition to providing one of VCU's most reliable bats, Perkins, who had limited catching experience prior to the 2010 season, was a pleasant surprise defensively and from a leadership standpoint.
The Rams were extremely thin at the position last year, but VCU's has newfound depth at catcher this season, a development that will allow Keyes to keep Perkins' bat in the lineup while filling other needs. Perkins can also expect to see time at third base, in the outfield, designated hitter and occasionally at first base.
"When you talk about VCU Baseball, you talk about guys like him and Cutler-Voltz, guys that weren't highly-recruited, guys that overachieve, guys that, on paper, people might think aren't that good, but next thing, they're beating you," Keyes said.
Junior college transfers Nick Abrahamson and Kyle Sutherland, as well as freshman Chris Ayers give the Rams a bevy of options behind the plate this season.
Keyes calls Abrahamson, who previously played at Pitt Junior College, "a good catch-and-throw guy." Abrahamson also bats left-handed, a rarity for catchers that gives the Rams' some offensive options.
Sutherland possesses a strong arm and has swung the bat well in VCU's preseason workouts and should see his fair share of innings
Ayers is a solid offensive bat who will look for some seasoning behind the plate. He'll likely spell Abrahamson and Sutherland to gain valuable experience.