Cougar Baseball: Can youth rise to occasion?

PULLMAN -- A year older now with a full season under their belts, head baseball coach Donnie Marbut believes his young pitching staff is ready to make waves in Pac-12 play in 2013. On offense, inexperience and new faces have many asking whether or not a lack of run support will leave the Cougs in a proverbial pickle.

Cougar baseball is young -- very young.

The Cougs lose their top five hitters from last year's 28-28 team: Derek Jones, Taylor Ard, Kyle Johnson, Patrick Claussen and Tommy Richards. So a logical question is this: Where will the runs come from in 2012?

Head coach Marbut isn't worried. He's confident the team will find runs aplenty.

"Your good players have to step up and play good for you to win," Marbut said. "We're going to have a much more balanced lineup this season."

Marbut said last season's lineup was top heavy, anchored by two very accomplished hitters in Ard and Jones. This year, Marbut believes the team will be consistent across the board, scrapping up wins the nitty-gritty way.

"I like this team a whole lot," Marbut said. "We expect to be a post-season team every year. We want to play for championships. We haven't done that yet, but it's our dream to go to Omaha and bring home that championship."

Top returners on offense are infielders Adam Nelubowich (.254, 36 RBI in 2012) and Ian Sagdal (.251, 20 RBI), designated hitter/catcher Collin Slaybaugh (.296, 16 RBI), catcher P.J. Jones (.303, 20 RBI) and outfielders Jason Monda (.275, 18 RBI) and Nate Blackham (.265, 10 RBI).

Among them, they produced just six home runs last season, with Nelubowich setting the pace at four, followed by Monda and P.J. Jones with one each. By comparison, consider that Derek Jones and Ard accounted for 21 last season.

But power help is seemingly waiting in the wings, says Marbut.

Sophomore outfielder Yale Rosen of Oak Harbor may fill the void. The 6-2, 208-pounder saw limited action last season as a true freshman, getting just 23 at-bats and hitting a paltry .087. But over the summer he really made a statement.

"He's one of the reasons we feel good about this club," Marbut said. "Derek Jones is the all-time leading home run hitter at Washington State. (Rosen's) got all the power Derek had."

Marbut said Rosen's accomplishments this past summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League led many to believe he's poised for not only a breakout season, but also a bright future down the road.

In 30 games this summer, Rosen batted .330 while driving in 36 runs, all the while adding 12 long-balls.

Rosen was named a top pro prospect out of the summer leagues by Baseball America.


THE PRIDE OF KALISPELL: Joe Pistorese posted a 2.44 ERA in 12 starts last season.

"He had a great summer -- a marvelous summer, really," Marbut said. "He had his freshman struggles as everyone does, but he's ready to play now."

Another promising Cougar who appears ready to play this season is shortstop Trace Tam-Sing. The junior from Bellevue played in only six games last season due to injury after starting 24 as a freshman in 2011 when he hit .254 in 71 at bats.

ON THE MOUND,, Marbut said the Cougs expect to showcase a front-end rotation highlighted by a three-headed sophomore rotation of Joe Pistorese (2.44 ERA, 4-3 record in 66.1 innings in 2012), Tanner Chleborad (4.24, 4-3, 74.1), and Scott Simon (4.09, 2-3, 50.2). Pistorese is a lefty, Chleborad and Simon righties.

"They were young. They were really, really young," Marbut said. "A year older, these kids have seen it now. They know what to expect."

A sophomore-heavy rotation isn't uncommon in college ball. Because of the extensive Major League Baseball draft, a lot of young, accomplished arms elect to leave for the pro game earlier rather than later, leaving senior starting pitching a scarce sight in collegiate baseball. All three were drafted out of high school.

"In a perfect world, you'd love for a player to be there for all four years but that's just not the reality," Marbut said. "We were fortunate to keep them all as recruits and now we have a chance to have a really good, well, probably the best rotation we've ever had here come next year if they continue to progress."

Junior J.D. Leckenby out of Buhl, Idaho, looks to be the Cougars' closer in 2013. He started 14 games last season, going 4-7 with a 4.50 ERA and a team-high 80 innings. As a freshman in 2011, Leckenby appeared in 18 games, all out of the bullpen, and posted a team-leading 2.28 ERA among relievers.

The Cougs will open up the season February 15 with a three-game series at Western Carolina, and then come home for two four-game series' against Eastern Michigan and Cal State Northridge.

NOTABLES:

  • The Cougs have an exhibition game scheduled against the San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale, Ariz. on March 13, though a start time has yet to be set.

  • Last year's Cougar closer, all-academic honoree Anthony Drobnick, had another year of eligibility left but graduated in May and opted to launch a career in information technology.

  • Marbut is entering his eighth season as the head coach of the Cougs and has more than 200 career wins in crimson.

  • WSU has 14 true freshmen on the roster, but prized pitching recruit Mitch Gueller, who signed a letter of intent with WSU, isn't among them. He was drafted 54th overall by the Philadelphia Phillies in June and accepted a $940,000 bonus to sign with the franchise rather than head to college.

    DONNIE MARBUT LOOKS FOR A YOUTHFUL UPRISING IN HIS EIGHTH SEASON AT THE HELM.

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