Baseball Preview: Pitching on the rise
The less springy BBCOR bats are now required for high school play. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Look out for... Tyler Feece (Sr.)
Feece fanned 79 hitters in just 54 innings for the Cougars, who won the North Suburban Conference’s Prairie Division last season. He posted an 11-2 record with a 0.77 ERA, and is again projected as one of the club’s top pitchers.
Tyler Feece (Sr.)
Jordan Sheinkop (Sr.)
Sheinkop’s stock rose during his school’s summer showcase for junior athletes last July. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound hurler finished 1-0 with a 1.53 ERA in 32.1 innings of work.
David Keaton (Jr.)
The 6-foot-5, 195-pound left-hander currently hits 79-81 MPH on the radar gun. He also has a solid change and curveball. He first gained the Scouts’ notice two seasons ago, when he led the team in strikeouts by fanning 25 batters in 23 innings.
Michael Rogers (Sr.)
Although his fastball won’t blow scouts or college coaches away, Rogers was part of a solid staff that managed to win 23 games before bowing out in a regional title game. Rogers will have the added bonus of throwing to junior catcher Evan Skoug, one of Lake County’s top prospects behind the plate.
Updated: April 1, 2013 12:29PM
When the 2013 high school baseball season kicks off later this month, pitching will once again take center stage for teams throughout the area.
Last spring, the IHSA mandated the use of BBCOR bats, which have a smaller sweet spot than composite bats and decreased the velocity of the ball leaving the bat. The result? A noticeable decline in home runs, hard-hit ground balls and fly balls that carry as far as they previously did.
Now, clubs throughout the state have had a full year to adjust.
Few clubs took advantage of the rule change better than Mundelein. A year ago, the Mustangs won the North Suburban Conference’s Lake Division and a school-record 34 games before losing in extra innings to Highland Park in the Class 4A Glenbrook South Sectional championship.
In fact, Mundelein’s hurlers were so good on the mound that they gave up an average of just 1.16 earned runs per game in 39 contests.
Sidearm-throwing right-handed senior Mitchell Schulewitz, who signed a letter of intent to play for UIC after he graduates, tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief that afternoon against the Giants before picking up the loss. He thinks the new bats changed a lot of things — just not the way he approaches hitters.
“The BBCOR bats definitely make a difference,”said Schulewitz, who is currently projected as Mundelein’s No. 1 starter by manager Todd Parola. “You can clearly see that the balls don’t come off the bat like they once used to.
“But that doesn’t mean I’m gonna change how I go after hitters. The thing is, if you really square a ball up with those newer bats, it’s still gonna go a long way. It just isn’t as easy to do as it used to be.”
Stevenson senior right-hander Matt Allen, who is expected to be the Patriots’ top starter after going 5-1 with a 2.80 ERA as a junior, also said the bats have been a big adjustment — especially for hitters. He inked a letter of intent to pitch with Iowa after a visit in January.
“I think when they decided to start using those bats, it affected the game in a dramatic way,” Allen said. “Scoring is down, home runs are down. Balls just don’t come off the bat like they used to. But it does keep pitchers safe, so it’s one of those good kinds of changes.
“Don’t get me wrong, if you center the ball real well with the BBCOR bats, you can hit the ball really hard still. It just isn’t very easy to do consistently. But they definitely make my job easier on the mound.”
Mundelein pitching coach Clay Kovac, who helps teach Schulewitz during high school games and Allen at summer league and American Legion games, has made a name for himself as an pitching instructor.
Under Kovac’s watch, the Mustangs’ pitching staff struck out 251 batters in 248.1 innings last season. Mundelein allowed just 38 extra base hits during that same span, which averages out to just one extra-base hit every 6.53 innings. When you consider that high school games are only seven innings long, it’s easy to see why Mundelein was so successful a year ago.
The new bats only made Kovac even more aggressive as a pitching coach.
“I always tell whoever I’m coaching to try and get the batter out in three pitches or less — that’s always my goal,” Kovac said. “With the new bats being implemented last season, it definitely allowed me to hammer that point home more about how important it is to attack the strike zone. Especially at the high school level.
“Plus, you’ve got seven or eight guys out there behind you on the mound when you’re pitching. All the more reason I want whoever I’m teaching pitching to contact as often as possible. If they hit the ball they hit the ball. But the one thing you have to avoid are walks. That’s the one thing you have complete control over as a pitcher, new bats or not.”