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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Veteran hurlers to power baseball

    UA closer Jason Stoffel launches a pitch toward the plate during a 6-5 win against UNLV on March 4, 2008 at Jerry Kindall Field.
    UA closer Jason Stoffel launches a pitch toward the plate during a 6-5 win against UNLV on March 4, 2008 at Jerry Kindall Field.

    Pitcher is arguably the most important position in sports. The man on the mound can dictate a game more than any other position in any other sport. A football team can win a game without a good quarterback and a basketball team can win a game without a good point guard.

    In baseball, though, pitching is the key to victory.

    The Arizona baseball team has consistently fielded deep pitching rotations, ranging down from Friday starters to closers. Thanks to the guidance of head coach Andy Lopez, who also doubles as a pitching coach, the Wildcats have produced some of the nation’s strongestarms, including Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth – who last year became the first pair of Arizona baseball players drafted in the first round.

    Replacing Perry, Schlereth and a host of other accomplished arms will not be easy, but fortunately for the Wildcats it will not be impossible.

    Headlining the pitching staff this year are senior Preston Guilmet, sophomore Matt Veltmann and junior Jason Stoffel.

    Preston Guilmet, RHP, 6-4 4.38 ERA last season

    Guilmet has already established himself as one of the best pitchers in Wildcat history. With 326 career strikeouts, he is just 97 away from passing Carl Thomas as the school’s all-time leader.

    After being drafted in the 22nd round by the Oakland A’s, the 2007 Pacific 10 Conference Pitcher of the Year elected to return to college for his senior season with an attitude to improve on a slightly disappointing junior season and to fight back from what Lopez called a “”dead arm.””

    “”This off-season I really (worked on my) mechanics, and fine-tuned everything to make sure I was good to go,”” Guilmet said.

    Guilmet, a lock for the Friday-starter spot, has four pitches in his repertoire: a fastball, slider, splitter and change-up. While he doesn’t have the velocity that other premier pitchers have – his fastball averages 87-88 mph – he has the ability to throw all four of his pitches for strikes in any situation.

    In addition to top-notch control and exceptional movement on his breaking pitches, Guilmet utilizes an unorthodox windup to hide the ball from the batters and make up for his fastball’s velocity – a technique to make his fastball, as scouts call it, deceptively fast.

    While Guilmet has found immense success in being a finesse pitcher, he has dedicated himself to building stamina and adding a few extra miles per hour to his fastball – something that will make him an even better pitcher for Arizona this season as well as a better candidate for the MLB Draft in June.

    “”I took a couple weeks off from throwing after (last) season,”” Guilmet said when asked how he plans to bounce back from last year’s dead arm. “”I’ve really hit the weights (this off-season) and I feel a lot better.””

    Matt Veltmann

    RHP, JuCo Transfer

    Perhaps the biggest surprise of the off-season was the arrival of transfer Matt Veltmann. The San Diego Community College product has been a dream come true for Lopez, especially considering the circumstance in which he arrived.

    “”We had one really nice edition to our pitching staff this off-season, and give coach Mark Wasikowski the credit,”” Lopez said when asked who will follow Guilmet in the rotation. “”(Veltmann) signed with us on August 15, just before the (midnight) deadline, and to put it very candidly he’s pitched just as well as anybody we had this fall.””

    Veltmann, who declined to sign a contract with the New York Yankees after being drafted in the 46th round, wowed coaches and players alike during the fall.

    “”He’s got good stuff, he had an outstanding fall,”” said UA closer Jason Stoffel. “”I like to think we have a good bunch of hitters and he ran through them pretty well (in practice).””

    The 6-foot-5-inch right-hander has an ideal physical build for a pitcher and his semi-three quarters delivery adds extra movement to his pitches. His fastball consistently registers in the lower-90s and he complements it with a biting slider and splitter.

    While his size and pitching arsenal are impressive, his demeanor is probably what will make him a successful pitcher. Obstacles such as the last-minute move from community college to Pac-10 baseball, as well as being slowed by back spasms in December, haven’t fazed Veltmann in the slightest and he is eager to prove himself.

    “”I love the UA, it’s got everything you could ever want,”” said Veltmann, the team’s likely Saturday starter. “”We’re a good team and we have a lot of talent. Our bullpen is dominant, and if our starters can stay healthy I think we’ll be lights out.””

    Jason Stoffel

    RHP, 4-2 3.00, 13 SV last season

    Stoffel, a Preseason First Team All-American, enters the season as the most talked about Wildcat on the roster. The right-handed junior is coming off of an excellent sophomore campaign where he set the school record with 13 saves.

    The buzz surrounding Stoffel doesn’t stop in Tucson, either, as he is widely regarded as a first-round pick in the next MLB Draft.

    Stoffel, a very grounded individual, isn’t letting the press get to his head.

    “”Not at all,”” Stoffel replied bluntly when asked if he’s considered his draft day prospects. “”I’m just thinking about this season.””

    While his fastball doesn’t register in the high-90s like a prototypical closer, Stoffel is a composed pitcher with nasty stuff and an even nastier attitude. He complements his late-moving fastball with an aggressive curve that he controls with relative ease.

    His demeanor on the mound is intimidating. He is constantly locked in and quickly establishes the inner-half of the plate. Even though most hitters know he will try and set up inside, he will saw away at the inside corner, and has even been known to shatter a bat or two – similar to New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.

    Speaking of Rivera, Lopez plans to use Stoffel in the same fashion that he used Mark Melancon. Melancon, who is tied with Stoffel as the UA’s all-time saves leader, is currently in the Yankees farm system and has been tabbed by both Rivera and Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman as Rivera’s heir-apparent.

    What this means is that Stoffel will be used in a larger capacity than the traditional ninth-inning-only format that most closers are accustomed to.

    “”I would like to use (Stoffel) for six or seven innings per weekend,”” Lopez said. “”If he finishes the eighth and ninthinnings on a Friday, then we can give him Saturday off and then bring him in earlier on Sunday. Now all of the sudden, the Sunday spot isn’t as crucial for us to get big innings out of our starter.””

    Lopez and the rest of the staff believe Stoffel can account for more innings than an average closer for two reasons: his efficiency on the mound limits his pitch count, and before the season it was rumored that Stoffel might become a starter.

    Leaving Stoffel in an extended closer role is more beneficial to the team because it shortens the game and makes the starting pitchers happy.

    “”The best part about this team is the closer,”” starter Matt Veltmann said. “”When (Stoffel) comes into the game it’s a ‘no-doubter.'””

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