Let’s take a look at some big arms that have broken out in the 2019 college baseball season.
Keep in mind we're looking at one big factor here: Results. Some of these pitchers have been household names for a couple of years, with the athleticism and tools to succeed. They are simply finally putting it all together. Others have transitioned from a bullpen role to the rotation and look sharper in doing so.
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When you think about how many pitchers there are in college baseball, to make a list under 50 is an extremely difficult (albeit very fun) task. Because of that, we're limiting this list to starting pitchers only. Here's who we came up with.
Nick Lodolo, TCU
It was never a question of talent with the Horned Frogs ace. It was simply a question of when he’d put the inconsistency behind him and put all those tools together.
The answer: 2019.
Lodolo is a big lefty, listed at 6’6, which makes his mid-90s fastball that much more intimidating. He’s never been able to get his ERA under 4.32 and heading into the final weekend of the season, it sits at 2.39. Lodolo saw a big jump in his strikeout-per-nine rate last season and that has remained relatively the same (10.4 per nine), but the biggest improvement may be a career-low walk rate of 2.06 per nine, while also limiting hitters to a .205 average. Lodolo answered the call and put it all together in his junior year.
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Asa Lacy, Texas A&M
John Doxakis is the ace of the Aggies staff and is without a doubt having the best year of his career. We also consider his big 2018 his breakout when he improved his ERA by nearly three runs and threw a much-improved strikeout-to-walk ratio in his transition to the rotation.
That transition from bullpen to starter is exactly what makes Lacy our breakout candidate. He was excellent out of the bullpen as a freshman, making two starts along the way, but he’s improved almost all of his numbers now as a full-time starter. The lefty is 7-4 with a 2.13 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP while holding opponents to a .162 batting average. Lacy has also struck out 115 in 76 innings pitched while walking 38. He’s getting mighty comfortable in that weekend rotation.
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Emerson Hancock, Georgia
There was certainly no sophomore slump for the Georgia right-hander. Last season, as a freshman, he posted a 6-4 record with a 5.10 ERA while striking out less than one an inning. He’s improved in every category in 2019.
Hancock sits at 7-2 with a 1.31 ERA and a 0.73 WHIP, nearly half of what it was in 2018 and the best in college baseball this season. He’s also striking out 9.47 per nine and has walked just 18 batters in 77 innings. He’s not let up more than three runs in any start this season and is truly becoming an ace for a Georgia team that looks like real contenders for Omaha.
Jake Agnos and Jake Kuchmaner, East Carolina
East Carolina has been creeping closer to Omaha the past couple of seasons. If the Pirates wanted to get there, a breakout ace would surely do the trick.
So, how about two?
The two Jakes have East Carolina in the top 10 and Road to Omaha ready. Agnos is posting a career-best strikeout per nine, as his 13.15 are ninth-best in Division I. He also has one more win (8) than he had his previous two seasons combined, slicing his ERA almost in half, lowering it from a 4.10 mark to 2.19.
His cohort Kuchmaner was solid as a freshman last season, splitting time in the rotation and bullpen. He really hasn’t had a terrible outing all season sitting at 5-1 with a 2.09 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. Not only did Kuchmaner take a no-hit bid into the ninth earlier in the season, but he also threw the program’s first perfect game on March 17.
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Reid Detmers, Louisville
Detmers had a good freshman campaign in Louisville, showing big strikeout potential, but walked a bit too much and let up a few too many home runs. The lefty has certainly had a few rough starts in his sophomore follow up, but there’s no doubt he’s now a pitcher to watch.
He’s posted five outings not allowing a run to score, and another three allowing just one. You can argue his best start of the season was against Georgia Tech when he went 7.2 innings and struck out his season-high 16 against a team surging up the top 25. His 2.59 ERA is inflated from a couple of bad outings, but he's proving to be a strikeout machine with 127 in 83.1 innings while walking just 18.
Ethan Small, Mississippi State
Small had his struggles coming out of the bullpen as a freshman, getting hit quite a bit and walking one per inning. He missed his sophomore season with injury and bounced back nicely in a strong junior campaign.
Now he has his name in the Golden Spikes conversation.
Small is not your power pitcher, but he commands three pitches in a deceptive way that completely baffles opposing hitters. The lefty has made 13 starts and nine have seen double-digit strikeouts. He's striking out 15.23 per nine, just a tad behind Navy's Noah Song for the DI lead. Overall he's struck out 132 in 78 innings, walking 18 and posting a 1.73 ERA, a 0.78 WHIP that only trails Hancock, and a .157 batting average against, all three of which are career lows. Small was drafted in the 26th round last season by the Arizona Diamondbacks. His decision to come back has without a doubt increased his stock this summer.
Alek Manoah, West Virginia
File Manoah under the Lodolo category. We knew this stuff was there. And man, has he put it together in 2019.
The junior righty spent his first two seasons split between the bullpen and rotation to a 3.54 ERA, striking out 105 in 109.2 innings. This season as a full-time starter, Manoah has become one of college baseball's best strikeout artists, sitting down 121 in 90.2 innings while walking just 19. He, too, has career bests in ERA (1.89), WHIP (0.89) and BAA (.186) and threw back-to-back complete-game shutouts against Kansas and Texas Tech, striking out 30 total. Manoah's 2019 may set the benchmark for future West Virginia pitchers to come.
Trenton Denholm, UC Irvine
We like this Anteaters team and their middle-of-the-rotation sophomore right-hander is a big reason why. He has surpassed expectations in his second year in UC Irvine's weekend rotation and now it is looking like a tournament contender.
To improve as a pitcher, it's best to improve your command and ability to be hit. Denholm has appeared to do both, cutting his walk rate from 3.03 per nine to 1.97. Last season, hitters teed off on Denholm hitting nearly .300 (.291 to be precise) and this year, they are struggling to hit their weight, as he's holding opponents to a .170 average. Denholm is in the top 15 in college baseball in ERA and WHIP and is looking like a real asset to UC Irvine.
Two more for your consideration
TJ Sikkema, Mizzou: It's tough to say a 2017 Freshman All-American is having a breakout season, but the junior lefty has taken it to a new level. He's 7-3 with a 1.36 ERA and 91 strikeouts over 79.2 innings.
John Stankiewicz, Fordham: The sophomore righty is having quite the season, making 10 starts in 14 appearances. He's 7-3 with a 1.18 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 76 innings.