2012 All-Knudson Team – The Pitchers
By Mark Knudson, The Mtn. InsiderMay 17, 2012
The coaches will have their say and that’s official. However, that doesn’t dissuade me from giving you the 2012 All-Knudson Mountain West baseball squad. This group is about guys who play the game the right way, not just about the best stats. Fortunately in this league, we have coaches who stress fundamentals, which makes it both easier and harder to select the right players. Stats matter, but they’re not the be-all, end all. We look at much more than just stats when we piece together this group of Mountain West baseball talent.
Everything starts with pitching, so we’ll start on the mound. Position players will be unveiled on Monday.
Nothing illustrates the importance of quality pitching better than the success of the 2012 New Mexico Lobos. Now armed with a top-notch starting rotation, Ray Birmingham has his team at the top of the Conference and poised to make an even stronger post season run than ever before. They will have to start by outpitching TCU, a tall order given the outstanding performances the Horned Frogs have gotten on the hill the second half of the season.
So here’s our staff. First, the starting rotation. Since we have three-game series in Conference play, we need three starters for our squad:
Preston Morrison, TCU: He began the year in middle relief but this Trent Appleby clone was so effective he forced his way into the weekend starting slot and solidified things for Jim Schossnagle’s rotation. With an 8-0 record going into the final weekend along with a microscopic 1.72 ERA, Morrison will likely be the MW Pitcher of the Year. Consider these numbers: 56 strikeouts, just eight walks and opponents are hitting .204 against him. Remarkable.
Gera Sanchez, New Mexico: Another guy that started the year not starting. Like Morrison, Sanchez was so good as a reliever that he forced Birmingham to take him out of the bullpen and give him the ball on the weekends. The results were astounding: A 7-2 record, 2.29 ERA and opponents mustering a lame .194 batting average against him.
Andrew Mitchell, TCU: Much was expected of this talented sophomore going into the season, and early on it looked like he might not measure up to the preseason hype. But when it counted the most, Mitchell was nails. No more so than 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball in a must-win start against New Mexico, which TCU ended up winning 2-1 to forge a tie in the Conference standings. 5-2 in 13 starts, a 2.82 ERA and a meager .178 average against.
So those are our guys. We’ll take on all comers with this group.
Speaking of starters, we’ve got to give more than just an honorable mention to three others: New Mexico’s Austin House, TCU’s Stefan Crichton, and SDSU’s Justin Hepner. All three have been stellar all season and you’d have no problem going into a key weekend series with these three slated to take the hill, either. House started rough but really hit stride once Conference play began. Crichton, who looked like he’d start the year in the bullpen, responded to the call of the rotation and delivered. Hepner moved from closer to starter in midseason. He has a complete game and seven saves on the year.
Of course, we need a hard-nosed closer. Ours is Kevin Allen of TCU. Kaleb Merck was supposed to be the guy in the Frogs’ bullpen this season but he struggled coming off surgery for a serious arm injury and never really found his groove. Meanwhile, Allen stepped in and stepped up when TCU needed him the most, including finishing off that key win over New Mexico. Nice numbers: 5-2, 1.23 ERA and five saves.
A tip of the cap to Zach Hartman of UNLV. Not among his seven saves (so far) was a season-saving effort against San Diego State. In danger of losing three straight on the Mesa and staring at the prospect of missing the Conference tourney they’re hosting, Hartman entered the game in the fifth inning and held the Aztecs in check over the final four-plus frames. It allowed the Rebel offense to finally punch through and overtake SDSU with a four-run ninth inning rally that moved them ahead of Air Force for the final tourney position.
Outside of Ft. Worth, most people don’t think of the MW as a pitcher’s conference. That’s about to change. They’re armed with a lot of young talent in places like San Diego, Albuquerque and Las Vegas. We may see even better stuff down the road.
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