Ball State Baseball will look to rely on its three draft-worthy pitchers for success in 2019

<p>Then-junior pitcher John Baker throws a ball during a drill at practice Jan. 29, 2019, at the Field Sports Building. Baker led the Cardinals with 15 starts in the 2018 season along with a 3.68 ERA. <strong>Zach Piatt, DN</strong></p>

Then-junior pitcher John Baker throws a ball during a drill at practice Jan. 29, 2019, at the Field Sports Building. Baker led the Cardinals with 15 starts in the 2018 season along with a 3.68 ERA. Zach Piatt, DN

Seven frames cover the east wall of head coach Rich Maloney’s office in the Ball State Student Recreation and Wellness Center. They represent the start of something big.

Pictured are Thomas Howard, Jeff Urban, Larry Bigbie, Bryan Bullington, Luke Hagerty, Brad Snyder and Kolbrin Vitek – every Ball State Cardinal drafted in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

A whole wall dedicated to seven guys.

Maloney coached all but two of those first-rounders during his first stint with the Cardinals from 1996-2002.

The three-time Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year has been back at Ball State’s helm since 2013, and he has seen his players inch closer and closer to becoming another on that wall. 

Colin Brockhouse was drafted twice as a pitcher, once in 2016 in the 37th round and again in 2017 in the 24th round. Evan Marquardt followed him in 2018 as he was selected as a pitcher in the 20th round. The bar has been set high, but Maloney believes the pitchers he has now are going to push it even higher.

“No doubt about it. From a talent standpoint, this is the most pitching depth with talent I’ve had since I’ve been back,” Maloney said. “It’s not even close compared to where we were before. We’re getting a lot of pro interest right now like we’ve never had.”

Three starting pitchers in particular are what Maloney described as his “horses” at the top of the rotation: junior John Baker and sophomores Drey Jameson and Kyle Nicolas. Although he said any of the three could be the team’s No. 1, Maloney pegged Baker as the Cardinals’ ace going into the season because of his experience.

Baker earned All-MAC Second Team honors in 2018, striking out 118 batters in 95.1 innings pitched. He also spent that summer as a member of the Cotuit Kettleers in the Cape Cod Baseball League, recognized by college coaches and professional scouts as the best amateur summer league in the country. While there, Baker won three games with a 2.38 ERA, striking out 31 in the process.

Baker recognizes his team is looking to him to be top dog, but he wasted no time mentioning that he’s not the only one who will turn some heads this season.

“I guess I feel like I’m kind of ‘the guy,’ but we got a lot of good arms on the team,” Baker said. “There’s a few guys that could be ‘the guy’ … Our guys are electric.”

Jameson made All-MAC First Team as a freshman last season and won MAC Freshman Pitcher of the Year. He caught then-junior starting catcher Chase Sebby by surprise when he joined the team and took the league by storm.

“There’s not a lot of guys who are 6-foot tall, 165 [pounds] soaking wet who can hit 99 [mph],” Sebby said. “I mean he’s got the fastest arm I’ve ever seen for his size outside of going to a big league game.”

Sebby said he often imagines what it would be like to be on the opposing team facing Jameson for the first time.

“We send him out on Saturday, and they’re like, ‘This guy’s a Saturday guy?’” he said. “Then he throws the first warp-up pitch, and they’re like, ‘Woah, that was kind of hard.’ Then he just keeps doing it for 7, 8, 9 innings — it’s pretty special.”

Then there’s Nicolas, who Maloney crowns as “the most talented of the three.” Nicolas was Prep Baseball Report’s 2017 Ohio Player of the Year coming into Ball State and was third on the Cardinal roster in both starts and innings pitched last season.

As long as the pitching staff stays healthy, Maloney said his team has a great opportunity to put together a memorable season with his three horses each starting a game over weekend series.

“The other teams won’t like facing [those] three guys. I promise you that,” Maloney said.

The Cardinals will open the 2019 season Feb. 15 in Tempe, Arizona, in the Grand Canyon University Classic.

Contact Zach Piatt with any comments at or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.


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