It’s never too early for Rice baseball to start looking toward the future. The Owls have young talent on both sides of the diamond set to return in 2021.
Every Rice baseball player will be eligible for an additional year of eligibility thanks to a recent NCAA ruling. That’s good news for the Owls’ seniors, but regardless of who returns and who doesn’t, Rice has plenty of young talent waiting in the wings.
On the mound
The Rice baseball weekend rotation was going to look different in 2020. It seemed like the losses of Matt Canterino and Evan Kravetz would thrust the relatively untested arms behind them into the brightest spotlights of their young careers. JUCO transfer Alex DeLeon seemed to be the easy name to pencil into Friday nights, but with Roel Garcia and Dalton Wood both recovering from injuries, the rest of the rotation was up in the air.
Coach Matt Bragga had a very different read on the situation. He knew the Sunday job was going to be a work-in-progress, but he never wavered on his Saturday selection: sophomore hurler Blake Brogdon.
Brogdon through 1.1 innings as a freshman, ending the year with an eye-popping (and not in a good way) 27.00 ERA. The idea of him being the No. 2 to start the season was puzzling, albeit not impossible. Rice really didn’t have any alternatives who were both healthy and clear improvements. So Brogdon was the guy. And he was excellent.
Brogdon was arguably the best in his four turns through the rotation. Bragga cited “his poise, his determination, and work ethic” as drivers for his massive year-over-year improvement. He went at least five innings, allowing three or fewer runs against Texas, UC Irvine and Missouri State. His outing against Texas Tech was shorter (3.2 IP) but he only allowed one run.
Drake Greenwood, who had emerged as the Sunday starter, also had an impressive run. He led all Rice pitchers with a 3.94 ERA in four appearances, with three starts. His 16 strikeouts trailed only Brogdon’s 18. Greenwood’s 1.77 strikeout-t0-walk ratio was superb.
And then there was Brandon Deskins, who outside of a rough inning against Texas State was near lights out when he was on the bump. Deskins was one Bragga named as someone who had “made a big jump” in this abridged season.
At the plate
The bulk of the Rice baseball lineup was steered by upperclassmen. That left only a few rotational spots, mostly in the outfield and at DH, to be exchanged from day to day.
Newcomer Austin Bulman proved to be a mainstay in the Rice lineup, producing six multi-hit games. He was one of three hitters to appear in all 16 contests this season. He brought some power to a lineup that was more doubles-bent than one that aimed for the fences. Bulman’s two home runs represented a quarter of the Owls’ eight long balls on the season.
Daniel Hernandez went two-for-three on opening day but managed two hits in his next 21 plate appearances. Reserve catchers Eric Benitez and Cullen Hannigan both faired well in limited action from the batter’s box, going 1-for-2 and 2-for-6, respectively.
The most puzzling fizzled bat belonged to freshman Tyler LaRue, who earned the start at DH on Opening Day. LaRue had a hot bat throughout the fall but went 3-for-21 this season. Bragga doubled-down on LaRue’s ability. “I will go to my grave some day saying this kid is going to hit at an elite level,” the coach said about the young hitter. Bragga then recalled the 1-for-9 start of his college career.