Cale Elam knows an escape hatch exists in the plan to make him a starting pitcher for Wichita State. He wants nothing to do with the idea he can go back to the bullpen if he struggles as a starter.
I dont see that as being the case, he said. I should succeed.
WSU starts fall practice Monday and Elams move is the biggest experiment. Its rare for WSU to move an accomplished pitcher to a new role. Coaches dont consider it much of a gamble, such is their faith in Elams composure and pitching ability.
Elam, a junior, was named a Freshman All-American by two publications in 2011. Last season, he went 6-4 with a 2.25 ERA and nine saves in 26 appearances. For 2013, WSU is well-stocked with relievers and needs a starter. Elam, who started in high school, is excited about the move. Pitching coach Brent Kemnitz called Elam in early July to discuss the switch.
I dont feel like its going to be any different mind-set, Elam said. Youre going to have to go out there, no matter what day, and throw strikes and get people out.
WSU, which failed to make an NCAA regional for a third straight season, struggled to set its rotation last spring. Josh Smith, WSUs top starter, graduated. Sophomores Kris Gardner and A.J. Ladwig return with significant weekend experience. Blake Logan, WSUs top pitching recruit, signed with the Miami Marlins, leaving a hole in the rotation that Elam might fill.
He has three pitches that he can throw for strikes, and he was always a starter before he came here, WSU coach Gene Stephenson said.
Even without Elam, WSUs bullpen appears to be a strong point. Lefty Albert Minnis excelled as a reliever after falling out of the rotation last season. Junior Foster Vielock, senior T.J. McGreevy and junior Aaron LaBrie return. Junior-college transfer Brandon Peterson is a reliever.
The thing that swung it my head was when it looked like that was going to be the niche for Albert Minnis, Kemnitz said. It seems to be a great fit for Elam to be a starter. Its too early to say OK, thats our Friday guy. Thats too much. Whoever fits into that, fits into that.
Elam wasnt a traditional closer who always overpowered batters in the ninth inning. He used several pitches, relying on groundball outs and could pitch two or three innings without losing effectiveness. He throws a fastball, a slider, a changeup and can use a curveball. He started throwing longer bullpens and more innings in the Cape Cod League during the summer to prepare and will continue this fall.
With his makeup and his three-pitch mix, it just makes sense, Kemnitz said.
Stephensons biggest goal for the fall is demanding more consistency from his team. After finishing 2012 with a top-50 power ranking (RPI), the Shockers know how two or three games can help or hurt an NCAA resume. WSU went 35-25 last season, 12-9 in the MVC. The baseball team is back under the guidance of strength and conditioning coach Kerry Rosenboom, and Stephenson hopes a good start in the weight room will establish good habits.
I like the makeup of this group, he said. We all know we have talent. Consistency is everything. All of that goes back to self-discipline, and preparing yourself properly. Self-discipline that starts in the weight room will carry over onto the field.