Trying to guess how a bullpen will shake out in college baseball is kind of like trying to guess why George Lucas decided to create Jar Jar Binks; you can theorize all you want but at the end of the day, you're just going to end up pissed off at the world.
Don't believe me? Hell, even the men competing for the job don't even have the slightest clue. Just ask Arizona State pitcher Matt Dunbar.
"It's basically anybody's game at this point with who is going be where," said the senior Sun Devil. "I can't really specifically say where the coaches' heads are at."
But if there's one thing Dunbar knows for certain it's that manager Tim Esmay can count on whichever arms end up compiling ASU's rag tag club of relievers.
"I think with the pitchers we have in the bullpen we're going to be very, very strong...if not have a stronger and deeper bullpen than last year," said Dunbar.
Well, that's a bold prediction; especially when you factor in that the Devils' pen lost Jake Barrett (1.62 ERA, 11 saves), Robert Ravago (4-1, 2.56 ERA) and Joseph Lopez (4.62 career ERA at ASU). Then again, it's not as if every staff in the country has the luxury of an anchor who reliably slams the door shut as often as Dunbar does. Making matters even sweeter is the fact that this time last year, no one had the slightest clue about what the big lefty was going to bring to the table.
"I can say coming out of last fall, the team wasn't expecting much out of me," said the junior college transfer. "But once we started the season, they saw a different side come out."
And by different, Dunbar means dominant. Although Barrett stole most the of the national spotlight, Dunbar quietly led the team with an ERA of 1.54 across 35 innings. As Esmay's do-it-all safety valve, Dunbar held opponents to a remarkable .195 batting average despite being stretched across multiple innings in most of his appearances.
With cold-blooded stats like that, one would naturally assume that Dunbar should be considered the slam dunk choice to get the last three outs. Yet if you were to hear to him dissect his role on the team, you'd probably surmise you were talking to a man who still has everything to prove.
"I just want to do what I can to help the team win," Dunbar said. "Wherever the coaches decide to put me, I'll be ready to perform and do whatever I can to make sure that at the end of the day, the Sun Devils get a win."
Luckily for the sake of Dunbar's shoulder, he won't be the only talented strike-thrower trying his best to ensure that the Sun Devils don't squander leads:
What We Know
While it's difficult to predict who is going to end up where, we do know that there are two open rotation spots behind Trevor Williams. So by Dunbar's guesstimation, whoever is not starting out of Adam McCreery, Darin Gillies, Brett Lilek, Ryan Burr, Ryan Kellogg, Josh McAlister and Alex Blackford will be joining him in the pen. If you put a gun to my head, I'd pick Gillies and McCreery to end up as the No. 2 and 3 starters. So here's what Dunbar had to say about the rest of the gang he'll be working alongside when the late innings roll around:
Brett Lilek - LHP - Freshman
Dunbar seemed quite eager to speak about the 6'4, 190-pound Lilek, sharing that he expects the highly-touted southpaw "to do very well" in his first season at ASU. Dunbar went on to boast about Lilek's "strong arm," the same arm that is so potential drenched that it made the Seattle Mariners take a shot on him in the 37th round of the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft. Wherever Lilek ends up, expect him make good use out of his 90+ MPH fastball.
Ryan Burr - RHP - Freshman
But if you thought Lilek's fastball was deadly, just wait till you see Burr's. The 6'4 Colorado native was topping out at 96 MPH in high school as a two-time all-state selection. As the 33rd round selection of the Texas Rangers in this past draft, Burr already seems to have the pedigree of a possible pro. So it shouldn't be a surprise that Dunbar was quick to state that he already knows that Burr "can definitely handle being on the mound in pressure situations."
Ryan Kellogg - LHP - Freshman
Another lanky freshman at 6'5, Kellogg once threw 8 2/3 shutout innings against Team USA. That experience, along with him being a 12th round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays, has Dunbar confident that Kellogg will be a "big-time innings-eater" for the Devils. Oh yeah, and just wait until you see his changeup.
Alex Blackford - RHP - Senior
As one of the few veterans in ASU's pitching corp, Dunbar labeled Blackford as "an asset" whether he's starting or relieving. Blackford's numbers fell back down to Earth this past season after he posted a 2.66 ERA as a sophomore but his 8.31 K/9 ratio gives some hope for a bounce back season. And with so many youngsters rocking the maroon and gold in 2013, you can be sure that he'll be one of the few arms that Esmay will consistently trust.
Josh McAlister - RHP - Junior
After reworking his release to become a submariner this offseason, Dunbar believes McAlister will provide the Devils with a "very much needed switch" of arm angles. Through his first two years in Tempe, McAlister has purely be handed relief duty, albeit not that often (only eight appearances in collegiate career). It will be interesting to see if Esmay decides to increase McAlister's workload with most of his pitchers being of the overhand variety.
Check out our entire season preview series with analysis from Sun Devil players