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[ UPDATED] Missouri Baseball Preview: Pitchers

With Tim Jamieson back in Columbia, he inherits a young and unproven pitching staff.

COLLEGE BASEBALL: MAY 23 SEC Baseball Tournament - Missouri vs Auburn Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Much like Missouri’s group of position players, the pitching staff is full of guys with little to no college baseball experience. However, the man who’s been called upon to mold them has a wealth of experience developing pitching, especially in Columbia. Former Missouri coach Tim Jamieson is back with the Tigers, but this time as the pitching coach under first-year coach Kerrick Jackson.

The jewel of this unproven crop of arms that Jamieson is tasked with working his magic on is Logan Lunceford. A sophomore from Oklahoma, Lunceford is primed to be Mizzou’s Opening Day and regular Friday night starter.

In 2023, Lunceford started the year as the midweek starter, but after a series of injuries to other arms, he was promoted to the weekend rotation. The jump may have been asking too much from a young freshman, as Lunceford finished with a 6.00 ERA and 6.59 FIP but did strikeout 68 batters in 54 innings.

Despite a relatively average ERA and FIP, Lunceford’s stuff stood out. He sports a four-pitch mix where all of them seem to have plus potential, the best of them being his curveball. His stuff allowed him to strikeout 28.5% of hitters he faced and his 5.34 xFIP was more than a full point lower than his FIP.

Under Jamieson’s tutelage, optimism is high that Lunceford can develop into a true SEC Friday night guy.

Another young arm that should find his way into the weekend rotation is Missouri native Bryce Mayer. A St. Francis Borgia alum, Mayer attend St. Charles Community College for two yeas before finding his way to Columbia. At the JUCO level, Mayer was an all-conference performer twice and finished his final year with a 2.87 ERA. He was also Appalachian League pitcher of the Year in 2021 with a 2.15 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 37.2 innings.

Mayer brings a five-pitch mix — fastball, slider, curveball, changeup, and cutter. While I haven’t gotten the chance to watch him, I’ve heard that optimism is high on his potential and D1 Baseball highlighted him as one of Missouri’s breakout players to watch.

If Jamieson can bring the best out of Mayer, you may even see him pushing Lunceford for the role of ace on this staff.

Nothing is set in stone, but if I was a betting man, I’d put my money on Javyn Pimental joining Lunceford and Mayer in the weekend rotation and filling the role of Sunday starter to start the year.

Pimental transferred to Missouri from Arizona last year and made eight starts while battling some injuries in his first year in CoMo. He finished with a 6.92 ERA, 5.98 FIP and 25 strikeouts in 26 innings.

The numbers weren’t eye-popping by any means, but there were flashes from Pimental. He struggled with stringing together strong innings, but another year of experience could help with that. What really separates him from other members of this staff is that he’s made 31 appearances in the PAC 12 and SEC. Many of Missouri’s pitchers cannot say the same.

Pimental also made six starts in the Cape Cod league this summer, finishing with a 4.15 ERA in 26 innings. Against some of the strongest collegiate competition in the country, those are promising numbers.

Injury wild cards

One of the favorites to push Neubeck for that final weekend rotation spot is Carter Rustad. The KC native came to Missouri two seasons ago with tons of promise, but injuries hampered him last season. He made just one appearance in 2023, before having his season cut short with an arm injury.

Rustad is among the most experienced arms in this rotation, throwing 127.1 innings in his collegiate career between San Diego and Mizzou. He has a career 4.03 ERA and the arm talent to be an MLB Draft pick. However, his recovery from 2023’s season-ending injury will determine if he will be the integral part of this rotation he is capable of being.

Two other guys coming back from injury that in a perfect world will push for weekend roles are Tony Neubeck and Ian Lohse.

Neubeck made six appearnaces last year with a 3.86 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 18.2 innings before going down with Tommy John surgery. His recovery from this will be key. Is he back to full health? Have there been setbacks? Did he return to his previous form? All of these questions will be key to finding what role Neubeck can play. He’s got weekend-guy stuff, but coming back from TJ the same is never a guarantee.

Lohse has battled injuries since he arrived on campus. He made an immediate impact as a freshman, but hasn’t stayed healthy for a full season since. For that reason, I don’t feel comfortable penciling him into a regular role with this staff. At his best, he can be your best arm, but his hip seems to always nag him, and you never know if you can count on Lohse to take the ball.

In no way am I trying to take anything away from Lohse. I think he’s absolutely fantastic and his 3.72 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 58 career innings are a testament to that. But when taking a look at what this staff could become, it’s important to be aware of his history.

As good as many of the guys I’ve mentioned so far can be, there’s no question the highest upside on this team is Sam Horn. The problem is that I’m inclined to believe he’s not healthy. I’ve heard rumblings from a source within the team that Horn is dealing with elbow pain that could require surgery and keep him out for the season. This isn’t really a surprise, because when you don’t throw a baseball for months then come back and start chucking 97, things like this are much more likely to happen. If he takes the Taylor Stadium mound this season, he’ll bring his electric high 90s fastball, but I wouldn’t count on it.

A handful of other names like Brock Lucas, Daniel Wissler, Kyle Potthoff, and Nic Smith all made 15 or more appearances last year and should continue in bullpen roles, but who will anchor this bullpen with the departures of Rorik Maltrud and Zach Franklin is even more unclear than the weekend rotation.

Pitching will always be key to winning in the SEC, and Jackson and Jamieson seemingly are going to need to do a lot of heavy lifting in the development department. If guys like Lohse and Neubeck can get healthy and guys like Lunceford and Mayer take steps forward, I think there is a world where this staff can be serviceable in SEC play. We’ll just have to wait and see if Jackson and Jamieson can press all the right buttons.

For more Mizzou baseball updates follow me on Twitter @KortayVincent.