Where to start…
Recruiting overall – The talent level on this team simply isn’t high enough. Sure, we have 2 or 3 guys who will be drafted high in a couple of weeks, but the talent level falls way off after that. I believe in this staff’s 2nd or 3rd year they had a handful of high level recruits signed, but they chose to turn professional. Since then, NU has shied away from going after those players, not wanting to be burned again by the draft. You just can’t do that – you have to try, that’s just the nature of college baseball.
Recruiting in-state – NU’s in-state recruiting has been awful the past few years. Just awful. You look at the number of in-state kids they’ve given scholarship money to who are non-contributors (and have been for multiple seasons), it’s almost criminal … especially when you think about how many Nebraska kids are having success elsewhere. Among NU’s returning in-state players for 2019, you could argue that Hagge is the best of the bunch, and they didn’t deem him worthy of a scholarship out of high school, so technically they whiffed on him too. Miss after miss after miss on in-state kids. NU has a nice crop of in-state kids coming in next season, so hopefully they can turn this around, but some of the stories you hear about Silva and many Omaha coaches not getting along doesn’t make me hopeful.
Pitching injuries – Something isn’t right here. I don’t quite know what’s happening, but NU’s serious arm injuries numbers the past few years are staggering. It has to be more than just bad luck. This problem is going to start hurting NU on the recruiting trail … if it hasn’t already. Then you have the added factor of NU’s guys coming back from injury struggling to stay healthy or just not rebounding as quickly as expected, Hohensee probably being the exception, and you end up with the mess that you had on the mound in 2018.
Friday night starter – For whatever reason, this NU staff has not been interested in giving extra scholarship money to a top flight pitcher to put that dominant Friday night guy out there. Perhaps Silva believes he can develop Friday night worthy starters? It isn’t working. Relying on an extremely inexperienced pitcher like Alvarado as your Friday night guy was a dangerous plan in 2018, and put a lot of pressure on him. Then NU had no backup plan, and the starting rotation was a disaster much of the season. In college baseball, it all starts with that Friday night guy having success and everyone else feeding off him. NU needs a new thought process here.
2018 – The above problems are nothing new, but NU was able to win at a relatively high level the past couple of years, and this staff deserves credit for gaining the most from what they had on the roster in 2016 and 2017. But to win at that high level with so little talent and with no dominant Friday night guy in college baseball, you have to do almost everything else right. NU has been really good in the late innings on the mound the past few years, excelled on defense, and did a decent job moving runners. In 2018, the pitching injuries decimated NU’s mid-level bullpen, making it tougher to hold leads. Then the starting pitching collapsed, and NU was constantly playing from behind. The defense was atrocious most of the season. And NU’s ability to move runners and batting average with runners in scoring position was horrible much of the season. NU did not have anywhere near enough talent on the roster to overcome all of this crashing down at once and even have the bare minimum success level in a season of making the Big Ten Tourney.
2019 – It’s hard to imagine this getting much better next season. NU loses its 2 best hitters by a mile (assuming Wilkening turns pro) and its best pitcher in Hohensee. Some guys are going to have to take huge steps forward, which could happen – Wilkening certainly did it in 2018. The Waldron twins also made some nice strides in 2018. Otherwise, you’re relying on a lot of freshman arms, who typically have not excelled under this staff; guys coming off serious injuries, which did not work well in 2018; and hitters who did not do much to impress in 2018. Plus the Big Ten the past several seasons has been dominated by teams with older players, so relying on a bunch of freshman has not been a recipe for success. Perhaps the staff can get the defense fixed and avoid the arm injuries in 2019, which would help quite a bit to avoid missing the Big Ten Tourney. But this program is a long way away talent wise from being a team that competes to host regionals.
I really hate to see this going on, as I’m a big Erstad fan and want him to have success. But I really think the team could use a fresh perspective on the recruiting trail at the bare minimum. And they absolutely have to get this pitching injury issue figured out. The coaches, to their credit, have been very careful about pitch counts and holding guys back when they aren’t feeling right, so it has to be something on the training end.
It's going to be one of the strangest sporting events in this state’s history this week with the Big Ten Tourney in Omaha and no NU playing. That can never happen again.