A pair of juniors and a pair of true freshmen pitchers will need to transition into starters quickly in order to fill the biggest holes in Cal Poly Baseball’s roster.
Junior righthander Taylor Dollard and junior southpaw Andrew Alvarez bring experience to the weekend pitching ranks, while freshmen righthanders Drew Thorpe and Derek True will be jumping straight into the action in their first collegiate season.
“We’re thin, but we’ve got a good group of guys that work hard,” pitching coach Jake Silverman said. “It’s going to take every single one of them for us to be successful this year”
Cal Poly lost two All-Big West first team pitchers from last season. Friday starter Bobby Ay (9-1, 3.27 ERA) was a ninth round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks while top reliever Michael Clark (6-3, 2.61 ERA, eight saves) graduated.
Dollard (5-0, 2.89 ERA, 4 saves) will take over as the Friday starter.
“The last two years, [Dollard’s] just been a huge impact on this team,” Alvarez said. “Now, having him as a Friday starter, he’s hopefully going to take the role of Bobby Ay and exceed that level.”
Dollard was also an All-Big West first team selection following his successful sophomore season as a reliever. Cal Poly’s season opener against Connecticut on Friday, Feb. 14 will be his first collegiate start.
“I’ve been working really hard to become a starter,” Dollard said. “It’s something I’ve wanted since I stepped on campus.”
Dollard’s most impressive performance came in Cal Poly’s final match of the season against UC Santa Barbara. In the Friday game, Dollard pitched two hitless innings and recorded four strikeouts. The next day, he pitched six innings in relief to continue the Mustangs’ hopes of reaching the postseason.
Dollard has had success out of the bullpen for his entire Cal Poly career. He earned three wins and three saves through 19 appearances as a freshman in the 2018 season. Last season, he improved to five wins and four saves through another 19 appearances.
“When it comes to attitude and mentality, he has it,” Silverman said. “The biggest thing for him is learning the longevity of a season with 15 starts.”
Alvarez (1-3, 5.10 ERA), who began the 2019 season as a reliever, will be the Saturday starter.
The junior southpaw will be completing his transition into a starting pitcher, which began last year. In the last six weeks of the 2019 season, Alvarez had six starts.
“It was something I didn’t really expect coming into my sophomore year,” Alvarez said. “Before, I was just a lefty specialist. One or two at bats a night. Then, I was facing multiple hitters, multiple innings. So it’s really allowed me to grow.”
When transitioning from a reliever to a starter, the focus is on shifting the pitcher’s mindset to be focused on longevity, according to Silverman.
“When you’re a starter, you’re going to take punches and you’re going to take some hits,” Silverman said. “You gotta just keep working through those and pitching out of problems.”
A pair of true freshman will round out the pitching lineup. Drew Thorpe, from Washington, Utah is expected to be the Sunday starter while Santa Barbara native Derek True will be the Tuesday opener.
Thorpe had a 7-1 record and a 1.93 ERA in his senior season at Desert Hills High School. A three-time All-Utah honoree, Thorpe said he was excited when head coach Larry Lee told him he would begin the season as a starter.
“It’s what I’ve been working for since I got here,” Thorpe said. “As a freshman, that’s pretty cool to come in and be one of the weekend guys.”
“He’s a guy that can eat up a lot of innings because he has the ability to get you out in multiple ways,” Silverman said. “He’s the type of guy that has some longevity with what he’s going to do too.”
True, also a righthander, had a perfect 9-0 season with a 2.20 ERA to close out his career at Santa Barbara High School.
“Coming here to play for coach lee, it’s just an honor,” True said. “Not too many people can say that. He’s one of the best coaches in the country, if not the best. So having that opportunity was a no-doubter for me.”
In his senior season, True was named the league MVP after recording 75 strikeouts over 57 1/3 innings. Silverman called True a “really nice surprise.”
“He’s got a chance to throw really hard and have power stuff,” Silverman said. “He just has to learn how to wrangle that in … He has the makings to be something special.”
The Mustangs will begin its tough non-conference schedule at the MLB4 Tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz. from Feb. 14-16. After facing Connecticut Friday, Cal Poly will take on defending national champion Vanderbilt on Saturday and runner-up Michigan on Sunday.
“The older guys, they have experience … So they’ve been battle tested,” Silverman said. “The younger guys, they just have to learn from it. they’re going to take the licks a little bit, but as long as they just take the experience that they get and use it day to day, it’ll be an incredible information gathering on their behalf to get better.”