As the door closes on the offseason for UCF baseball, the team is still figuring out who's going to be closing the door for them come game time.
Opening Knight is Friday, so it won't be long before real-game action and pressure situations arise. The only question that remains is who is UCF head coach Terry Rooney going to trust in those situations.
"The first weekend or two you don't really have a closer per se because the starting pitchers probably won't go more than five innings," Rooney said. "So what you're trying to do is extend your biggest guy and your better guys a little bit longer during the opening weekend."
UCF played in 21 one-run games last year, which is more than one-third of all games it played. Unfortunately for the Knights, they didn't fare well in those games.
For a team that had a .610 winning percentage on the whole for the season, they went only 8-13 in these one-run games, for a .381 winning percentage.
So, like Rooney says, if there's not going to be a clear-cut closer the first couple weekends of the year, who might it be once the team progresses the season?
UCF's best relief pitcher last season was Zach Rodgers, but he's moving to a starting role this year. Rodgers however, was tied for the team lead in saves with another righty coming out of the bullpen, Trent Thompson.
Thompson was a freshman last season and led UCF in appearances with 30. He had five saves and a 3.74 ERA. That ERA doesn't jump out as super impressive, but consider that Thompson had a solid 2.3 K/BB ratio, and an abnormally high .321 batting average on balls in play.
"I know what I'm gonna get out of Trent," Rooney said. "Trent throws strikes, he competes, he's always around the strike zone and he pitched a lot of big games for us last year."
Thompson could be poised to have an excellent season if his BABIP drops and he keeps up his K/BB ratio or even improves on it. However, Thompson, who added a slider to his repertoire in the offseason, may possibly pitch well enough to be added to the starting rotation.
Another player on the team with closing experience is Spencer Davis. Last season Davis was primarily a starter, but two years ago he was tied for the team lead with four saves. Like so many others, his role is still to be decided; but as a redshirt senior he would provide valuable experience in the ninth inning.
One key when looking at a bullpen is how it will be able to deal with match ups. Last season for UCF, if Rooney was looking to get a southpaw to face a left handed batter, he usually looked the way of Parker Thomas, who had a 3.76 ERA in 29 appearances. This season Thomas will have help, as redshirt junior Harrison Hukari will be able to pitch for UCF for the first time in more than a year.
Intriguingly, two of UCF's top incoming freshmen could also be major players in the bullpen as well. Finfrock and Kyle Marsh were both ranked in the top 100 freshmen in the state of Florida by Perfect Game. Finfrock, who was No. 16 in the list, was also chosen in the 26th round of the MLB Draft, but decided to come to UCF instead.
No matter what role the freshmen end up filling, or who becomes the primary closer, Opening Knight is here at last; and by the end of the season the bullpen could be a major storyline for the 2015 edition of UCF baseball.
Colin Bell is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him firstname.lastname@example.org.