LOVES PARK, Ill. – One of two new relief pitchers announced by the Rockford Rivets on Thursday is a converted catcher. The other plays in perhaps the toughest conference in college baseball.
The Rivets announced that they have signed Bethune-Cookman University righthander Zach Olszewski and University of Arkansas lefthander Kacey Murphy.
"Zach is an interesting prospect,” Rivets manager Brian Smith said. “He was the starting catcher at Bethune-Cookman during his freshman and sophomore seasons. He has made the transition to a full-time reliever in 2016.”
Olszewski picked up his first save of the season on Tuesday, when he entered a game at Stetson in the bottom of the eighth inning with the bases loaded. He retired the game’s final four batters in order to preserve the Wildcats’ 6-2 win.
Olszewski is 1-1 with a 7.78 earned-run average in 16 relief appearances. The junior righthander has a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and averages nearly a strikeout an inning.
“Zach's biggest strength has been his ability to throw strikes,” Smith said. “The problem that Zach has run into is that he is throwing too many strikes. The more innings he gets, the more feel he gets of himself as a pitcher, the better he will become.”
The Bay City (Mich.) John Glenn High School graduate has struck out 16 and walked five in 19 2/3 innings.
“Having talked to Zach a few times this offseason, he is an intense competitor,” Smith said. “I can see him being a huge asset on and off the field. Catchers tend to see the game from a different perspective. His knowledge from behind the plate will make his transition to the mound even easier once he gets used to the everyday grind of a reliever."
Murphy hasn’t been involved in a decision in his 10 relief appearances and carries a 7.56 ERA for the Razorbacks. He’s struck out eight and walked five in 8 1/3 innings for the Southeastern Conference team.
Arkansas was one of four SEC teams to reach the eight-team College World Series field last spring.
"Kacey is coming to Rockford from one of the most respected college baseball programs in the country,” Smith said. “Transitioning from high school to the SEC is not an easy thing to do. The Arkansas coaching staff see Kacey as a starter down the road. Our goal is to get him quality innings out of the bullpen until he is strong enough to jump into the starting rotation. Kacey's performance, along with the performances of the other starting pitchers, will dictate when that transition will happen. We are excited to add another lefthanded pitcher to our pitching staff."
Murphy is a freshman marketing major from Rogers, Ark. Like Olszewski, he was an all-state selection in high school.
The Rivets open their inaugural season in the Stateline at 6:35 p.m. May 31, when they host the Wisconsin Woodchucks at Rivets Stadium.
Rockford is a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League, which will play its 23rd season of summer collegiate baseball in 2016. The Northwoods League is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 18 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, more than 140 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (Washington Nationals) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (Chicago White Sox), Jordan Zimmermann (Detroit Tigers), Curtis Granderson (New York Mets), Lucas Duda (Mets) and Ben Zobrist (Chicago Cubs). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League Website, NorthwoodsLeague.com.