Nevada baseball features area stars
They were two catchers who made their mark over the last four years at Carson High. Now they will try to make their mark with the University of Nevada baseball team – at different positions.
Owen Brolsma and Joe Mercer will be given a chance to play key roles this year with the Wolf Pack. They are among five Carson Country players who will look to make contributions to this year’s team.
Brolsma, a freshman, has been switched from a catcher to a relief pitcher at Nevada. Another pitcher who hopes to see considerable time on the mound is left-handed pitcher Brandon Evans of Galena, a redshirt freshman. Evans also has a chance to be used as a relief pitcher.
Nevada figures to use a bullpen by committee this year, so Brolsma and Evans should both receive their chance to show the Wolf Pack what they can do. Evans could be used in a variety of roles – as a left-handed specialist assigned to retire left-handed hitters or in a long reliever’s role. He may even have the chance to be used as a closer.
Brolsma appears to be being groomed as a closer and his time in that role could come as soon as this year.
“I won’t lie to you,” Brolsma said. “I miss catching, I miss hitting. But I’m having a blast at something new. It’s pretty exciting.
“It was kind of weird at first. I’m feeling more like a pitcher every day so that’s good. If they put me out there and I get it done, they’ll keep putting me out there I’m sure.”
Even though Brolsma pitched just two innings in high school, his 88-mile an hour fastball and slider at 80-plus miles an hour was noticed by Major League scouts. If Brolsma has a professional future, it will likely be as a pitcher.
Nevada also has plenty of depth at catcher, which led to Brolsma’s move to the bullpen. Brett Hayes, the Western Athletic Conference’s Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-American last year, returns as the starting catcher. He’ll be backed up by Baker Krukow, a redshirt freshman, who was injured last year.
“I don’t see myself going behind the plate,” the right-handed Brolsma said. “We’ve got Krukow and we’ve got Hayes and they’re both young and they’re both doing well.”
Mercer may see spot duty as a catcher. He should be a valuable utility player who can play third base and first base. Mercer is also in line to be Nevada’s left-handed hitting designated hitter.
He transferred from Arkansas Little-Rock where he had an outstanding season last year. He was the starting third baseman, hitting .335. But Mercer said he has potentially passed up the chance to be an every day player in his senior year to play close to home in a higher profile program. “It’s just a better overall program,” he said.
Mercer said he wanted his “family to see my play my last year in baseball.” He also said he’ll play “anywhere I can help this team. I just want to play as much as I can.”
Bub Madrid could start at third or second base. Also in the mix at third could be Mercer or Gabe Mayorga, a transfer from South Alabama.
Nevada has been picked to take third in the WAC behind Fresno State and defending national champion Rice, but Mercer said the Wolf Pack shouldn’t be underestimated. “I think we’ll suprise a lot of people,” he said.
In 2001, Mercer was picked as a draft and follow by the San Francisco Giants. As a left-handed hitting catcher who can also play first and third base, he still may be a valuable professional prospect.
While the pitching staff is considered to be the team’s question mark, Evans said the potential is there.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that are competitors,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys who can step up. We have a lot of arms. We have a lot of guys that can fill any role.”
He said he hopes to eventually become a starting pitcher for the Wolf Pack. “I’d like to use this year to establish myself and then see how it goes from there.”
Evans relies on the basic three pitches – fastball, curveball and changeup. “I’m more of a finesse guy,” he said. “I don’t try to overpower. I try to get groundballs and get guys off balance.”
Among other locals with the Wolf Pack is Douglas High’s Austin Graham, a freshman. Graham could see time this year as the right-handed hitting designated hitter.
Graham is a reserve outfielder this year, but will likely be moved to first base next season. First base was Graham’s position for the majority of last year at Douglas.
With first baseman Erick Streelman graduating after this year, Graham could battle Ben Mummy for the starting first base job next season. Graham also pitched for Douglas, but won’t likely be used as pitcher at Nevada.
“That’s about what it looks like,” said Graham about his prospects with the Wolf Pack. “The outfield’s pretty filled up with all the returning guys. The DH’s pretty much up in the air right now.”
Also on the Wolf Pack roster this year is Galena’s Warren Whitley, a freshman. Whitley will be a reserve infielder and could be used as a pinch runner. His goal is to eventually become Nevada’s starting second baseman and leadoff hitter, the same role he filled at Galena.
Whitley was recruited by other Division I schools, but he said he wanted to stay close to home.
“Family’s very important to me,” he said. “I want to be able to share my baseball experience with my family.
“I’m just trying to get used to the faster pace of play. I think I can play with all these guys.”
Nevada opens its season on Feb. 6 at St. Mary’s.
Charles Whisnand is the Nevada Appeal Sports Editor. Contact him at email@example.com or 881-1214.