Mutka: Dalton Lundeen’s pitching could help Valpo three-peat
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent firstname.lastname@example.org June 10, 2013 6:50PM
Updated: July 12, 2013 6:14AM
Recruiting college baseball players is an inexact science. Not much different than what traumatizes professional scouts searching for Major League draft material.
Highly-touted athletes can go from boom to bust quicker than Adam Dunn’s latest strikeout. Others come out of the woodwork to become overnight sensations.
Valparaiso University’s Dalton Lundeen fits into the latter category. The talented freshman barely made the team, then worked his way into the regular rotation with startling speed.
It all started when coach Tracy Woodson received an email from the eager kid from Streamwood, Ill.
“I took a look at his videos and liked what I saw,” said Woodson, who guided the Crusaders to the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. “We had a spot open on the roster and he’s a lefty.”
Overall athleticism made him an attractive risk. The versatile athlete received all-conference or all-area recognition in football, basketball and baseball, was the senior athlete of the year and graduated in the top two percent of his class.
His breaking ball attracted Woodson, who considered Lundeen a long-term project who might develop into a servicable pitcher by his junior year.
Surprisingly, the 6-foot-3 walk-on exceeded expectations. By shedding 20 pounds, he hastened his transformation from midweek pitcher to the weekend rotation.
Concentrating on one sport speeded up his advance. He threw nothing but strikes with decent velocity (84-85 mph). So when Kyle Wormington slumped, Woodson decided to flip-flop them.
Lundeen reminded him of a harder-throwing version of Tyler Deetjen, who led VU to its first NCAA appearance in 44 years with eight victories in 2012. His credits included a victory in a three-game series with Arizona State, a perennial top-10 program.
Woodson trusted the rookie enough to use him in relief to oust Florida from the NCAA regional, then started him against Austin Peay in the elimination game.
Lundeen responded with 6.2 solid innings, giving up only two earned runs, but came away with a no-decision in the season-ending loss.
His 5-1 record and 3.73 ERA, coupled with the return of No. 1 pitcher Cole Webb, closer Karch Kowalczyk (1.73 ERA, 12 saves) and setup man Ben Mahar (3.11 ERA, 3-3 record in 26 appearances), suggest a possible Horizon League three-peat next spring.
Webb shaped up as the staff leader thanks to a fastball topping out at 87 mph and a cutter which turns left-handed hitters into corkscrews. His 5-7 record may be underwhelming, but he made the Horizon League all-tournament team and pitched well in the Bloomington Regional.
Big Ten champion and College World Series qualifier Indiana, which came in with a team slugging percentage of .455, trailed 2-1 when he departed after seven innings.
Except for second baseman Tanner Vavra and catcher Billy Cribbs, the Crusaders don’t have many holes to fill next spring. Nine promising recruits should help plug them.
“We’ll miss Tanner on offense,” concedes Woodson, noting the Crusader scoring leader’s .330 average. “Cribbs is going to be tough to replace because of his arm. Our pitchers did a good job of holding runners, but he threw out 43 percent on attempted steals. We’re going to be young behind the plate.”
The Crusaders allowed just 38 stolen bases in 60 games.
The Crusaders biggest disappointment was not winning the regular-season title, but you can blame that on a multitude of injuries, including Kowalczyk and third baseman Elliott Martin, who missed more than half the season.
“We had a lot of hamstring problems,” Woodson said.
Next year he’s counting on healthy holdovers like shortstop Spencer Mahoney, who received freshman All-American honors, but struggled as a sophomore.
“He got off to a slow start, but took off in the middle of the season,” said Woodson, crediting a more aggressive approach at the plate and a defensive upgrade. “He only made one error in the last three weeks.”
Poison Ivy: Beautiful Wrigley Field? Not to Woodson, who spent five years in the major leagues as a corner infielder. He played for the 1988 World champion Dodgers and finished up with the Cardinals in 1993.
“It’s a dump,” he said of the hallowed halls of Ivy. “The visitor’s locker room is the worst in baseball and you have to climb a flight of stairs to get to it. When you get the media in there it’s so crowded you can hardly turn around.”
Privacy is also an issue with visitors often exposed to public heckling on their way up. Duly noted.
Powering up: Former VU star Kyle Gaedele, who was drafted by the Padres in 2011, has moved up to Lake Elsimore in the California League.
Extra-base hits somewhat offset his low .239 average and high strikeout total. He leads the Advanced ‘A’ league with seven triples, has nine doubles and five homers. He is also 11-for-13 in stolen bases through 54 games.
“His numbers are good, but I told him he needs to cut down on (55) strikeouts,” Woodson said.
Dad-gum it: Don’t know about you, but I’m sick of Hawk Harrelson’s unprofessional rants about umpires not giving Sox a square deal. ‘Homers’ are expected in the baseball booth, but Hawk-eroo carries favoritism to ridiculous extremes.
His near-hysterical outbursts, wasted on an underachieving team, are embarrassing. How sidekick Steve Stone keeps his sanity during Hawk’s behavioral excesses is beyond me.
Time to go, Hawk. Jerry Reinsdorf should do us all a favor and put you out to pasture.