SAUGET, Ill. — The Gateway Grizzlies have only five returning players on their 26-man roster as of Tuesday; the roster will shrink to 24 players by Friday night’s 7:05 p.m. season opener against the Schaumburg Boomers at GCS Credit Union Ballpark.
But the back end of the Grizzlies’ bullpen is in the hands of two right-handers Gateway fans know well: Grant Black and Josh Glick. Both relievers are entering their second years with the Grizzlies and third seasons of professional baseball.
Black, who emerged as the club’s primary closer and became a true workhouse out of the bullpen over the second half of the season, tossed 49 1/3 innings over 35 appearances (all in relief) and finished with a 4.37 ERA that still belied the effectiveness with which he pitched for significant stretches of the year. (He allowed runs in three of his last five appearances in 2018. His ERA was 3.40 on Aug. 19, only two weeks before the end of the season.)
Black struck out 63 (11.5 K/9) and walked only 21 last year. He also saved seven games, tied for the team high with since-traded Kevin Simmons, despite missing nearly a month (June 22-July 18) with a foot injury sustained just as he was finding a groove in an extended-innings stopper role out of the ‘pen.
First-year Grizzlies pitching coach James Frisbie was excited about Black’s experience at the end of games.
“He’s throwing well this spring,” Frisbie said. “He’s got a fastball and a breaking ball to back it up. He’s a go-getter and I think he wants the [closer] role. I think we’ll probably give him that role until he shows that he can’t do it. We’ve got all the faith in the world in him.”
Black, who will turn 25 on July 21, finished his collegiate career at NCAA Div. II Arkansas-Monticello in 2017, and played with the Puerto Rico Islanders of the Empire Professional Baseball League. Black was recruited in football and baseball out of Newport (Ark.) High School — including holding an offer to play defensive end at Mississippi State — but tore his ACL in the fall of his senior year. Somehow, he returned to pitch that spring, just four months after surgery.
Glick has pitched two seasons in the Frontier League: 2017 with the Windy City ThunderBolts and last year with the Grizzlies. Gateway acquired him after the 2017 season as the player to be named later to complete an earlier trade that sent starting pitcher Will Landsheft to Windy City.
A Nova Southeastern (Fla.) University graduate, Glick lived up to his ironman reputation by setting a Grizzlies single-season franchise record with 43 appearances in 2018 (all in relief). Mike Elwood had set the Gateway record by appearing in 42 games the year prior, but he transitioned to a starting role last season and has since retired. Glick struck out 43 and walked 28 over 44 2/3 innings and saved four games. He was absolutely dominant over the first month of the season and had a 0.55 ERA after 13 appearances (June 10).
“I think he’s right there for some type of middle relief,” Frisbie said. “He can throw multiple innings cause of the way he throws with his arm angle, so he’ll be in the mix for the sixth or seventh inning — somewhere around there, definitely.”
Glick, who will turn 25 on June 8, appeared in 34 games out of the bullpen with Windy City in 2017 — even though he didn’t sign with the ‘Bolts until mid-June, meaning he pitched in 34 of Windy City’s 64 games after he joined the club — and posted a 6-2 record and 3.51 ERA with 30 strikeouts against 14 walks in 33 1/3 innings.
Glick previously pitched four seasons with Nova Southeastern. He made 67 appearances, all out of the bullpen, and compiled a career 2.30 ERA — that included a team-best 0.41 ERA in 2015. After missing the Sharks’ NCAA Div. II national title season in 2016 with an injury, the side-arming right-hander came back as a senior in 2017 and had a 2.35 ERA over 22 appearances and saved 10 games.
Gateway’s pitching staff features two additional returning arms: right-hander Dakota Smith and left-hander Patrick Boyle.
Smith rejoined the Grizzlies prior to the 2018 season after a stint in the Boston Red Sox organization and enters his fourth year with Gateway and fifth in professional baseball in 2019. Smith got off to a fantastic start to 2018: Over his first three starts, Smith tossed 20 innings (against Schaumburg and Lake Erie at home and Schaumburg again on the road) and allowed only two runs. But he encountered injury issues that eventually ended his season in June.
“No. 1, he’s healthy,” Frisbie said. “Arm strength is there. He’s learning a couple different off-speed pitches and doing well. You can kind of plug him in anywhere and he’ll be fine, so we’re looking forward to him.”
Smith, 26, previously pitched for Gateway in 2015 and 2016, posting phenomenal numbers in his final year: 2-1 record with a 2.25 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 42 strikeouts (against only eight walks) in 40 innings pitched. The Leavenworth, Kan., native spent 2017 with the Class-A Greenville Drive of the South Atlantic League.
Before starting with the Grizzlies in 2015, Smith played four years at the University of Kansas, where he served primarily as an outfielder. Smith was a career .280 hitter for the Jayhawks with 12 home runs and 126 RBIs in 197 games. He hit a career-best .337 during his junior campaign. Smith also appeared in 19 games out of the KU bullpen during his career posting a 1-2 record with a 3.67 ERA.
Boyle appeared in 36 games for Gateway a year ago, second on the team behind only Glick’s franchise single-season record 43 appearances. Boyle pitched exclusively out of the bullpen. He finished the season 3-3 with a 4.72 ERA. The southpaw struck out 54 batters in only 40 innings and the league hit a measly .196 against him, but he also walked 35 (as opposed to 29 hits allowed). Before allowing runs in three of his last four appearances of the year, Boyle’s ERA was at 3.82 on Aug. 22 (10 days before the end of the season).
Boyle had dominant stretches: From June 27 to Aug. 7, he pitched 10 1/3 innings over 11 games without allowing a single run. Over those six weeks, he lowered his ERA from 5.40 to 3.56. The most important for Boyle is limiting walks: In appearances last season in which he had at least one walk, Boyle posted a 6.52 ERA (29 innings). In the appearances in which Boyle did not allow a walk, he also did not allow a run (0.00 ERA, 11 innings).
A physically imposing left-hander, Boyle finished his collegiate career at nearby NAIA powerhouse Missouri Baptist University. MBU is in Creve Coeur, Mo. — about 25 miles west of GCS Credit Union Ballpark. As a senior Spartan in 2017, Boyle was 7-3 with a 4.39 ERA in 80 innings pitched, which ranked third on the ballclub. He led the team with 95 strikeouts.