MARK MARQUESS, The Clarke and Elizabeth Nelson Director of Baseball at Stanford, is counting on youth to carry the Cardinal this season. He has arguably the youngest starting pitching staff in the country, using four true freshmen right-handers in the rotation.
Among the heralded group is 6-foot-9 Chris Viall of Soquel High, the 2013 Santa Cruz Coast League’s Pitcher of the Year. In 75 innings of work, he posted a 1.45 ERA. Viall was a 39th round choice by the San Francisco Giants in the 2013 MLB Draft.
Also in the mix is 6-3 Brett Hanewich from Bradenton, Fla. a four-year starter in high school, he was a two-time all-state selection at IMG Academy. His sister, Corey, plays for the Stanford softball team.
Cal Quantrill, a slender 6-3, 185-pounder from Port Hope, Ontario, was an all-around athlete at Trinity College School, earning four letters in baseball, three in volleyball and two in hockey. He played on Team Canada’s 18-under squad for three years and was picked in the 26th round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees. His father, Paul, pitched in the majors for 13 seasons with seven difference teams, finishing with a 3.68 career ERA.
This year, Quantrill became the first freshman pitcher to start on opening for the Cardinal since Mike Mussina in 1988. He went 4.2 innings, allowed six hits, five runs and struck out six in a losing effort.
The Tuesday night starter has been 6-4 Tyler Thorne from Lubbock, Texas. An All-State selection last year, he recorded a 1.13 ERA and fanned 104. Thorne also boasted a .420 batting average and finished fourth in his class at Lubbock Coronado.
All four pitchers boast fastballs in the low to mid 90s.
“With their talent, we knew they were going to be ready to impact our program,” said pitching coach Rusty Filter. “It’s a good situation for the future of the program, but we’re trying to win now. They just happen to be freshmen.”
Here’s his assessment of the four:
Viall (1-1, 4.72 ERA): “Throws in the mid-90s but needs to harness that and work the ball down in the strike zone.”
Hanewich (0-1, 2.70 ERA): “He’s very steady. Can mix and match his pitches in any count.”
Quantrill (1-2, 6.75 ERA): “Tremendous arm and four-pitch guy. High-strung and really wants to push the envelope. Hasn’t had a game with his best stuff.”
Thorne (2-0, 1.88 ERA): “He’s a strike-thrower and very poised. He’s a lot like Brett. He takes the ball when asked and is a true pitcher.”
All have had their ups and downs in the early going. As usual, Marquess lined up a challenging non-conference schedule to prepare his team for the highly-competitive Pac-12 Conference season. It doesn’t get any easier this week as the 5-7 Cardinal hosts 11-1 Kansas for a three-game set, with Hanewich, Viall and Quantrill projected to start.
“I think it’s an honor getting to pitch on Friday,” Quantrill said. “It’s an honor not a right.”
When the three weekend pitchers arrived on The Farm last fall, the coaching staff leveled with them about the chance to make immediate contributions. Marquess and Filter didn’t expect any of them to replace All-American Mark Appel, the No. 1 pick of the 2013 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros. But they didn’t put limitations on them, either.
“I wasn’t really banking on anything,” said Viall. “I was just coming to school to work as hard as I possibly could and whatever is given to you, comes. During the recruiting process, they hinted there may be an available starting role for some of the incoming freshman, so I knew there was a chance.”
Hanewich said he was told three starting jobs were up for grabs and has made the most of his opportunity.
“We knew there was a slight chance, but nothing was going to be given to us,” he said. “Obviously I feel very blessed to get this opportunity and I work hard every day to keep it because it could slip away in a moment. I know that the guys below us are working their butts off to try and get where we are. Everyone wants to be a starter.”
Quantrill has heredity on his side. Growing up, he attended many of his father’s games.
“I watched 100’s of games, some of them from the dugout as a bat boy, some of them from the stands, some from the player’s kids’ room,” said Quantrill. “I’ve been at pretty much every baseball park in America.”
His father has helped him along the way but isn’t the pushy type.
“My dad and I had a great working relationship growing up,” Quantrill said. “He absolutely let my coaches teach me the way they wanted to teach me, but we always had great dialogue on the side. Growing up with a pitching coach at your house is obviously beneficial.”
So was playing hockey.
“Actually, I was better at hockey for the longest time and thought I was going to pursue it,” said Quantrill, whose tiny home town is about an hour east of Toronto. “It turns out I got tall and skinny, and that doesn’t work out too well on the rink. Hockey helped me in baseball a ton of ways and taught me to be aggressive.”
As a Northern California kid, Viall always dreamed of attending Stanford. He knows all about Appel, and admitted his success helped sway his decision to commit.
“Obviously, he was an amazing athlete and a great student,” said Viall. “It had a little bit of an influence, just seeing how coach Filter can progress a player through the program and the strides he made through his collegiate career. I just have to make sure I don’t try to be the next Mark Appel. I just have to be Chris, because I’m a different pitcher.”
Hanewich, the youngest of five children, wasn’t sure if he would be admitted.
“I knew I was pretty smart, but I didn’t know if I was Stanford-smart,” he said.
He will never forget getting a call from former Stanford associate head coach Dean Stotz, offering him a scholarship.
“As soon as that happened, without even seeing the school, something clicked and I wanted to do it,” Hanewich said. “I remember Stotz telling me, ‘Don’t commit yet. Take two weeks, take it all in and maybe come out for a visit.’ So that’s what I did.”
The trip sold him.
“As soon as I came on campus, I just fell in love,” he said. “I knew this is where I wanted to be for the next three or four years.”
Like all the freshman pitchers, Hanewich is going through a learning curve.
“In high school, you could just blow people out with your fastball,” said Hanewich. “You can’t really do that here. You have to be able to locate. That’s been my biggest transition.”
While all four pitchers have formed a bond, they are equally tight with their other teammates.
“We’re not going to come together and have a mutiny on the other guys,” Hanewich said. “We all hang out together and are friends. We all want to make an impact and are just trying to win games.”
None seem overwhelmed.
“I think that’s one of the keys,” said Filter. “They’ve all kind of been through the big atmospheres.”
And they all marvel about their head coach, who earlier this week chalked up his 1,500th career win.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy more energized to be on the field every single day,” Viall said of Marquess. “He’s just a grinder. And he expects all of his players to do the same. You have to be at 100 percent. He’s not going to settle for anything less than that because he’s doing more than we are.”
Echoed Hanewich, “For a guy that’s been around the game for this long, you’d expect a lot less than he’s bringing to the table. You’d expect someone to be sitting on their butt the whole game and not saying anything, but that’s not him at all. It’s the complete opposite of what he does. He’s moving around all the time and trying to get his team up. He’s in the game every single pitch.”
Filter hopes Marquess’ dedication, attention to detail and work ethic rub off on his young pitchers.
“I really feel like these guys are talented, but there’s a long way to go,” he said. “The expectations are lofty. These guys have a lot to learn and there’s a lot of work to do. But they have a chance to be special.”