Jan. 8, 2001
Stanford, Calif. - The 2001 Stanford Baseball team starts official practice on Monday, January 8, 2001. Stanford will open the 2001 regular season by visiting Cal Poly on Sunday, January 21 (1:00 p.m.). The Cardinal will make its 2001 home debut in the newly remodeled Sunken Diamond when the Cardinal hosts Fresno State in a three-game series (January 26-28).
The Cardinal has been ranked #11 and #14 in the respective 2001 preseason national polls by Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America. Stanford finished second at the College World Series in 2000.
A complete preview of the 2001 Stanford Baseball team follows.
For more information on Stanford Baseball and all Stanford athletics teams, go to the Stanford Athletics website at www.gostanford.com. If you are a media member and prefer to have information on Stanford Baseball emailed to you (rather than faxed) during the 2001 season, please contact Kyle McRae (firstname.lastname@example.org) in the Stanford Media Relations Office.
2001 STANFORD BASEBALL PREVIEW
STANFORD STARTS 2001 SEASON WITH YOUNG SQUAD
To say that the 2001 Stanford Cardinal baseball team will be young may be an understatement. A year after having one of the most experienced teams in the nation and arguably in school history, the Cardinal is faced with the prospect of beginning the 2001 campaign without a single senior on the club. Stanford loses six of its eight starters in the field and its top three starters on the mound from a team that came within four outs of winning the College World Series last season. Last year's squad finished with a 50-16 overall mark and grabbed a share of the Pac-10 title with a 17-7 conference record, marking the fourth straight season the Cardinal has won at least a share of a Pac-10 championship (the first time in school history). Eight of the players from last year's club signed professional contracts following the 2000 collegiate season, including a pair of first-round draft picks in All-Americans Justin Wayne (5th pick overall) and Joe Borchard (12th pick overall).
Despite the loss of those key players, 25th-year head coach Mark Marquess remains optimistic for the team's chances in 2001.
"The cupboard is not bare," says Marquess, who begins the 2001 campaign needing five victories to become the 23rd coach in the history of NCAA Division I Baseball to record 1,000 career wins and is 14th on the NCAA's career victories list for active coaches with 995.
The cupboard contains a core of experienced and talented relief pitchers combined with three returning starters on offense and a large group of talented newcomers. All three position players that return (Chris O'Riordan, .366, Arik VanZandt, .337, Andy Topham, .327) are juniors and had productive offensive seasons in 2000. Key members of the pitching staff to return are junior Jeff Bruksch (4-4, 3.16, school-record-tying 13 saves), sophomore Tim Cunningham (5-2, 3.83), junior Mike Wodnicki (4-0, 3.96) and junior Mike Gosling (2-2, 4.19, 3 SV). Newcomers who expect to make an immediate impact include six freshmen (INF Jonny Ash, INF/OF Brian Hall, RHP John Hudgins, RHP Drew Ehrlich, OF Sam Fuld, OF Carlos Quentin), a sophomore transfer from BYU (RHP Jeremy Guthrie), and a junior transfer from Sacramento City College (INF Steven Gantenbein).
"Obviously, this year's team will be young and inexperienced," admits Marquess about his club, which is still ranked #11 in Collegiate Baseball's 2001 NCAA Preseason Poll. "We've lost six starters and all three starting pitchers from last year's squad and there is a rebuilding job to do. It's probably as inexperienced as we've been in 10 or 15 years. It will be a big challenge not only for our players but also for our coaching staff."
The young 2001 Cardinal team will have big shoes to fill. Stanford enters the season having won at least a share of a Pac-10 baseball title for a school-record four consecutive years. The Cardinal has won a total of 16 Pac-10 championships (includes Six-Pac and Pac-8) and has qualified for the College World Series 12 times, coming away with national titles in 1987 and 1988 along with last year's runner-up finish.
"We will go through a lot of different lineups and a lot of different batting orders," says Marquess. "Last year at this time, I pretty much knew the first seven spots in the batting order. This year, I can't be sure on even one spot. There are just so many unknowns. The good news is I think we have some good talent. It's just a matter of us molding into a team and finding out who's going to win certain jobs."
"The players are excited because there's a lot of opportunity and a lot of competition," continues Marquess. "Yet, at the same time it will be a little more difficult to come together as a team because no one will quite know their roles. Last year, everybody kind of knew who was playing and everybody settled into their roles. This year, there are not going to be set roles at least during the first third of the season. We must realize that it's different than it's been for a number of years and we can't get frustrated with the fact that we don't have a set lineup or we're inconsistent, because we'll be young."
This year's inexperienced Cardinal squad will once again face a difficult schedule with games against six of the nation's Top 40 teams in Collegiate Baseball's 2001 NCAA Preseason Poll. The always-difficult Pac-10 features two teams ranked in the Top 10 (USC, #2, Arizona State, #6). The Cardinal also has some difficult non-league games on the slate. Stanford is scheduled to open a pair of stadiums in its first two games with a single game at Cal Poly's new Baggett Stadium to open the season on January 21. The Cardinal will then debut at home in the newly remodeled Sunken Diamond with a three-game series versus #36 Fresno State (January 26-28). February features three-game road tilts at #12 Cal State Fullerton (February 2-4) and #26 Texas (February 16-18), as well as a three-game home set versus #8 Florida State (February 9-11). The Cardinal also play Santa Clara in a three-game series (February 23-25) and host Nevada (February 27) for a single game. March opens with a pair of non-conference home series versus California (March 2-4) and USC (March 9-11) split by a single game versus Sacramento State (March 6) to be played at Raley Field, home of the Triple A Sacramento River Cats. The Cardinal begins Pac-10 action with a home series versus Washington (March 23-25) and will also host conference games against UCLA (April 6-8), Oregon State (April 12-14) and Arizona (May 11-13). The team will visit Arizona State (March 30-April 1), USC (April 20-22), California (April 27-29) and Washington State (May 18-20) in Pac-10 action. Home mid-week games are scheduled versus Saint Mary's (March 27), USF (April 17), 2000 CWS participant San Jose State (April 24), Santa Clara (May 1) and Cal Poly (May 8). The Cardinal will hit the road in the middle of the week for games at San Jose State (April 3), Nevada (April 10) and USF (May 9).
"It's obviously a very risky schedule, especially for a young team, but I think that's something our players want," says Marquess. "The players have indicated that's one of the reasons they come to Stanford. They want that challenge. I'm hoping that the schedule will mature us as a team."
Following is a position-by-position look at the 2001 Stanford Cardinal:
Once again, pitching is probably the strongest area for the Cardinal despite the loss of the starting trio of Brian Sager, Justin Wayne and Jason Young. The three combined for a 58-10 record and a 3.94 ERA over the last two seasons. Wayne (junior year) and Young (sophomore year) both earned First Team All-American status during their Cardinal careers. Wayne was also named the Pac-10's Co-Pitcher of the Year in 2000. The Cardinal has several returnees and newcomers hoping to fill the spots in the starting rotation vacated by the trio. In fact, Marquess believes his team's pitching depth is just as good as last season. All told, the Cardinal return nine of its 13 pitchers from a staff which recorded a Pac-10 best 3.95 ERA last year.
"I think we're probably a little bit better off in pitching than we are in the other parts of the team and have as much depth as we had last year," states Marquess. "We have people that have thrown some innings and have good arms. Jeff Bruksch, Mike Gosling and Mike Wodnicki will give us a good nucleus. All of our pitchers had fabulous summer seasons. I don't think there's any question about our depth. The question is do we have a Justin Wayne or a Jason Young returning and the answer is no, not a proven pitcher like those guys were coming into last year."
Three successful relievers from last season's squad, all juniors, are looking to prove themselves and are the leading candidates to move into the starting rotation.
Jeff Bruksch (4-4, 3.16 ERA, 13 SV) is the most intriguing candidate. Bruksch's 13 saves tied Stanford's single-season record last year and led the Pac-10 but Marquess thinks he is even more suited for a starter's role although he has never started a collegiate game. Bruksch did spent last summer as a starter for the Hyannis Mets of the Cape Cod League, going 5-1 with a 2.70 ERA in seven starts.
Mike Gosling (2-2, 4.19 ERA, 3 SV) is another intriguing candidate. The southpaw is arguably one of the hardest-throwing and most talented pitchers in the history of Stanford Baseball. After showing flashes of brilliance and providing a couple of brilliant performances last season, Gosling is looking for a breakout year and is considered to be a possible first-round draft choice in the 2001 June Amateur Baseball Draft. He is Stanford's all-time leader in strikeouts per nine innings (11.20) and struck out 79 batters in 58.0 innings last season (12.26 strikeouts per nine innings).
Both Bruksch and Gosling earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors in their sophomore campaigns.
The third member of the trio is junior Mike Wodnicki (4-0, 3.96 ERA). Wodnicki, who is a perfect 7-0 in his Stanford career, had a couple of excellent post-season relief performances at the end of last season against Alabama in the NCAA Regional and Louisiana-Lafayette in the College World Series.
Other pitchers who have the opportunity to seize a starting role are sophomores Tim Cunningham and Jeremy Guthrie (OR/Brigham Young/Ashland HS), as well as freshmen John Hudgins (Mission Viejo, CA/Mission Viejo HS) and Drew Ehrlich (Merced, CA/Golden Valley HS).
The left-handed Cunningham compiled a 5-2 record and a 3.83 ERA in 15 appearances last season, eight of which were starts. More impressively, Cunningham was 4-0 with a 3.13 ERA in seven Pac-10 appearances (five starts), primarily while filling in for an injured Brian Sager as the team's third starter.
The hard-throwing Guthrie has been one of the team's most impressive newcomers in the fall season. He is returning to collegiate baseball after serving a two-year Mormon Mission. Guthrie spent his freshman campaign at BYU in 1998, finishing with a 5-3 record and 6.10 ERA in 59.0 innings.
Hudgins was a highly-touted prep player last season as he earned 2000 Orange County Player of the Year honors after compiling a 10-2 record and a school-record 0.76 ERA to go with 135 strikeouts (also a school-record).
Ehrlich fits the mold of a Stanford power pitcher with a fastball in the high 80's to low 90's, complemented by a good breaking ball and change-up. He was a District and Central California Conference Player of the Year in 2000, compiling a 9-3 record with a 1.50 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 84.1 innings.
Other returnees on the staff include junior LHP Pablo Bravo (did not pitch in 2000), sophomore LHP Ryan Gloger (0-0, 22.09 ERA), junior RHP Jason Luker (3-0, 3.21 ERA), sophomore RHP Ryan McCally (1-0, 3.66 ERA), junior LHP Dan Rich (0-2, 11.37 ERA) and junior RHP J.D. Willcox (0-0, 0.00 ERA). Additional freshmen newcomers are RHP Mike O'Banion (Firebaugh, CA/San Joaquin Memorial HS) and RHP David O'Hagan (Minnetonka, MN/Breck HS).
"The strength of this year's team should be pitching," says Marquess. "With Bruksch, Gosling, Wodnicki, Cunningham and McCally, we have some guys that have pitched in big games. We'll need that. We'll have to pitch well with a young team, because I don't know how many runs we're going to score. As long as we play good solid defense and we pitch well, then we should have a chance to be in most of the games we play."
Stanford has three sophomores vying to replace the graduated Damien Alvarado, who started 128 of the Cardinal's 131 games behind the plate over the last two seasons.
Ken Tirpack emerged as the primary defensive backup to Alvarado late in the 2000 season. Tirpack appeared in eight games, primarily as a late-inning defensive replacement, but only received three at bats with one double. Still, Tirpack appears to have a slight advantage on the defensive components of the job.
Mario Garza started the only game that Alvarado did not start in 2000, appearing in a total of 17 games with three starts (two at designated hitter). The left-handed hitter is considered a dangerous offensive threat despite struggling with a .130 batting average (3-23, 2 2B, RBI) in his freshman season.
The other possibility behind the plate is Ryan Garko, who could also be used at first base and is one of the team's primary designated hitter candidates. Garko hit .143 (6-42, 2 2B, RBI) in limited action as a freshman, making 25 appearances with nine starts.
One scenario sees the Cardinal using all three players behind the plate at least early in the season and possibly even platooning with the left-handed hitting Garza playing primarily against right-handed pitching.
"Tirpack, Garza and Garko are going to be in a battle for the starting spot," says Marquess. "It may be a situation where we platoon them depending on who's hot and who's not, but they are all very capable. They all have areas where they are stronger than others, but I think we're going to be all right at the catching position. Hopefully, one of them will emerge and be the one guy that's a starter every game, but if not, I think we'll be okay. We can mix and match a little bit."
"If you generalize, Tirpack is the best overall defensive catcher of the bunch and probably Garza and Garko are not that far behind but a little bit better offensively," continues Marquess. "But, as soon as I say that, Garza and Garko have caught very well in the fall, and Tirpack has swung the bat very well."
"First base is a real mystery, " according to Marquess. "First base is going to be a new position for somebody that plays there. I think it's going to be somebody that's hitting the ball well. We've got some good athletes who can adjust to the position."
Indeed, defensive experience at first base will not be something that the Cardinal is likely to feature in 2001. There are several players that could end up playing first base. Most likely, it will end up being a bat that the Cardinal needs in the lineup that is not quite as defensively strong as another player at their primary position. First base candidates include juniors Jason VanMeetren (.190, 1 HR, 6 RBI), Arik VanZandt (.337, 4 HR, 22 RBI) and Scott Dragicevich (.136, 2B, RBI), as well as sophomores Ryan Garko and Darin Naatjes (.000, 0 HR, 0 RBI). Garko spent the 2000 campaign as a backup first baseman, while the others all spent time primarily in other positions (VanMeetren, OF, VanZandt, DH, Dragicevich, 2B).
In sharp contrast to last season, second base is the only position with a solidified starter to open the 2001 campaign after the position was about the only one up for grabs at the beginning of last year. Former walk-on Chris O'Riordan has entrenched himself as the starter and earned Stanford's Most Improved Player Award last season after leading the club in batting average during a monster sophomore season (.366, 15 2B, 4 3B, 3 HR, 34 RBI). O'Riordan battled for the starting job early last year with fellow juniors Andy Topham (.327, 10 2B, 6 HR, 33 RBI) and Scott Dragicevich before starting 46 of the final 47 games at the position. He was named honorable mention All-Pac-10 as a sophomore after also leading the Cardinal with a .398 batting average in 24 conference games. O'Riordan's first collegiate hit was a memorable 10th-inning solo homer that helped the Cardinal to an 8-6 win at Florida State.
"Chris has earned the spot after a tremendous season both offensively and defensively last year," states a confident Marquess. "Somebody's going to have to beat him out."
Topham, who will likely start at either shortstop or third base, can also play second base. Freshman Jonny Ash (Oakland, CA/Bishop O'Dowd HS) and junior Steve Gantenbein (Ione, CA/Sacramento CC/Serra HS) are newcomers who could also contribute at the position.
Juniors Andy Topham and Scott Dragicevich are candidates to take over the team's starting job at shortstop but are expected to face stiff competition from fellow juniors Arik VanZandt and Steve Gantenbein.
Topham spent the last half of the 2000 season in left field after proving to be a key bat in the lineup. He finished with a .327 batting average, while showing good power with six homers and 33 RBI in only 41 starts (50 games). He had some of the team's biggest home runs, including a couple of crucial long balls in a series at USC and his memorable grand slam home run versus Louisiana-Lafayette in the College World Series. The grand slam began a Cardinal comeback that lifted Stanford to the CWS title game. Topham is expected to land himself in the lineup somewhere even if he does not win the starting job at shortstop.
"All of the players battling to be the starter are adequate shortstops, but the person who plays is probably going to be the guy who swings the bat consistently," states Marquess. "I also may platoon a little bit. But, hopefully, somebody will just take the job and run with it like Eric Bruntlett did the last two years. I'm just not sure who it will be."
There is lots of competition for the starting third base job with either Andy Topham or Arik VanZandt, whoever does not win the starting job at shortstop, most likely competing with freshman Brian Hall (Carlsbad, NM/Carlsbad HS).
"You've got everybody from the shortstop competition, as well as Brian Hall fighting for the job at third base," confirms Marquess. "We're covered there, we just don't know who's going to win the job."
Marquess thinks third base is the most likely position to use the versatile Hall, at least in his first collegiate season. Hall, who can also play shortstop and outfield, is considered one of the team's top athletes and is expected to crack the lineup somewhere fairly early in his career. He has extensive pre-collegiate baseball experience after playing the last two summers on the USA Junior National Team comprised of the nation's top high school prospects. Hall hit over .500 in each of his final three high school seasons, capped off by a school-record .647 performance as a senior to earn NHSCA Athlete of the Year and New Mexico's Gatorade High School Player of the Year honors. Hall combined for 27 home runs and 115 RBI in his three-year prep career.
"Brian Hall is going to be a very good player for us," emphasizes Marquess.
Whoever ends up as the Cardinal's third baseman will have a difficult job in following the graduated John Gall. One of the top players in Stanford history, Gall finished his career as the Cardinal's all-time leader in hits (368), RBI (263), doubles (80) and at bats (1027). He was also among Stanford's all-time leaders in batting average (.358, 3rd), home runs (46, 3rd-T), runs scored (214, 6th) and games played (251, 2nd). In addition, Gall's numbers for hits, RBI and doubles are also career Pac-10 records. He was named First Team All-Pac-10 three times.
Stanford expects to once again be strong in the outfield despite the loss of 41 home runs and 157 RBI from Joe Borchard (Second Team All-American, First Team All-Pac-10) and Edmund Muth (First Team All-Pac-10) during the 2000 season. The Cardinal goes into the season with the strong possibility of having two freshmen starting in the outfield. Carlos Quentin (Chula Vista, CA/University of San Diego HS), one of the nation's top recruits and expected to be a big-time power hitter for the Cardinal, will compete for the starting job in left field. Sam Fuld (Durham, NH/Phillips Exeter Academy) is considered to be one of the best defensive outfielders the Cardinal has recruited in many years and is expected to begin his career as the team's starter in center field. Quentin was named the 2000 Western League Player of the Year, while Fuld garnered New Hampshire's 2000 Gatorade High School Player of the Year honors. "We expect both Carlos Quentin and Sam Fuld to be excellent players at Stanford," says Marquess.
Sophomore Jason Cooper, the team's highest-profile newcomer last season, has the inside track on the starting position in right field. Cooper, a second round draft pick in 1999 and the highest player drafted not to sign a professional baseball contract that year, struggled in his first collegiate season as he hit .189 with 32 strikeouts in 74 at bats. Marquess thinks a year of collegiate experience and a good season in the Cape Cod League last summer will make Cooper a much better hitter in 2001.
"Jason Cooper has tremendous power, probably more power than anybody on our team last year," says Marquess.
Two other players could put themselves in the outfield mix. Junior Jason VanMeetren (.190, 3 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI), a fourth-round draft pick by Houston in the 1998 June Amateur Baseball Draft and the team's starting left fielder in the 2000 season opener, could compete for any of the three starting positions. VanMeetren, who also may be the team's starter at first base, has struggled the past two seasons partially due to an elbow injury suffered early in his freshman season. Sophomore Darin Naatjes may get a shot at a starting job in the outfield. Naatjes, also a tight end on the Cardinal football team, had just one at bat last season as a rookie but is considered a formidable talent on the diamond.
"Defensively in the outfield, we might be a little bit better than we were last year," says Marquess. "It is not as much of an adjustment defensively for a freshman as it is offensively. We're just not sure what we're going to get offensively out of the outfield."
A wide array of possibilities exist at the designated hitter spot with the most likely scenario seeing many different players being used in the position depending upon how they are hitting at the time.
"The designated hitter spot will be the next best bat that I don't put at a position," states Marquess. "I've got a lot of flexibility with the DH."