Stanford 1998 Baseball Outlook
Stanford enters the 1998 season in familiar fashion - No. 1 in the nation in Baseball America's preseason poll. The top ranking is the Cardinal's third such in the preseason in the last four years (1995, 1997, 1998).
But, most importantly, Stanford is looking to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the last time it was ranked No. 1 at the end of the season. And with 12 lettermen back from a squad that tied for third at the College World Series in 1997, the Cardinal is one of the favorites to dethrone two-time national champion LSU.
"We have a great nucleus coming back," Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. "We have a veteran team, and our strength is three junior starting pitchers (Jeff Austin, Brent Hoard and Chad Hutchinson) and a junior closer (Tony Cogan). This is our strength, yet we lost our top pitcher from last year (Kyle Peterson). I don't know if we really can replace him, but the cupboard is far from bare. Our position players are also a solid blend of experience and youth. We've probably never had a team this deep. We're fortunate to have the depth, but we'll need it next year because we will lose a lot of players."
"Our expectation level will be very high, but I've done this long enough to know that things don't always work out the way you hope. We have the talent in place to have a good season. But injuries can always play a factor, and we're up against our toughest schedule ever."
The Cardinal returns six position starters who hit over .300 last season, including Pac-10 All-Southern Division selections Jody Gerut and Edmund Muth. This is in addition to the three above mentioned starting pitchers and closer.
But as the Cardinal has improved, so has the opposition. Stanford will get a taste of the tough schedule early with 14 of its first 20 games away from Sunken Diamond, including three-game sets at traditional powers Fresno State, Texas, UCLA and Arizona State.
"We'll need our experience to weather that early season schedule. Our tough nonconference schedule will help prepare us for the Six-Pac. But on the flip side we will lose some games early even if we are playing well. Because of the schedule we may not have as many wins as we like early on, but there's no substitute for this kind of competition.
"The Six-Pac was as strong last year as it's ever been, and there is no drop off this season. This is after having two teams qualify for the CWS (Stanford and UCLA), and two others making the regional finals (Arizona State and USC). Arizona State is in the same mode we are with the bulk of their team back and good starting pitching. USC has a talented group of hitters and pitchers, and UCLA also has a lot of good hitters back along with a lot of talented freshmen. Arizona is a sleeper because they are a veteran team, and those type of teams traditionally do well in this conference. Cal played with a young team last year, and should be solid this season."
Here is a position-by-position look at the 1998 Stanford Cardinal:
With the No. 1 starter on the 1997 U.S. National Team (Jeff Austin), 1997 Cape Cod League Pitcher of the Year (Brent Hoard) and one of the projected top picks in the 1998 June Amateur Draft (Chad Hutchinson) back in the mix, the Stanford starting rotation looks to be in good hands. The only question is who will start when?
"To be honest our Friday starter could be either Austin, Hoard or Hutchinson. Hutchinson has had more time to rest after this football season, but he might not be the Friday starter for the first three or four weeks. But obviously he has the ability and experience to fill that role. Austin pitched great at the end of last year, and was one of the top pitchers for the national team over the summer. Hoard had a great summer, and was Pitcher of the Year in the Cape Cod League."
Those three pitchers combined to go 22-10 in 1997, while rotating through the No. 2 and 3 spots in the rotation behind All-American Kyle Peterson (1st round draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers). Austin, who spent the second half of the season in the bullpen, finished 5-2 with a 4.14 ERA and four saves en route to College World Series All-Tournament honors. Hoard replaced Austin in the rotation and was an impressive 9-4 with a 5.75 ERA, including a key performance against Santa Clara in the NCAA West Regional. Hutchinson was 8-4 with a 5.76 ERA including the Six-Pac title clinching win at UCLA and complete game four-hitter against Texas A&M at the West Regional. Hutchinson, who struck out 114 in 106.1 innings in 1997, is the latest in a long line of Stanford baseball-football stars that includes Toi Cook, John Elway, Brian Johnson, John Lynch and Mark Marquess.
The bullpen is anchored by durable junior left-hander Tony Cogan, who set a school record with 36 appearances in 1997. The Cardinal closer finished the season 7-4 with a 3.63 ERA and four saves. Cogan is joined in the pen by senior lefty Josh Koons, who was 4-3 with a 4.31 ERA and 22 appearances last season, while rotating between long relief and set-up duties. Koons will also likely see some starts in Tuesday contests.
"Probably where we've helped ourselves the most this year is with pitching depth. We were not strong in that area last year. We brought in quite a few freshman pitchers, so injuries will not leave us as shorthanded as we were last season. We have four freshmen capable of pitching a lot of innings this season. Those guys are going to push our veterans, but there's not a lot of pressure on them right away."
That group of Austin Coose (Kokomo, Indiana), Brad Drew (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada), Justin Wayne (Honolulu, Hawaii) and Jason Young (Berkeley, California) will join returners Justin Dunning, Brian Fearnow and Geoff Linville in competing for the remaining innings.
The starting job belongs to junior John Salter, after Jon Schaeffer signed with the Minnesota Twins following a 20-homer season. Salter has appeared in 45 games in two seasons, mostly in a reserve role, and has provided the Cardinal with right-handed power off the bench. He is also coming off an outstanding summer for National Baseball Congress World Series Champion Alaska Mat-Su Miners, where he earned NBC All-Tournament honors.
"John has worked hard for the last two years, and has improved defensively. He is a big offensive threat, who also handles pitchers very well. He's obviously caught many of our pitchers a lot in the bullpen and knows our system and what (pitching) coach (Tom) Dunton expects."
Sophomore Damien Alvarado will back up Salter, while freshmen Mickey Kammeyer (Sacramento, California) and Garth Warren (Torrington, Wyoming) will also compete for time.
Sophomore John Gall established himself as one of the Cardinal's top hitters in 1997, and will not get a chance to show what he can do defensively. Gall earned Freshman All-American honors while hitting .376 out of the designated hitter slot, and will fill the void at first base created by the graduation of Luke Quaccia. Gall had a team-high 97 hits last season, and also added eight homers and 59 RBI.
"John has more range defensively than Luke, though he's not as tall and lanky. He does a good job of picking the ball out of the dirt, and is very athletic. He is also very gifted offensively. I'd be surprised if he doesn't hit over .300, and add a little bit more power."
Behind Gall are sophomores Jeff Rizzo, Joe Savig and Craig Thompson.
Stanford's biggest surprise in 1997 - Tony Schrager - has the position all to himself. Schrager hit just .247 as a freshman at Yale, but immediately thrived after transferring to The Farm. The Nebraska native hit .289 for the Cardinal in 46 games, and also provided a big lift defensively.
"We didn't know much about Tony going into last season, but he turned out to be a real pleasant surprise. He can turn the double play, and hit for average and a little power - there's not much he can;t do. We've really come to appreciate his talents."
Sophomores John Barneson and Eric Bruntlett will provided needed depth up the middle at both second base and shortstop.
Senior Jay Pecci, who walked-on to the team as an unheralded freshman, now finds himself in his second season as a full-time starter. Pecci came alive offensively last season by hitting .320, including a 10-for-17 (.588) effort at the College World Series. With outstanding range and a strong arm, the 5-foot-11 Pecci has developed into one of the top defensive shortstops in the nation.
"I don't know how you can find a better story than Jay's. I didn't know who Jay Pecci was in the fall of his freshman year, and now he's a starter. It proves that you don't have to be recruited to earn a spot on a team. And it shows, as far as our program is concerned, that if you continue to work hard you will get a chance to play."
The Cardinal will look to starting third baseman Josh Hochgesang for power, after the junior overcame a slow start to have a breakout season in 1997. Hochgesang was hitting just .200 with one homer and five RBI through the Cardinal's first 13 games, but came on to hit .365 with 17 homers and a team-high 77 RBI. He also earned West Regional Most Valuable Player Honors after hitting .500 (8-for-16) with two homers and seven RBI.
"Josh is coming off a great year. Josh and Jon (Schaeffer) carried us in the second half of the season. His bat will again be a key for us this year. Defensively, he's a solid third baseman who can also play shortstop."
Hochgesang will be backed up at the hot corner by sophomore Jeff Rizzo.
Returning All-Pac-10 selections Jody Gerut and Edmund Muth will start in center and left field, respectively, while sophomore Nick Day is ticketed to start in right.
Gerut, a junior, has started in all 125 games the past two seasons. He hit .305 with nine homers and 63 RBI, in addition to his spectacular play in center. Muth broke into the starting lineup in mid-February, and never looked back en route to hitting a team-high .388 with nine homers and 46 RBI. He was also named the MVP of the Cape Cod League All-Star Game over the summer. Day appeared in 33 games, including five starts last season.
"Jody is as good a center fielder as there is collegiate baseball, and has been the past two years. He is as good a defensive outfielder we've had, including Jeffrey Hammonds. He's not the quickest we've had, but he gets a great jump on the ball. Edmund had a great year for us, and is coming off a solid summer. He will hit for average for us once again, but it's more difficult to have that kind of year when you won't surprise anybody. Nick has really progressed, and he would have played more if Chris Clark did not have a career year. He's not far behind Gerut defensively, and has the best arm of this group."
Sophomores Stephen Chan and Chris Collins and freshman Joe Borchard (Camarillo, California) will also compete for time.
The starting designated hitter slot will be filled by one of two sophomore reserve infielders - Jeff Rizzo or Craig Thompson. Rizzo appeared in 20 games in 97, while Thompson played in 11.
"Both Craig and Jeff are dangerous offensively. They will push each other for time at DH."
Lettermen Returning/Lost 12/4
Position Starters Returning/Lost 5/4
Pitchers Returning/Lost 9/2
RHP Jeff Austin, LHP Tony Cogan, 1B/DH John Gall, CF Jody Gerut,
LHP Brent Hoard, 3B Josh Hochgesang, RHP Chad Hutchinson,
LHP Josh Koons, LF/RF Edmund Muth, SS Jay Pecci, C John Salter,
2B Tony Schrager
LF Chris Clark, 2B/OF Joe Kilburg, RHP Kyle Peterson, 1B Luke Quaccia,
C Jon Schaeffer
OF Joe Borchard, LHP Brad Drew, RHP Justin Wayne, RHP Jason Young
Seniors (2), Juniors (10), Sophomores (13), Freshmen (11)
California (19), Indiana (3), Texas (3), Illinois (2),
Nebraska (2), Washington (2), Canada (1), Hawaii (1),
Pennsylvania (1), Nevada (1), Wyoming (1)