Jan. 28, 2007
There is no doubt the Stanford Baseball team will be looking for its identity early in the 2007 campaign. This year's talented Stanford squad is young but not necessarily inexperienced. Stanford has only one senior on the club but features eight position players that have started at least 20 games in a season. Seven pitchers from last year's staff also return, including two that were in the starting rotation at the end of the 2006 campaign when the Cardinal made an impressive run that left the team just two wins shy of its first College World Series appearance since 2003.
But most of the big names from 2006 have moved on. Seven players from a year ago were selected in the 2006 MLB Draft First-Year Player Draft and have since signed professional baseball contracts, including ace pitcher Greg Reynolds who was the second overall pick of the draft by the Colorado Rockies. The popular 2006 senior class of John Hester, Chris Lewis, Matt Manship and Chris Minaker are also now profes-sional players as are Blake Holler and Jim Rapoport.
So a fair question to ask is who are these guys that remain.
Michael Taylor made a 2007 Preseason All-American Baseball America squad that is largely influenced by professional scouts but was not honored by any other publications. No player on Stanford's roster has ever earned All-Pac-10 honors with only Taylor and Adam Sorgi, who missed the entire 2006 season due to injury, even picking up honorable mention recognition from the conference.
"It's true that we don't have an all-conference player returning," admitted Mark Marquess, who is in his 31st season as Stanford's head coach in 2007 and ranks sixth among active Division I coaches in career wins as well as 12th on the all-time list. "Sure it is a concern that we are so young, but I think we do have a lot of talent that just needs to prove itself."
Stanford heads into the 2007 season ranked No. 23 by Collegiate Baseball and No. 24 by the NCBWA, while checking in at No. 31 in Baseball America's Preseason Top 50.
Junior Michael Taylor is definitely one of the talented players that is looking for a breakout season. In addition to being recognized on Baseball America's Preseason All-American squad (Third Team) for the second straight year, the team's starting rightfielder is also Stanford's lone repre-sentative on the Wallace Award Watch List that tracks players in consideration for the honor given annually to college baseball's top player. Taylor has put up a pair of good seasons in his first two years with the Cardinal and has shown flashes of the talent and potential that will likely make him a first round pick in the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft. His career numbers are good enough to make him Stanford's active career leader in nearly every offensive category, including batting average (.307) among players with enough official at bats to qualify, home runs (9) and RBI (67). He has also been durable, playing in 118 of 119 possible games over the first two years of his career. He will head into the 2007 season with a string of 116 consecutive starts - the longest run by any current Stanford player. Taylor has been clutch as well, hitting .425 in nine career post-season games. He arguably played some of his best baseball to date during Stanford's late 2006 run when he belted four of his five homers over the team's final 13 contests and hit safely in 18 of the last 20 with a career-best nine-game hit streak included in the run. He finished the 2006 sea-son with a .325 batting average, five homers, 39 RBI and two stolen bases after hitting .289 with four homers, 28 RBI and nine stolen bases in a 2005 freshman campaign that included Stanford's first cycle since 1998.
The return of junior Adam Sorgi is also expected to be a big boost for this year's team. Sorgi led the 2005 Cardinal in batting average (.322), hits (77) and triples (5), while stroking five homers, driving in 41 runs and stealing three bases on his way to honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors but was forced to miss all of last season with an injury. This year, he is healthy and expected to replace three-year starter Chris Minaker at shortstop.
Ryan Seawell could also be another key to the club's success in 2007. Seawell, the only senior on the squad, emerged as the team's starting centerfielder and leadoff hitter last year and ended up hitting .313 with two triples and 14 RBI. He also showed his speed tool by sharing the team lead in both triples (3) and stolen bases (5) despite starting just 40 of the 56 games he played in. In addition, he proved his ability to get on base with a .417 on-base percentage that was second among regular Cardinal starters and included 16 hit by pitches to rank third in the Pac-10 and tied for fifth on Stanford's all-time single-season list. He is also arguably Stanford's best defensive outfielder and is expected to return as the starter in center field and at the top of the lineup.
Stanford's final returning upperclassman starter is junior Randy Molina, who took over as the team's starter at third base last year and will make another run at the job this season after hitting .308 with 10 RBI in 46 games and 32 starts in 2006. He also led the club with 25 walks and had a .425 on-base percentage that was the highest among regular starters.
Five other second-year players picked up significant starting experience as freshmen last year.
Jason Castro led all of the 2006 rookies with 40 starts and is penciled in as the team's first baseman on opening day after making 37 of his starts at the position a year ago. As an athletic and promising freshman, Castro hit .283 with three homers and 19 RBI in addition to being one of the team leaders with five stolen bases. He was also superb defensively, making just three errors in 443 chances for a stellar .993 fielding percentage. In addition, Castro was much better in the second half of the season offensively with a .319 batting average following the team's annual March break for finals after hitting just .196 in the first half of the campaign.
Grant Escue made the most of his starting opportunity late in the season when he hit .422 with eight RBI while starting 10 games at designated hit-ter, including four of five in the postseason. He is expected to battle again for the role in 2007 and can also play first base.
Joey August spent much of the 2006 campaign as the team's starter in left field and is a top candidate to win the job again in 2007 after hitting a respectable .273 with a homer, six RBI and two stolen bases in a rookie season in which he played in 42 games with 29 starts.
Although Brent Milleville (.198, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 2 SB) didn't put up big numbers in his 47 games and 20 starts last season, the powerful righthanded hitter figures to be a much bigger part of the team's offense in 2007. Milleville is also versatile defensively and could see playing time behind the dish, at first base, as a corner outfielder or at designated hitter.
Cord Phelps (.196, 10 RBI) also had a rough go offensively for the Cardinal as a freshman in 2006 but picked up valuable experience in 38 games played and 28 starts (16 at second base, 12 at third base). He missed the 2006 fall season due to injury but is healthy and ready to go for the 2007 campaign.
In addition to Sorgi taking over for Minaker at shortstop, the Cardinal also needs to find a new starter at second base to replace Chris Lewis and one at catcher to take over for John Hester.
Sophomore Austin Yount has the inside track to take the job at second base after an impressive fall. Yount, who is also a key member of the team's pitching staff, started off his 2006 freshman season hot both at the plate and on the mound. He had three hits in his first five at bats and became the first player to both homer and pick up a win on the mound in the same year since 1993 when he did both in the first series of the season against Cal State Fullerton. But, Yount finished the campaign with just two hits in his final 31 at bats for a .139 season average while seeing most of his action on the mound.
Junior Brian Juhl should be the starter behind the dish after waiting in the wings behind Hester for two seasons. Juhl got a brief taste of the starting role in 2006 when he filled in for seven starts while Hester was out of the lineup with a knee infection from May 5-14. He finished the season with a .217 batting average, his first career homer and three RBI. Juhl is also an excellent defensive catcher and should be a dangerous switch-hitter when he becomes the team's regular starter.
Other position player returnees from last year include Stephen Brown (So., INF/OF, .000, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB), Matt Cano (Jr., INF/OF, .000, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB), Brendan Domaracki (Jr., OF, .267, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 0 SB), J.J. Jelmini (So., INF, .182, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB), Sean Ratliff (So., LHP/OF, .000, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB) and Jeff Whitlow (So., OF, .000, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB). Brown (3B), Domaracki (LF), Jelmini (2B/3B) and Ratliff (LF) are all looking to make legitimate runs at starting jobs in 2007.
The incoming freshmen position players are Kirk Erickson (C, Santa Rosa, Calif./Santa Rosa HS), Adam Gaylord (INF, La Mirada, Calif./La Mirada HS), Toby Gerhart (OF, Norco, Calif./Norco HS), Min (Brian) Moon (INF/OF, Glendale, Calif./Hoover HS), Wande Olabisi (OF, Houston, Texas/St. Stephens Episcopal School) and Steven Swinford (1B, Lake Oswego, OR/Lakeridge HS).
Stanford should have lots of depth on the mound this season with two of the three pitchers that finished the 2006 campaign in the starting rotation in junior righthander Nolan Gallagher and sophomore lefty Jeremy Bleich leading the group of returnees. But for the second straight year, the Cardinal will need to replace its ace after Greg Reynolds (7-6, 3.31 ERA, 127.2 IP, 108 SO, 18 starts) moved onto the professional ranks following his selection as the second overall pick in the 2006 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Stanford also loses three other pitchers - Matt Manship (2-6, 5.51 ERA, 67.0 IP, 50 SO, 12 starts), Matt Leva (2-1, 4.43 ERA, 40.2 IP, 28 SO, nine starts) and Blake Holler (1-0, 8.86 ERA, 21.1 IP, 18 SO, one start) - that combined with Reynolds to start 40 of the team's 60 games a year ago.
Gallagher and Bleich are expected to battle for the job of replacing Reynolds as the team's top starter.
Bleich's seven starts in 2006 are the most of any returning Stanford pitcher. He was 4-4 with a 4.05 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 60.0 innings pitched a year ago, while appearing in a team-high 24 contests and also recording a club-best seven saves (#4T Pac-10) before he was moved into the rotation in mid-April. The lefty runs his fastball into the low 90's with excellent movement and is especially tough on lefthanded hit-ters. He has the potential to be one of the top pitchers in the Pac-10.
Gallagher came on at the end of the 2006 campaign and moved into the rotation for the team's final Pac-10 series of the year at UCLA, where he responded with the first complete game of his career. Gallagher's performance against the Bruins earned him the role as the team's No. 2 starter for the postseason, where he came up with a victory over Texas in a winners' bracket game at the NCAA Austin Regional and was selected to start the second game of the NCAA Corvallis Super Regional against eventual CWS champion Oregon State. He finished the 2006 season with a 5-5 record and a 3.99 ERA, striking out 51 batters over 65.1 innings, 22 appearances and six starts. Gallagher is also Stanford's active career leader in nearly every pitching category including wins (7), ERA (3.51), innings pitched (120.1) and strikeouts (111).
The next three pitchers with an inside track to earn a spot in the rotation look to be a trio of righties in junior Erik Davis, sophomore Max Fearnow and freshman Jeffrey Inman.
Davis pitched well at the end of the 2006 campaign primarily out of the bullpen. He finished the season with a 1-1 record and four saves while recording a 4.91 ERA and striking out 22 batters in 33.0 innings over 22 appearances and one start. Davis picked up two of his four saves in back-to-back games against Texas and North Carolina State to secure the NCAA Austin Regional. Even more significantly, he has recovered from a scary injury suffered in a Cape Cod Baseball League game in June of 2006 when he was hit in the face by a line drive that caused him to miss the remainder of the CCBL season and have a pair of surgeries to repair the damage.
Fearnow was one of the most improved pitchers on the staff during the fall of 2006 and is primed to make a run at the starting rotation. He was 2-0 with a 5.91 ERA in 2006, striking out 19 in 21.1 innings and 16 appearances with two starts.
Inman (Bakersfield, Calif./Garces Memorial HS) is an impressive freshman that has enough potential to make the rotation. Inman, who was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 19th round of the 2006 MLB First-Year Player Draft but did not sign a professional baseball contract, arguably had the best 2006 fall season of any pitcher on the staff. He has excellent stuff and command with the ability to throw three pitches for a strike, including a fastball that gets into the low 90's.
Sophomore lefty Sean Ratliff (2-0, 6.75 ERA, 28.0 IP, 30 SO), junior righthander David Stringer (3-4, 4.34 ERA, 1 SV, 47.2 IP, 47 SO) and sophomore righty Austin Yount (4-0, 2.84 ERA, 1 SV, 25.1 IP, 15 SO) also return from last year's staff. Ratliff and Yount are both two-way players making runs for starting spots in left field and at second base, respectively.
Ratliff led the club with a 9.64 strikeout per nine innings average last year that is the eighth-best all-time season in that category on The Farm.
Stringer was in the rotation briefly in 2006 and should be a valuable arm out of the bullpen if he doesn't get another crack at becoming a starter again.
Yount played a key role in the bullpen for the Cardinal last year and recorded the lowest ERA on the club.
Sophomore southpaws Blake Hancock and Tom Stilson, as well as junior righthander Rex Petrill are still looking for their first collegiate action on the mound. Hancock and Stilson are both coming off injuries that forced them to miss all of the 2006 season.
Other incoming freshmen pitchers include righthanders Cory Bannister (Paradise Valley, Calif./Chaparral HS), Andrew Clauson (Yakima, WA/A.C. Davis HS), Will Krasne (Washington, DC/St. Albans School), Kyle Thompson (Northridge, Calif./Chaminade College Prep) and Brandt Walker (Austin, Texas/St. Stephens Episcopal School). Walker was a 21st round draft pick of the Texas Rangers in the 2006 MLB First-Year Player Draft but did not sign a professional baseball contract.
Stanford's schedule is once again familiar and very difficult. The Cardinal, ranked No. 23 by Collegiate Baseball, No. 24 by the NCBWA and No. 31 by Baseball America in 2007 preseason polls, has 25 games slated against eight teams (Arizona, Arizona State, Cal State Fullerton, Oregon State, San Francisco, Texas, UCLA, USC) that are also ranked by at least one of the preseason polls. Defending College World Series and Pac-10 champion Oregon State highlights the schedule with a visit to Sunken Diamond for a three-game series April 27-29.
"The benefits of playing a tough schedule like we do is that it tells you where you need to be in order to be competitive at the national level," said head coach Mark Marquess. "If you have a weakness, it's usually magnified."
The Cardinal opens its 2007 campaign with a visit to another 2006 CWS participant with a three-game set February 2-4 at Cal State Fullerton.
Stanford begins its home slate of games February 9-11 with a three-game series versus Fresno State at Sunken Diamond before hosting an exhibition contest against Rikkyo University of Japan on February 13.
Stanford travels for a three-game series against 2005 CWS champ Texas from February 16-18. The Cardinal knocked off the Longhorns the last time the clubs met by shocking the defending national champions in a winners' bracket game on the way to winning the 2006 NCAA Austin Regional.
After its visit to the Lone Star state, the schedule will keep the Cardinal home for 11 of its next 12 contests beginning with an early-season midweek game against San Francisco on February 20. Stanford then welcomes Kansas to Sunken Diamond for a three-game series (February 23-25) before hosting Pac-10 and Bay Area rival California for three non-conference contests March 2-4. Stanford will head a few miles down the road for a non-conference game at Santa Clara (March 6) before USC comes to town for a three-game non-conference series (March 9-11) that will complete the team's schedule prior to its annual mid-March break for finals.
The Cardinal's 12-day break will end with a two-game home-and-home set against Sacramento State with the Cardinal hosting the Hornets in the March 24 opener before traveling to the Capital City the following day.
Stanford will make its final preparations for Pac-10 play with a non-conference game at San Jose State on March 27.
The team's eight three-game Pac-10 series begin March 30 - April 1 with a home set versus UCLA, while the squad's first Pac-10 road se-ries is at Arizona State from April 5-7. The remainder of the club's Pac-10 series will also rotate between home and away with additional con-ference series at Sunken Diamond slated against Arizona (April 13-15), Oregon State (April 27-29) and Washington (May 11-13). Stanford's other Pac-10 road trips take the club to California (April 20-22), Washington State (May 5-7) and USC (May 25-27).
Stanford is also scheduled to play a non-conference series May 18-20 against Pacific, hosting the Tigers in the opener and finale with a bus ride to Stockton planned for the middle game. The May 18 contest will serve as the annual Town & Country Village Fireworks Night with Fan Appreciation planned for May 20.
The Cardinal will fill out its roster of regular season games with six more non-conference midweek contests during the midst of its Pac-10 schedule. Stanford will travel to Nevada (April 10) and Santa Clara (May 15), while hosting Santa Clara (April 17, May 1), San Jose State (April 24) and UC Davis (May 22, Senior Night).
Stanford is hoping to extend its school record string of consecutive appearances in the NCAA Championship to 14. The 64-team NCAA field will be announced on May 28 - one day after the end of the regular season. The postseason event begins with Regional action at 16 sites around the nation June 1-4. The winners of the 16 Regionals will advance to Super Regional competition June 8-11 at eight locations with each of those winners moving on to the 61st College World Series in Omaha from June 15-25. The ESPN network will televise every Super Regional and College World Series game for the fourth consecutive season, as well as selected Regional contests.