Feb. 13, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. -
Mark Marquess arrived on The Farm in 1965 as a two-sport athlete in baseball and football. Nearly four decades and 1,463 wins later as the Stanford baseball head coach, Marquess will direct the Cardinal into the 2013 baseball campaign with the same starting goal as any other season.
The Cardinal won back-to-back College World Series crowns in 1987 and 1988, and enters this season as a consensus preseason top-10 unit.
"We have a good offensive team, and that's critical to our success," the Clark and Elizabeth Nelson Director of Baseball said. "We'll be able to score some runs, it's just a matter of how many you'll give up. When it's all said and done, the game is about pitching. You need to have pitching if we're going to go as far as we'd like.
"Our players know that if you take care of business during the regular season, you get to host all the way to Omaha. If we have to go on the road during the postseason, the experience of our players who have been there before will help our team adjust to those situations."
It's fitting that while this season commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Cardinal's last title, Stanford will lean heavily on its No. 26. And that No. 26 is senior RHP Mark Appel.
Appel, the 2012 NCBWA Pitcher of the Year, was selected eighth overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2012 MLB Draft but chose to return to The Farm for his senior season.
Marquess will sleep well on Thursday nights knowing the team is in good hands with Appel as its Friday starter. Appel went 10-2 with a 2.56 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 123.0 innings as a junior.
"It's nice to have a pitcher of Mark's ability come back to school," Marquess said. "We know we're going to get a good pitching performance out of him on Friday nights."
While Appel's return is quite favorable for the Cardinal, the Stanford staff will still be tasked to fill the void left by 3B/LF Stephen Piscotty
, SS Kenny Diekroeger
, CF Jake Stewart
, C Eric Smith
, LHP Brett Mooneyham
and LF Tyler Gaffney
, each of whom signed professional contracts after the 2012 season.
"If all of our returning players are better, we're going to be good," associate head coach Dean Stotz said. Stotz has been Marquess' top lieutenant for the last 36 seasons.
"But will we be better? This team has so many new parts, it will take us a while to figure out how they will act and react together."
Flanking Appel on the bump will be sophomore LHP John Hochstatter, who went 3-3 as a freshman with a 4.53 ERA over 12 games including nine starts. Hochstatter caught fire and went 3-0 in his first three starting cameos, and the Cardinal could see another freshman emerge this season to help fulfill its weekend rotation.
First-year hurlers RHP Freddy Avis, RHP Marcus Brakeman, LHP Logan James, RHP Daniel Starwalt and RHP Andrew McCormack provide a reliable quintet of options.
While Hochstatter excels with changing speeds and had a good offseason, the flamethrower Avis' adjustment to the college game will provide an early-season boost. Starwalt has shown good command with his curve and slider while continuing to develop his changeup.
Appel has been instrumental in the mentoring of the young corps, more by example than with the spoken word.
"Mark doesn't have to say anything," Stotz said. "The younger pitchers just have to watch him and his work ethic to know what it takes."
Toss in the likes of junior RHP A.J. Vanegas, who is expected to slide into the closer role later this season, along with a host of returning veterans and the Cardinal could see itself in position to win a number of games.
Senior RHP Dean McArdle will provide service with his four-pitch repertoire while senior RHP Sahil Bloom and sophomore RHP David Schmidt are reliable sinkerballers in relief.
Filling the gaps in the middle of the diamond will provide another healthy challenge, as the team is in the unique position of replacing its catcher, middle infield and centerfield spots.
"Jonny Locher will start in centerfield for us to begin the season," Marquess said. "He can really go get it."
Locher, a freshman, will be pushed by classmate Zach Hoffpauir. Hoffpauir continues the rich Stanford tradition of fielding a two-sport athlete on the roster, as he comes off a fall season in which he helped lead the Cardinal to the 2013 Rose Bowl title as a backup strong safety.
Sophomore Austin Slater has the ability to put up huge numbers and has come a long way offensively during the offseason. Switch-hitter Dominic Jose, a sophomore with a number of power tools, will play leftfield.
Though he looks like a Cardinal tight end and has the physical abilities of a strong forward, preseason All-American Austin Wilson will anchor right field.
"Wilson will be the centerpiece of the lineup," Marquess said. "There's nothing he can't do. He can hit the ball out of the world, and we'll have some protection around him in the order. Pitchers will have to pitch to him."
Wilson, a junior who many consider possesses more plate power than any player in Cardinal history, will be joined in the middle of the lineup by preseason All-American Brian Ragira. The quick-handed Ragira will begin the season at first base after wearing out the gaps with a team-best .329 average in 2012.
Expect more power numbers out of Ragira, who had 15 doubles and five home runs with a .448 slugging clip last season as a sophomore. One of the team's go-to leaders, Ragira has the ability to defuse complications with his efforts and instincts in the field.
Junior Danny Diekroeger, who has matured into a good fielder and considered by the staff to be a hitter's hitter, has taken over duties at second base to solidify the infield. Junior Brett Michael Doran has an extraordinary glove and can execute anything asked of him at the dish.
Overcoming injuries to return to the field is sure-handed junior Lonnie Kauppila. Kauppila often makes impossible plays look routine and posted a .920 fielding pct. in 2012 before sitting out the final two months of the campaign after starting 28 games at shortstop.
Freshman Drew Jackson has impressed the staff with his athleticism and speed. A constant threat on the bases, Jackson could develop into a star in a long-range program with his combination of quickness and arm strength.
Sophomore Alex Blandino will keep things cool at the hot corner after hitting .294 with a .523 slugging pct. in 2012. Blandino is one of the team's best breaking ball hitters with a swing that generates a tremendous amount of force.
Behind the dish will be sophomore Wayne Taylor, junior Brant Whiting, sophomore Luke Pappas and freshman Austin Barr. Taylor will start the season with a long leash and has all the mental and physical tools to manage the game and keep the other half of the batter steady.
Whiting is easy to throw to and is perhaps the best defender of the trio, with Barr's simple approach to hitting paving the way for a few at-bats this season.
"He doesn't work hard to hit, which is a symbol of a good hitter," Stotz said of Barr.
Stanford will get to see how well the puzzles pieces come together this weekend with a three-game series at No. 17 Rice. Friday's first pitch is slated for 2:30 p.m. (PT).