2002 Baseball Outlook
Jan. 29, 2002
The 2002 season for the USC baseball program will represent a time for transition, but not necessarily a rebuilding period.
The Trojans will try to pick up the slack for the loss of two standout starting pitchers in 2001 National Player of the Year Mark Prior (15-1, 1.69 ERA, 138 2/3 IP, 100 H, 18 BB, 202 SO) and two-time All-American Rik Currier (12-3, 2.59 ERA, 118 IP, 112 H, 40 BB, 120 SO). Also the Trojans will not have four-year starter shortstop Seth Davidson (.323, 2 HR, 26 RBI, 14 SB), USC's career recordholder in hits and steals.
'The players who we are losing made a dramatic impact on our program,' said 16th-year head coach Mike Gillespie. 'Our returning and new players will have to step in and accept the role of being successful from the start.'
Another transition will be the renovation of Dedeaux Field. A $4 million project will be completed in March, adding a new clubhouse and players' lounge on the first base side. New offices for the coaching staff and an expanded Hall of Fame will also be part of the renovation, along with new stadium seating, restrooms and a larger seating concourse.
The Trojans, 45-19 overall in 2001, are coming off back-to-back College World Series appearances for the first time since 1973 and 1974. Thanks to an 18-6 conference record, the Trojans also secured their fourth Pac-10 title under Gillespie and first since 1996. At Dedeaux Field, USC went 3-0 during the NCAA Regional by defeating Oral Roberts, Pepperdine and Fresno State and swept Florida International in the NCAA Super Regional.
Despite the loss of some key players, the Trojans will begin the 2002 season as the consensus No. 4 team in preseason polls. One of the reasons for the high ranking is the top recruiting class in the nation, according to Collegiate Baseball. However, the team was hit with a slew of injuries during the fall season which shortened the practice time for several players.
'I am worried about the high expectations,' said Gillespie. 'The injuries have me concerned because it forces some of our freshmen to play before they are ready to do it. We had a ridiculous fall in terms of injuries. You just have to deal with it.'
It may take some time to revamp the defense, but offensively the Trojans should see more production throughout the lineup. For the first time in a number of years, Gillespie will have a lot of options when it comes to generating a starting lineup.
Senior outfielder Brian Barre (.345, 13 HR, 48 RBI, 20 SB) earned All-Pac-10 honors last year after leading the Trojans in every major offensive category. He went 6-for-13 (.462) at the College World Series with a home run, two RBI and two stolen bases. He also was named to the NCAA All-Regional Team after going 5-for-11 (.455). He led the team with a .394 average (13-for-33) in the Trojans' eight postseason games. Barre can use his speed defensively and can hit for average or power at the plate.
'Brian will be looked upon to contribute greatly to this team,' said Gillespie. 'He lends valuable leadership and experience to the younger players. He should be one of the top players in the nation.'
Four starters return to the infield in junior catcher Alberto Concepcion (.321-7-41), senior first baseman Bill Peavey (.307-7-48) and junior second baseman Anthony Lunetta (.305-5-38) and sophomore Michael Moon (.313-6-35).
Concepcion was a second round draft choice out of high school and showed in the latter part of last season his strengths both offensively and defensively. He earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors and should be a force in the heart of the Trojans' lineup.
Peavey showed his power potential with a two-homer game against Georgia at last year's College World Series. He is one of the top leaders in the clubhouse, but will be asked to produce bigger numbers this season.
Lunetta will try to bounce back from a disappointing sophomore season when he battled an elbow injury. He will start the season at second base, but could move to shortstop. Being healthy should allow him to return to the form that earned him Freshman All-America honors.
Moon, who played at third base last year, will switch to second base for the 2002 season.
Sophomore Jon Brewster (.241-1-17) and redshirt freshman Rafael Torres also are options for the Trojans either at second base or shortstop. Brewster possesses some speed and has the flexibility to play anywhere in the field while Torres has impressed the coaching staff with his defense.
One newcomer who should make an immediate impact on the infield will be freshman Joey Metropoulos (Jamul/Monte Vista HS). The 6-1, 230-pound right-handed power hitter should start at third base, but also may see action as a designated hitter. Gillespie has touted him as one of the most exciting freshmen to come to USC in the last 16 years.
Senior transfer Kris Cox (Frisco, CO/University of Mississippi) will be a welcome addition in the outfield for the Trojans. He has speed and can help the team either in the top or bottom of the batting order. Junior transfer Travis McAndrews (El Segundo/L.A. Harbor College) was a JC All-American and a teammate at El Segundo High with Concepcion. McAndrews has a chance to break into the lineup and gives USC another left-handed hitting option. Junior transfer David Gordon (Sacramento/Sacramento City College) adds more depth in the outfield and also could see playing time as a starter.
'The success of our club last year was about front-line pitching and consistent defense,' said Gillespie. 'Our offense was inconsistent and not overwhelming. For that reason, the offense has to be better this year and it is reasonable to expect that the players will be better. There are new players who add to the offense.
'Metropoulos should make a significant contribution and it should be with power. Cox will make a difference and is a tough out. He also is the kind of guy who can hit for a high average and run. Gordon and McAndrews should help us. We have to be better offensively because we don't have a Mark Prior-type pitcher who gets you 15 wins and a dominant performance every time on the mound.'
The focal point this season for the pitching staff will be junior Anthony Reyes (5-4, 3.72 ERA, 109 IP, 111 H, 25 BB, 97 SO). He has been projected by some publications as a possible first round pick in the upcoming draft. Reyes, who served as the team's No. 3 starter the past two years, will be counted upon to anchor a young staff based on his experience with the USA National Team in 2000 and 2001. Last year, Reyes threw his first career shutout with a three-hitter against Fresno State in the NCAA Regional (8-0 win), garnering him All-Regional Team honors (9 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 10 SO).
Several returners will be in the mix as possible starters. Junior Jordan Olson (2-1, 5.06 ERA, 26 2/3 IP, 20 BB, 24 SO) bounced back last year from early-season elbow problems while sophomore Fraser Dizard (3-3, 5.44 ERA, 51 1/3 IP, 30 BB, 47 SO) led the 2001 team with seven saves, but could see action in a closing or starting role. Both players will need to pick up the slack for junior Brian Bannister (4-4, 2.80 ERA, 54 2/3 IP, 21 BB, 56 SO). Bannister, who had five saves last season, is still recovering from off-season elbow surgery and may not see action until April or May.
Junior Chad Clark (4-2, 6.39 ERA, 49 1/3 IP, 34 BB, 43 SO) made seven starts last season as a midweek starter and could be part of the weekend rotation as well.
Three newcomers who are likely to make an impact on the mound are freshmen J.P. Howell (Sacramento/Jesuit HS) and Matt Chico (Fallbrook/Fallbrook HS) and sophomore transfer Clayton Wentworth (San Antonio, TX/St. Mary's University). Howell and Chico were members of the 2001 USA Junior National Team and second-round selections in the draft (Howell by the Atlanta Braves and Chico by the Boston Red Sox). Each turned down a large signing bonus in order to compete at the college level. Chico is a double threat as he can also play as an outfielder or designated hitter.
Wentworth was the No. 1 starter at St. Mary's (Texas), leading the Rattlers to the 2001 NCAA Division II national championship. He threw a complete game victory in the title game, an 11-3 win against Central Missouri State, while striking out 11 and walking three. For the season, he went 9-0 with a 1.43 ERA.
'Chico and Howell are still exciting prospects, but they haven't been prepared for this level of play,' said Gillespie. 'We can sit here and talk about guys who throw in the low 90s, but the key is the ability to throw strikes on a consistent basis.'
With construction at Dedeaux Field, the Trojans will play their first 22 games away from home. The impact is lessened as eight of the games are on neutral sites, including the Baylor series at Dodger Stadium. USC then will play in two major tournaments: the Kia Baseball Bash in Fullerton that features Miami, Houston and host Cal State Fullerton and the Express College Classic in Round Rock, Texas, featuring TCU, Notre Dame and Creighton. Also during that road stretch, the Trojans will play a three-game nonconference series at UCLA and will face UC Irvine, a program that is resuming baseball for the first time since 1992.
The first game in the revamped Dedeaux Field will take place in late March with the start of a non-conference series against Stanford. USC will host California, Oregon State, Arizona and Washington in Pac-10 play while traveling to Stanford, Washington State, Arizona State and UCLA.
'No one in their right mind would choose to go on the road at anytime, but particularly at the start of the season, for as many games as we are playing,' said Gillespie. 'It's a little misleading because eight of those games are really neutral site games, so we are not as much at a disadvantage. We aren't crying about it because we know the tradeoff is a better facility.'
Despite the challenges, the goals for the 2002 Trojans will be the same as the past: win the Pac-10 Conference championship and play in Omaha in the month of June.
'Assuming we have a healthy team, the answer is, yes, we have a chance,' said Gillespie. 'This team is full of promise.'