2005 Cal Baseball Outlook
Jan. 11, 2005
BERKELEY, CA - On paper, there seem to be some question marks for the California baseball team as it enters the 2005 season; but in the minds of the Golden Bears, there is no question that they will have what it takes to be a NCAA regional team.
'This team has talent - young talent,' said head coach David Esquer, who is looking to lead Cal to a NCAA postseason berth for the first time since his squad advanced to the Baton Rouge Regional in 2001. 'We are going to have to rely on the progress of our young position players and improve the quality of our defense. The progress and development of our pitching staff will also be a key to our success. But, this is as motivated and hard-working a group as I've ever had. You mix that with our talent and we have a chance to surprise some people.'
The reasons the 2005 Bears might get overlooked are the number of graduating seniors and drafted players lost from the 2004 squad. Cal had 10 key players either graduate or sign professional contracts after last season, including leading hitter David Nicholson (.367, drafted ninth round by the Los Angeles Dodgers) and top reliever Jesse Ingram (10 saves, tops in the Pac-10).
Yet, the Bears did not rely solely on last year's upper class and will return several players who showed glimpses of brilliance in 2004 - Chris Errecart, Garrett Bussiere, Brennan Boesch, Allen Craig and James Holder in the field, and Adam Gold, Matt Swanson and Brandon Morrow on the mound. Even though Cal did not have the type of season it envisioned in 2004 (25-31, 9-15 in the Pac-10), the Bears did display how they were capable of playing; sweeping BYU to begin the season and winning two-of-three in Pac-10 series at Arizona State and USC.
Despite ending the 2004 season batting .256 with four doubles, three home runs and 19 RBI, Errecart displayed tremendous potential when he went 4-for-5 with a grand slam and five RBI against BYU in the second game of the year. Unfortunately for the Bears the freshman outfielder was hampered by a cracked bone in his right thumb suffered in early March, and wasn't able to return to his early season form on a consistent basis.
As a freshman catcher, Bussiere stepped in for an injured Chris Grossman and made an immediate impact, hitting a home run in his first collegiate at-bat against Long Beach State. He went on to play in 36 games and finished the year batting .307 with seven doubles, two triples, five home runs and 21 RBI, including two home runs versus World Series participant Arizona May 1.
Outfielder Boesch also made an immediate contribution as a freshman, starting the 2004 campaign with a two-home-run game against BYU in the season-opener, finishing the day 3-for-3 with four RBI. He also had a four-RBI day at Sacramento State and finished the year batting .284 with five doubles, a triple, four home runs and 15 RBI overall, and .321 against conference foes.
Junior infielder Craig and senior first baseman Holder are two veteran players who have had their share of stellar moments during their Cal careers. Craig started 50 games in the Bears' infield last season, after 23 starts at shortstop as a freshman, batting .285 with 12 doubles, a triple, six home runs and 21 RBI. Holder, a front-runner to be Cal's starting first baseman, batted .273 with six doubles, six home runs and 22 RBI. He also hit .341 with runners in scoring position and had the game-winning RBI versus UC Irvine. Holder has a career .285 batting average with 21 doubles, 13 home runs and 62 RBI.
Junior right-hander Gold is the Bears' top returning starter after going 6-7 with a 4.47 ERA and a team-high 89 strikeouts and 94.7 innings pitched in 2004, earning honorable mention All-Pac-10 accolades. He had one of the best pitching performances in school history when he was one out away from a no-hitter Feb. 21 at Fresno State, throwing 9.0 innings with five walks and 10 strikeouts. Gold's effort against the Bulldogs earned him the Feb. 23 NCBWA National Co-Pitcher of the Week honor.
Senior right-hander Swanson should step into the Bears' closer role this year after going 3-2 with a save and a team-best 2.97 ERA in 39.3 innings in 2004. He tied teammate Jesse Ingram with a Pac-10-high 30 appearances last season and seems primed to have another productive year. The Cal coaches are extremely high on the abilities of sophomore right-hander Morrow, who in 19 appearances as a freshman was 1-3 with 18 strikeouts and a 6.07 ERA in 29.7 innings.
Several other players are in the mix for starting duties in 2005. Senior captain Matt Einspahr has a steady glove at third base and has seen action in 88 games during his Cal career. Again coming off an outstanding summer playing in the Northwoods League, Einspahr was voted MVP of the LaCrosse (Wisc.) Loggers and is a two-time Northwoods League all-star. Sophomore Jordan Karnofsky is in the running at either first base or as a left-handed designated hitter after batting .288 with five doubles, a home run and 14 RBI as a freshman. Karnofsky showed his power potential with four-RBI days at Pacific and Sacramento State.
On the mound, Cal will be looking for contributions from junior right-hander Joe Todoroff and senior left-hander Travis Talbott. Todoroff redshirted last season after breaking his right hand prior to the season-opener. He is a potential starter for the Bears after going 5-2 with a save and a 4.64 ERA in 2003. Talbott will be counted on as a spot reliever and has a 4-1 career record for Cal.
Freshman Josh Satin is a strong candidate to start at second base after redshirting last season with a dislocated right shoulder. Satin has impressed the Cal coaches with his hitting ability. Sophomore Brett Munster is also a candidate for starting duties somewhere in the Bears' infield after batting .233 in 15 starts at second base and two starts at third base last season. Junior outfielder Jeremy Burchett is another returner who is battling for starting duties after hitting .278 in 20 games last season.
A senior transfer and two freshmen standouts are projected to be immediate contributors as well. Eric Dworkis, a 6-6 senior right-handed transfer from Gonzaga, had an impressive season for the Bulldogs last year, going 8-4 with 4.86 ERA, including five complete games and 72 strikeouts in 103.7 innings. Dworkis could step in and be one of the Bears' weekend starters. Freshman outfielder/right-handed pitcher Jason Corder, an All-CIF selection from Capistrano Valley High School, has the talent to contribute both in the field and on the mound. Corder is in a battle with Burchett for starting left field duties and could be a spot reliever with velocity in the mid 80s to low 90s. Freshman infielder Kyle Spraker is in contention for a starting spot at either shortstop or second base after performing well in fall practice. Spraker comes to the Bears after a stellar career at St. Francis High School in Mountain View, batting .420 as a senior.
'The team really did have a great work ethic in the fall,' said Esquer. 'Even though we have a lot of young players, this team has good leadership - good leadership from both our younger and older players.'
Cal By Positions
The Bears return their top starter and one of their most consistent relievers from last season, but will be counting on the development of several young pitchers to give themselves a shot at the postseason.
Junior Adam Gold is Cal's top returning starter after a breakout sophomore campaign, earning honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors after nearly throwing a no-hitter at Fresno State and finishing as one the conference leaders in strikeouts and innings pitched. Gold jumped out to a 6-3 record with an extremely low ERA before suffering some close loses at the end of the season to finish at 6-7 with a 4.47 ERA. He throws in the high 80s with a slider and change-up, and a deceptive three-quarters delivery.
The Cal coaches are extremely high on the talents of sophomore right-hander Brandon Morrow, who throws in the low 90s with a slider, change-up and split finger fastball. Even though Morrow finished last season 1-3 with a 6.07 ERA, he pitched well in preseason practices and has the type of skills that could make him one of the top young hurlers in the Pac-10.
A newcomer who has the Cal coaching staff excited is senior transfer Eric Dworkis. The 6-6 right-hander comes to the Bears after three productive years at Gonzaga, including last year when he was one of the West Coast Conference's best pitchers, going 8-4 with five complete games, 72 strikeouts and 103.7 innings pitched. Dworkis has the skills to immediately be one the Bears' weekend starters.
Three more potential starters are junior right-handers Joe Todoroff and Alec Harris, and redshirt freshman Alex Rollin. Todoroff has shown he has the ability to be a Pac-10 starter, throwing in the upper 80s with four pitches - fastball, curve, slider and change-up. Harris is a 6-5 junior college transfer from San Diego Mesa JC, where he had seven saves and a 1.17 ERA as a sophomore before redshirting last season. Rollin is coming off a phenomenal summer in the new Texas Collegiate League, where he was named the league's pitcher of the year after going 6-0 with three saves and not giving up an earned run in 37.0 innings. He is a right-hander who throws in the high 80s with a curveball, slider and change-up.
The Bears' leader out of the bullpen will be senior team captain Matt Swanson, who has established himself as a top reliever with a team-best 2.97 ERA and 30 appearances last season. Swanson also went 3-2 with a save, and had 24 strikeouts in 39.3 innings. Senior Travis Talbott is Cal's top left-handed reliever, throwing in the mid-80s from a variety of arm angles.
Junior college transfers Michael Cooper and Danny Campbell are projected to help Cal as relievers. Cooper is a 6-6 sophomore right-hander who throws in the low 90s with a slider, change-up and split-finger fastball. He joins the Bears after being drafted in the 17th round by the Kansas City Royals last June. He had an outstanding freshman season at Santa Ana College. Campbell is a junior right-hander from Santa Rosa Junior College where in 2003 he was the Bay Valley West Conference Pitcher of the Year, going 10-1 with 80 strikeouts and a 2.67 ERA.
Seniors Brent Hale and Aaron Swick, as well as juniors Cameron Johnson and Alex Trafton, could also play important roles for the Bears this season. Hale, who throws in the low 90s with a sharp-breaking curve ball, has the tools to be one of Cal's starters and had 18 strikeouts in 21.7 innings with a 3.32 ERA last season. Swick is a 6-6 right-hander who is coming back from Tommy John surgery. He has the ability to be an effective reliever, throwing in the mid 80s with a slider, curveball and change-up. Left-hander Johnson is a talented athlete who was utilized as a spot reliever last season, but has the skills to see more time on the mound. Trafton has only pitched 10.7 innings for Cal, but throws in the high 80s and could contribute as either a long or short reliever.
The Bears have two other redshirt freshmen - left-handers Case Dahlen, and Nick Kaufman - and four true freshmen - right-handers Travis Erickson, Dane Ferguson, Eric Petersen and Nick Tess - who could figure in the pitching scheme. Dahlan throws in the mid 80s and is healthy after recovering from a high school arm injury and could see action as either a starter or reliever. Kaufman will be utilized out of the bullpen. Erickson, Ferguson, Peterson and Tess are all talented right-handers who throw in the mid-to-high 80s and will get a chance to contribute.
The Bears have a solid returning catcher in sophomore in Garrett Bussiere. Bussiere was impressive as a first-year player last season, earning the team's Freshman of the Year award after batting .307 with seven doubles, two triples and five home runs. He is also talented behind the plate with a strong arm, throwing out 15 baserunners.
Redshirt freshman Travis Howell is a capable catcher as well, and also has the ability to play either the infield or outfield. Howell was an outstanding high school hitter, batting .510 with 10 home and a .933 slugging percentage as a senior and could be a right-handed designated hitter for the Bears.
The Cal infield could very well have a combination of veterans and newcomers, as several redshirt freshman and true freshman are battling for starting duties.
The Bears return senior James Holder, a left-handed throwing, right-handed hitting first baseman. Holder should be primed for an outstanding senior campaign, owning a career batting average of .285 with 21 doubles, 13 home runs and 62 RBI. Other first base candidates include sophomore Jordan Karnofsky and redshirt freshman Mike Van Winden - both talented left-handed batters. Karnofsky hit .288 with five doubles, a home run and 14 RBI in 26 games last season, while Van Winden has impressed the Cal coaches with his hitting during fall practices.
Redshirt freshman Josh Satin and true freshman Kyle Spraker will be in the running for starting second base duties. Satin is an impressive hitter who suffered a shoulder injury prior to last season, but came to the Bears with outstanding statistics (.478, 10 home runs) from Harvard-Westlake High School. Spraker will be battling for starting duties at both middle infield positions after a stellar career at St. Francis High School in which he was second team all-state and MVP of the North-South California All-Star Game.
Sophomore Brett Munster is another capable member of the Bears' infield, after hitting .267 in 15 starts at second base last season. Munster hit .370 as a high school senior and was a member of a Chatsworth High School team that finished 33-1 and won the 2003 national high school championship in Dodger Stadium. Freshman Cyrus Allizadeh, from Claremont High School, will provide depth in Cal's infield as well.
At shortstop, Cal returns junior Allen Craig, who has a .285 average with 19 doubles, a triple, eight home runs and 37 RBI in 84 career games. Craig has also had several starts at the other infield positions, including 26 starts at first base last season. He has the talent to be one of the top hitters in the Pac-10.
Senior captain Matt Einspahr is a strong candidate to start in the Bears' infield. Einspahr is one of the team's best defensive players and has hit well over the summer and fall seasons. He is a frontrunner to start at third base, but is also comfortable at second base with 15 starts at second in 2004. Sophomore Stephen Carlson could also be in the running for playing time at third base. Carlson is a switch hitter with impressive credentials out of Seattle Prep in Washington, but has been plagued with shoulder injuries the past two years. He is considered one of the team's top fielders.
Cal's outfield should have plenty of depth, with several players with starting experience returning; in addition to a standout freshman recruit.
In left field, there is a battle between junior Jeremy Buchett and freshman Jason Corder, who both prepped at Capistrano Valley High School. Burchett started 23 games in center field a freshman in 2003 and has played well in fall practice, while Corder is a highly touted freshman who was three-time first team All-CIF Southern Section, hitting .410 with 14 home runs and 41 RBI as a senior. Both Burchett and Corder can be utilized as relief pitchers as well. Burchett throws in the low 90s with a sharp breaking curveball. Corder, who was 10-2 with a 1.41 ERA as a senior, has a fastball in the mid 80s to low 90s with a curveball and change-up.
Talented left-hander Brennan Boesch is a top candidate to start at center field after 13 starts in left field as a freshman. The 6-6 Boesch has performed well in preseason practice after batting .284 with five doubles, a triple, four home runs and 15 RBI in 2004. Junior Robert Nesbitt could also provide depth in center field for Cal after seeing action in 14 games last season.
Sophomore team captain Chris Errecart has been extremely impressive in fall practice and is slated to start in right field. Errecart is a solid fielder and a talented hitter, who was slowed by a broken right thumb last year, but still hit .256 with four doubles, three home runs and 19 RBI. Redshirt freshman Taylor Grigsby is also in contention for playing time in the outfield after hitting .391 and earning second team All-CIF as a senior at Brentwood High School in Los Angeles in 2003. True freshman Michael Capbarat, a 6-3, 200-pound outfielder from De La Salle High School, will be battling for playing time in the Bears' outfield as well.