2005 Outlook: Stanford Optimistic Despite Big Holes To Fill
Jan. 24, 2005
Despite losing nine players to professional baseball and 10 letterwinners from a 2004 club that headed into the postseason as the nation's top-ranked team, captured its second straight Pac-10 title and finished with a 46-14 overall record, Stanford still might be awfully good this season. The 2005 Cardinal will attempt to get back to familiar territory in Omaha, where the team spent much of the month of June for a school-record five consecutive seasons from 1999-2003. The first three 2005 preseason polls released by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball and Sports Weekly all seem to agree that the Cardinal will have enough talent to be one of the eight teams heading to Rosenblatt Stadium in June as the trio of publications have Stanford ranked No. 6 to begin the season.
The 2005 version of Mark Marquess' squad features First Team Preseason All-Americans in Jed Lowrie and John Mayberry, Jr. to bolster the offensive attack. On the mound, the top four starting pitchers from a year ago return, led by 2005 Second Team Preseason All-American Mark Romanczuk in his second season as the team's ace. All three players spent last summer traveling around the country and abroad with Team USA, and all three are possible first round draft picks in the 2005 MLB First-Year Player Draft next June.
'We did lose a lot of key players from last year,' admitted Marquess. 'But, we also have some talented people returning that are capable of doing a great job for us, and we need them to step up to help this team establish its own identity.'
Lowrie, an early candidate for 2005 National Player of the Year honors who has already been named a First Team Preseason All-American by three groups (Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, NCBWA), is at the top of that list. In fact, the junior second baseman already came into his own last year with a phenomenal sophomore campaign in which he was a First Team All-American and the Pac-10 Player of the Year. Lowrie won the Pac-10's Triple Crown (.399, 17 HR, 68 RBI) in 2004 while leading the league in a total of seven offensive categories, and ranking in the Top 10 in six others. He also had an excellent season with the glove, making just 10 errors in 282 chances for a .965 fielding percentage and starting all 60 games at either second base (52) or shortstop (8).
Mayberry, a junior first baseman, continued his rapid development during a sophomore campaign that saw him earn All-Pac-10 honors after he tied for second in the conference in home runs (16) and tied for third in RBI (62), while hitting a solid .333 and swiping nine bases. The first round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2002 also played a stellar first base for the Cardinal, making just three errors in 546 defensive chances for a .995 fielding percentage. He has also earned First Team Preseason All-American honors from Collegiate Baseball and the NCBWA in 2005, as well as Second Team recognition from Baseball America, and is worthy of keeping an eye on for National Player of the Year consideration.
Romanczuk moved into his current slot as the team's No. 1 starter last season and responded by leading the team in victories with an 11-3 mark. He also posted a 4.31 ERA and struck out 94 batters in 108.2 innings. Despite pitching for the first Stanford team to not reach the College World Series since 1998, Romanczuk was still able to rank tied for second in the conference and tied for 22nd in the nation in victories, while placing fifth in the Pac-10 in innings pitched, sixth in strikeouts and 10th in ERA. The junior southpaw enters the 2005 season with 23 collegiate victories to his credit and has a chance to become the school's all-time leader this year as he has moved to within 14 wins of the 37 posted by former Major League Baseball player Jeff Ballard while playing for Stanford from 1982-85.
'These three players are all among the best at their respective positions in the country and should form the core of this team,' said Marquess. 'They have all done great things in their first two seasons, and we will need more of the same from them to be successful in 2005.'
Romanczuk should have plenty of support on the mound as Stanford has several other pitchers returning from last year's squad that should give the Cardinal one of its deepest staffs ever. Junior righthander Jeff Gilmore (10-2, 4.43 ERA, 1 SV, 107.2 IP, 77 SO) is back after establishing himself as a solid No. 2 starter last year, tying for fourth in the conference in victories and ranking seventh in innings pitched. Three sophomore hurlers - LHP Blake Holler, RHP Matt Leva and RHP Greg Reynolds - are all eyeing the team's third spot in the rotation. Holler (4-2, 4.34 ERA, 2 SV, 58.0 IP, 49 SO) made nine starts in his rookie campaign a year ago, while Leva (6-2, 4.29 ERA, 35.2 IP, 19 SO) got seven calls and tossed a complete game victory in an NCAA Regional win over St. John's. Reynolds (4-1, 6.00 ERA, 27.0 IP, 15 SO) recovered from an injury that kept him out of the early going in 2004 to make some impressive outings before continuing his progress with an excellent summer season for the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod Baseball League (4-3, 2.27 ERA, 39.2 IP, 31 SO).
Junior righthander Matt Manship (0-0, 4.19 ERA, 3 SV, 34.1 IP, 23 SO) and sophomore righthander Jeff Stimpson (1-2, 4.68 ERA, 1 SV, 32.2 IP, 23 SO) will look to anchor the bullpen along with the remaining members of the sophomore trio battling to earn the team's third spot in the starting rotation.
The third and final starting position player to return is junior shortstop Chris Minaker (.270, 4 HR, 33 RBI, 3 SB), who entrenched himself in that role last season after winning a battle for the job early in the campaign.
Other leading candidates to help replace six departed members of last year's starting lineup that have moved on to professional baseball include junior catcher John Hester (.265, 0 HR, 7 RBI), junior infielder/outfielder Chris Lewis (.233, 4 HR, 7 RBI), sophomore outfielder Jim Rapoport (.250, 0 HR, 9 RBI), sophomore infielder Adam Sorgi (.214, 0 HR, 5 RBI) and freshman outfielder Michael Taylor (Apopka, FL/Apopka HS), who made a big splash in the team's annual Alumni Game last October when he hit a grand slam and was 3-for-3 with five RBI.
The most likely scenario sees Sorgi taking over for Jonny Ash at third base to join Lowrie, Mayberry and Minaker in the Cardinal infield. Stanford's outfield will be entirely new in 2005 after the departure of all three starters from last year's club. Rapoport looks to be Sam Fuld's heir-apparent in center field, while Lewis and Taylor have the inside track to replace 2004 bookends Danny Putnam and Brian Hall in left and right field, respectively. Hester is expected to follow in a long line of outstanding starting Cardinal backstops, most recently Ryan Garko (2001-03) and Donny Lucy (2004).
Sophomore Ryan Seawell (.333, 7 RBI) and junior Ben Summerhays (.167, 0 HR, 1 RBI) figure to share much of the team's designated hitter duties with Seawell also a possibility at one of the two corner outfield spots. Summerhays, who was selected in the 2004 MLB First-Year Player Draft in the 23rd round by the Seattle Mariners as a draft-eligible sophomore, is the only one of five non-seniors drafted last season to return to The Farm.
Cameron Matthews, the lone senior on the 2005 squad and a team manager during his first two years at Stanford, is the only other returning position player that got in a game last year. He is expected to be used more in his final collegiate campaign after spending most of last season pinch-running and as an occasional late-inning defensive replacement.
Sophomore righty Pete Duda (0-0, 8.44 ERA, 5.1 IP, 2 SO) also has the potential to play a significant role on the pitching staff and is arguably the team's hardest thrower.
Five other sophomores that did not play in a game as freshmen in 2004 - RHP Logan Ardis, INF Joe Ayers, C/OF Josh Corn, OF/INF Zach Gianos and OF/INF Ryan Kissick - round out the team's returning players.
The Milwaukee Brewers chose Ayers in the 36th round of the 2003 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Others joining Taylor in Stanford's 10-player freshman class include C Jeff Boes (Dallas, TX/Jesuit College Prep), RHP Erik Davis (Mountain View, CA/Mountain View HS), OF Brendan Domaracki (Tampa, FL/Gaither HS), RHP Nolan Gallagher (Red Lodge, MT/Red Lodge HS), INF/OF Darren Gemoll (San Jose, CA/Leland HS), C Brian Juhl (Katy, TX/Katy HS), INF Randy Molina (South Gate, CA/South Gate HS), RHP Rex Petrill (Los Altos, CA/St. Francis HS) and RHP David Stringer (Palo Alto, CA/Palo Alto HS).
Davis (Anaheim Angels, 47th round) is the only freshman from the group to be selected in the 2004 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Even though the Cardinal has plenty of reasons to be optimistic with a young but talented squad in 2005, it still faces the daunting task of replacing the nine players that moved on to the professional ranks after the 2004 campaign. Six of the team's nine position player starters - 3B Jonny Ash (.372, 5 HR, 35 RBI), DH Chris Carter (.289, 9 HR, 39 RBI), CF Sam Fuld (.273, 4 HR, 30 RBI), RF Brian Hall (.356, 9 HR, 52 RBI, 15 SB), C Donny Lucy (.313, 12 HR, 47 RBI) and LF Danny Putnam (.378, 16 HR, 62 RBI) - produced a great deal of the team's offense a year ago. Three relief pitchers from last season - RHP David O'Hagan (6-2, 2.97 ERA, 6 SV, 57.2 IP, 58 SO), RHP Mark Jecmen (1-0, 6.64 ERA, 20.1 IP, 24 SO) and RHP Drew Ehrlich (1-0, 3.14 ERA, 14.1 IP, 13 SO) - must also be replaced.
'It's more work and a lot more teaching when you have a young ballclub like we do this year,' explained Marquess. 'Last year, we didn't have that many new players, but this year we have a lot of freshmen and inexperienced players, so we are approaching practice with more teaching than we might do with a more experienced club.'
Still, if history is correct, Stanford will be successful again in 2005. It has been quite a run for the Cardinal in both the short and long term. Stanford has made 15 trips to college baseball's promised land in Omaha, including a recent school-record stretch of five consecutive College World Series appearances from 1999-2003. The Cardinal has been involved in the NCAA Championships on 25 occasions, including 11 in a row, and has won 20 conference titles with a current run of two straight as well as six in the last eight campaigns. Maybe even more impressive has been the team's consistency in the Pac-10 with 22 first or second-place finishes over the last 24 years in arguably the toughest conference in Collegiate Baseball. Stanford has also won 40 or more games for a school-record 10 consecutive seasons and 50 or more in four of the last six campaigns, while posting 39 winning seasons in the last 40 years and 56 in the past 58.
'It's expected that we're going to compete for the Pac-10 title, be in the postseason and hopefully go to Omaha for the CWS,' acknowledged Marquess. 'They know that's the tradition here, but they just don't know how difficult that is to do.'
Stanford's young ballclub will be up against another extremely difficult schedule as the Cardinal has four of Baseball America's Preseason Top 10 teams on its slate and another that participated in the College World Series last year. The squad will be challenged in the first month of the campaign with three-game road sets against both teams that played for the College World Series title last year in defending champion and preseason No. 3 Cal State Fullerton (February 4-6), as well as 2004 national runner-up and preseason No. 4 Texas (February 18-20).
'We've always believed in playing a tough schedule, and we want our non-league games to be demanding because it prepares us for our tough conference,' said Marquess. 'The concern you have is that when you play people like Cal State Fullerton and Texas, especially on the road, the reality is that you might take some losses. It's a little scary this year, because we're young and inexperienced, but we'll find out about ourselves early in the season and get a good idea of the things we need to improve on.'
Stanford opens its 2005 campaign one week prior to its trip to Fullerton by hosting Fresno State (January 28-30), ranked No. 44 in Baseball America's Preseason Top 50. The Cardinal will also host Kansas (February 11-13), USC (February 25-27) and California (March 4-6) in non-conference home series at Sunken Diamond prior its annual break for finals. The Trojans are Baseball America's 30th ranked team in the preseason.
Stanford will return to the field after 12 days off and make its final preparations for Pac-10 play with three games versus Pacific (March 20, 22, 29), two against Sacramento State (March 25-26) and one at San Jose State (March 22) over a 10-day span from March 20-29.
The Cardinal opens Pac-10 action with a trip to Pullman to face Washington State (April 1-3) in a three-game series.
After hosting a Tuesday affair against Santa Clara (April 5), Stanford will open its Pac-10 home slate by welcoming Oregon State for three games (April 8-10). The five-game homestand ends versus San Francisco (April 12).
Stanford's next six conference games come at No. 9 Arizona State (April 15-17) and versus No. 8 Washington (April 22-24). The two key Pac-10 series sandwich a non-league outing against San Jose State (April 19).
The Cardinal will then be faced with its longest road stretch of the year, a six-game jaunt that begins with non-conference contests at Santa Clara (April 26), UC Davis (May 2) and Nevada (May 3) before concluding with a return to Pac-10 action at California (May 6-8).
Stanford's most lengthy stay at Sunken Diamond will follow the team's longest road trip when the Cardinal hosts eight consecutive games from May 10-22. A non-conference contest against Santa Clara (May 10) begins the stretch that also includes Pac-10 series versus UCLA (May 13-15) and No. 12 Arizona (May 20-22) broken up by a non-conference outing with Saint Mary's (May 17). Arizona was one of the biggest surprises of the postseason in 2004 when the Wildcats advanced all the way to the College World Series after finishing fifth in the Pac-10.
Stanford will close out its regular season in Los Angeles with three conference games against USC (May 27-29).
'Hopefully, we can win enough games in the regular season to qualify for the NCAA Championship,' professed Marquess.
The Cardinal hopes its 12th straight postseason begins with NCAA Regional action June 3-5 at one of 16 sites around the nation that will be announced on the final day of the regular season. The winners of the 16 NCAA Regionals will advance to Super Regionals, best-of-three series that will be held in eight separate locations across the country and be televised live by ESPN for the third straight year. ESPN will also provide exclusive coverage of every game at the 58th College World Series in Omaha from June 17-27.
Following is a position-by-position look at the 2005 Stanford Cardinal ...
Stanford's pitching staff looks to be its primary strength. The team's top four starting pitchers return, led by ace Mark Romanczuk (11-3, 4.31 ERA, 108.2 IP, 94 SO). The junior southpaw has won 23 games in his first two seasons on The Farm and is just 14 shy of all-time school-record holder Jeff Ballard's 37 victories from 1982-85. He is also the only current Pac-10 pitcher to have been named to a pair of All-Pac-10 squads and was one of four National Freshmen of the Year chosen by Collegiate Baseball in 2003. Jeff Gilmore (10-2, 4.43 ERA, 1 SV, 107.2 IP, 77 SO) is expected to return as the team's No. 2 starter, making the Cardinal the only team in the Pac-10 to have two returning 10-game winners. Gilmore earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors last season and was named the Team's Most Improved Player after having thrown just 2.1 innings as a freshman.
The team's third spot in the rotation should be up for grabs and will most likely by claimed by one of three sophomores that combined to win 14 games last season as rookies. Lefthander Blake Holler (4-2, 4.34 ERA, 2 SV, 58.0 IP, 49 SO), as well as righthanders Matt Leva (6-2, 4.29 ERA, 35.2 IP, 19 SO) and Greg Reynolds (4-1, 6.00 ERA, 27.0 IP, 15 SO), all spent significant time in the rotation a year ago. Holler started nine games with Leva (7) and Reynolds (5) not far behind.
'Our pitching staff is the strength of the team,' confirmed Marquess. 'It's exciting to have two starters back that have the experience of Mark Romanczuk and Jeff Gilmore, as well as three more guys in Matt Leva, Blake Holler and Greg Reynolds that have spent significant time in the rotation. But all of these guys will get competition for starting spots because our depth is much better than it was last year.'
Two of the guys Marquess is referring to are junior righthander Matt Manship (0-0, 4.19 ERA, 3 SV, 34.1 IP, 23 SO) and sophomore righty Jeff Stimpson (1-2, 4.68 ERA, 1 SV, 32.2 IP, 23 SO). Both are expected to be mainstays in the bullpen and Stimpson is the top candidate to replace David O'Hagan as the club's closer, but either could be moved into a starting role if necessary.
Junior RHP Pete Duda (0-0, 8.44 ERA, 5.1 IP, 2 SO) is arguably the hardest-thrower on the team and should see an increased number of innings this year, while sophomore RHP Logan Ardis hopes to make his collegiate debut in 2005.
The Cardinal also has some intriguing new arms on its staff. Righthander Eric Davis (Mountain View, CA/Mountain View HS), a two-time member of the USA Junior National Team and a 47th round draft pick of the Anaheim Angels in 2004, seems to be the most ready to make an immediate contribution. Righthander Nolan Gallagher (Red Lodge, MT/Red Lodge HS) was the American Legion Player of the Year last summer.
'There is going to be a lot of competition to see who's going to get innings and that competition is healthy,' concluded Marquess.
Stanford is in for its third starting catcher in as many years but don't expect much of a drop off, if any, when junior John Hester takes over the role in 2005. Hester, who Marquess claimed would have been the starter on most college teams last year, has spent the past two seasons honing his craft in the shadows of second and third-round draft picks Donny Lucy (2004) and Ryan Garko (2003). The Cardinal may even improve defensively behind the plate with Hester, who is known for his excellent handling of pitching staffs as well as his strong receiving and throwing skills. Offensively, he hasn't had much of an opportunity to show his abilities on The Farm with a .234 batting average in just 47 collegiate at bats. However, he did prove himself with the Mat-Su Miners of the wood bat Alaska Baseball League last summer, hitting .293 with a team-high 12 doubles, one triple, one homer and 20 RBI.
'I'm really excited for John Hester,' stated Marquess. 'He has waited for his turn, and he's ready to play. I don't think we're going to take a step back at all, and that's saying a lot when you consider that our last two catchers have been Ryan Garko and Donny Lucy.'
Freshman Brian Juhl (Katy, TX/Katy HS), an All-State player in Texas as a senior in high school, looks to have emerged as Hester's primary backup. Sophomore Josh Corn (Allendale, NJ/Northern Highlands Regional HS) and freshman Jeff Boes (Dallas, TX/Jesuit College Prep) also play the position.
First base is locked in with the return of All-10 selection and First Team Preseason All-American John Mayberry, Jr., who may be on the cusp of a huge junior season after hitting .333 while blasting 16 homers and driving in 62 runs as a sophomore last year to rank tied for second and tied for third in the Pac-10 in the latter two categories. Mayberry also stole nine bases and had a .995 fielding percentage in 2004 with just three errors in 546 defensive chances that were the second-most in the Pac-10. He went on to play for Team USA last summer.
'As crazy as this sounds, I think he'll have a better year this season than he did a year ago, and he was pretty good last year,' said Marquess about the first round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2002. 'He's one of the better players in the country, both offensively and defensively.'
Junior Ben Summerhays (.167, 1 RBI) would most likely be the next player to see action at first base but is more likely to get in the lineup as the team's designated hitter, especially against righthanded pitching or as the club's first lefthanded bat off the bench. Summerhays has the potential to be an excellent offensive player and possesses the most power on the team.
National Player of the Year candidate Jed Lowrie anchors the Cardinal infield at second base. Lowrie is coming off one of the best seasons in Stanford history when he earned First Team All-American honors and was named the Pac-10 Player of the Year while winning the conference's Triple Crown with a .399 batting average, 17 homers and 68 RBI (tied for Pac-10 lead). He also paced the Pac-10 in total bases (171, #15 NCAA), slugging percentage (.734, #15 NCAA) and bases on balls (50, #18 NCAA) last year. One of four Stanford players to start all 60 games in 2004, Lowrie played excellent defense as well for the Cardinal, making just 10 errors in 282 defensive chances for a .965 fielding percentage in 52 starts at second base and eight at shortstop.
'Jed Lowrie is simply one of the premier players in college baseball,' emphasized Marquess about his projected first round pick in the 2005 MLB First-Year Player Draft. 'I know it's probably a little unrealistic to think that he will be as good this season as he was last year, but I would be shocked if he didn't have another great season.'
Stanford shouldn't need any other options at second base but if it does, junior Chris Lewis (.233, 4 HR, 7 RBI) and sophomore Joe Ayers (did not play in 2004) are the most likely candidates. Junior Chris Minaker (.270, 4 HR, 33 RBI) and sophomore Adam Sorgi (.214, 5 RBI), the team's projected starters at shortstop and third base, could also play there in a pinch.
Minaker is expected to return as the team's starter at shortstop after winning a battle for the job early last season and starting the team's final 38 games of 2004 at the position. He gives the Cardinal an excellent defensive player at shortstop and has also shown potential at the plate. After hitting ninth for most of last season, he expects to have an expanded offensive presence in 2005. He showcased his offensive skills last summer with the Kenai Peninsula Oilers of the Alaska Baseball League, hitting .311 with seven doubles, three homers and 23 RBI.
'We were really happy with Chris Minaker's emergence as our shortstop last year,' said Marquess. 'Hitting is one part of playing shortstop, but the main thing is that they have to play the position, so the person that plays the best defense is going to play there.'
Minaker is not the only possibility the Cardinal has at shortstop. Sorgi started 14 games at the position in 2004 but will most likely start at third base for the Cardinal this season. Ayers has improved dramatically and figures to play more in 2004, possibly some at short. Lowrie is also capable of moving over from second base.
Third base is open after the graduation of 2004 starter Jonny Ash and Sorgi's defensive prowess may have given him the inside track on the job. Lewis is the team's most versatile player and also a possibility, while freshman Randy Molina (South Gate, CA/South Gate HS) is the most intriguing choice and may be the club's future at the position. Ayers' improvement might also get him a look.
'We do have a question mark at third base,' admitted Marquess. 'Replacing a guy like Jonny Ash will be tough because he was phenomenal offensively and defensively last year. We have plenty of capable candidates that will probably get an opportunity to earn the job, and it will be interesting to see who emerges.'
Stanford's biggest strength last season could be its biggest question mark this year after the departure of the trio of Brian Hall (.356, 9 HR, 52 RBI, 15 SB), Sam Fuld (.273, 4 HR, 30 RBI, 9 SB) and Danny Putnam (.378, 16 HR, 62 RBI, 6 SB) that racked up three All-American and six All-Pac-10 seasons between them throughout their careers.
'We will obviously be very inexperienced in the outfield,' said Marquess. 'It is exciting and scary at the same time. Several players will get an opportunity to step in and earn a starting role, but at the same time to be successful as a team we will be counting on that to happen.'
Sophomore Jim Rapoport (.250, 9 RBI, 1 SB) looks to be Fuld's heir-apparent in centerfield after getting his feet wet with 30 games and 12 starts in 2004. The speedy lefty is an excellent defensive outfielder and perhaps the fastest player on the team. He showed marked improvement offensively both during the 2004 fall season and in summer baseball last year with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod Baseball League. His offensive improvement may even lead to a spot replacing Fuld at the top of lineup, which would also allow the Cardinal to most effectively utilize his speed and bat-handling skills.
Freshman Michael Taylor (Apopka, FL/Apopka HS) is the team's projected starter in right field. The highly-touted newcomer came into Stanford with All-American prep accolades and didn't disappoint during fall practice, when he showed his tools as a physically mature, strong and athletic power hitter. He also has excellent speed and an outstanding throwing arm.
'Michael Taylor is going to be a great player for us,' predicted Marquess. 'It is just a matter of how quickly he adjusts to college baseball.'
The versatile Lewis has the early track on becoming the team's starter in left field but sophomore Ryan Seawell (.333, 7 RBI, 1 SB) could also end up there, especially if Lewis wins the job at third base.
Senior Cameron Matthews is battling for increased playing time this season after appearing in eight games off the bench as a pinch-runner, pinch-hitter and late-inning defensive replacement in 2004. Matthews earned a roster spot on the club last year after spending his first two seasons as a student manager. Sophomore Josh Corn, who came into Stanford as a catcher but did not see any playing time last season, may also be looked at in the outfield in an attempt to get his potent bat in the lineup. Sophomores Zach Gianos and Ryan Kissick didn't see any playing time either a year ago but are hoping to make their collegiate debuts in 2005.
Freshmen Brendan Domaracki (Tampa, FL/Gaither HS) and Darren Gemoll (San Jose, CA/Leland HS) are talented newcomers that should play a big role in the Cardinal outfield down the road if not this season.
The Cardinal must also replace its primary starter from 2004 at designated hitter in Chris Carter (.289, 9 HR, 39 RBI) and plans to simply go with the hottest bat that doesn't have a starting position elsewhere. The righthanded hitting Seawell may get the first crack against southpaws, while the lefthanded hitting Summerhays should get a chance to use his power versus righties. Other likely candidates include Corn, Domaracki, Juhl, Lewis and Molina, among others.
'We'll try to get anybody in there who's swinging a hot bat and makes our offense more productive,' explained Marquess. 'We've been really flexible with who we've put in this position in the past, and that's worked really well for us.'