New Season - Same Script: A Talented Stanford Club Will Look to Contend in 2009
Feb. 19, 2009
Stanford Baseball - which is ranked as high as No. 5 in the preseason polls - will open the 2009 season tomorrow night (Friday, February 20) with a 5:30 p.m. game vs. Vanderbilt at Klein Field at Sunken Diamond. The excitement of Opening Night and the Schedule Poster Giveaway will be doubled by an excellent pitching matchup featuring a pair of hurlers who are on the Golden Spikes Award Watch List - Stanford right-hander Jeffrey Inman and Vanderbilt left-hander Mike Minor.
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When Stanford takes the field on February 20 against Vanderbilt, the Cardinal will open a season after ending the previous one at the College World Series for the 16th time in program history. With the talent head coach Mark Marquess has assembled on The Farm in 2009, it is within the realm of possibility that the 2010 opener will be played eight months after a 17th Cardinal trip to Omaha.
While the Cardinal will have to deal with the departure of nine letterwinners from its 2008 College World Series club, Stanford will welcome back 18 lettermen - including five starting position players, a trio of starting pitchers and a Freshman All-American as closer. Marquess can also rely on 16 upperclassmen, along with a group of sophomores who played key roles on the 2008 club, to mesh with and guide a talented crew of freshmen.
'We should be a more athletic team, with better speed across the board and more depth on the pitching staff,' said Marquess, who enters his 33rd season at the helm of his alma mater in 2009. 'We potentially have all the pieces in place, but there are seven or eight teams in the Pac-10 that can say that.'
Stanford should be able to generate runs in a variety of ways in 2009. 'We may not hit as many home runs this year, but we should hit for a higher average,' said Marquess. 'Plus, we have a lot of guys who can run, and that will open up what we can do offensively.'
If the old adage that pitching and defense win games holds true, then Cardinal fans could have much to cheer in 2009. 'There is great potential with our pitching staff,' reports Marquess. 'We have a lot of depth and a lot of talented arms. Our returning pitchers all had good seasons last year and will be even better now, and our young arms have a ton of upside. It is unusual to see young guys with as much poise and command - especially of their secondary pitches - that we have on our staff.'
After ranking ninth in the country with a .975 fielding percentage in 2008 - the third-best mark in school history - Stanford will look to be a premier defensive club again this year. 'I look forward to us being very solid defensively, especially up the middle,' commented Marquess. 'We are fortunate to have a group of catchers who are excellent behind the plate, a shortstop who makes nearly every play look easy, good gloves around the infield and a lot of speed in the outfield.'
Much as the 2008 Cardinal built their run to Omaha on career years from MLB draft picks Jason Castro, Cord Phelps, Sean Ratliff and Austin Yount, so too will Stanford rely on a crop of potential all-conference performers amongst its upperclassmen in 2009.
'If a club ends up having a good year - and we have the potential to do that - then the older guys have probably had their best years,' commented Marquess.
Here is a breakdown of the 2009 Stanford Cardinal:
One thing appears certain for Marquess and his staff heading into 2009 - a deep and talented pitching staff.
Anchoring the Stanford staff is junior right-hander Jeffrey Inman, the club's top retuning winner after going 7-2 with a 4.27 ERA in 16 games (13 starts) a year ago. Slated to be the club's Friday night starter, he followed an outstanding sophomore campaign by being tabbed the ninth-best prospect in the 2008 Cape Cod League by Baseball America.
Following Inman in the weekend rotation should be sophomore right-hander Danny Sandbrink, who came into his own during a terrific postseason. Pitching in the NCAA Tournament as a true freshman, he fashioned a 1-0 mark with a 1.38 ERA and .170 average against during two dominant starts - including a complete-game victory over Pepperdine in a Regional elimination contest. After finishing 2008 with a 2-1 record one save and a 2.70 ERA in 20 appearances (six starts), Sandbrink looks to be part of an outstanding one-two punch atop the rotation.
Second-year pitching coach Jeff Austin has a bevy of talented hurlers in the mix for a rotation slot, as well. Senior right-hander Max Fearnow (2-1, 6.09) made eight starts among his 17 appearances last year, and has 11 career starts under his belt. Junior right-hander Brandt Walker (0-0, 4.50) is another upperclassman with intriguing potential, as he is coming off an excellent fall season. With perhaps the best velocity on the staff, Walker has used his mid-90s fastball to compile 17 strikeouts in only 18.1 collegiate innings. Sophomore right-hander Alex Pracher (1-1, 1 SV, 7.42 ERA) made two starts among his 22 outings last year, and was named the fifth-best prospect in the 2008 Atlantic Collegiate League by Baseball America.
Also competing to take the ball on weekends are a pair of heralded freshman left-handers - Brett Mooneyham (Atwater, CA / Buhach Colony HS) and Scott Snodgress (Yucaipa, CA / Yucaipa HS). A 15th round draft choice of the San Diego Padres in the 2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Mooneyham comes to The Farm after a senior season in which he went 9-2 with a 0.97 ERA and 103 strikeouts in just 58 innings. Snodgress, who fanned 83 batters in only 53 innings as a senior, demonstrated some of the best pure stuff on the staff during fall workouts.
Stanford has every reason to be excited about its 2009 bullpen, which could easily become one of the Pac-10's best.
In an era in which closers are ever more important in college baseball, the Cardinal has one of the nation's premier stoppers in All-America candidate Drew Storen. The sophomore right-hander was a first-team Freshman All-America selection by Collegiate Baseball/Louisville Slugger after a 2008 campaign in which he went 5-3 with a 3.51 ERA and eight saves - tied for the seventh-highest single-season total in Stanford history.
The task of bridging the gap between the starters and Storen should fall upon the capable shoulders of a deep and talented relief corps. Senior southpaw Blake Hancock has made 42 relief appearances over the last two seasons, and posted a 4.12 ERA and one save during 20 outings in 2008. Sophomore right-hander Michael Marshall did not allow an earned run over his final seven appearances (including three in the 2008 postseason), then had a 1.75 ERA in summer ball. Stanford also has a quartet of right-handers ready to take the next step and pitch significant innings in 2009. Hard-throwing sophomore Will Krasne healthy again and ready to contribute, sophomore Carey Schwartz features a sidearm motion and can be difficult on right-handed batters, junior right-hander Kyle Thompson enjoyed an outstanding fall and sophomore Billy Vernon is perhaps the most competitive pitcher on the staff.
In addition to Mooneyham and Snodgress, the Cardinal has four other freshman pitchers ready to take the mantle of a traditionally pitching-rich program. Right-hander Brian Busick (Poway, CA / Poway HS) tied a school record for victories during his prep career, while fellow right-hander Jordan Pries went straight from Alameda High School to a dominating fall on The Farm. Chris Reed (Reseda, CA / Cleveland HS) gives Marquess another lefty option, and 6-7 right-hander A.J. Talt (Pasadena, CA / Poly Tech HS) went 9-0 with a 0.69 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 60.2 innings as a senior.
Juniors Cory Bannister and Andrew Clauson, along with freshmen Elliott Byers (Scranton, PA / Scranton Prep HS) and Kevin Morton (San Diego, CA / El Capitan HS) will all miss the 2009 season due to injury.
Catching was the domain of third-team All-American Jason Castro in 2008, and Stanford will have to replace its team MVP after he was chosen by the Houston Astros as the 10th overall pick in the 2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft. However, the Cardinal coaching staff feels that they have potential all-conference talent ready to emerge in 2009.
Sophomore Ben Clowe has all of the tools to develop into an outstanding all-around catcher. A superb defensive backstop, he receives the ball well, has a good arm and has already developed a great rapport with the club's pitching staff. He also displayed a potent bat during limited playing time in 2008, batting an even .300 with four doubles, three home runs and a .560 slugging percentage in 50 at-bats. In his final plate appearance last season, he belted a huge three-run, ninth-inning homer against Georgia in the College World Series.
Another sophomore, Zach Jones, is slated to play nearly every day either at catcher or at third base. He played in 64 games - including 59 starts - as a freshman in 2008, batting .249 with 13 doubles, two triples, three home runs, 33 RBI and a club-high 11 stolen bases. Although he made 58 starts at third base and one in left field last year, he has arguably the quickest release of any Stanford catcher in recent memory, and spent a majority of the fall behind the plate.
Junior Kirk Erickson has played an integral role in Stanford's success over the last two years while serving as a backup catcher, as his work with the staff's pitchers helped the club rank third in the Pac-10 for ERA in 2008. Senior Brent Milleville has also seen time behind the plate and is a good defensive catcher in his own right, but he is slated to be Stanford's everyday first baseman in 2009.
Rounding out Stanford's catching corps is a pair of intriguing freshmen. A product of Palo Alto High School, Peter Abrams is a left-handed hitter who runs very well for a catcher. Christian Griffiths (Apple Valley, CA / Granite Hills HS), a gifted athlete who will also compete for time in the outfield, is a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate.
Stanford advanced to the 2008 College World Series with a pair of freshman starting on the left side of its infield. With third baseman Zach Jones and shortstop Jake Schlander returning alongside All-America candidate Brent Milleville at first base and a talented group vying for time at second base, the infield appears to be a major strength of the 2009 Cardinal as well.
Much of the Cardinal's 2008 success could be attributed to the offensive development of both Jason Castro, a career .238 hitter who batted .376 with 14 home runs and 73 RBI, and Sean Ratliff, who went from 12 homers in 2007 to a Pac-10 leading 22 in '08. It is easy to see Milleville making a similar jump as a senior in 2009 after earning honorable mention all-conference accolades last year. The powerful right-handed hitter was arguably Stanford's top offensive threat during the second half of the 2008 season, batting .303 (43-for-102) with eight doubles, nine homers and a club-high 48 RBI over the team's final 37 games. He also batted .360 with runners in scoring position, while finishing the season with a career-high 11 home runs.
In starting all 67 games during the 2008 CWS campaign, Schlander became the only Stanford freshman to start every contest at shortstop in a season since games played became an officially kept statistic in 1960, and the first Cardinal rookie to do so at any position since current San Diego Padres outfielder Jody Gerut in 1996. One of the top defensive shortstops in the country, he has tremendous range and was errorless in 60 games last year. After an off-season in the weight room and in the batting cages, he should be a greatly improved hitter in 2009.
Jones, who will also see time behind the plate, adjusted well last year to what Marquess calls 'probably the toughest position in college baseball' - third base. Stanford went 38-18-2 in his 58 starts at the hot corner last year, while he showed his athleticism (11 steals in 13 attempts) and the potential to be a run-producing threat with 33 RBI - including four over the final four Regional games.
Second base figures to be the most fiercely contested position battle during spring practice, as Stanford is in the enviable position of having a glut of talented infielders. Senior J.J. Jelmini is a first-rate defensive infielder, is adept at turning the double play as a second baseman, and he put together a very good fall with the bat. Sophomore Colin Walsh is a switch-hitter who played in some key spots as a rookie in 2008, including a start in the NCAA Super Regional at Cal State Fullerton. He batted .323 in 33 games and 65 at-bats as a freshman, including a .464 mark over his last seven starts.
A pair of versatile upperclassmen are in the mix at multiple infield spots. Junior Adam Gaylord made 38 starts at shortstop as a freshman in 2007, but spent considerable time at third during the fall and has developed some pop at the plate. Fellow junior Min (Brian) Moon thrust himself into the conversation both as an infielder and a designated hitter after displaying impressive power in the fall.
Another candidate for the designated hitter role is sophomore Jonathan Kaskow, a switch-hitter with big-time power from both sides of the plate. Also a capable defensive first baseman, the 2007 Texas high school player of the year should hit his way into the lineup on a regular basis.
Stanford will welcome two freshmen infielders to The Farm in 2009, including the 2008 Texas high school player of the year in Mike Garza (San Antonio, TX / McArthur HS). A two-way player, he batted .530 with 10 home runs, 48 RBI and 22 steals as a senior, while going 4-1 on the mound to cap a 26-4 prep career. He should immediately compete for playing time at either second or third base, and could be used in a relief pitching role - especially in mid-week games during the condensed season. Justin Schwartz, from Beverly Hills High School, is already among the fastest players on the club and has a bright future.
With the most veteran-laden group on the club, Stanford boasts a tremendous defensive outfield that features a mixture of athleticism, speed and power bats.
Senior Joey August enters the season with the highest career average (.318) among active Stanford players (min. 100 at-bats), while also leading the club in hits with 149. An excellent clutch performer, he helped the Cardinal to the 2008 College World Series by batting .385 with runners in scoring position, .362 in Pac-10 play, .350 in the postseason and .400 in Omaha. Regarded among the best defensive left fielders in the conference, he can also play center.
Center and right field duties should fall to some combination of junior Toby Gerhart and senior Jeff Whitlow. The latest in Stanford's long line of two-sport stars, Gerhart set the school single-season record with 1,136 rushing yards for the Cardinal football team in 2008. He seems poised for a breakout season on the diamond in 2009, as he demonstrated what he can do when fully healthy by batting .323 with six doubles, six home runs, 18 RBI, a .723 slugging percentage and a .457 on-base mark over his final 27 games last year. He also hammered four homers and drove in 12 runs over his last 11 contests, including seven NCAA postseason games.
Whitlow is a player with all of the tools, combining the club's best outfield arm with speed and some pop at the plate. A right-handed hitter, he earned a majority of the club's starts in right field against left-handed pitching last year, helping Stanford to a 22-11-1 (.662) mark when he was in the lineup.
Pushing for time in the Cardinal outfield will be a quartet of emerging players. Junior Wande Olabisi is one of the fastest players not only in the Pac-10, but in the entire country. A vastly improved player, he also has big power potential and could play a major factor in 2009. Junior Kellen Kiilsgaard is Stanford's biggest left-handed power threat, as he has home run pop to all fields. A year after giving up football to focus on baseball full-time, the combination of his power and above-average speed also puts Kiilsgaard in the discussion at designated hitter.
Also in the outfield mix is a pair of returning sophomores. Kellen McColl, who impressed the coaching staff as being one of the club's most improved players during fall camp, brings a strong arm, good speed and a contact bat to the table. David Giuliani is a gifted defensive outfielder with quite possibly the strongest outfield arm on the club, and is a switch-hitter who has made huge strides at the plate.
Stanford has four freshman outfielders that will vie for playing time immediately. Scott Colton (Newport Coast, CA / Mater Dei HS) was one of the top prospects in California at a baseball-rich high school program, and projects as a middle-of-the order power bat. A pure athlete, Stanley Fich (Bronx, NY / The Fieldston School) comes to The Farm with unlimited potential. Jack Mosbacher earned first-team all-state honors at the nearby Menlo School each of his last two prep seasons, while the prototypical leadoff hitter could eventually become one of the top defensive center fielders in the Pac-10. Christian Griffiths, who spent most of the fall working at catcher, was selected by the MLB Scouting Bureau as one of the country's top 200 amateur players prior to the 2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Stanford has traditionally played one of the nation's tougher schedules under Marquess, and the 2009 campaign is no different. Beginning with an opening night contest against Vanderbilt, the Cardinal's 56-game regular season schedule features 25 contests against nine 2008 NCAA Tournament teams: Arizona, Arizona State, California, Cal State Fullerton, San Diego, Texas, UC Davis, UCLA and the Commodores.
'We play a difficult schedule on purpose,' said Marquess. 'Playing the likes of Vanderbilt, Fullerton and Texas - teams that are always going to be good - before conference play serves us well. It prepares us and lets us know where we need to improve going into a very difficult Pac-10 season.'
The 2009 schedule features 33 home games at Klein Field at Sunken Diamond, including the campaign's opening weekend against Vanderbilt (February 20 and 21) and UC Riverside (February 22 doubleheader). Other highlights of the non-conference home slate include a three-game weekend series with traditional Big 12 and NCAA power Texas (March 6-8), midweek games against West Coast Conference foes Saint Mary's (March 3), Santa Clara (April 1 and 20), San Diego (April 7) and San Francisco (April 27), a weekend set with New Mexico (May 8-10) and visits from local clubs Sacramento State (April 29), San Jose State (May 5), Pacific (May 13) and UC Davis (May 19). Stanford will also play host to Bay Area rival California in a pair of non-conference contests on April 13 and 22.
Stanford will return to the site of its 2008 NCAA Super Regional victory when it travels to Cal State Fullerton for a three-game series February 27-March 1. The Cardinal will also return the home-and-home favor with Northern California visits to UC Davis (March 25), Pacific (March 30), Santa Clara (April 15 and May 6) and San Jose State (May 12).
The Pac-10's reputation as one of the nation's elite college baseball conferences was further bolstered when five clubs advanced to postseason play a year ago. 2009 appears to be no different, with an abundance of league talent making the 27-game conference slate an intense race to the Pac-10 title.
'There are easily seven or eight teams in the Pac-10 that could win the league,' according to Marquess. 'But, whereas last year a lot of teams returned all-conference talent and high draft picks, this year there are more unknowns, and more surprises. The Pac-10 is like all of college baseball, and that is the parity - so many teams now can win.'
Stanford opens Pac-10 play on the road with a March 21-23 three-game series at California, while the club will also face conference road tests at defending champion Arizona State (April 17-19), Washington State (May 1-3) and USC (May 15-17). The Cardinal will travel to Eugene, Ore. the weekend of April 3-5, as Oregon returns to the diamond following a 28-year absence.
Pac-10 action comes to Klein Field at Sunken Diamond for the first time in 2009 during the weekend of March 27-29, as Stanford will welcome Washington for a three-game series. The Cardinal will also host conference weekend sets with UCLA (April 9-11) and Arizona (April 24-26) before closing the regular season with three games against visiting Oregon State (May 22-24).
At press time, Stanford is scheduled to have five regular season games televised on a total of three stations. Home contests against Texas on March 6, UCLA on April 11 and Arizona on April 24 are slated to be shown live on the CBS College Sports Network (CSTV). Stanford's April 4 tilt at Oregon will be televised by the Oregon Sports Network on Comcast SportsNet Northwest, while the April 17 game at Arizona State will be aired on Fox Sports Net Arizona.
If Stanford were to advance to postseason play for the 16th time in the last 17 years, the 'Road to Omaha' gets underway with the NCAA Regionals the weekend of May 29-31. The Super Regionals would take place the following weekend, June 5-8. The 63rd College World Series is scheduled to take place from June 13-24, 2009 at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska.
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