2003 Baseball Season Outlook
Jan. 13, 2003
LOS ANGELES -- For the 2003 season, the USC baseball team will carry the same goals that have been the foundation of the program: win the Pac-10 Conference championship, play in the College World Series and win the national championship. After losing only three starting position players from last year and returning the majority of the pitching staff, the Trojans have to pleased with the possibilities. USC begins the 2003 season ranked No. 3 in the nation in Collegiate Baseball, according to its preseason poll, and No. 6 by Baseball America.
'We have high expectations of this team,' said USC head coach Mike Gillespie, who begins his 17th season. 'We are excited about the depth of quality pitching that has us believing that we would have a chance. We have enough right and left-handed pitching that will make us competitive against everyone on the schedule.'
The Trojans are coming off a 37-24 season, winning their second straight Pac-10 title. USC won its fifth conference title under Gillespie and back-to-back titles for the first time since the 1995 and 1996 seasons. With the championship, the Trojans hosted the NCAA Regional, going 3-0 to advance with a win against Cal State Northridge and two against BYU. A pair of two-run losses ended the Trojans' season in the NCAA Super Regional at Stanford.
The 2003 team will look to replace three key position players: catcher and 2002 Pac-10 Player of the Year Alberto Concepcion (.363, 11 home runs, 48 RBI), center fielder Brian Barre (.331-12-43) and first baseman Bill Peavey (.361-15-71).
Despite losing players who accounted for over half of the team's 71 home runs last year, the Trojans still should have enough offense for this season.
Senior shortstop Anthony Lunetta (.271-1-24) is healthy and during fall practice showed the same offensive form that earned him Freshman All-America honors in 2000. All-Pac-10 junior third baseman Michael Moon (.336-8-60, 12 stolen bases) and sophomore designated hitter Joey Metropoulos (.352-13-65) also return as Metropoulos moves to first base this season.
Lunetta moves to shortstop after three seasons as the Trojans' starting second baseman. He has underrated speed and should be the anchor for the infield. At the plate, he can be a productive No. 2 or No. 3 hitter and can hit for average or the power alleys.
'Anthony has been able to play without fear of hurting his elbow and work on his strength which he was unable to do last year,' said Gillespie. 'He is in position to have a great senior year.
Moon, who has shown a knack for clutch hitting, moves back to third base after being the team's starting shortstop last year. He earned All-West Region first team and All-Pac-10 honors last year. His speed and defense make him a valuable player.
Metropoulos earned Freshman All-America honors last year after showing uncommon power, but he will not be able to sneak up on opposing pitchers this year. He also earned All-West Region second team and All-Pac-10 honors, along with being named to the NCAA Regional All-Tournament team. Metropoulos will get his fair share of home runs, however, if he gets good protection around him in the lineup. His ability to improve on defense may prove to be a key for the Trojans later in the season.
'Joey will certainly face the challenge of being a marked man this season, but he should become one of the best hitters in USC's history,' said Gillespie.
Junior Jon Brewster (.277-1-8) should get the nod to start at second base, but he has the ability to play any infield position.
The outfield consists of senior returners Travis McAndrews (.324-3-28) in center and David Gordon (.326-1-22) in right. Spencer Gordon (no relation to David), who surprised the coaching staff in the fall, will get the starting nod in left field. McAndrews and David Gordon were junior transfers last year and should aid the younger players with their experience. Both players can hit for power or average and will be tough outs in the Trojans' lineup.
'Travis had a very good summer and solidified his spot as a starter,' said Gillespie. 'It's not a stretch to think that David will have a strong year. He has power to burn and we have high hopes for him.'
Behind the plate, senior Matt Bonovich (.279-1-19) will cushion the loss of Concepcion. His strong defensive skills will benefit the pitching staff. As a junior college transfer last year from Sacramento City College, Bonovich started 12 games.
'We have a nucleus of defensive starters returning that makes us believe that we will play strong defense,' said Gillespie. 'We need strong leadership from other veteran players. It's been our experience that our best teams play when we have senior leadership.'
Another bat in the lineup will come from highly-touted freshman catcher Jeff Clement (Marshalltown, Ia./Marshalltown HS). Clement made national news last summer when he set the national high school record with 75 career home runs. His left-handed power has already drawn comparisons to former power-hitting Trojan catcher Eric Munson.
Team speed will also be a factor with the addition of freshman infielder Brent Walker (San Luis Obispo, Calif./Mission College Prep) and junior outfielder Tyler Haskell (Austin, Tex./McNeil HS/Temple College).
Other freshmen who may also see some playing time this season are outfielder Jason Filarey (Cypress, Calif./Cypress HS), outfielder Ryan Broderick (Palm Desert, Calif./Palm Desert HS) and catcher Baron Frost (San Diego, Calif./St. Augustine HS).
'I think it's always a bonus if you have a genuine mix of left and right-handed bats down the lineup,' said Gillespie. 'We have a good blend this year. When we face teams who have that setup, you are always concerned about that as a coach. I think that should be a plus for us.'
Team chemistry seems to be in place as Gillespie noted the veterans and newcomers have meshed together quickly based on the fall practice.
Last year's pitching staff endured a slew of injuries, but senior Anthony Reyes (4-2, 3.44 ERA, 65 1/3 IP, 69 H, 17 BB, 49 SO), junior Fraser Dizard (1.50 ERA in only 6 innings) and junior Brian Bannister (redshirted) are healthy for the 2003 season.
'Last year's bad news is this year's good news,' said Gillespie. 'Anthony, Fraser and Brian should be at the top of their games.'
Reyes will need to step up in his final season at USC. After earning All-Pac-10 honors last year, the staff will look to use Reyes' former experience with the U.S. National Team to help the others.
'Anthony is a legitimate No. 1 college starter with good stuff,' said Gillespie. 'He has three pitches and is a world-class fielding pitcher.'
Sophomore Brett Bannister (8-3, 3.56 ERA, 86 IP, 80 H, 32 BB, 76 SO), Brian's brother, had an outstanding freshman season and showed he can pitch as a starter or reliever. Quality help from the bullpen will come from senior Jordan Olson (3-2, 6.48 ERA, 58 1/3 IP, 78 H, 49 SO, 2 saves), junior Jon Williams (5-2, 5.84 ERA, 61 2/3 IP, 84 H, 31 SO, 3 saves) and sophomore Bret Butler (2-1, 8.07 ERA, 29 IP, 39 H, 22 SO).
'Brett is one of the premier sophomore pitchers in the nation,' said Gillespie. 'He was a key for us last year. Jordan has matured on the mound, while Jon will be a valuable pitcher for us in a variety of roles. Bret has improved his velocity and should be a key reliever.'
Freshman Bobby Paschal (Northridge, Calif/Chaminade HS) will add another left-hander to the staff.
'Bobby has demonstrated that he is advanced and ready to pitch in a prominent role right now,' said Gillespie.
The staff's depth took a hit recently with the academic losses of Matt Chico (6-4, 5.45 ERA, 69 1/3 IP, 81 H, 69 SO) and Cory Campos (6-3, 3.84 ERA, 68 IP, 76 H, 69 SO), although Campos is expected to redshirt in hopes of rejoining the team in 2004.
With construction on Dedeaux Field now completed, the Trojans will go back to a normal schedule for 2003 after opening last year with 22 straight road games. USC opens the season at UC Santa Barbara before weekend series against Top 25 opponents Long Beach State, South Alabama and Baylor. The Baylor series will be the first of four straight weekends on the road, including non-conference series against Stanford and UCLA and the Pac-10 Conference opener at Arizona.
The Trojans will also play another Top 25 power, Cal State Fullerton, in a weekend series for the first time ever.
Fans and players alike will be able to enjoy the benefits of the 'new' Dedeaux Field. The $4 million project completed last spring increased capacity to 2,500 with the addition of stadium seats and new seating area on the first base side. The USC Baseball Hall of Fame also will be completed prior to this season, allowing fans to view all 12 national championship trophies and the rich history of the program. A new locker room and player's lounge, located on the first base side, is also part of the project.
'What we now have is a facility that is on the short list of one of the best in the nation,' said Gillespie. 'As it relates to recruiting, we have a facility that is very impressive and attractive. We are thrilled with it.'
It's another season of lofty goals for the Trojans, but everything will be in reach for the team in 2003.
'This is a team that we have high expectations for and it is a team that is capable of being among the nation's elite,' said Gillespie. 'It would not be a surprise to see this team in Omaha, but talk is cheap. We would be disappointed if this didn't turn out to be a good team.'
TOMORROW | 7:00pm PTLive