2004 California Baseball Outlook
Jan. 13, 2004
BERKELEY, CA - The 2004 California baseball team just might have the perfect blend of experience and youth to get the Golden Bears back into postseason play this season. With the combination of several experienced veterans and a freshman class that is ranked the fifth-best in the nation by Baseball America, Cal could very well vie for its first NCAA Regional berth since 2001.
The Bears, ranked 26th in Baseball America's Top-50 Preseason Poll, feature a senior class that includes right-hander Matt Brown, right fielder Brian Horwitz and shortstop Jeff Dragicevich - all major contributors as freshmen when Cal played in the 2001 NCAA Regional in Baton Rogue, Louisiana. Added to this group of Bear seniors is catcher Chris Grossman, who had a breakout season last year, batting .341 with 16 doubles, eight home runs and 45 RBI, leading the Bears in hits (72), doubles and total bases (112). During the year, he had two game-tying home runs, a game-winning home run versus Loyola Marymount and a game-winning RBI single in the 12th inning versus UC Irvine. Grossman was also one of 10 semifinalists for the Johnny Bench Award as the nation's top collegiate catcher.
Brown, who was drafted in the 29th round by the Chicago Cubs last June, struggled a bit in 2003, going 4-8, but has 12 wins and 14 career saves under his belt and should be one of the Pac-10's top hurlers. Horwitz, drafted in 26th round by the Oakland A's, batted .347 last season and had several impressive performances, including tying a school record with eight RBI (4-for-4, 2B, 2-HR) against Texas-Pan American. He also produced a game-winning RBI against Nebraska and a game-winning home run versus San Jose State. Dragicevich has been Cal's starting shortstop the past three years and owns a .294 career batting average, including hitting .326 versus Pac-10 competition in 2003. Grossman, Horwitz and Dragicevich were all named honorable mention All-Pac-10.
Three more veteran players who should again contribute are junior right-hander Jesse Ingram, junior right-hander Mike Padgett and junior first baseman James Holder. Ingram has proven to be a valuable reliever, going 5-2 as a redshirt freshman and 2-3 with eight saves last season - the second-most single-season saves in Cal history. Padgett, a transfer from the University of Portland, pitched well towards the end of last year and finished 5-3 with a 3.43 ERA. Holder held down the first base duties for the Bears in 2003, hitting .305 with 15 doubles, six home runs and 38 RBI.
Cal also showcases a large class of 16 newcomers in 2004 - with 6-6, 190-pound left-handed outfielder/first baseman Brennan Boesch; 6-2, 175-pound catcher Garrett Bussiere; 6-5, 210-pound left-handed pitcher Case Dahlen; 6-1, 195-pound switch-hitting outfielder Chris Errecart and 6-3, 175-pound right-handed pitcher Brandon Morrow - all earning mention in Baseball America as some of the nation's top freshmen.
As a senior at Harvard-Westlake High School, Boesch was a preseason All-American in Baseball America and went on to hit .490 with seven home runs, earning All-CIF Southern Section honors. Bussiere batted .471 with three doubles, a triple, six home runs and 26 RBI as a senior at Northglenn High School in Northglenn, Colorado, earning first team All-State honors and was drafted in the 14th round by the Milwaukee Brewers last June.
Dahlen was selected the No. 4 prospect in the country in Perfect Game's Top 100 Class of 2003 Prospects before suffering an injury to his left shoulder. At the plate he still batted .433 with eight home runs and 32 RBI as a senior, earning Los Angeles Times All-Region and All-Bay League honors for Peninsula High School. In 2003, Errecart batted .531 with 12 home runs, 41 RBI and 20 stolen bases, earning both league and all-area MVP honors, as well as all-state and Collegiate Baseball All-America accolades, for Lincoln High School in Stockton.
Morrow was an impressive 9-2 with a 0.61 ERA, and had 84 strikeouts in 63.0 innings last spring at Rancho Cotate High School. He was first team all-league and first team All-North Coast Section, and was drafted in the 40th round by the Anaheim Angles last June.
'We have a great mix of veteran players and young talent,' said Bear coach David Esquer, the 2001 Pac-10 Coach of the Year who is entering his fifth season. 'This is the most experienced team I have ever had at Cal, and combined with our talented freshman class, this is also the team with the most depth.'
Cal has several other players who will be counted on to be major contributors, and the kind of season these players produce will go a long ways in determining whether or not the Bears make postseason.
On the mound, Cal returns juniors Kyle Crist, Joe Todoroff, Travis Talbott and sophomore Adam Gold - all capable of either starting or pitching in long relief. Crist has the potential to be one of the Bears' Pac-10 starters, throwing in the low 90s with an array of breaking pitches. Todoroff is also a possible weekend starter after going 5-2 with a 4.64 ERA last season. Talbott has established himself as one of Cal's top left-handed relievers, producing a 3-1 record with a save and a 4.33 ERA in 2003. Gold will also be counted on to be a key member of the pitching staff after throwing extremely well in the final Pac-10 series against Stanford and finishing with a 3.38 ERA.
The Bears have numerous position players who will be counted on for increased productivity as well. Sophomore infielder Allen Craig was extremely impressive last year until a fractured left wrist against Washington State curtailed his play. Craig, who is slated to start at third base, hit a home run in his first collegiate at bat and started the season on a 12-game hitting streak, including a grand slam versus Loyola Marymount.
Juniors David Nicholson and Justin Nelson are two more returning starters from 2003. Nicholson, who started 53 games at second base, has led Cal in stolen bases the last two years. He has a .293 career batting average and, with his speed, has the potential to be one of the Pac-10's top lead-off hitters. Nelson started 40 games in left field in 2003 and has the talent to be one of the league's top left-handed power hitters. He had a three home run game against Oregon State last year and finished the season with nine doubles, two triples, nine home runs and 32 RBI.
Other key returnees for the Bears will be senior outfielder David Weiner, junior infielder/catcher Matt Einspahr and sophomore outfielder Jeremy Burchett. Weiner is a left-handed speedster who has been slowed by injuries throughout his college career, but is now healthy and is in contention for starting duties in center field. He has a career .285 batting average with 17 doubles, four triples, eight home runs, 48 RBI and 22 stolen bases. Einspahr has the ability to catch and play any position in the infield. He hit extremely well in fall practice and notched two home runs in the fall alumni game. Burchett is also in the thick of the race for starting duties in the Cal outfield after starting 23 games in center field last year, hitting .248 with nine doubles, a home run and 14 RBI. He can be utilized as a closer on the mound with a fastball in the low 90s.
Four additional newcomers who could make an immediate impact are sophomore transfer Cameron Johnson and freshmen Jordan Karnofsky, Josh Satin and Travis Howell. Johnson is a left-hander from Berkeley who transferred from Brown University where he was second team All-Ivy League, batting .276 with 20 RBI. He is also in the running for starting duties in the Bears' outfield and can be utilized as a reliever. Karnofsky, a left-handed hitting infielder from Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento, has been impressive at the plate during fall practice and could step in and be Cal's designated hitter. Satin is a talented middle infielder with impressive credentials from Harvard-Westlake High School, while Howell, a 6-3, 215 pounder from Los Gatos High School, will join Garrett Bussiere as the Bears' back-up catchers to senior Chris Grossman.
Cal By Positions
As always, a big key in the Bears advancing to a NCAA Regional this season will be the performance of the pitching staff. The Cal coaching staff feels there are several potential starters, but players' roles will be determined as the season progresses.
Senior Matt Brown has shown he can thrive in any role assigned, possessing outstanding control to go along with an impressive array of pitches. He is a big right-hander (6-5, 230 pounds) who throws a fastball in the low 90s and has an effective knuckle curve. Brown is also a proven winner, being named series MVP after leading his team to the American Legion World Series title in the summer of 2000, while he was a Cape Cod League All-Star in 2002.
Junior Mike Padgett, a crafty, right-hander who picked up key wins last year, is slated to be another starter for Cal, but can also utilized as a reliever. Padgett, who throws with a three-quarter delivery, finished 2003 with a 5-3 record and a 3.43 ERA, recording Pac-10 wins over UCLA and Washington.
Four more projected starters are junior right-handers Kyle Crist and Joe Todoroff, sophomore Adam Gold and true freshman Brandon Morrow. Crist and Todoroff have both shown flashes of brilliance in the past and are ready to become consistent Pac-10 starters. Crist has good command of his fastball, curve, slider and change-up. Todoroff throws in the upper 80s with four pitches - fastball, curve, slider and change-up. If Todoroff and Crist are not used in a starting role, they could be utilized as long relievers.
Gold throws in the high 80s with a slider and change-up. He pitched mostly in relief last year, making 15 appearances with a 3.38 ERA, but has been impressive in preseason practice. The Cal coaches are extremely high on freshman Morrow, who throws in the low 90s with a slider, change-up and split finger fastball, and could immediately be one of the Bears' weekend starters.
One of the Bears' leaders out of the bullpen will be junior Jesse Ingram, who has established himself as a top reliever with nine career saves, including eight saves last season. Ingram, who also has the ability to start and has been one of Pac-10 leaders in appearances the last two seasons, throws in the low 90s with a solid curveball. Junior Travis Talbott is Cal's top left-handed reliever, throwing in the mid-80s from a variety of arm angles.
Seniors Blake Read and Aaron Swick, juniors Brent Hale, Matt Swanson and Alec Harris could also play important roles for the Bears this season. Read has given Cal several good innings in his college career as a spot reliever and is coming off a successful summer in the San Diego Prospects League. Swick is a 6-6 right-hander who has the ability to be an effective reliever with a slider, curveball and change-up. 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 19 strikeouts in 23.3 innings last season. Swanson is a 6-7 right-hander who has only made 11 appearances in two years, but is 2-0 with 17 strikeouts in 26.3 innings. 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.
Two more players who could help the Bears are sophomore Alex Trafton and redshirt freshman Greg Acheatel. Trafton has only pitched one inning for Cal due to a stress fracture in his elbow suffered in high school, but throws in the high 80s and could contribute if healthy. Acheatel throws in the mid-to-high 80s with a fastball, curveball and change-up.
The Bears have four freshman who could immediately figure in the pitching scheme - left-handers Case Dahlen, Kevin Barnum and Nick Kaufman, and right-hander Alex Rollin. Dahlen and Barnum (Laguna Hills High School) both throw in the mid-80s with effective breaking pitches and could see action as either starter or relievers. Kaufman, from Palisades High School, will be utilized out of the bullpen, while Rollin, from Los Gatos High School, throws in the mid-to-high 80s and could either start or relieve.
Senior catcher Chris Grossman is slated for starting duties behind the plate after having an outstanding 2003 season. Grossman earned the team's George Wolfman Award as the most improved player, hitting .341 overall and .348 against Pac-10 competition. He also was improved defensively, throwing out 18 baserunners and finishing with a .989 fielding percentage.
The Bears will have two talented freshman catchers to back up Grossman - Garrett Bussiere and Travis Howell. Selected in the 14th round by the Milwaukee Brewers, Bussiere was the highest draft pick of any of the Cal freshman after hitting .471 as a senior in high school. Howell was also a talented high school hitter, batting .510 with 10 home and a .933 slugging percentage as a senior. Both Bussiere and Howell are also capable receivers, and should be solid defensive replacements for Grossman.
Junior Matt Einspahr is also ready to handle catching duties after making three starts behind the plate last season. Einspahr's ability to catch gives the Bears additional flexibility with their line-up. Another catcher on the Cal roster is junior Ben Liepman, who will be utilized primary as a bullpen catcher this year.
The Cal infield should be strong for the 2004 season with starters returning at every position. The Bears also have several true freshmen with the ability to step in and immediately see playing time.
Cal returns junior James Holder, a left-handed throwing, right-handed hitting first baseman. Holder came into his own last season, starting 39 games at first base, batting .305 with a .427 on-base percentage. Other first base candidates include freshmen standouts Brennan Boesch, Chris Errecart, Jordan Karnofsky and Mike Van Winden - all talented left-handed batters. Boesch and Errecart are also vying for spots in the Bears' outfield, while Karnofsky and Van Winden can play other infield positions. Van Winden, from Justin-Siena High School in Napa, impressed the Cal coaches with his hitting during fall practice.
Junior David Nicholson returns after starting 53 of 55 games at second base last season, hitting .283 overall and .310 versus Pac-10 competition. Freshman middle infielder Josh Satin could also be in the running for second base duties after hitting .478 with 10 home runs as a high school senior.
At shortstop, Cal returns senior Jeff Dragicevich, who is one of the most experienced middle infielders in the conference with 161 career starts. Dragicevich is a solid at the plate, hitting over .300 against Pac-10 competition in each of his three years. Defensively, he has good range with a strong, accurate arm. Satin and freshman Brett Munster, could also provide depth for the Bears at shortstop. Munster hit .370 as a 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.
Sophomore infielder Allen Craig is the frontrunner to start at third base after starting 23 games at shortstop as a true freshman last season for an injured Conor Jackson. Even though Craig ended up missing 17 games last year due to a fractured left wrist, he was impressive when healthy, starting the season with a 12-game hitting streak and finishing with seven doubles, two home runs, 16 RBI and a .285 average.
Junior Matt Einspahr is another 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 started seven games at third base last year and had an outstanding series at UCLA. Redshirt freshman Stephen Carlson could also be in the running for playing time. Carlson is a switch hitter with impressive credentials out of Seattle Prep in Washington.
Cal's outfield should have plenty of depth, with several players with starting experience returning, in addition to standout freshman recruits.
Junior Justin Nelson is a leading candidate to be the Bears' left fielder after 40 starts last season, but will be challenged by freshman Chris Errecart. The left-handed Nelson has shown the ability to be a top collegiate power hitter with 17 career home runs and 54 career RBI. Errecart, extremely impressive in fall practice, is a solid fielder and talented switch hitter. Sophomore Robert Nesbitt could also provide depth in left field for Cal.
Senior David Weiner and sophomores Jeremy Burchett and Cameron Johnson are in a tight battle for starting center field duties. Weiner had an outstanding freshman season in 2000, batting .306 with 12 stolen bases and was honorable mention All-Pac-10. He sat out the 2001 season following left shoulder surgery, batted .279 in 2002 and hit .296 in 11 games last season. Burchett started 23 games in center field in 2003 and has played well in fall practice, while Johnson is a talented left-handed hitter with a strong arm. Both Burchett and Johnson can be utilized as relief pitchers as well.
Senior Brian Horwitz is the Bears' top right fielder with good speed and an outstanding arm. Horwitz was stellar as a freshman in 2001, establishing a new school record with a 23-game hitting streak and playing well at the NCAA South Regional. Last season, he was again impressive, finishing second on the team with a .347 average and batting .379 against Pac-10 competition.
Other potential right fielders for Cal include freshmen Brennan Boesch and Taylor Grigsby. Boesch, a talented left-handed hitter who was impressive in fall practice, could be utilized in the Bears' line-up right away, either as an outfielder, first baseman or designated hitter. 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.
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