2004 Season Outlook: Stanford Starts 2004 Deep In Talent And Experience
There seems to be no such thing as a rebuilding year at Stanford and 2004 looks to be no different. Once again, the Cardinal is reloaded and ready to challenge lofty expectations as Stanford strives to extend its school record with a sixth consecutive trip to Omaha. The 2004 squad should be a team deep in experience and talent despite losing three All-Americans from last season's squad that became the third Stanford club in the last four years to reach the finals of the College World Series, while posting a 51-18 overall mark and an 18-6 conference record to win an outright Pac-10 title.
'It creates an expectation level that's probably not realistic,' said Stanford head coach Mark Marquess about the team's recent extended successful run that has included four 50-plus win seasons in the last five years and a school-record nine straight campaigns with 40 or more victories. 'Our fans and players think that we are going to go to the College World Series every year, but it's not that easy. We're good, and we've created that, but you have to be good and get a little bit lucky.'
On paper, Stanford looks to be good again in 2004, perhaps very good. The Cardinal ranks as high as No. 3 in the NCBWA preseason poll. Sports Weekly/ESPN has the Cardinal fourth, while Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball both rank Stanford sixth in their annual preseason polls.
Four preseason All-Americans (Sam Fuld, John Mayberry, Jr., Danny Putnam and Mark Romanczuk) highlight a roster that features nine starters returning from last year's team (eight position players, one pitcher) and 21 players that have earned at least one letter during their collegiate career. The Cardinal also has an exciting and talented freshman class that could contribute immediately.
'We have a solid group coming back, but we lost our best two best offensive players (Ryan Garko and Carlos Quentin) to graduation and the draft,' said a cautiously optimistic Marquess. 'That's a big hole to fill, but we're not starting from scratch. It is not a rebuilding year.'
Fuld, a two-time All-American and three-time All-Pac-10 choice, is a National Player of the Year candidate and the undeniable heart and soul of the team. The senior centerfielder has been tabbed as a unanimous Preseason All-American heading into his final year on The Farm, which he begins with several all-time Stanford records in sight. He is already ranked among the school's career leaders in triples (15, #4T), hits (288, #5), doubles (53, #8T), runs scored (206, #9) and batting average (.350, #9T), and is just outside the Top 10 in games played (200) and at bats (822) with a chance to break Stanford's all-time record in both of those categories as well. Fuld, who was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 24th round of the 2003 MLB First-Year Player Draft but decided to return to Stanford for his senior season, already holds the all-time College World Series mark with 24 hits and has earned All-CWS honors twice.
'Probably the best thing that happened to our baseball program this year is having Sam Fuld come back for his senior season,' said an excited Marquess about his projected leadoff hitter. 'He's one of the premier, if not the premier, centerfielder in college baseball.'
Mayberry, Jr., a Second Team Preseason All-American pick by Baseball America, is bursting with talent and expected to be in the middle of the Cardinal's offensive plans this season. The highly-touted sophomore added 15 pounds to his lanky frame in the offseason and should be the team's everyday starter at first base. A year ago, he earned Freshman All-American honors from Collegiate Baseball as he showed flashes of brilliance, including a 16-game hit streak early in the campaign, before finishing the season with a .299 batting average, four homers, 33 RBI and five stolen bases. He also burned fierce Pac-10 rival USC, going 15-for-27 (.556) with two homers and 12 RBI versus the Trojans.
'We're really thrilled with John,' said Marquess about the first round selection of the Seattle Mariners in the 2002 MLB First-Year Player Draft. 'He came in with a lot of fanfare last year and responded well. He had a good freshman season and will become more of the focus this year. He's a rapidly maturing player and an amazing talent.'
Putnam, a First Team Baseball America and Third Team NCBWA Preseason All-American choice, has the potential to have the biggest offensive season of any Stanford player. Last year, the junior outfielder broke through for a .348 batting average with 16 homers and 66 RBI in his first year as a full-time starter. He played especially well in the postseason, leading the Cardinal with five homers and 21 RBI to go with a .320 batting average while earning All-College World Series and All-Regional honors. Putnam will long be remembered for his game-winning two-run homer in the top of the 10th inning to cap Stanford's dramatic 7-5 comeback win over Cal State Fullerton in a CWS Bracket One final.
'Danny Putnam should be one of the best hitters in the Pac-10 and perhaps the country this season,' commented Marquess. 'We hope he can pick up right where he left off last year.'
'Mark had an incredible freshman year but his role will be different this season,' reminded Marquess. 'He will now be pitching against the best pitchers from other teams, but he's up for that. He's arguably the top returning pitcher in the Pac-10 and should develop nicely as our ace.'
Seniors Jonny Ash and Brian Hall highlight Stanford's other returning starters. Ash emerged as the team's starter at third base last season and is expected to remain there this year. He finished the campaign with a .314 batting average, a pair of homers and 33 RBI. Ash capped his year with a tremendous postseason, hitting .393 with two homers (both at the College World Series) and 16 RBI to earn All-CWS and All-Regional recognition. The versatile and athletic Hall, who is expected to be the team's opening day starter in right field after finishing last season at first base, posted a .293 batting average with six homers, 44 RBI and a team-leading 18 stolen bases in 2003.
Junior Donny Lucy is expected to replace departed All-American Ryan Garko as the team's starting catcher after spending two years paying his dues behind the 2003 Johnny Bench Award winner. Lucy did manage to start 34 of the team's 69 games a year ago, primarily at designated hitter. He finished the season with a .291 batting average, a pair of homers, 18 RBI and six stolen bases. One of his two homers was a solo walkoff 10th inning shot that clinched the Pac-10 title and a 9-8 victory over UCLA.
Sophomore Jed Lowrie will likely move to shortstop this season after spending most of the second half of last year as the team's starter at second base. The defensive-oriented Lowrie, who managed to contribute a .292 batting average with 28 RBI and five stolen bases last year, has improved his overall strength and offensive skills from a year ago and is expected to hit in the middle of the lineup or in the number two spot this season.
Other returnees that also started a significant number of games last season and are candidates to be in the opening day lineup this year include Chris Carter (.241, 7 HR, 17 RBI) and Chris Lewis (.159, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 1 SB). Carter has the inside track on the designated hitter spot, while Lewis is making a run at returning to the lineup as the starter at second base with Lowrie's possible move to shortstop.
Sophomore right-hander Matt Manship (2-4, 3.98, 9 SV, 63.1 IP, 50 SO) is slated to join Romanczuk in the starting rotation after earning Freshman All-American and honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors as the team's primary closer last season. Several pitchers have the opportunity to earn the club's third spot in the rotation.
Senior right-hander David O'Hagan (7-1, 4.89 ERA, 3 SV, 49.2 IP, 43 SO) should be a mainstay in the bullpen possibly the team's closer after a breakthrough season last year. Other returning pitchers include senior right-hander Drew Ehrlich (1-0, 5.12 ERA, 19.1 IP, 18 SO), junior right-handers Jonny Dyer (2-1, 5.14 ERA, 21.0 IP, 19 SO) and Mark Jecmen (1-0, 5.19 ERA, 8.2 IP, 7 SO), and sophomore righties Kodiak Quick (2-0, 4.25, 3 SV, 36.0 IP, 34 SO) and Jeff Gilmore (0-0, 0.00, 2.1 IP, 2 SO).
Four Stanford players - Pete Duda (So., RHP), Noah Hawthorne (So., RHP), Steve Papazian (Jr., RHP) and Ben Summerhays (So., INF) - return to the squad hoping to make their collegiate debuts in 2004. Cameron Matthews (Jr., OF) has earned a roster spot with an impressive fall after two seasons as a student manager.
Infielder Adam Sorgi (Mission Viejo, CA/Capistrano Valley HS) is the most likely freshman position player to make an immediate impact and has a chance to earn a spot as the team's starting shortstop. Sorgi was a 49th round draft pick by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2003 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Freshman right-handed pitcher Greg Reynolds (Pacifica, CA/Terra Nova HS) has a legitimate opportunity to begin the season as the team's third starter. He was the Gatorade California Baseball Player of the Year as a prep senior in 2003 and selected in the 41st round of the draft last summer by the Philadelphia Phillies.
Other members of Stanford's freshman class that were drafted out of high school include infielder Joe Ayers (Juneau, AK/Juneau Douglas HS) by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 36th round and outfielder Jim Rapoport (Westlake Village, CA/Chaminade College Prep) in the 39th round by the Cleveland Indians.
Additional position players from the freshman class include catcher Josh Corn (Allendale, NJ/Northern Highlands Regional HS), infielder Zach Gianos (Menlo Park, CA/Menlo-Atherton HS), infielder/outfielder Ryan Kissick (Pacific Palisades, CA/Harvard-Westlake School) and outfielder Ryan Seawell (Menlo Park, CA/Menlo School).
Other freshmen pitchers joining the Cardinal staff include right-handers Logan Ardis (Modesto, CA/Beyer HS), Matt Leva (Galveston, TX/Galveston Ball HS) and Jeff Stimpson (Redondo Beach, CA/Redondo Union HS), as well as southpaw Blake Holler (Terre Haute, IN/Terre Haute North Vigo HS).
'I think this freshman class will contribute a lot,' added Marquess. 'It's a solid class, especially with a lot of good, young arms.'
'We should have as good of depth this season as we've had in a while, especially with five seniors coming back,' summarized Marquess. 'It's happened that way the last couple of years, and it really helps us. It's good because we have veteran players, and that's important because it gives you players that have been there and done it before. That senior leadership will mean a lot to us and lets the younger players know what to expect, the work ethic it takes and how to get through tough times.'
The team's experience will come in handy as the Cardinal will once again play one of the most difficult schedules in the nation with 27 games slated against teams ranked among the top 35 clubs in Baseball America's preseason Top 50.
'We think that having a tough non-conference schedule really prepares us for the Pac-10 and hopefully the postseason,' justifies Marquess. 'The scary thing is that if you're not good, you could be under .500. That does scare me, but we will develop and grow as a club a lot more quickly by playing better teams.'
Stanford is scheduled to open the 2004 campaign by hosting No. 4 preseason pick and 2003 CWS participant Cal State Fullerton in a three-game set January 30-February 1. The Cardinal will then travel to Fresno State (February 6-8) before hosting Kansas (February 13-15) and preseason No. 8 Texas (February 20-22) in back-to-back home series. After a home exhibition versus Rikkyo University of Japan on February 24, the Cardinal will visit No. 26 California (February 27-29) and No. 28 USC (March 5-7) for a pair of non-conference three-game sets to conclude its schedule before a 15-day break for winter quarter finals.
Stanford will return to the diamond for a pair of local non-conference games at Saint Mary's (March 23) and Santa Clara (March 24) before hosting Cal Poly in a three-game set (March 26-28) and traveling to San Jose State (March 30) to make final preparations for Pac-10 play.
The Cardinal opens Pac-10 action with a pair of three-game road series at UCLA (April 2-4) and Oregon State (April 8-10) before hosting California (April 16-18) and Washington State (April 30-May 2) in its next two Pac-10 series. Stanford will then hit the road for back-to-back series at No. 35 Washington (May 7-9) and No. 16 Arizona (May 15-17) before concluding its league schedule with a couple of enticing home series against USC (May 21-23) and No. 18 Arizona State (May 28-30).
Stanford will also host non-conference contests versus Santa Clara (April 13), Saint Mary's (April 20), Sacramento State (April 23), San Jose State (May 4), Santa Clara (May 18) and San Francisco (May 18) during its conference season, while traveling to Sacramento State (April 24) and Santa Clara (April 27). NCAA Regional action runs June 4-6 at 16 sites around the nation that will be announced one day after the end of the regular season on May 31. The eight NCAA Super Regionals, also hosted at eight separate yet to be determined locations, will be televised live by ESPN for the second year in a row from June 11-14. ESPN will also televise every game of the College World Series from June 18-28 in Omaha, Nebraska.
'ESPN has really helped the exposure for college baseball,' emphasized Marquess. 'If you're really going to thrive as a sport, you have to be on TV. It's been a good marriage and has really helped our game. Last year's expanded Super Regional coverage enhanced the popularity of our sport, and it's just going to get better. It's really been a boon to the success of college baseball.'
Stanford played its final 10 games of the 2003 season live on ESPN and was televised a total of 15 times.
Following is a position-by-position look at the 2004 Stanford Cardinal:
Stanford has lots of potential on the mound but pitching may also be the club's biggest question mark with a young and mostly inexperienced staff. The team's top two starters should be the sophomore duo of LHP Mark Romanczuk (12-2, 4.01 ERA, 2 SV, 112.1 IP, 80 SO) and RHP Matt Manship (2-4, 3.98 ERA, 9 SV, 63.1 IP, 50 SO). Romanczuk, one of four players selected by Collegiate Baseball as National Freshmen of the Year in 2003, has the inside track to replace John Hudgins as the team's ace, while Manship will move into the rotation after developing into the team's closer last season. The club's third spot in the rotation seems to be wide-open with hard-throwing freshmen right-handed pitchers Greg Reynolds (Pacifica, CA/Terra Nova HS) and Matt Leva (Galveston, TX/Galveston Ball HS) as well as sophomore Jeff Gilmore (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 2.1 IP, 2 SO), the team's most pleasant surprise in fall practice, having the best chance of filling the role.
Senior David O'Hagan (7-1, 4.89 ERA, 3 SV, 49.2 IP, 43 SO) should anchor the bullpen and may end up replacing Manship as the team's primary closer. O'Hagan was brilliant in the postseason and especially the College World Series last year, not allowing an earned run in 8.1 innings of work in the playoffs. Sophomore Kodiak Quick (2-0, 4.25 ERA, 3 SV, 36.0 IP, 34 SO) should also play a large role on this year's staff after an impressive freshman campaign, while freshman RHP Matt Leva (Galveston, TX/Galveston Ball HS) is emerging along with Reynolds to stand out among the rookie pitchers.
Senior RHP Drew Ehrlich (1-0, 5.12 ERA, 19.1 IP, 18 SO) is a veteran pitcher that should play an expanded role this season, while junior right-handers Jonny Dyer (2-1, 5.14 ERA, 21.0 IP, 11 SO) and Mark Jecmen (1-0, 5.19 ERA, 8.2 IP, 7 SO) could be significant contributors as well.
Junior RHP Steve Papazian and sophomore RHP Pete Duda are looking for their first action in a Cardinal uniform after missing action while recovering from arm injuries. Sophomore RHP Noah Hawthorne was a member of the team last season but did not see any game action.
Southpaw Blake Holler (Terre Haute, IN/Terre Haute North Vigo HS) is a promising freshman, while rookie right-handers Logan Ardis (Modesto, CA/Beyer HS) and Jeff Stimpson (Redondo Beach, CA/Redondo Union HS) complete the staff.
'We have a young staff with good arms,' said Marquess. 'If we get Romanczuk, Manship and two or three other guys to pitch well, we should be fine. For this team to be successful, we're going to have to pitch well, but that's true of most teams.'
Despite the graduation of 2003 All-American and Johnny Bench Award winner Ryan Garko, the Cardinal looks good behind the plate. Junior Donny Lucy (.291, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 6 SB) is poised to take over for Garko after waiting in the wings for two seasons. Lucy is a talented and athletic player that is projected to go high in the 2004 MLB First-Year Player Draft with his tools. He is strong defensively, excellent receiver, handles pitchers well and has thrown out half of the opponents (9-of-18) trying to run on him in limited action. Lucy has been as a part-time starter at designated hitter and first base during the last two years, while also spelling Garko occasionally.
Sophomore John Hester, who Marquess claims would start on most collegiate teams across the country, is slated to be the primary backup. Hester has an excellent throwing arm and is a good receiver. Last season, he showed his home run potential when he went deep in the second to last game of the regular season versus Cal Poly.
Freshman Josh Corn (Allendale, NJ/Northern Highlands Regional HS) is expected to be the team's third catcher in his rookie campaign.
'Our catching is unquestionably one of our strengths,' said Marquess. 'I wouldn't trade our catching for anybody's in college baseball. We're talented and deep at the catching spot.'
Sophomore John Mayberry, Jr. looks to have a lock on the first base position and is expected to develop into one of the team's primary offensive threats this season. Mayberry showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie campaign last year before finishing with a .299 average, four homers, 33 RBI and five stolen bases that was good enough to earn Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American honors. His potential is high enough that Baseball America has made him a Second Team Preseason All-American prior to the 2004 campaign. He also has outstanding defensive skills at first base, an excellent throwing arm and is a big target for Cardinal infielders.
The team's other possibilities at first base are sophomore Ben Summerhays, who is more likely to see action at designated hitter or as the first left-handed bat off the bench, and versatile senior Brian Hall (.293, 6 HR, 44 RBI, 18 SB). Hall finished last season as the club's first baseman but is slated to open the 2004 campaign in right field.
'Mayberry is our guy at first base, but we're well covered if we need to go to somebody else,' commented Marquess.
Second base is the most wide-open position on the team heading into preseason practice with sophomore Chris Lewis (.159, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 1 SB) leading a long list of candidates. Lewis started 19 games at second base early in his rookie campaign. Sophomore Jed Lowrie (.292, 0 HR, 28 RBI, 5 SB) is also a possibility if freshman Adam Sorgi (Mission Viejo, CA/Capistrano Valley HS) wins the starting job at shortstop. However, Lowrie is slated to move from second base, where he started 38 games as a rookie a year ago, to shortstop to open the 2004 season. Chris Minaker (.167) has also shown great improvement from a year ago and is a strong defensive player that can't be counted out of the competition. The Cardinal could even go to senior Jonny Ash (.314, 2 HR, 33 RBI, 1 SB), the team's projected starter at third base, if necessary. Ash spent most of his first two seasons training at second base before becoming the starter at third base midway through last season. Freshman Joe Ayers (Juneau, AK/Juneau Douglas HS) can also play the position.
Stanford's versatility and depth at second base, as well as shortstop and third base, is spawned by the team's attitude of training its infielders to play all three positions.
'It allows us to cover ourselves with things such as injuries and sickness,' analyzes Marquess. 'We've done it the last few years, and it really has served us well. It's good for the players also because they know they have a chance to get in the lineup in a lot of different spots.'
Jed Lowrie is considered to be the team's top defensive infielder with the best throwing arm and is projected to replace departed senior Tobin Swope, who started all 69 games at shortstop last season to leave the Cardinal void of a player who has started a college game at the position. Sorgi made a push to be the team's starter with an excellent fall practice session and is also a top defensive player. Defensively, Minaker would probably be the next infielder to step in at the position after working out there as Swope's backup in 2003.
'Jed Lowrie is an excellent defensive player with a terrific arm, and that's what we focus on at the shortstop position,' said Marquess. 'But, I also think we have several other players that could step in and get the job done.'
Jonny Ash is one of the team's most experienced and clutch players, as well as very valuable to its offensive equation. He is expected to retain his hold on the starting job that he gained midway through last year and solidified with his postseason performance that included a .393 batting average, 16 RBI and his first two career homers in key moments at the College World Series. Ash, who started 34 games at third base a year ago, is also a solid defensive player with excellent hands, quickness and range.
'Sometimes we like to leave one of our infielders at a particular position and then move other guys around him, and that's what I plan to do with Jonny Ash this season,' said Marquess. 'His bat should keep him in the lineup.'
Lewis could be Ash's primary backup as he spent most of his time last summer with the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod League playing the hot corner. Hall (23) and Lowrie (12) could also play the position as the duo combined to start the team's other 35 games at third base a year ago.
Stanford should be extremely strong, both offensively and defensively, as well as experienced in the outfield in 2004. Preseason All-American and National Player of the Year candidate Sam Fuld (.321, 4 HR, 35 RBI, 10 SB) begins his fourth season as the club's starter in center field and has already put together one of the finest careers in the Stanford Baseball history with a pair of All-American selections and three All-Pac-10 honors highlighting his accomplishments. Fuld heads into his senior campaign on The Farm poised to rewrite the school's record book and is already among the all-time leaders in triples (15, #4T), hits (288, #5), doubles (53, #8T), runs scored (206, #9) and batting average (.350, #9T), as well as just outside the Top 10 with a legitimate chance to reach the top in games played (200) and at bats (822). Fuld has been named to the All-College World Series team twice and is already the all-time CWS leader with 24 hits. In addition, he broke Stanford's single-season record with 110 hits during his sophomore campaign.
Putnam, who is expected to move from left to right field this season, had a breakout year in 2003 with a .348 batting average, 16 homers and 66 RBI. He punctuated his year by leading the Cardinal with five homers and 21 RBI to go with a .320 batting average in the postseason, earning All-CWS and All-Regional selections. Putnam is expected to be in the middle of Stanford's offensive attack as he will be looked upon to pick up some of the slack left by the departure of Ryan Garko and Carlos Quentin, who combined for 30 homers and 156 RBI a year ago. He is also an underrated defensive player who has not made an error in his collegiate career and has an excellent arm.
The versatile and athletic Hall is expected to open his final collegiate season in right field after beginning last year as the opening day starter at third base, before finishing the season as the team's first baseman. Hall will bring speed and defense to the position as he is the team's active career leader with 38 stolen bases and has a .985 career fielding percentage with 40 of his 63 starts last season in the infield. Hall led the Cardinal with 18 stolen bases a year ago, while hitting .293 with six homers and 44 RBI.
Freshman Jim Rapoport (Westlake Village, CA/ Chaminade College Prep) is apparently being groomed to replace Fuld in center field in 2005 and should be the team's fourth outfielder this season. Rapoport, an excellent defensive outfielder and one of the fastest players on the team, could also be used at one of the corner outfield spots.
Junior Chris Carter (.241, 7 HR, 17 RBI) may also see some action in left field but will probably be used primarily in the designated hitter slot.
Junior Cameron Matthews, as well as freshmen Ryan Kissick (Pacific Palisades, CA/Harvard-Westlake School) and Ryan Seawell (Menlo Park, CA/Menlo School) also join the team's outfield crew this season.
'Outfield is a huge strength for us, both offensively and defensively,' exclaimed Marquess. 'We have as good of depth in the outfield that we have had in a long time and some very experienced personnel. Defensively, this may be as good of an outfield that we've had since I've been here.'
The designated hitter spot will usually be reserved for the team's hottest bat that does not find a position defensively. Carter led the team with 24 starts at the position last year and is expected to be the club's primary DH in 2004. Summerhays is also a possibility, especially against right-handed pitching if Carter plays in the outfield. Hester and Lewis are strong candidates against left-handed pitching with Sorgi playing shortstop and Lowrie moving to second base if Lewis is the DH.
'Anybody who's swinging a hot bat has a chance to be our designated hitter,' explained Marquess. 'There's going to be a lot of competition.'