2008 Season Outlook: Stanford To Open Season Friday Versus Nebraska

Feb. 19, 2008

Stanford and Nebraska will begin their 2008 seasons when the clubs meet for a four-game series at Klein Field at Sunken Diamond this Friday-Sunday, February 22-24. The series begins with a doubleheader on Friday (2 pm, PT) with single games to follow on Saturday (2 pm, PT) and Sunday (1 pm, PT).

A full press release about the Nebraska series will follow on Wednesday.

The 2008 Stanford Baseball team is looking to return to its familiar spot among the top teams in the Pac-10 Conference and also get back to NCAA postseason action after its string of 13 straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament came to an end during a difficult 2007 season that saw the Cardinal need a late season run just to finish 28-28 overall and 9-15 in the Pac-10.

This year's club has plenty of reasons to be hopeful as the Cardinal will be an experienced group that returns many of the key components from last year's team. Stanford has a total of 29 players back in uniform from a year ago, including 13 of the 14 pitchers who saw action on the mound last season and seven position player starters.

Stanford is also rich in upperclass depth, which is usually an important component to the success of a college baseball team. The Cardinal has 19 upperclassmen with five seniors and 14 juniors on a huge 45-player roster. Including two-way players, Stanford has a total of 23 pitchers on its staff this season in a campaign where pitching depth is expected to be vital considering the time allowed to play the normal 56-game schedule has been condensed by approximately three weeks.

'We need to pitch and play better defense this season than we did a year ago to be a better team,' said Stanford head coach Mark Marquess, who is in his 32nd campaign as head coach and 40th season involved with Stanford Baseball in 2008. 'Offensively, we really improved at the end of last year, and hopefully we can carry that over into this season.'

'We know we have good players, and we'd like to think that they will get the job done this year,' added Marquess. 'For us to have a good season, our older players have to have their best years. That's when you get into the postseason. Your freshmen can contribute, but they aren't normally going to carry you.'

Some of the team's oldest and best players are in the outfield, including junior centerfielder Sean Ratliff, who made enough of an impression with his 2007 sea-son to earn First Team All-Pac-10 honors and be chosen to the 2008 Brooks Wallace Award Watch List. Ratliff had a monster 2007 campaign, hitting .339 (79-233) with 12 homers (#7T Pac-10), 45 RBI and 10 stolen bases. He also ranked among Pac-10 leaders in many other offensive categories, including runs scored (61, #4), total bases (136, #5T), triples (4, #6T), at bats (233, #7T), slugging percentage (.584, #10) and hits (79, #10 Pac-10), while tying for the team lead in both games played (55) and starts (55). He also became known for offensive outbursts and spectacular moments during 2007, including three two-homer games, a seven-RBI contest and an inside-the-park grand slam. In addition, Ratliff is a talented centerfielder with an excellent arm and the ability to cover lots of ground. He has great all-round tools both offensively and defensively and is a top professional prospect that is expected to be taken in the first few rounds of the 2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Ratliff should have plenty of support in the outfield this year. Junior Joey August, an honorable mention All-Pac-10 choice last season, looks to be the starter in left field in 2008. August, who started 39 of the team's 56 games last year, is coming off a 2007 campaign in which he hit .343 with two homers, 27 RBI and three stolen bases to establish himself as one of the club's top outfielders.

Two talented and emerging Cardinal outfielders are expected to battle for the starting job in right field. Junior Jeff Whitlow is a much improved player who gained valuable experience as a part-time starter in 2007 when he hit .276 with two homers, 10 RBI and a stolen base. The speedy Whitlow showed off his wheels last summer with the Waterloo Bucks of the Northwoods League when he stole a team-high 28 bases. Whitlow's competitor for the starting job in right field is expected to be sophomore Toby Gerhart, who came on late last season after missing more than seven weeks in the middle of the campaign following a fractured right forearm he suffered in a game at Texas on February 17. Gerhart finished the 2007 season with a .289 batting average, two homers, 12 RBI and three stolen bases. He got very hot in his last five games, going 10-for-21 (.476) with four multiple-hit contests.

Senior Brendan Domaracki (.310, 1 HR, 20 RBI) could also see some work in the outfield and will almost surely be used as a designated hitter and pinch-hitter in addition to his new role as a member of the team's pitching staff in 2008.

'We are very strong in the outfield this season,' smiled Marquess. 'We really have five guys that have quite a bit of experience playing out there for us, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they will do this season.'

Sophomore Wande Olabisi (.000) played in just two games last season as a collegiate rookie but returns to the club as a much improved player and possesses a tremendous speed tool. Junior Stephen Brown is also back from last year's team.

Several other talented newcomers will also join the Cardinal's outfield group this year including Ben Clowe (Jacksonville, FL/The Bolles School), Dave Giuliani (Thorofare, NJ/West Deptford HS), Kellen Kiilsgaard (Auburn, WA/Auburn HS) and Kellen McColl (Los Altos Hills, CA/Los Altos HS).

The Cardinal has some experience on the infield with the return of 2007 starters Jason Castro, Adam Gaylord, Brent Milleville and Cord Phelps, but will need to make improvements defensively in 2008.

'We flat out need to play better defense on the infield this season,' emphasized Marquess in reference to a 2007 Cardinal infield that was the major factor in the team's .963 fielding percentage that was last in the Pac-10. 'Playing good defense in the infield will be one of the keys in determining how much success we have in 2008.'

Stanford normally trains most of its infielders to play second base, third base and shortstop with Phelps and Gaylord the two front runners to earn two of those three spots this season after seeing extensive action on the Cardinal infield last year.

Gaylord, who made all 38 of his starts at shortstop as a collegiate rookie in 2007, hit .283 with 10 RBI and played arguably the best defense of any Stanford infielder in his first season on The Farm a year ago.Phelps, who split his 49 starts in 2007 between third base (22), shortstop (18) and second base (9), is a very athletic player and had a solid offensive campaign in 2007 with a .301 batting average, 23 RBI and a stolen base. He also showed a little pop in his bat and his speed by co-leading the team with four triples and ranking second on the club with his 15 doubles. Phelps is hoping to improve his defensive after committing 16 errors a year ago to post a .920 fielding percentage.

Castro and Milleville are expected to share time at first base when one or the other is not catching. Castro got most of the team's work at first base last season but after a promising 2006 rookie campaign (.283, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 5 SB) slumped to a .167 batting average with one home run and 14 RBI that could somewhat be con-tributed to an early-season injury that never really allowed him to find his groove. Castro did find that groove last summer when he was one of the best hitters in the Cape Cod Baseball League, hitting .341 with four homers and 24 RBI and stealing six bases to earn all-league honors while playing with the league champion Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.

Junior two-way player Austin Yount (.231, 4 RBI) looks to have a shot at becoming the team's starting third baseman this season. Yount is still expected to con-tinue his work for the Cardinal on the mound as well where he posted a 3-1 record and a 6.21 ERA in 18 appearances (six starts) last season, striking out 21 in 42.0 innings of work.

Other returning infielders for the 2008 Cardinal include senior Randy Molina (.295, 3 RBI), who is expected to be in the running to see action at first base and as the team's designated hitter as well as being a lefthanded bat off the bench. Utility infielders sophomore Brian Moon (.333, 1 RBI) and junior J.J. Jelmini (.143) are also both capable of seeing action at second, shortstop or third base.

Several incoming freshmen should have an opportunity to contribute early in their career with Jake Schlander (Scottsdale, AZ/Chaparral HS) and Colin Walsh (San Diego, CA/The Bishop's School) the top possibilities. Schlander, who has a shot to be the team's starter at shortstop, was a Collegiate Baseball Second Team All-American as a prep senior in 2007. Walsh was very impressive during 2007 fall workouts. Drew Storen (Brownsburg, IN/Brownsburg HS) is also a two-way player that is capable of playing third base but is expected to be used primarily as a pitcher in his rookie collegiate campaign. Storen was a phenomenal prep player who earned a spot on Collegiate Baseball's First Team All-American squad during his final high school season in 2007.

Other infielders in their first season on The Farm in 2008 will include Zach Jones (Draper, UT/Jordan HS), Jonathan Kaskow (Coppell, TX/Coppell HS) and two-way player Michael Marshall (El Paso, TX/Franklin HS).

Stanford has a very solid and deep group of catchers beginning with the junior duo of Brent Milleville (.273, 1 HR, 25 RBI, 2 SB) and Jason Castro (.167, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 1 SB), both of whom are also expected to see action at first base when the other player is playing behind the dish. Rookies Ben Clowe (Jacksonville, FL/The Bolles School) and Zach Jones (Draper, UT/Jordan HS) will also work out behind the plate when not playing their other outfield and infield positions, respectively. Sophomore Kirk Erickson is the team's other catcher, while junior utility player Rey Saldana could put on the gear in a pinch.

'We have as good of a defensive group of catchers from top to bottom that we've had since I've been here,' offered Marquess. 'Offensively, we have guys who are very capable of being very good, especially with Brent Milleville and Jason Castro.'

A look at Stanford's pitching prospects for the 2008 season is very intriguing. The Cardinal has compiled a huge staff that includes a total of 23 pitchers in preparation for a 56-game slate that will be played in a regular season that has been condensed by approximately three weeks. Stanford also has experience with 13 of the 14 pitchers that saw action on last year's squad returning.

'The thing with our pitching is that we have enough good arms to be competitive,' explained Marquess. 'But, no one knows how much the condensed season will affect any of us. We are going to be forced to pitch lots of guys, so everyone is hopeful that they will get a chance which could be a good thing for our staff as a whole.'

The thing this season's Stanford staff does not have is a strong track record of success at the collegiate level.

Three of the four pitchers who spent a significant time in the rotation last year return. But junior LHP Jeremy Bleich (2-8, 5.56 ERA, 98.2 IP, 60 SO), sophomore RHP Jeffrey Inman (4-4, 5.74 ERA, 73.2 IP, 62 SO) and senior RHP Erik Davis (4-2, 5.29 ERA, 1 SV, 51.0 IP, 42 SO) combined for just a 10-14 mark and a 5.57 ERA a year ago. All three are expected to be in the starting rotation again in 2008.

Senior RHP David Stringer (3-2, 4.70 ERA, 7 SV, 61.1 IP, 41 SO) was arguably the team's most successful pitcher in 2007 but came up with only one of his seven saves after March 2 although he did pitch well on several occasions later in the year as well. He should be used extensively again in 2008 and could possibly move into the starting rotation although his quickly recovering arm makes him a valuable commodity in the bullpen. Stringer appeared in a Pac-10-high tying 31 games a year ago that also ranked tied for fifth on Stanford's single-season list in that category.

All of Stanford's other returning pitchers other than seldom used sophomore RHP Kyle Thompson (0-0, 5.40 ERA, 1.2 IP) had earned run averages higher than Stringer or any of the starters and contributed to a 2007 Cardinal staff that posted a 6.01 ERA that was the highest in the school's recorded history as well as the worst in the Pac-10.

Other returning pitchers include senior RHP Rex Petrill (0-0, 27.00, 0.2 IP), junior RHP Austin Yount (3-1, 6.21 ERA, 1 SV, 42.0 IP, 21 SO), junior LHP Blake Hancock (1-0, 6.41 ERA, 1 SV, 19.2 IP, 13 SO), junior LHP Tom Stilson (2-1, 6.55 ERA, 22.0 IP, 13 SO), junior RHP Max Fearnow (2-3, 7.71 ERA, 2 SV, 25.2 IP, 23 SO), sophomore RHP Andrew Clauson (2-0, 5.93 ERA, 13.2 IP, 11 SO), sophomore RHP Cory Bannister (0-0, 6.75 ERA, 13.1 IP, 9 SO) and sophomore RHP Brandt Walker (0-1, 7.30 ERA, 12.1 IP, 13 SO).

Three other Stanford players that did not pitch last season are also members of the staff in 2008. Senior RHP Brendan Domaracki has become a two-way player after experimenting successfully on the mound with the Maxim Yankees in the summer of 2007 and then again during fall workouts. Junior LHP Sean Ratliff, who was one of the top offensive players in the Pac-10 last season, could also still pitch although he did not see any action on the hill in 2007. Redshirt freshman Will Krasne is looking for his first action on the mound this season after missing the 2007 campaign due to injury.

Seven of the incoming freshmen are also listed as pitchers or two-way players, including 2007 First Team prep All-American RHP Drew Storen (Brownsburg, IN/Brownsburg HS). Storen, who was selected in the 34th round of the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees, is expected to provide the most immediate help on the hill. The remaining newcomers also include LHP Michael De Groot (Castro Valley, CA/Castro Valley HS), RHP Michael Marshall (El Paso, TX/Franklin HS), RHP Alex Pracher (Marlton, NJ/Cherokee HS), RHP Danny Sandbrink (St. Louis, MO/St. Louis Priory School), RHP Carey Schwartz (Palo Alto, CA/Palo Alto HS) and RHP Billy Vernon (Fort Washington, PA).

Stanford's schedule is brutal as always and may be even more difficult this year than in the past with four of Stanford's Pac-10 opponents ranked among Base-ball America's preseason Top 10. The 12 games against No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Arizona, No. 7 Oregon State and No. 9 Arizona State represent half of the Cardinal's 24 conference contests. UCLA and Arizona are both programs that have risen to the top of the collegiate baseball world at the start of this season, while Oregon State is the two-time defending CWS champion and Arizona State the winners of the Pac-10 conference in 2007.

'The Pac-10 is probably the strongest it has been in 25 years,' said Marquess. 'Most of the teams in the conference have almost everyone back and are really pitching rich. We think we're stronger, more capable and more talented than we were last year, but so does just about everyone else.'

Things are not much easier prior to the start of league action as the Cardinal will play three series against perennial national powers Nebraska, Cal State Fuller-ton and preseason No. 16 Texas.

Stanford opens its 2008 campaign and a season-opening eight-game homestand with a four-game home set versus Nebraska from February 22-24 that begins with a rare doubleheader. The Cardinal will then host Nevada in a single game on February 26 before welcoming Cal State Fullerton to Klein Field at Sunken Diamond for a three-game series February 29 - March 1.

Stanford will then hit the road for a five-game stretch that starts with non-conference contests at California and Saint Mary's on March 4 and 5 before the Cardi-nal travels March 7-9 to Austin for a three-game set at Texas.

After 11 days out of action for finals in mid-March, Stanford will tune up for Pac-10 play with a three-game set versus Pacific. The Cardinal hosts the Tigers on March 21 before traveling to Stockton for games on March 22 and 24. Stanford will then make a short trip up the Central Valley to play at Sacramento State on March 25.

A visit from Washington State for a three-game series March 28-30 will start Pac-10 action. The Cardinal will continue its second eight-game homestand of the campaign by hosting Long Beach State (March 31) and Hawaii (April 1) in non-league contests before closing the long homestand with a three-game series against defending Pac-10 champions Arizona State (April 4-6).

Stanford will be back on the road for its next two Pac-10 series at Oregon State (April 11-13) and UCLA (April 18-20) with non-conference games at California (April 7), and at home versus UC Davis (April 9), Santa Clara (April 14) and San Francisco (April 16) during the period.

After returning from Los Angeles and its series with the Bruins, the Cardinal will begin the next week by traveling to Santa Clara (April 21) for a game to be televised by CSTV and hosting Saint Mary's (April 23) before long-time rival USC comes to The Farm for a three-game Pac-10 set (April 25-27).

Stanford will have a break from Pac-10 action the following weekend but stay plenty busy with six non-conference games on tap beginning with another CSTV game at Santa Clara (April 28) and another road contest at UC Davis (April 30), before back-to-back home-and-home games versus San Jose State (May 3, at Stanford; May 4, at San Jose State), versus Pacific (May 5) and at San Francisco (May 6).

The Cardinal returns to conference play with a three-game home set against California (May 9-11) to wrap up its Pac-10 home schedule before concluding its regular season home slate the next day (May 12) versus Santa Clara. The May 11 game versus the Golden Bears will be televised live by CSTV.

Stanford will wrap up its regular season with back-to-back three-game Pac-10 road series at Arizona (May 17-19) and Washington (May 23-25).

The Cardinal also hopes its campaign continues into the postseason as usual after Stanford failed to make the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 1993. NCAA Regionals are scheduled for May 30 - June 2 with the 16 winners advancing to NCAA Super Regionals action June 6-9. The eight NCAA Super Regional champions move on to the 62nd College World Series to be played June 14-25 at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska.

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