2010 Baseball Season Outlook
Jan. 29, 2010
A healthy dose of incoming freshmen and veteran transfers will add some fresh faces to the USC baseball team for the 2010 campaign. A total of seven starting position players and nine pitchers return from last year's squad for head coach Chad Kreuter, entering his fourth season at the helm for the Trojans.
'The chemistry is the best we have had in four years here,' said Kreuter. 'The competition is a lot more spirited. There is not a performance gap at each position from Player A to Player B. The camaraderie in the clubhouse has evolved from the players' spirited competition during practice and weight sessions.'
This season, the Trojans will look to replace three players selected in the first two rounds of the 2009 major league baseball draft. All-America shortstop Grant Green (.374 average in 2009, 4 HR, 32 RBI, 16 SB) was a first-round pick by the Oakland Athletics (13th overall) and three-year starter at USC. No. 1 pitcher Brad Boxberger (6-3, 3.16 ERA, 94.0 IP, 99 SO, .211 OBA) and catcher/pitcher Robert Stock (5-4, 2.90 ERA, 4 saves, 77.2 IP, 86 SO, .223 OBA, .226 average, 6 HR, 30 RBI) are the other two significant losses that the Trojans will try to replenish.
USC finished with a 28-28 record and tied for fifth in the Pac-10 Conference with a 13-14 mark. With a pitching staff of solid arms and a lineup infused with some new talent, USC is looking to snap a drought for its first NCAA Regional appearance since 2005.
The Trojans add 15 newcomers, including seven transfers to help the eight freshman players. A strong fall in the classroom should be a good sign that the freshmen have been able to make an immediate adjustment.
'The work ethic of this team showed up this fall with a team GPA of 2.8. We have emphasized excellence in the classroom and given more structure to the team, especially to the incoming freshmen who played a great role in their GPA achievement,' said Kreuter.
Here is a position-by-position outlook for the Trojans:
This position on the field is literally up for grabs as there has been constant competition to find out who will take the reins as the starting catcher. There will be several options this season with the top three possibilities being senior Keith Castillo (.159, 1 HR, 8 RBI in 28 games), sophomore Kevin Roundtree (.214, 1 RBI in 17 games) and freshman Richard Stock (Westlake Village/Agoura HS).
'Castillo has been catching and throwing the ball well,' said Kreuter. 'He has the potential to be a big bat in the lineup. We are hoping his experience as a senior will aid him to be a force not only behind the plate, but at the plate as a hitter. Stock is the most talented of the three, but he is a freshman and trying to make the adjustment to the next level as are all the freshmen right now. He has a great arm and the most tools.'
Sophomore infielder Ricky Oropesa (.314, 13 HR, 48 RBI) earned Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American and Pac-10 Conference honorable mention recognition last year based on his power numbers, but his ability to play at third base might set up a key for the Trojans' offense this season.
'Who plays first hinges on what Ricky can do at third base. If he can nail down third, he would give us the opportunity to add a couple more bats into the lineup at the first base and designated hitter spots,' said Kreuter. 'Ricky would have to play at a high defensive level without compromising his offense, for example, knowing bunt defenses and all the small ball situations. He has made huge strides just from the start of the fall this year, but even greater strides from last year. It will show that he has worked hard defensively.'
If Oropesa is able to play at third, look for sophomore Mike Greco (Scottsdale, Ariz./Army) or sophomore transfer Matthew Foat (Rescue/Ponderosa College) at first. Sophomore Beau Brett (.143 in 10 games) is another option at first base along with a mix of other athletes.
On paper, the initial starters of junior Joe De Pinto (.277 in 53 starts with 3 HR, 22 RBI, 11 SB) at second base and sophomore transfer Taylor Wrenn (Lakeland, Fla./Manatee College) at shortstop both took a slight hit for opposite reasons.De Pinto suffered an ACL injury in his knee over the summer, but was cleared in late January to resume practice. However, Wrenn might end up being one of the top stories in college baseball. In early January, Wrenn suffered a severe allergic reaction to a medication and fell into a coma for several days. Despite a small chance to survive, Wrenn eventually came out and is back on Dedeaux Field with plans to play as soon as possible.
'Taylor has come back from the brink to return to paradise here at USC,' said Kreuter. 'Doctors gave him a 1-in-10 chance of surviving that first night. He will be a difference maker similar to what Ben Orloff did at UC Irvine...a captain of the defense, a leader that makes all around him better by his presence. It may be too early to throw that comparison around, but Taylor made a huge impression on our staff this fall. As his health improves, his bat is going to help up as well as his defensive play. He is a baseball gamer and that showed up in the fall.'
If Wrenn is unable to go right away, the Trojans have another capable shortstop in freshman Adam Landecker (Calabasas/Calabasas HS).
'Adam is a very capable freshman and proved that in the field,' said Kreuter. 'He is going to be a really good college player and capable of playing over at third as well. He is a little more advanced as a freshman as far as being ready to play. Right now, we won't hesitate to throw him into the lineup.'
Kreuter believes that De Pinto is capable of playing right now defensively and could see action at third or in center field, where he made a few starts last year. The second base position for the Trojans is deep this year where Foat and junior transfer Matt Hart (Tacoma, Wash./Santa Ana College) can see action along with sophomore returners Shane Boras (.077 in 10 games) and Ryan Bast (four games).
'Hart can play first base as well along with Foat and both can slide out to left field if needed,' said Kreuter. 'Both had big bats at the JC level. Both are offensive-oriented, giving them position flexibility as they demonstrate offensively. Shane has improved both physically and mentally. He has become more tenacious as a competitor on the field. Ryan is athletic enough to play any infield position. Ashton Kent, who had a great fall, adds another versatile infielder to the roster.'
Senior Mike O'Neill (.319, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 7 SB) and sophomore Alex Sherrod (.296, 11 RBI) give the Trojans two solid options in the outfield with the ability to hit at the top of the lineup. One freshman who will get a good look is Alex Glenn (McDonough, Ga./Henry County HS), who was a 37th round pick in the 2009 draft by the Florida Marlins.
'Alex is going to be a very good college baseball player,' said Kreuter. 'We can expect Alex to be a major contributor sometime this year.'
Another possibility will be freshman Jawanza Starling (Tallahassee, Fla./Lincoln HS), who is USC's first football player to play on the baseball team since 2005. As a safety for football, Starling did not join the team until January, but has been improving on a daily basis.
'Jawanza has raw tools,' said Kreuter. 'He can really fly and is fearless in the outfield already making some impressive diving catches. His learning curve is immediate. Once you show him something, he is able to pick it up and implement it into his game. Garret Houts (.232 in 33 games) and Cade Kreuter (Newhall/Hart HS) will round out the outfield. Garret has continued to get stronger and will be a contributor in our outfield. Cade is versatile enough to play all the corner positions on the field and brings power potential to the offense.'
Kreuter is excited about the prospect of coaching his son at USC.
'I'm proud he is here,' said Kreuter. 'The academics of this university are tremendous. Earning a USC degree along with being a part of the Trojan Family is second to none. My expectations of Cade are very realistic. First and foremost, let's establish that he is a freshman and needs to make the jump that all freshmen make to Division I baseball. We need to find out where he will best help us in the field since he is recovering from a torn labrum in his right shoulder and is not at 100 percent defensively yet. Cade's strength is his power and as his swing becomes more proficient, we should see power numbers from him offensively.'
Sophomore right-hander Andrew Triggs (5-3, 3.96 ERA, 75.0 IP, 50 SO, .276 OBA) takes the No. 1 spot in the weekend rotation after an impressive freshman campaign where he earned Pac-10 Conference honorable mention recognition. Sophomore Chad Smith (3-4, 3.40 ERA, 45.0 IP, 38 SO) and senior Kevin Couture (3-3, 5.66 ERA, 49.1 IP, one save) will likely round out the weekend rotation.
'We feel like we are in good shape with those first five guys. They give us depth in quality arms. Jordan, who knows how to pitch, is coming back from surgery and has a pro arm,' said Kreuter. 'Jordan and Andrew have great sinkers with movement. Kevin has been very consistent throughout the fall in getting guys out. He is really pinpointing his pitches. He is that guy we have seen glimpses of the last few years. His confidence is strong with a pinpoint accuracy while his velocity is up to the 87-88 mph range. His changeup is devastating, especially to left-handed batters.'
Along with returners like Chris Mezger (4.50 ERA, two appearances) and Ryan Cabral (1-1, 6.00 ERA, 18 appearances, 18.0 IP, 18 SO), two key transfers are senior Shuhei Fujiya (1-4, 3.97 ERA, nine saves, 21 appearances at Northern Iowa) and junior Brett Williams (4-2, 1.97 ERA, five saves, 25 appearances at Orange Coast College).
'Our staff is deep,' said Kreuter. 'The eight or nine guys that will get the bulk of the work are guys that could easily start on weekends for us. The remainder of the staff could be penciled in as midweek starters. Logan Odom, Austin Cheek, Williams, Adam Dedeaux and Nick Berhel round out a strong college staff for us. Anything can change on paper, but when you have quality guys that have progressed and matured, it makes your team better.'
USC will have plenty of options to close out games including several two-way players like Sherrod, Garcia and Stock in the mix.
'It could be Fujiya or Cabral or at some point and Stock can be in the mix,' said Kreuter. 'Garcia is a possible closer. He runs it up there and shows a promising curveball and changeup. He has a fiery mentality of going after batters and not being afraid. We converted Richard to the mound and have seen that he is very much the same animal as his brother Robert was as a pitcher.'
'It's an arms race. I like the saying `fill a room full of pitchers and when that's done, then fill another'.'
USC opens on the road this season with a three-game series at Cal Poly before returning home for the Dodgertown Classic which features home games against collegiate baseball powers Oklahoma State and Vanderbilt. The tournament finale will take place at Dodger Stadium in a nonconference game against UCLA.
Prior to the start of Pac-10 Conference play, the Trojans travel to Hawaii for a four-game series capped later in the week with a series at Pacific.
Conference play opens up at Stanford as the Trojans will host Oregon State, California, Arizona and Washington this season with additional road series at Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA and Washington State.
In May, the Trojans host Utah in a three-game series and New Mexico State in two games with midweek opponents including: Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Cal State Bakersfield, Connecticut, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine and Long Beach State.
'I have scratched my head trying to decide whether it's more important to have wins or a good RPI,' said Kreuter. 'If you get 35 to 40 wins, you are probably in the NCAA Tournament because you have to play 27 of those games in the Pac-10 Conference. If you play too difficult of a schedule, you might find yourself right where UCLA ended up last year...third in the conference, but out of the regional because of tough non-conference losses. There is no spring training in college baseball so when you have a young team, you don't get a lot of chances to develop young players in game situations. I like the model of playing as many home games early so you can have the younger players get their feet wet and then mature as the season goes along, especially in conference.'
In the next couple of years, USC will play elite out of state programs like North Carolina, Miami, LSU, Louisville, Arkansas and Missouri with some of them coming to Dedeaux Field. This is part of Kreuter's plan as he understands how he is building a veteran squad with depth for future seasons.
Chemistry will be the key for the Trojans with early tests in the schedule as the team looks to build a playoff-caliber season with a trip to the 2010 NCAA Tournament.