Baseball Preview: USC

Cal State Fullerton got off to a bit of a slow start on opening weekend after splitting four games against Long Beach (2-1) and UNC (0-1) and struggling to score runs, averaging 3.5 runs per game. Things didn't look promising for the Titans as they headed into their first road trip of the season at TCU with the Horned Frogs ranked in the top five in the country in every major poll and ranking.

The series got off to a tough start last Friday as Kyle Winkler shut down Fullerton for the second year in a row and TCU won the opening game 4-1.  Noe Ramirez had a solid start in allowing two runs in six innings but he was outdueled by Winkler, who allowed only one unearned run in 7 1/3 innings.  Richy Pedroza's play was one of the few highlights for the offense with three hits.

Fullerton was looking for somebody to help pick them up in the second game and has often been the case in the opening two weeks of the season, that person was one of the starting pitchers.  Tyler Pill had an outstanding start in holding TCU scoreless into the 7th inning and leaving with a 3-0 lead and two runners on base.  The Horned Frogs scratched for three runs in the 7th and 8th innings to tie the game before the Titans rallied to score five runs against TCU's closer in the 9th inning to win 8-4 with Nick Ramirez's three run double breaking the game open.  Four hitters each had two hits and seven of them either scored a run and/or drove in a run.

TCU All-American Matt Purke was unavailable to pitch on Sunday but the game was still a pitcher's duel with Andrew Mitchell and Trent Appleby combining to hold the Titans scoreless for seven innings and Colin O'Connell allowing only one run in seven innings.  Pedroza singled (his sixth hit of the series on his way to winning Big West Player of the Week honors) and Nick Ramirez drove him in with a double to tie the game in the 8th inning.  Anthony Hutting doubled to lead off the 9th inning and Michael Lorenzen singled to drive him in with the go ahead run.  Dylan Floro threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings to get the win and Nick Ramirez struck out the final two hitters for the save.

Fullerton returned home on Tuesday for a midweek game with LMU, who was 7-1 going into the game.  Jake Floethe gave the Titans the eighth straight solid outing by a starting pitcher and allowed one run in seven innings to lead Fullerton to a 5-1 win.  The Titans offense was once again led by Pedroza, who had two hits, scored a run and drove in a run.

Next up for Fullerton is a series with the USC Trojans, with the first two games at Goodwin Field before the teams go up to USC for the final game of the series on Sunday.  The Trojans have been struggling for most of the last decade but have hopes for improvement this season with a new coach and an experienced team that is looking to put the program back on the map.

USC Trojans

Overall Record – 28-32; 3-5 in 2011
Conference Record – 7-20 (10th)
Post-Season – None
RPI/ISR – 61/41
Pre-season ranking – None
Predicted conf finish – 9th by the Pac 10 coaches and Baseball America


2010 Summary and 2011 Preview

When you mention college baseball to somebody, one of the first schools that will come to mind is USC and with good reason.  The Trojans have won twelve national titles, which is more than the next two schools combined (LSU and Texas share second place with six national titles each).  But, much of the history that USC has in baseball is not too recent because they have not qualified for a regional for five straight years and seven of the last eight seasons.

Longtime coach Mike Gillespie left the program after the 2006 season (it has been often speculated that he was forced out by then A.D. Mike Garrett) and was replaced by his son-in-law Chad Kreuter, whose only previous college coaching experience after a lengthy career in the majors was one year as an assistant to Gillespie.

The next four years under Kreuter can only be described as a disaster as none of his teams finished over .500, one finished in 9th place in the Pac 10 and two finished in last.  One of the first things that new A.D. Pat Haden did after taking over last summer was to replace Kreuter on an interim basis for the 2011 season with assistant coach Frank Cruz, who has 20 years of college coaching experience, including 12 years as the head coach at Loyola Marymount.

USC has been playing like a team that is being coached better and got off to a 3-1 start, winning games against Missouri (9-3) and Cal Poly (5-2, 5 innings) before losing 11-7 to North Carolina in the tournament USC hosted and following that up with a midweek win at Riverside (6-3).  USC went down to Houston to play Rice, who entered the series in the top 20 in most polls and rankings, and the Trojans were in each game but ended up being swept (7-10, 5-6 and 2-3).  USC's losing streak was extended to four games on Tuesday at Long Beach after the Dirtbags scored in the bottom of the 9th to win 5-4.

USC had one of the worst offenses in the Pac 10 last season but they have an experienced lineup and have improved despite hitting with the BBCOR bats.  The Trojans scored at least five runs in each of their first six games before being held to six runs in the last two games.  USC has been working counts and seeing lots of pitches, averaging nearly five walks per game, but they have also been taking lots of called third strikes and had issues making contact and they have been averaging almost nine strikeouts per game.  The Trojans also have an experienced pitching staff but the results have been inconsistent, with a mixture of good and bad outings.  USC has a 5.32 ERA and have already used twelve pitchers.

Offense

  • Park Factor according to Boyd's World – 95 (decreases offense by 5%).
  • Batting Average – .286 (7th in the Pac 10, 212 in the NCAA).  .291 in 2011.
  • Runs Per Game – 5.4 (8/253).  5.6 in 2011.
  • Home Runs – 51 (3/94).  2 in 2011.
  • Stolen Bases – 34 (10/272).  6 in 2011.
  • Slugging Percentage – .434 (5/169).  .391 in 2011.
  • Walks – 263 (4/100), 4.7 per game.  36 in 2011, 4.5 per game.
  • HBP's – 34 (10/239).  12 in 2011, 1.5 per game.
  • Sac Bunts – 42 (5/47).  9 in 2011, just over 1 per game.

Lineup

USC returns their catcher and most of their infielders so they have a good deal of experience, although several of them have changed positions.  The Trojans CF graduated but they return the rest of their OF's.

C – JR #10 Kevin Roundtree (LH – .288/.341/.359, 1-22-3.  '09 – .214 in 28 AB's) didn't play much the first couple of weeks last year after being a reserve in 2009 but once he got his chance to play he almost never came out of the lineup.  He does a very good job of making contact and only had 12 K's in over 150 AB's in 2010.  Roundtree usually hit in the lower part of the lineup but this year has been hit second most of the time and has gotten off to a very good start at 7-15 with 6 BB/HBP.  He was hit in the helmet last Friday in his first AB and didn't play behind the plate all weekend but pinch-hit on Sunday and started on Tuesday at Long Beach.  Roundtree is a solid prospect and figures to go in the 10th -15th round range in the draft.

FR #20 Jake Hernandez (RH) has been behind the plate for four of USC's eight games and has gotten off to a solid start at 4-16.  He was one of the better HS catching prospects in the area last year and was drafted in the 22nd round after sliding quite a bit down the draft board due to his strong commitment to go to college.

1B/DH – JR #7 Matt Foat (RH – .275/.362/.423, 5-33-0) transferred in last year from a JC and hit in the middle of the lineup from day one and was second on the team in RBI and third in HR.  He had issues with making contact and struck out almost 25% of the time.  Foat was the LF last season but has been primarily at 1B this year.  He has gotten off to a cold start at 5-24 with 0 RBI and 9 K's.  Foat has started four times at 1B and three times at DH.  The other options are two players who didn't see much time last season, JR #14 Brandon Garcia (LH – .182 in 22 AB's) and JR #6 Mike Greco (RH – .154 in 13 AB's).  Garcia has been hot with a 7-16 start with 3 RBI and Greco is 2-9 with 2 RBI.

2B – SR #4 Joe DePinto (RH – .291/.355/.393, 2-19-4.  '09 – .277/.369/.387, 3-22-11) is one of the better all-around players on the team and one of the team leaders as a three year starter.  He shifted between playing 2B and SS last year but is only playing 2B this season.  DePinto usually hit in one of the top two spots in the lineup last year and led the team in runs but he has often been hitting cleanup this season.  He has gotten off to a very hot start at 14-28 with 9 RBI and 7 R.

SS – FR #15 James Roberts (RH) has been in the lineup in every game and is a good athlete who will likely be a three year starter at SS.  He got off to a slow 2-13 start in his first four games before having a good series at Rice when he went 4-10.  Roberts has usually hit either 8th or 9th.

3B – JR #33 Ricky Oropesa (LH – .336/.413/.655, 16-60-7.  '09 – .314/.385/.578, 13-48-3) has been the best player on the team during his first two years on campus, was 1st team All-Pac 10 in 2010 and is a pre-season 2nd team All-American.  He led the team in just about every major hitting category and was in the top 100 in the country in HR, RBI, SLG and total bases.  The one area that Oropesa could use a little work on is making more contact because he struck out almost 25% of the time last year and is striking out at the same rate this season.  Oropesa has gotten off to a bit of a slow start for him at 9-32 with 0 HR and 5 RBI.  Oropesa played 1B almost exclusively in 2010 until he played at 3B the last 6 games of the season but has been splitting time between both positions.  He will be hitting third.

Utility – Soph #2 Adam Landecker (RH – .258/.346/.358, 1-11-0) started at least ten games at 2B, SS and 3B last season and is the backup at all of those spots this year.  He has been in the lineup at 3B three times when Oropesa has been at 1B.  Landecker hit second the last two games of the Rice series with Roundtree out of the lineup and is off to a slow start at 2-15.

LF – Soph #24 Alex Glenn (LH – .180 in 50 AB's) was a reserve last season and has worked his way into the lineup due to having solid speed to cover ground in the OF.  He is 3-14 with 8 K's and has started six times, usually hitting in the bottom part of the lineup.

CF – SR #8 Matt Hart (RH – .258/.315/.356, 0-11-3) came in as a JC transfer last season and started almost every game at 3B before getting hurt and missing most of the last month of the season.  He usually hit in the lower part of the lineup but this year he has been the leadoff hitter.  Hart has gotten off to a slow start at 3-18 but he does lead the team with seven walks.

RF – JR #40 Alex Sherrod (LH – .315/.380/.492, 6-28-2.  '09 – .296/.377/.357, 0-11-1) is one of the better athletes on the team.  He was a productive player last season when he was second on the team in HR and SLG and third in AVG and RBI.  Sherrod has gotten off to a very good start this year with 7 RBI  and USC's only two HR's while hitting .367 (11-30) and scoring seven runs but he does have 8 K's.  He started the first three games in CF but has settled into being the RF.

OF – FR #11 Omar Cotto Lozada (Both) and #25 Garret Houts (RH – .303 in 63 AB's) have combined for three starts in the OF.   Cotto Lozada has outstanding speed and was one of the fastest players in HS last year when he was drafted in the 12th round.

Defense

Fielding % - .962 (9/142) – 84 errors.  The defense has been better this year with six errors in eight games and a .978 FLD %.  USC had only made four errors in the first seven games before making two key errors at Long Beach that factored into the loss.  De Pinto is solid at 2B.  Roberts is a good athlete at SS.  Oropesa is solid at 1B but has struggled at 3B in the past.  Landecker is solid at 3B.  Good athletes in OF and Hart and Sherrod have good arms in CF and RF.

Stolen Base Attempts – 59-93.  Roundtree did a good job once he got in the lineup and runners were 43-65 against him and are 1-3 against him.  Hernandez isn't as far along defensively and runners are 4-5 on SB attempts. 
                                                                 
WP's/PB's Allowed – 46.  Roundtree does a good job of blocking pitches and only allowed 2 PB's in 45 starts.

Pitching

  • ERA – 5.25 (9/77).  5.32 in 2011.
  • BA – .301 (9/xx).  .288 in 2011.
  • HR – 32 (3/xx).  4 HR in 2011.
  • H's/9 IP – 10.9 (xx/143).  10.1 in 2011.
  • BB's/9 IP – 3.9 (9/140).  4.3 in 2011.
  • K's/9 IP – 7.1 (6/107).  7.3 in 2011.

Starters

USC returns two of their three SP's from last season and has brought in a JC transfer who was drafted in the first five rounds last year.

FRI – JR #31 Andrew Triggs (RHP – 2-7, 3.95 ERA, 11 GS, 71 IP, 71 H, 21 BB, 62 K, 3 HR, .257 BA, 8 HBP, 3 WP, 11-16 SB.  '09 – 5-3, 3.96 ERA, 15 apps, 10 starts, 75 IP, 79 H, 20 BB, 40 K, 2 HR, .276 BA, 6 HBP, 2 WP, 5-11 SB) had a solid season in 2010 despite a poor W/L record due to not having much support and facing the other team's ace every Friday before missing the last month of the season.  Triggs ERA was under four in both conf games and overall.  He is a big guy with a good fastball that sits in the 92 range and gets up to 94 along with a solid changeup, curve and slider.  Triggs was drafted in the 24th round as a redshirt soph but projects to go in the 5th-8th rounds in June.  He has not gotten out of the fifth inning in either of his starts, going 4 2/3 IP against Missouri and allowing 3 R (1 ER) on 5 H with 1 BB and 3 K and throwing four scoreless innings at Rice before allowing 6 R in the 5th inning (4 2/3 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 4 BB, 1 K).

SAT – JC Transfer #12 Austin Wood (RHP) is a big guy and one of the hardest throwing pitchers in the country with a fastball that sits in the mid 90's and often hits the upper 90's.  His other pitches are a slider and a changeup.  Wood started out as a FR at Florida State before transferring to a JC in Florida last year.  He was drafted in the fourth round but decided to go to USC and it looks like a good decision because he threw well in the Cape Cod League last summer and his draft stock is rising and he will be drafted in the first two rounds in June.  Part of the reason why Wood has pitched for three schools in three years has been his struggles with his command and control so that is something to keep an eye on.  Wood threw a rain abbreviated complete game in a win against Cal Poly in his first start (5 IP, 2 R, 6 H, 1 BB, 6 K) and had a solid outing at Rice when he received a no decision (6 2/3 IP, 3 R, 4 H, 3 BB, 5 K).

SUN – SR #43 Logan Odom (RHP – 1-0, 7.43 ERA, 22 apps, 4 GS, 40 IP, 55 H, 21 BB, 24 K, 2 HR, .331 BA, 9 HBP, 2 WP, 7-11 SB) is another big guy who came in as a JC transfer last year and pitched primarily out of the bullpen as a middle reliever and a midweek SP.  He threw well in fall ball and won the Sunday SP job.  He struggled against North Carolina when he allowed 6 R on 7 H and 3 BB in 4 IP but threw well at Rice when he allowed 3 R on 4 H and 3 BB in 6 2/3 IP.  Odom had trouble with his pitches straightening out in 2010 and batters hit .331 against him but in two starts has cut that number to .256.

Relievers

USC has most of their relievers back from last season and has added several FR to the mix but things have been in flux and the relievers have been inconsistent.  USC has used eight relievers so they will do make lots of situtational switches with their relievers and they have had five games where they used at least four relief pitchers.

JR #16 Chad Smith (RHP – 4-6, 4.64 ERA, 21 apps, 6 GS, 2 saves, 54 IP, 50 H, 31 BB, 58 K, 4 HR, .244 BA, 8 HBP, 3 WP, 5-7 SB.  '09 – 3-4, 3.40 ERA, 18 apps, 4 GS, 45 IP, 51 H, 16 BB, 38 K, 3 HR, .273 BA, 3 HBP, 5 WP, 5-7 SB) was one of the main options out of the bullpen last year at the end of games and is the closer.  He has a good arm and is projected to be drafted in the 6th-8th rounds.  Smith has allowed 2 R on 6 H and 4 BB in 5 IP in 4 apps.  He took losses against North Carolina and Long Beach had a save at Riverside.

JR #45 Ben Mount (RHP – 5-5, 3.95 ERA, 15 apps, 13 GS, 87 IP, 97 H, 26 BB, 63 K, 3 HR, .287 BA, 13 HBP, 7 WP, 9-19 SB.  '09 – 5-3, 3.96 ERA, 15 apps, 10 GS, 75 IP, 79 H, 20 BB, 50 K, 2 HR, .276 BA, 6 HBP, 2 WP, 5-11 SB) is the midweek SP after being one of the weekend SP's previously and leading the team in wins, K's and IP in 2010.  He allowed 2 R (1 ER) in 5 IP on Tuesday at Long Beach.

SR #51 Chris Mezger (RHP – 4-2, 4.56 ERA, 18 apps, 4 GS, 49 IP, 55 H, 17 BB, 40 K, 5 HR, .286 BA, 6 HBP, 7 WP, 6-12 SB) has allowed 4 R on 6 H and 2 BB in 4 1/3 IP in 4 apps and got the win against Missouri. 

Brandon Garcia (RHP – 1-3, 4.41 ERA, 17 apps, 33 IP, 35 H, 23 BB, 18 K, 1 HR, .280 BA, 10 HBP, 3 WP, 4-4 SB) has allowed 5 R (4 ER) on 4 H and 4 BB in 3 IP in 5 apps and struggled in his two outings at Rice, taking one of the losses.

Soph #29 Matt Munson (RHP - DNP 2010) has allowed 3 H and 0 R in 4 IP in 5 apps.

JR #30 Chris McCaffrey (RHP - DNP 2010) has not allowed a run or a hit with one BB in 2 1/3 IP in 3 apps.

JC transfer #49 Brad Douthit (LHP) has allowed 3 R on 3 H in 2 IP in 5 apps.

FR #50 Kyle Richter (LHP) has allowed 2 R on 4 H and 4 BB in 3 2/3 IP with 6 K's in 4 apps.

FR #27 Bobby Wheatley (LHP) has allowed one run and one hit in one IP in 2 apps.

Outlook

Fullerton went into last weekend needing to do a better job of manufacturing runs to win the series at TCU and that is exactly what they did in the late innings of the last two games and continued to do against LMU on Tuesday.  If the Titans continue to do that against USC, they should be in good shape to win the series.

Fullerton goes into this series as the better team and has played at a high level the last three games.  USC started out well but has scuffled the past four games.  The best chance that the Trojans have to win this series is to bang the ball around and make this a higher scoring series than the Titans want.  The lower scoring these games are, the more likely it is that Fullerton will win the series.  USC does have talented starting pitching but they have been inconsistent.   

Fullerton has gotten solid starting pitching in all eight games with the SP's having an ERA of 1.93.  The bullpen has had its ups and downs and has an ERA of 4.35.  The Titans cannot allow USC to hang around and have the relievers blow leads late in games.  As long as the Fullerton pitching staff keeps things under control and the offense manufactures some runs, the Titans should win this series.