Titans' baseball filled with new faces

The Cal State Fullerton baseball team lost two All-Americans, four starting pitchers, a head coach and most of the coaching staff. With losses like that, one would think this team might take a year off to rebuild.

That's not what the team is thinking. That's not what the Titan fans are thinking. Because everyone is only thinking of one thing: Omaha.

The Titans start off the season this Friday against No. 1 Florida. The players all said they are ready to go for a very long and tough season. They have big questions to answer with the new starting pitchers, the loss of a big bat and a first-year head coach taking the reigns.

"We're hard nosed. We don't have the greatest talent, but we're a solid baseball team. The camaraderie is unbelievable. I've never been on a team where the camaraderie is this good. We just all push each other. I just can't wait to go to battle with these guys," said Titan sophomore center fielder Michael Lorenzen.

After the Titans lost in the Regional last season, Dave Serrano jetted off to fill the Tennessee coaching vacancy. That led to the hiring of former Titan Rick Vanderhook.

Like all Titan head coaches, Vanderhook is a part of the Augie Garrido coaching tree, having served under the Hall of Fame coach as a player and assistant coach.

"I think he brought back not putting all the expectations people are putting on us … That's all that matters," said junior Richy Pedroza of his coach.

Coach Vanderhook brought with him experienced coaches to improve the squad with Mike Kirby and Chad Baum. Kirby is in charge of recruiting, the infield and first base coach, while Baum is in charge of catchers and third base coach.

Kirk Saarloos stayed on as an assistant coach after Serrano's departure. A graduate assistant coach last year, Saarloos takes over as pitching coach this season, and he'll have a tough task ahead of him.

Last year's pitching staff put up incredible numbers with a 2.88 ERA and averaging 8 1/2 strikeouts and 2 1/2 walks a game. Numbers like that are hard to duplicate, and that is the big question mark coming into the season.

"People say our pitching is weak, but I think it's going to be just fine this year. I mean, they are young. They've stepped up a lot this fall and learned a lot," said junior pitcher Dylan Floro. He will be the Friday starter for the Titans this season. Floro only started four games and pitched in 25 games, posting a 4.23 ERA, last season.

Redshirt freshman Grahamm Weist will be the Saturday starter. It will be his first season pitching for the Titans, but the players are very impressed with the young pitcher.

"Grahamm Weist is a completely different person from last year," said sophomore Michael Lorenzen. "Last year he was a freshman, young. He had to learn – and he did learn – and this year he's unbelievable. This fall he's been really good."

After Floro and Weist is where the questions are raised. The Titans can pick from a few pitchers with Kenny Mathews, Koby Gauna and Jose Cardona. Cardona suffered an injury in the fall session, but looks to be healthy after throwing an inning in the alumni game. We'll see who will be on the hill for Sunday's game against Florida.

Dimitri DeLaFuente, a converted pitcher, will provide innings in relief this season. Lorenzen will come out of centerfield to close out games if needed.

The Titans have one of the marquee outfields in the conference. The outfield is lightning fast, led by Lorenzen in centerfield. Austin Kingsolver will start in left field and Ivory Thomas, if healthy, will be in right.

These three will limit extra base hits and chase down fly balls the average outfielder couldn't reach. Greg Velasquez and Anthony Hutting will rotate in between the three this season.

Last year's infield made some uncharacteristic errors. A lot of it can be attributed to injuries, which in turn disrupted on-field chemistry. This season, Head Coach Vanderhook wants a solid unit playing together to build chemistry and cut down on errors.

The two infield staples will be Pedroza at third and Carlos Lopez at first. Pedroza is small for his position, but has one of the best gloves in the infield. Lopez takes over full-time duties at first base after Nick Ramirez left last season. J.D. Davis will fill in at first if needed and provide an extra bat or an inning in relief.

Second base position is split between Derek Legg and Matt Orloff. Legg transferred from Long Beach State last season.

Anthony Trajano was out injured for part of last year and even in the fall. This has led to a position battle between him and freshman Matt Chapman at shortstop. Chapman hit very well in the fall, but Trajano started in the alumni game.

The Titans face a tough test to begin the season against Florida. And looking down the schedule it gets just a tad bit easier. The Titans will play against three other current top 25 teams: No. 6 Texas A&M (away), No. 11 TCU and two games against No. 18 UCLA. A non-conference schedule like that makes it one of the hardest in the country. The Titan players aren't worried at all.

"It's a tough schedule, but it's exciting because it really gets you ready for Omaha. You're not going to be facing easy teams when you get to Omaha or a Regional of Super Regional; you're going to be facing top quality teams," Lorenzen said.

The Titans are picked to finish first in the Big West in the Preseason Coaches Poll and are ranked No. 18 nationally. UC Irvine is really the only threat in the Big West this season. Long Beach State is a year older and are getting back to past glory days, but this conference is still a two-team race.

The Titans' first home series is against No. 11 TCU beginning on Feb. 24 at Goodwin Field.

Article originally published at The Daily Titan.