Baseball Preview: USC Trojans

It's time for another year of Titan Baseball and there are plenty of veterans coming back for another season and plenty of newcomers to the program with fourteen freshmen on the roster making their debuts for Fullerton.

There is also a key newcomer on the coaching staff with former UC Irvine pitching coach Jason Dietrich taking over Kirk Saarloos, who moved on to TCU (Fullerton's opponent next weekend), in Rick Vanderhook's second season as the head coach of the Titans.

Unlike last season when only two pitchers returned and they were responsible for just 15% of the innings thrown in 2011, Fullerton has a decent amount of experience back on the mound despite Big West Pitcher of the Year Dylan Floro moving on to professional ball and SP Kenny Mathews not returning to the team.  Saarloos did an outstanding job working with an inexperienced pitching staff that led the Big West in ERA during the regular season and led the country in allowing the fewest walks per 9 IP.  The Titans have six pitchers returning who made at least ten appearances in 2012, including weekend SP Grahamm Wiest, midweek SP Koby Gauna, 2nd team All-Big West RP Willie Kuhl and 1st team All-Big West closer Michael Lorenzen, who led the conference and was sixth in the country with 16 saves.

Fullerton returns a very experienced group of position players for the second consecutive season with only a few players moving on and several players coming back for their SR seasons – 1st team All-Big West selections 1B Carlos Lopez and SS Richy Pedroza and 2nd team selection OF Anthony Hutting – along with 1st team All-Big West OF Lorenzen and Big West FR of the Year 3B Matt Chapman.  There is good depth at every position and a lineup that struggled at times to score runs in 2012, which was a big factor in the team going 5-7 down the stretch, should be much improved.  The Titans had the second best defense in the Big West last season and that should be another strong area with so many players returning.

Fullerton is known for traditionally playing one of the tougher schedules in the country every season and this year is no exception with trips to TCU and Oral Roberts sandwiched around home series against Oregon and Texas A&M along with the usual assortment of local teams in midweek games and the Big West figures to be much improved this season with several teams returning the majority of their rosters and Hawaii being added to the conference.  The Titans will be playing multiple teams on the opening weekend for the third time in four seasons with USC coming to Goodwin Field for the season opener on Friday night, Nebraska playing a doubleheader at Goodwin Field on Saturday and Fullerton traveling to Cal State Bakersfield to play their first game ever against the Roadrunners on Sunday.    

USC Trojans
  •     Overall Record – 23-32
  •     Conference Record – 8-22 (last in the Pac 12)
  •     Post-Season – None
  •     RPI/ISR – 99/76
  •     Pre-season ranking – None
  •     Predicted conference finish – 8th (tied) by the Pac 12 coaches, 10th by Baseball America, 10th by Perfect Game and 10th by Easton College Baseball Today

2012 Summary and 2013 Preview

When you mention college baseball to somebody, one of the first schools that will come to mind is usually USC and with good reason.  The Trojans have won twelve national titles, which is as many as the next two schools combined (LSU and Texas share second place with six national titles each).  However, almost all of the history that USC has in baseball is in the distant past because they have not qualified for a regional for seven straight seasons.  USC went to a Super Regional in 2005 and longtime coach Mike Gillespie left the program after the 2006 season when he was forced out by former athletic director Mike Garrett and Gillespie was replaced by his son-in-law Chad Kreuter, whose only previous college coaching experience after a lengthy playing career in the majors was one year as an assistant to Gillespie.

The four years that the Trojans were coached by 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 others finished in last in the conference standings.  One of the first things that Pat Haden did after taking over as athletic director in the summer of 2010 was to replace Kreuter with assistant coach Frank Cruz, who has over 20 years of college coaching experience including 12 years as the head coach at Loyola Marymount.  USC made marginal improvement in Cruz's first season after going 13-14 in the Pac 10 and finishing in 7th behind six teams that qualified for regional play.  It looked like the Trojans would build upon their solid finish in 2011 when they won their first seven games last season but they struggled in going 15-17 over their next 32 games and collapsed down the stretch when they went 1-15 in their final sixteen games, with their only win ironically coming against the eventual national champion Arizona Wildcats.

USC had one of the worst offenses in the Pac 10 last season and finished in the bottom three spots in the conference in almost every statistical category including R, AVG, SLG, OBP and HR.  The Trojans have a decent amount of experience back with six players who had at least 100 AB's in 2012 but lost several productive players from the middle of the lineup and the returning players combined to hit only four HR's and the leader among the returning players only had 24 RBI.  

USC had a solid pitching staff last season with a team ERA of 3.69 that was an improvement by over a run from 2011 but it wasn't enough to keep them competitive due to the issues on offense.  The Trojans will have one of the most inexperienced starting rotations on the west coast after losing all four of their SP's but they do return four RP's who either made at least 20 appearances and/or threw at least 20 innings so some of those pitchers will be bumped up into the rotation.  

USC has brought in recruiting classes ranked in the top twenty nationally according to Baseball America over the last two years and many of those younger players are looking to make an impact to revitalize the dormant Trojans baseball program.  However, some of the momentum that USC was trying to get going has been hindered by an investigation into the program for exceeding the NCAA's practice limits and as a result Cruz has been suspended until the investigation is resolved.

  •     Park Factor according to Boyd's World – 94 from 2008-2011 (decreases offense by 6%). Dimensions are 335-375-395-375-335.
  •     Batting Average – .274 (9th in the Pac 12, 169th in the NCAA)
  •     Runs Per Game – 4.4 (10/244)
  •     Home Runs – 15 (11/229)
  •     Slugging Percentage – .345 (11/241)
  •     On Base Percentage – .356 (10/170)
  •     Walks – 179 (8/204)
  •     HBP's – 69 (6/81)
  •     Strikeouts – 332 (7/xx)
  •     Sac Bunts – 50 (7/94)
  •     Stolen Bases – 43 (6/197)



USC is experienced around the infield with returning starters at 2B, SS and 3B but will be breaking in new starters behind the plate and at 1B.

C – JR #21 Jake Hernandez (RH – .286/.340/.330, 0-15-2 in 91 AB's.  '11 – .200/.210/.233, 0-6-0 in 60 AB's) has pretty big shoes to fill in replacing three year starter Kevin Roundtree.  He was a 22nd round pick out of HS because of his raw power and physical tools but they haven't translated yet to the college game, although he made strides in the summer when he hit 5 HR's in the Cape Cod League.  Hernandez was the backup to Roundtree and a part-time DH the past two seasons and started to live up to his potential during conference play when he led the team in hitting at .356.  He went 0-3 against Fullerton last season.  Soph #51 Garrett Stubbs (LH – .189/.280/.228, 1-12-2) started 30 games in the OF as a FR but has been converted to catcher.  He went 1-9 with an RBI against Fullerton last season.

1B/DH – USC figures to use several players at these positions and play whoever can give them any sort of a threat to a lineup desperate for power.  FR #28 Timmy Robinson (RH) is a big man with plus raw power who was ranked in the top 200 nationally for last year's draft by Baseball America and figures to be given lots of chances to prove he belongs in the lineup.  He went 6-12 with 4 RBI in the two fall ball games and hit an HR in their alumni game.  Others who figure into the mix in these spots are FR #14 Vahn Bozoian (RH), another big man who was also ranked in the top 200 for last year's draft due to his power potential, FR #6 Kyle Davis (RH) and FR #42 David Edson (LH).

2B – SR #2 Adam Landecker (RH – .329/.418/.355, 0-12-4.  '11 – .280/.390/.320, 0-16-2) is in his fourth year as a starter and is a versatile player who has split time at 2B, SS and 3B during his career.  He doesn't have much power with only seven extra base hits over the last two seasons but does a good job of putting the ball in play and led the team in hitting in 2012.  Landecker handles the bat well and is a good bunter with 24 SAC bunts over the last three seasons.  He has solid plate discipline and had a 16/18 BB/K ratio in 2012 and also had 8 HBP's.  Landecker had three hits and an RBI in USC's win against Fullerton last season after going 1-8 against the Titans in 2011.

SS – JR #15 James Roberts (RH – .289/.356/.342, 0-24-4.  '11 – .274/.384/.313, 1-15-2) is a good athlete and probably the best draft prospect among the upperclassmen.  He has good range at SS and improved defensively as a FR as the year went on but struggled last season and made 21 errors.  Roberts only had five extra base hits as a FR and showed a little more pop in 2012 with ten doubles.  He is a good bunter with 18 SAC's in his first two seasons.  Roberts had a decent 17/26 BB/K ratio as a FR but his plate discipline regressed in 2012 with an 8/25 BB/K ratio.  He went 3-7 with an RBI against Fullerton last season and was 1-8 against the Titans in 2011.

3B – JR #34 Kevin Swick (RH – .258/.311/.332, 1-23-5.  '11 – .258 in 31 AB's) was a reserve as a FR but took advantage of upperclassmen moving on to become a starter last season and was adequate defensively with solid range but made ten errors.  He doesn't have much pop for a 3B and had a poor 8/33 BB/K ratio.  Like the other returning infielders, Swick is a good bunter and had six SAC bunts in 2012.  FR #26 Blake Lacey (RH) and FR #5 Reggie Southall (Both) are the middle infield combo of the future and figure to see some playing time this season to get them ready to start in 2014.


USC lost two of their best OF's after 2012 but played quite a few players out there so they have a solid amount of experience in the outfield along with the addition of a key transfer who figures to be one of the starters.

LF – Soph #3 Dante Flores (LH – .310/.406/.415, 2-19-2) came into the program with high expectations after being ranked as one of the top 150 players going into the 2011 draft by Baseball America but he was only drafted in the 41st round due to his strong commitment to going to school.  He lived up to the hype as one of the leading hitters on the team and has good pop for a player his size and is the leader among the returning players in SLG.  Flores showed decent patience at the plate with 18 BB's but needs to make better contact after finishing second on the team with 33 K's.

CF – JR #11 Omar Cotto Lozado (Both – .103 in 29 AB's.  '11 – .073 in 41 AB's) and SR #8 J.R. Aguirre (RH – .136 in 22 AB's.  '11 – .232 in 69 AB's) are probably going to split time.  Cotto Lozado is the fastest player on the roster, which is why he was a 12th round pick out of HS, and Aguirre has solid speed.  Neither of them has hit much and they have combined for two extra-base hits in over 150 AB's.   FR #16 Conner Sullivan (Both) could play his way into a starting position if both of them continue to have issues at the plate.

RF – SR #9 Greg Zebrack (RH – .343/.448/.657, 7-28-10.  '11 – .336/.449/.596, 7-27-9) started his career at USC in 2009, transferred to Penn and sat out in 2010, was 1st team All-Ivy League in 2011 and 2012 and is eligible to play this season after graduating from Penn.  He figures to hit in the middle of the order as a legitimate power threat for a lineup that doesn't have much pop but he will have to prove he can do some damage against a higher level of pitching than he saw the past two seasons.  Zebrack also has solid speed so he will be able to steal a few bases and cover ground well in RF.

  •     ERA – 3.69 (8/73)
  •     AVG – .269 (8/xx)
  •     HR – 17 (1/xx)
  •     H's/9 IP – 9.3 (8/126)
  •     BB's/9 IP – 3.6 (8/138)
  •     K's/9 IP – 6.5 (7/148)
  •     WHIP – 1.44 (9/134)


USC expected to have to rebuild their rotation this season after having three SR SP's in 2012 but they didn't expect LHP Stephen Tarpley (5-3, 3.22 ERA, 13 GS) to transfer to a JC after deciding to go to USC despite being an 8th round pick out of HS so they will be replacing all of their SP's.

Soph #33 Wyatt Strahan (RHP – 3-3, 1.37 ERA, 22 apps, 2 saves, 26 IP, 18 H, 18 BB, 18 K, .189 AVG, 0 HR, 1 HBP, 0 WP, 2-4 SB) pitched in middle relief as a FR, usually going 1-2 innings.  He was tough to hit with a low 90's fastball with good movement but had major issues with his control that kept him from taking a more prominent role on the staff.  Strahan has worked on developing his changeup and was very good in their fall ball game, throwing five innings and allowing one unearned run on 2 H's with only 1 BB and six K's.

Soph #20 Nigel Nootbaar (RHP – 1-3, 3.31 ERA, 14 apps, 4 GS, 35 IP, 38 H, 13 BB, 17 K, .277 AVG, 1 HR, 1 HBP, 0 WP, 3-6 SB) was pretty effective as a middle reliever as a FR but he had trouble putting hitters away.  That changed this summer when he was the #3 prospect in the Alaskan League with a 92-94 fastball and a plus breaking pitch.  His third pitch is a change-up that is a work in progress.  

Nootbaar is rated #9 in the Pac 12 soph class for the 2014 draft.  He threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings at Fullerton last season.

FR #24 Kyle Twomey (LHP) was a 3rd round pick out of HS but decided to go to college despite being drafted that high.  He has a good pitchers' frame with a smooth delivery and a low 90's fastball but he is still working on developing his secondary pitches and his changeup is his best off-speed pitch.  Twomey will be given every chance to prove himself in the rotation with the potential that he has.

JR #27 Bobby Wheatley (LHP – 1-0, 3.46 ERA, 16 apps, 2 GS, 26 IP, 23 H, 10 BB, 10 K, .242 AVG, 2 HR, 0 HBP, 2 WP, 2-4 SB.  '11 – 1-1, 6.39 ERA, 18 apps, 13 IP) isn't a hard thrower and is a crafty lefty who is being given a chance to win a spot as a SP after being a middle reliever the last two seasons.  He is going to need better control to be effective, which he wasn't against Fullerton when he allowed 2 R and 4 BB's in 1 1/3 IP last season.


With several of the relievers from 2012 being bumped up into the rotation, USC will have a relatively inexperienced bullpen with two pitchers returning who either made 20 appearances or threw over 20 innings and the rest of the pitchers will be incoming FR who are part of their highly rated recruiting class.

JR #44 James Guillen (RHP – 0-0, 2.45 ERA, 20 apps, 15 IP, 17 H, 6 BB, 14 K, .304 AVG, 0 HR, 4 HBP, 2 WP, 2-4 SB) and SR #29 Matt Munson (RHP – 2-1, 3.60 ERA, 19 apps, 1 GS, 25 IP, 31 H, 9 BB, 16 K, .298 AVG, 1 HR, 5 HBP, 0 WP, 6-7 SB) are the only experienced pitchers in the bullpen.  They combined to throw 20 scoreless innings in 16 apps in conference games so they have the potential to be effective.

The other relievers figure to be FR RHP's Shane Gonzales, Kyle Davis, Brent Wheatley and Brooks Kriske.  Gonzales has the highest upside of the four with a low 90's fastball and a solid changeup and curve.  He threw four scoreless innings in one of the fall ball games and could pitch his way into being the closer or a SP.