California and starting third baseman Lucas Erceg have parted ways due to academic issues, according to a source Another source has indicated in the past that the program "didn't know if [it] could get him in," when he was a recruit. Another source says that Erceg was ruled academically ineligible. He will attend NAIA Menlo College this year. Cal Athletics confirmed Erceg's departure in a statement this morning.
“Lucas Erceg is no longer a member of our baseball team and it is our understanding that he is currently enrolled at Menlo College. Lucas was an integral member of our program and contributed to its success this past season. We wish him the best in all of his future endeavors.”
BearTerritory reached out to Erceg -- out of Campbell (Calif.) Westmont -- but he was unavailable for comment.
Erceg, a left-handed hitting two-way star who also pitched for the Bears, was an All-Pac-12 First Team selection as a sophomore, hitting .303 (70-for-231 in conference play), with 11 doubles, a triple and a team-leading 11 home runs (second in the Pac-12). He also drove in 42 RBIs (second on the team) in 57 games.
On the mound, Erceg was 0-1 with one save, and a 2.53 ERA. Erceg had one notable blown save, in the penultimate game of the College Station Regional against Texas A&M. Erceg allowed the game-tying run in the top of the ninth to the Aggies, and then the game-winning run in the top of the 12th to take the loss and force the seventh game. Only one of those runs was earned, and he held A&M -- one of the top offenses in the nation -- to five hits over a career-high 4.0 innings.
He began the season on an 18-game hitting streak.
In his career at Cal, Erceg hit .283 with 13 home runs, 51 RBIs, 47 runs, 14 doubles and seven stolen bases in 87 games.
As a pitcher, Erceg threw 26.2 innings over 15 appearances out of the bullpen, sporting a 2.19 ERA, a 1-1 record and two saves. He struck out 16 and walked nine.
Erceg's loss is a keen one for the Bears, as he was expected to be a high-round draft pick this coming season, and provide a lot of firepower in the middle of the lineup. Cal will return almost their entire starting lineup from 2015's deep playoff run for the 2016 season, and Erceg's bat and arm were expected to be a big part of that. It does, however, in some way solve one positional battle. After a tremendous postseason, senior catcher Mitchell "El Gaucho" Kranson was set to be locked in a battle with sophomore Brett Cumberland this fall and spring, but as Kranson has history at third base, that may be the route by which head coach David Esquer gets both of their bats in the lineup.
That said, Kranson, by the end of the playoff run, was calling his own game behind the dish -- something Cumberland is not quite seasoned enough to do -- so that should be another interesting wrinkle to which first-year pitching coach Thomas Eager will have to attend. Eager replaces Mike Neu, who is now the head coach at Pacific. Neu also took former Bear and 2015 Cal volunteer assistant Noah Jackson with him to Stockton.
Picked by D1Baseball.com to reach the 2016 College World Series, the Bears still return their entire starting rotation -- four starting pitchers, all with playoff experience -- for next season, including senior workhorse Ryan Mason, Team USA righty Daulton Jefferies and Freshman All-Americans Jeff Bain and Matt Ladrech. They also return starting middle infielders Preston GrandPre and Robbie Tenerowicz, as well as the entire outfield -- Devin Pearson (a team-leading .355 with 12 doubles, two triples, four homers and 22 RBIs), Aaron Knapp and Brian Celsi, while adding a power bat in incoming freshman Lorenzo Hampton and 31st-round MLB Draft pick Tanner Dodson -- who, like, Erceg, is a two-way player.