California was, in a word, disappointing in 2016. The Bears, without ace Daulton Jefferies for eight weeks, fell apart in the middle of the season, and after opening the season as a consensus top-15 team, finished 32-21 and 14-16 in Pac-12 play.
Cal lost seven players due to the MLB Draft, including the top-round battery of Jefferies and Brett Cumberland (the Pac-12 Player of the Year), starting second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz (Rays), starting third baseman Mitchell Kranson (Twins), starting center fielder Aaron Knapp (Marlins), reliever Alex Schick (Twins) and four-year starter Ryan Mason (Twins), plus lost starting first baseman Nick Halamandaris, starting right fielder Brian Celsi, starting DH Devin Pearson and key reliever Keaton Siomkin to graduation.
This is going to be a young team, and this fall is going to be big for all of them, especially late addition Korey Lee. The former Arizona catcher commit caught the entire simulated game portion of practice on Friday, and caught all seven innings for the gold squad in the evening scrimmage, with backup Matt Ruff catching for the blue squad.
Lee catches with energy, and is, defensively, probably where Andrew Knapp is, now, as a professional. He's a big-bodied athlete who moves very well, and pitchers have raved about his ability as a receiver. He'll contend with Tyrus Greene, who played in 15 games last season, going 3-for-5 at the plate.
Freshman center fielder Max Flower rocked a triple and a double during the Friday scrimmage, and even threw an inning on the mound. The control isn't there, but he does have an intriguing arm. As a big -- 6-foot-4, 215 pounds -- body, he certainly profiles as a future middle-of-the-order bat, but at this point, it looks like those roles will be filled by returners Denis Karas, who could see time at first and third -- and Jonah Davis. Davis has emerged as a possible power bat, slugging 17 home runs in summer wood bat leagues, including eight in the Northwoods League this past summer. He's added size and strength, while maintaining flexibility.
On the whole, the returners look to have added size and strength, but it was very noticeable on Davis, who hasn't lost a step of his speed. I can see Davis at No. 3, with left fielder Jeffrey Mitchell leading off, and middle infielder Ripken Reyes at No. 2. I fully expect to see Reyes start at second, with junior Preston GrandPre returning to short, though GrandPre did start at third during the simulated game portion of Friday's practice, so that's a possibility, as well. That would put Reyes at short, and open up room for perhaps Andrew Vaughn, Cameron Eden (a big, well-built righty) or Anthony Walters filling in up the middle.
With all those young infielders, defense may be a little bit of an adventure, especially with the Bears having to break in another new first baseman. Conner Bock is long, athletic and shows power potential, without being the kind of bulky strongman we saw in Halamandaris, so that means he's got some playability in the outfield (though he looked a bit rough around the edges early). Karas is also a contender there, and GrandPre is tall enough to pull a Chris Paul, especially with so many middle infielders coming up through the freshman and sophomore classes.
Tanner Dodson -- who was one of Cal's best hitters last fall -- only pitched in the spring, but he's once again getting a two-way look, and after an inning on the hill, popped a double the other way into left center.
The most impressive part of Friday's first scrimmage, though, wasn't the returners, and it wasn't the offense -- though Davis did pop a two-run inside-the-park home run to dead center -- and it wasn't the fact that Matt Ladrech touched 86 with his fastball (85.8, to be precise). No, it was the young pitchers, led by freshman lefty Arman Sabouri and freshman righty Rogelio Reyes.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1610962-cal-baseball-signs... Sabouri won't blow out the radar gun, but he's got mechanics reminiscent of Madison Bumgarner, with the same cross-body arm action that gives his fastball a good tail to it. He showed good downward action and throws a very heavy ball that's tough to square up.
Reyes touched 89 on Friday, as the pitchers went just fastball-change, but showed great differential with his change, hovering around 74. I think I'd like to see more sink on that pitch, but he's got so much run to his fastball, and the 14 mph differential does so much, that any extra action on that change is gravy.
- Ladrech wore the No. 28 jersey, in honor of Cumberland, who's in the middle of Hurricane Matthew.
- Friday was our first look at transfer Ian Lutz, a righty out of San Diego Mesa College, who previously attended Miami-Ohio for a redshirt year. He sat 86-87 with his fastball.
- I'm intrigued by the addition of Blinn JuCo transfer Austen Swift. He's a ready-made corner outfielder with range and speed, and a nice, compact swing that can easily punch base hits the other way. Cal was short on outfielders having lost Pearson, Knapp, Brian Celsi and Brenden Farney, and would have been in a position to play Mitchell, Davis and likely Flower. Adding Swift gives the Bears depth, and some leeway in the development of Flower, while also giving them an option at DH.