The Spartans enter the season with a lot of question marks, but foundation for success is now in place. Sure, it has been difficult and slow developing at times, but one look at coach Piraro's achievements over the past 5 years (WAC division championship, WAC co-championship, and 2000 CWS) and you can see how far it has come.
Talented players from both the JC ranks and high school are now considering SJSU. Because of this, the Spartans recruiting class coming into this year is ranked 17th by Collegiate Baseball News.
So now that we have a consistent winner, the bar will be raised and it should. Anything less than a top 2 or 3 finish in WAC play and an NCAA regional selection should be considered mediocre.
I encourage everyone to go to games at Municipal Stadium or Blethen Field this year for another great season of Spartan baseball. While you're at it, bring a friend or two, they might be pleasantly surprised.
-- Infield -- Among the returning position players, the infield will be the strongest this season.
Returning at what coach Piraro considers the most important position, catcher, is senior Adam Shorsher. Adam is a solid D-I catcher who does all things a good catcher should do, call a game, keep baserunners in check, and block balls in the dirt. Offensively, Shorsher started off slowly last year, barely above the Mendoza line at one point, but caught on fire the last 1/3 of the season (finished .269, 31RBI). But his true value is defense and he's solid.
Mark Bautista, the likely backup, showed flashes that he can be the next in line of good Spartan catchers. He showed an aggressive offensive side and hit .500 in 20 AB. Look for Bautista, a sophomore, to get more playing time if Shorsher gets off to a slow start.
Sophomore Scott Niheu is 3rd on the depth chart. With the departure of John Fagan (12 HR, 44 RBI Astros organization) and Jamie Hiegel, the 1st base job is wide open. One of the redshirts or newcomers will have to fill this spot.
2nd base is set with the return of senior Gabe Lopez, who was selected as a 3rd-team pre-season All-American by Collegiate Baseball News. Lopez is a slick fielder, with good hands and will get his uniform dirty. Offensively, he has one of the quickest bats I've ever seen and will put the ball in play. He's a gap hitter (.353, 62 R, 40 RBI,14 SB) with some pop, as evidenced by his game-winning walk-off homer against Nevada last year.
To complement Lopez, Ryan Adams returns as the starting shortstop. Adams, a senior, is an adept fielder with good range and can turn the double play. His offense was spotty at times, but he finished hitting a decent .273 with 42 RBIs. If he can hit with a little more consistency, that will help the lineup immensely.
3rd base was a big question mark at the start last season, but after getting his feet wet with a few starts, sophomore Kevin Frandsen took over the starting spot. As a true freshman, he surprised many with his range at the hot corner and sometimes made terrific defensive plays. Although he can make plays in the field, sometimes he looked tentative, but that comes with being a first year player. With more practice and a physically stronger body, he will be a good one. Offensively, he definitely surprised everyone by hitting a solid .319 and leading the team in sacrifice hits with 13.
-- Outfield -- The most glaring spot on this year's squad is the outfield, where all three starters are gone. It will be difficult to replace the offense of a Junior Ruiz (.374 -- Reds orgainzation), the defense of a Ryan Brucker (can flag down any deep fly), and the consistency of a Brandon Macchi (.285, 60 RBIs, 7 outfield assists -- Astros organization). I suspect none of the outfield spots will be set early in the season and there will be battles going on the first 10-15 games of the season to see who comes out on top.
Sam prefers to use his starters exclusively once they are established, but since none of the returning candidates (Jason Van-Over, Anthony Jones, Dino Quintero) have had significant playing time, its going to be wide open.
-- Starting Pitching -- This is another area on this year's squad that will need help. Chris Sherman (9-4, 3.10 ERA, 4 CG -- Mets organization) and Tim Adinolfi (8-5, 4.60 ERA -- Royals organization) are both gone, along with their experience and talent.
Senior Jeremy Rogelstad (94.2 INN, 5 CG) wasn't drafted, but has the most experience as the lone returning starter. He can be very effective when he's on, but lacks consistency. He has a good arm, can throw a variety of pitches, and can be a workhorse. However, he doesn't have a out-pitch. Senior Jahseam George and junior Andy Cook are two other returnees with some starting experience, but neither stood out on a consistent basis. Cook came off arm surgery in 2000 to pitch last year. George transferred from BYU.
Look for lots of competition for all the starting spots.
-- Relief Pitching -- Ok, chalk up another area that will need lots of help. Matt Kauffman (4 SV, 43Ks in 40 INN -- Dodgers organization) and Dave Fuqua (3 SV) are gone and the only returnee with significant innings is sophomore Mike Malott (4.91 ERA, 29 INN). Cook and George pitched in long relief most of last year and may have the same roles again this year, but each may get a shot as a weekend starter.
Sophomore Casey Minister returns with limited innings. With the exception of Malott, look for all kinds of competition for role pitchers (closers,lefty/righty setup,and long relievers).
-- Coaches -- Sam Piraro returns for his 16th season and is now the all-time leader in wins at SJS, surpassing his mentor Gene Menges last year. He is 3rd among WAC coaches with longest tenure at one school (Bob Bennett, Fresno St. - 34; Gary Powers, Nevada - 19).
He teaches well, lets his players play, and gets them to graduate. He is one of the only head coaches I know that uses a chart during a game, which is usually the job for assistants.
Doug Thurman is back as assistant/pitching coach. Dean Madsen and Robert Berns are also back as assistants for this years squad.
This Saturday, Jan 26th is the Alumni Game at BLETHEN FIELD at 1:00 p.m. Then on Friday, February 1st, the Spartans begin the actual season versus St Mary's at MUNICIPAL STADIUM for a 2:30 p.m start.
Don't miss out on the first pitch of the 2002 San Jose State baseball season. See you at the ball park!