I guess it's time for me to put forth my choices for the coming season in the WAC so here they are:
1. Fresno State – Always the default pick. Lose a few key players but return a lot and had a good recruiting class.
2. Louisiana Tech – I'm taking a chance here as few agree with me. I see Dageford leading the offense and the young pitchers doing a lot better.
3. San Jose State – Probably lose the most of any team in the WAC but they have always shown the ability to overcome such obstacles and have the best recruiting class in the WAC.
4. New Mexico State – Don't lose a lot from that offensive machine they had last year and, in fact, have reloaded. Pitching will improve. I wonder how an improved OOC schedule will treat them.
5. Hawaii – Return some good hitters but their pitching still does not impress.
6. Nevada – They sound a little like Hawaii and add the possible freshman-of-the-year in Carlos Escobar. Pitching is suspect.
7. Sacramento State – They will improve but so does all the WAC, their OOC is the toughest in the conference, and they will hurt again.
The following are short previews of the teams in the WAC. I know I have overlooked plenty but I didn't want to write a book.
Strong programs continue to be strong by having good years followed by a good recruiting class. The mutts didn't have a good year as they almost finished last in the WAC and only a season-ending sweep of Sacramento State prevented them from being shut out of the WAC Tournament. As most of you know, Fresno won the tournament and received the only bid for the NCAA Tournament. That says they know when to get hot. Why did it take them so long to do so? Some say youth and others say underachieving. I thought underachieving but this year we will find out as most come back and they get some good newcomers.
Gone are Ahmady (1B) and third baseman Mendonca (WAC MVP). Also gone are two other position players that started a good portion of the time but the newcomers could be better. Returning players and recruits are listed for position players:
2B - Danny Muno return pre-season WAC MVP
OF - Dusty Robinson return pre-season All-American
SS - Garrett Weber juco
1B - Clay Cederquist frosh top recruit could be a star
OF - Bobby Coyle transfer could be best of the bunch
C - Trent Garrison return pre-season All-WAC
The pitching staff didn't really perform last year. Their two top pitchers either graduated or defected. They do have some promising young arms that they hope will improve over last year's stats. Returning pitchers must improve. Pitchers to watch:
P - Derek Benny return preseason All-WAC
P - Josh Poytress return
P - Matt Morse return senior leader
Hawaii's collapse at the end last year has been documented ad-nauseum. It's a new year folks. Most figure the guys in green to be much improved. Hitting was subpar last year (last in the WAC) as was pitching. This may have been due to their playing a very tough OOC schedule. They play another good OOC schedule and the rest of the conference has caught up a bit in that respect. Gone from the position players are Catricala (top hitter)and Morford. They return a bunch, however, so I think their hitting will be improved.
IF - Kevin MacDonald return drafted but didn't sign
2B - Kolten Wong return Freshman All-American
OF - Sean Montplaisir return pre-season All-WAC
SS - Greg Garcia return pre-season All-WAC
IF - Kalani Brackenridge frosh draft pick
OF - Breland Almadova frosh Hawaii state POY
C - David Freitas juco northern CA All-American
As I said their pitching was ok at best. Kramer was their All-WAC starter and leader last year and he is gone along with the often injured Alexander. Other than those two, most of the staff returns which is a good sign. Pitchers in the spot light:
P - Nate Klein return pre-season All-WAC
P - Sam Spangler return best stats of returnees
P - Matt Sisto return
P - Zack Gallagher juco could be good
The southern dogs started out well playing a soft OOC and then got hammered early in the WAC season. Things looked bad for them and many figured they'd never recover. Well, recover they did, and finished strongly to be second place in the regular season. They could hit but their pitching was/is suspect but should be much improved and the hitting takes quite a hit due to graduation.
Gone are Thomas (2nd team All-WAC), Kersten (2nd team All-WAC), Winn (2nd best hitter on team), Grunenwald, and Moseley (2nd leading P). Position players you'll see:
OF - Devon Dageford return my vote for WAC MVP
3B - Mark Threlkeld return good freshman year
IF - Taylor Terrasas frosh
They don't lose much from the pitching staff. Dylan Moseley is the most notable of the missing pitchers. Returns and newcomers of note:
P - Mike Jefferson return Best on a poor staff
P - Jeb Stefan return
P - Trevor Peterson frosh best new pitcher in the WAC?
P - Phillip Menou frosh
Another team that didn't live up to expectations as they crashed at the end of the season and in the WAC Tournament. Their pitching was poor and their hitting was only ok. Did they lose much from last year? Jaquez (3rd best hitter), Bowman (.302 and All-WAC), and Simas (first team All-WAC catcher) are the position players they'll miss this year. Do they have replacements? Umm, yes:
OF - Nick Melino return pre-season All-WAC
1B - Shaun Kort return pre-season All-WAC
OF - Westley Moss return pre-season All-WAC
C - Carlos Escobar frosh could be great
OF - Ronnie Mitchell frosh
OF - Brian Barnett juco adds pop
How about the pitching? Did they lose from a fairly poor staff to start with or do they add some great arms? They lose Achepohl (2nd team All-WAC) and that's about it. Notable names from the staff:
P - Tyler Graham return pre-season All-WAC
P - Dan Tinlin return best out of the pen
P - Chris Garcia return leader in IP
P - Brock Stassi return
New Mexico State
What was that boxer's name in the Rocky movies? Clubber Lang or something like that? That was the name for all the position players for the Aggies last year. Boy, could they hit. However, as well as they did last year it didn't translate into a regular season championship, a WAC Tournament championship, or a bid to the NCAA Tournament. That's a bummer. They've upgraded their OOC and could have a rougher time of it but they bring in some help also. Gone are Marquez (All-WAC), Farnham (2nd team All-WAC), and Stout (.346). Here's what we'll see this year:
2B - Mike Sodders return pre-season All-WAC
1B - Leo Aguirre return consistent hitter with pop
IF - Wade Reynoso return .370 last year
OF - Nate Shaver return 2nd team All-WAC
UTL - Jared Jordan return pre-season All-WAC
C - Zac Fisher frosh draft choice
OF - Wesley Starkes juco coach's brother pipeline
Pitching was not their strong suit last year but they did have a few good ones who return. Lost are starters Vendette and Sturdevant both of which had ERAs in the mid 6.00 range. Staff looks like this:
P - Daniel Simon return 2nd team All-WAC
P - Jared Jordan return pre-season All-WAC as UTL
P - Scott Coffman return pre-season All-WAC
P - Ryan Canak frosh
The Hornets finished at the bottom of the WAC last year and most wonder what the future holds for them. They have lost a very good player in Tim Wheeler and he will be hard, if not impossible, to replace.
Gone are the top three hitters in Crosby, Wheeler, and Martinez. In fact, of the top eight hitters on the squad in terms of AB's only four return to give it another try. And that's from a last place team. That means four position players and a DH need to fill the emptiness. The following are the top returners and those that are newcomers I think may make a difference:
3B - Josh Powers return best returning hitter
OF - Kyle Baskett juco
OF - Trevor Bloom juco
DH - Justin Lamb return could be a good one (can C)
The pitching staff certainly needs work. The team ERA was 6.33 last year and anything over 5.00 is poor. Three of the starters return one of which was Freshman All-American Jesse Darah.
So, what does all this mean for a last place team? It looks like they could get some serious help for the pitching staff in Brandon Creel and Jason Hampton, who are both freshmen, and Russell Havens who is a juco transfer. Position players of note are Blake Miller a freshman infielder to watch and Trevor Bloom a juco outfielder. They have helped the pitching some but not as much as they wanted but there will always be surprises. They got some pretty good kids and a very challenging schedule. This may be just enough to keep them where they were last year. Improved, but not enough.
P - Jesse Darah return Best on the staff
P - Brandon Creel frosh
P - Russell Havens juco
San Jose State
The WAC regular season champs will be hard-pressed to equal or better last year's season. They had a very good recruiting class with some good returning players. Many have the Spartans picked as low as 5th place but I think they could finish as high as third. I think they are a year away as only two seniors of any consequence are on the team. They have a lot of holes to fill (mostly at pitching). Gone are Jacob Bruns, Kyle Bellows, John Shaffer, Tyler Heil, Anthony Aguilera, David Berner, Max Peterson, Ryan Shopshire, Jack Adams, and Scott Sobczak.
Position players of note that return are as follows:
3B - Corey Valine, return pre-season All-WAC
OF - Jason Martin return pre-season All-WAC
1B - Danny Stienstra return great hitter
OF - Alex Sofranac return coming off injury
DH - Anthony Bona return
SS - Zack Jones Frosh
The pitching is a real "hold your breath" situation. Good recruits coming in and some returning players who could step up. If it doesn't happen, a long year ensues but, if enough of them do come through, the Spartans will, indeed, be a player.
P - Esteban Guzman return had a great fall
P - Blake McFarland juco penciled in as starter
P - Drew Bradshaw frosh didn't play as senior in HS
P - John Austin juco
P - Zack Jones frosh when not playing short
Don Starks is the Baseball Editor of Inside Sparta. You may contact Don with any questions, comments, or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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