Baseball: Santa Clara Preview

Gamecock Anthem's John Klauber returns for an in-depth preview of the Gamecocks' opening weekend series against the Santa Clara Broncos. Look inside for the breakdown as the Gamecocks get ready to defend their national title.

Team: Santa Clara University BRONCOS Conference affiliation: West Coast Conference '10 Record: 23-31 (overall); WCC: 8-13; Home: 13-15; Away: 8-16; Neutral: 2-0

School background. Santa Clara University is a Catholic Jesuit Private Institution dedicated to student learning on the undergraduate and graduate levels. It is located in the heart of the Silicon Valley, roughly 40 miles south of San Francisco (at the southern tip of the San Francisco Bay) and approximately 2 miles from the San Jose International Airport. Stanford University is in very close proximity of the Santa Clara Campus; the two teams are baseball competitive programs.

Program Notes. Head Coach Mark O'Brien was hired from the Stanford staff in June 2001 and celebrates his tenth year as skipper for the Broncos. Teams within their conference are well-known west coast teams with solid baseball history… Pepperdine University, Gonzaga, San Diego University and Loyola Marymount.

Coach O'Brien has long excelled at recruiting the west coast. He has to recruit talent as well as players that can carry the SCU academic requirements, which are pretty stringent. In fact, that was his job while at Stanford; he was responsible for many quality Cardinal players in the late 1990s to mid 2000s. He was on the Stanford staff that beat the Yardcocks in the "Sunken Diamond" during the 2001 Super Regional at Stanford University.

Odd Connections. There exists an odd connection between the University of South Carolina and Santa Clara University, and it involves another "USC"; actually, the UofSC (University of Southern Cal). Since 1912, Santa Clara was The University of Santa Clara. That changed in 1985; they changed their official name to Santa Clara University to "avoid misreprestentation". More likely to avoid So. Cal. lawyers and their California courts… which we know first hand and all too well.

Beginning with Santa Clara's 1986 graduating class, diplomas were printed with the official name, Santa Clara University, for the first time. If you see a Santa Clara fan at our game this weekend, mention this little nugget. You will find it is a pretty close bond between our two schools and an annoyance of a particularly self-inflated image another University may have of itself.

About the Broncos… hitting. Gone are the bats of Tommy Medica (San Diego; 14th rd., 424 pick) with a .386 batting average, Geoff Klein (St. Louis; 15th rd., 469 pick) .346 BA and Ryan Kieger .339BA. These three hitters were regulars in their 1-9 batting order in 2010 and accounted for 554 overall at-bats (28% of their total at-bat production). Ian O'Conner offered offensive pop off the bench with a .370BA. I do not see this loss as a problem for the Broncos, as their style of "small-ball" play does not change from last year's class to this year's group of hitters. However, there is some consistency that left the team that will have to be developed as their season progresses.

There is a lot of youth in this line-up with a solid smattering of experienced seniors and juniors for the sake of guidance. I see them having the same approach… going for on-base percentages, hitting for multiple base hits (lead the WCC in doubles last year) and making things happen on base with aggressive play. Sound Familiar?

This year's line-up reflects much of the same style; they accounted for 72% of last year's at-bat production, so the nucleus is strong to achieve some wins with the typical "west coast" style of play. The key for our guys is to keep from playing their game. We need to put runs on the board and avoid the low scoring game. Make them play catch-up to our offensive output, not the other way around. Pitching will be the difference in this series and that will be where we have an advantage… more on this later.

But for now, here is their batting order in the most likely order in which they will hit… which is no guarantee at the start of the season, capiche?

#4, Lucas Herbst, LHP/CF (L-L, Jr.); .300BA, 190AB. 42r, 57h, 3HR, 16RBI, 16w, 17k (.379 obp).

22, Justin Viele, SS (R-R, So.); .310BA,87AB, 23r, 27h, 12RBI, 10w, 7k (.471 obp).

34, Curtis Wagner, 1B (L-R, Sr.); .404BA, 161AB, 46r, 65h, 3HR, 32RBI, 32w, 32k (.533 obp).

15, Matt Ozanne, CF (R-R, So.); .380BA, 79AB, 26r, 30h, 2HR, 17RBI, 8w, 15k (.440 obp).

33, Patrick Terry, C (R-R, Sr.); .328BA, 131AB, 18r, 43h, 4HR, 22RBI, 5w, 28k (.369 obp).

25, Pat Stover, RF (R-R, So.); .302BA, 182AB, 30r, 55h, 3HR, 34RBI, 10w, 47k (.342 obp).

7, Blake Leyva, 3B/SS (R-R, So.); .283BA, 145AB, 20r, 41h, 26RBI, 16w, 16k (.358 obp).

6, Evan Peters, 2B/SS (R-R, Sr.); .320BA, 206AB, 34r, 66h,2HR, 21RBI, 12w, 31k (.383 obp).

19, Andrew Biancardi, LF/DH (R-R, Jr); .235BA, 51AB, 4r, 12h, 8RBI, 2w, 11k (.278 obp).

Bench Production:

10, Drew Ozanne, 2B/3B (R-R, So.); .298BA, 47AB, 8r, 14h, 12RBI, 8w, 7k (.400 obp).

13, J.R. Graham, RHP/3B (R-R, Jr.); .170BA, 47AB, 6r, 8h,4RBI, 2w, 7k (.226 obp).

42, Stephen Takahashi, CF (R-R, So.); .000BA, 7AB, 6r, 0h, 2RBI, 4w, 1k (.462 obp).

Hitters returning from last year's team account for a .278 (weighted) team batting average and a .386 team on base percentage; Yardcock returning numbers (weighted) are as follows: .292 team batting average; .377 team on base percentage. Given the new BBCOR bat performance, I do not expect much of an effect in this series, in relation to the performance of the bat. Both teams play for on base percentages pretty well and it shouldn't be too much of a factor in a match-up like this weekend.

The Broncos are excited about the opportunity to travel cross country to take on the defending National Champion Gamecock team. Coach O'Brien commented in a recent interview, taken from the website: "there is no downside (to that trip). We are definitely looking forward to that challenge. Right now, we're building the foundation of our program. It's early but we are excited about the upcoming season." This will be the start of the ongoing scenario where our team has the (proverbial) target on their backs.

Pitching. Bronco pitching, in my opinion, took a big hit from last year's staff. Their biggest loss would be the loss of two weekend starters that threw in the 4.50 ERA range, Alex Rivers and Steve Kalush. Rivers was selected by Kansas City in the 39th round, 1,169 pick.

They pick up a very good pitcher by the name of #29 Thain Simon (RHP, R-R, RS/JR.). His '09 numbers: 3-5, 6.30ERA, 65.2IP,94h, 58r(46e), 20w, 51k (.336 oba). Simon underwent Tommy John surgery last year and was out for the 2010 season. Simon was a second-team All-American as a true freshman in 2008; WCC All-Star ('08), WCC Freshman of the Year ('08). His record in '09 (seen below) fell of from his performance in '08 and may have been the first signs of impending elbow problems, hopefully corrected through surgery. Or it could've been from the dreaded "sophomore slump".

It would be unfair to think that he will pick up in ‘10 where he left off in '08 as there is much rust to work through. The talent Simon has is documented; he could play an important role for a depleted pitching staff in '11. Simon brought a nice fastball coming from the ¾ slot, but the possibility of loss of velocity (post surgery) could be the case. He will probably rely upon his off-speed pitches, like his breaking ball, which comes in at 10 to 4 with tight spin and good depth. His change-up has very good movement, sink with tail and thrown with good feel. He possesses balance and tempo while on the mound.

A starter from last year's staff that returns for bump duty this year is #30, Chris Mendoza (RHP, R-R, So.). Mendoza's '10 numbers: 4-6 overall record; 5.83ERA, 66.1IP, 91h, 55r(43e), 23w, 33k (.331 oba). Mendoza is capable of throwing a complete game and did so last year against San Diego State University… he threw a complete game against SDSU in his first outing, picking up his first win as a SCU freshman in 2010. He also avoided a sweep for the weekend series against SDSU with his performance. Mendoza possesses a big arm, and we should see a fastball that touches 91 mph.

Mendoza throws with good command but (admittedly) relied upon his catcher last year (Geoff Klein) to get him through games. Klein graduated in 2010. It will be revealed first hand if Patrick Terry can provide Mendoza with the same confidence and ease during this year's games that Klein gave him as catcher last year.

Lucky #13, J.R Graham (RHP, R-R, Jr.), will provide in a role as a weekend starter or (more likely) will continue to be their go-to closer as he was last year. Graham's numbers are as follows: 1-1, 4SV, 5.27ERA, 27.1IP, 45h, 19r(16e), 10w, 21k (.369 oba). Graham possesses sheer arm strength. Throws mid 90's fastball with a quick pace; he earned 4 saves as a sophomore closer in 2010. He also possesses a mid 70's curveball. Both pitches have exceptional control by Graham.

#21 Brock Simon (RHP, R-R, So.) and #38 Cory Hall (RHP, R-R, Sr.) round out the relief staff with the most time accrued on the bump for last year (pitching more than 20 innings in '10). Here are their numbers from last year:

21, Brock Simon (RHP, R-R, So.) 1-2 (1SV), 7.79ERA, 34.2IP, 46h, 35r(30e), 12w, 22k (.317 oba).

38, Cory Hall (RHP, R-R, Sr.) 3-0, 6.00ERA, 24IP, 37h, 21r(16e), 8w, 21k (.346 oba).

SCU's team averages for this year's pitching staff (weighted with 8 returning pitchers) as a team is 4.39 ERA; their opponent batting average (minimum five innings pitched) is @ .357… Carolina's (weighted) team ERA for 2010 is @ 3.03 team ERA (with a minimum of 5 innings pitched); team opponent batting average against our returning pitchers (with a min. 5 innings pitched) is .236 . That should explain my rationale as to why I think pitching will be key in this series, and in our favor.

There is an "unknown" which SCU will possess coming into Columbia this weekend. They signed two very good left-handed pitchers in last year's in-coming class and what effect they may have on this game could be anyone's guess… especially if the games are close in offensive production. Coach O'Brien is very excited about these two LHP pitchers, Max Deering and Powell Fansler.

Powell Fansler is a very interesting pitcher with a lot of upside. Information on high school pitchers is traditionally hard to find, but that wasn't the case for Fansler. This has no reflection on what Deering may bring to their staff… I believe whole-heartedly in Coach O'Brien's assessment of the young man and he knows better than most of the services that collect data on high school prospects. That said, Fansler got a lot of publicity last year in the California high school ranks.

Fansler faced 172 batters in high school play last year (Remember, they play 7 innings of baseball… that is a lot of batters faced!). He struck out 47 and walked 11. He maintained a 1.12 ERA over 43.2 innings pitched. He also saved 7 games in 2010. This young man carried his h.s. team through 2010. Although it doesn't guarantee success on the next level, I think the quality of pitcher which Fansler appears to be is obvious. He shows tenacity that is needed to get to the next level and beyond. 98% of pitching is winning the mental battle by limiting your mistakes. I wish him luck.

In conclusion, this weekend's match-up should be a good one and it should give our team the start it needs to get motivated. Much was discussed about Coach Tanner's less-than-impressed attitude he had after last Sunday's scrimmage. I think he knows that there is a bit of urgency when you face a team that can do things well, specifically on offense and defensive play. The Broncos are a team that plays with confidence in the things they do well.

Simply put, I think the Yardcocks will present too many challenges for the Broncos to overcome… especially when it comes to pitching and limiting their hitting on-base percentages.

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