2013 Baseball Preview

"Warning: Don't take the Super Regional road through the humid Southeast in an attempt to reach the College World Series. Stanford baseball learned that the hard way in 2011 and 2012, swept away by North Carolina and Florida State squads in hostile environments." With that caveat in mind, the 2013 regular season grows that much more important for a loaded squad. Read on!





The Return to Omaha
Warning: Don't take the Super Regional road through the humid Southeast in an attempt to reach the College World Series. Stanford baseball learned that the hard way in 2011 and 2012, swept away by North Carolina and Florida State squads in hostile environments. Last year's demise was particularly gruesome: the Seminoles butchered the Cardinal 17-1 and 18-7 in sweltering Tallahassee.

"I think [the Florida State blowouts] taught us that we can't focus on the externals, the crowd, the humidity, final exams. We have to learn to focus on playing good baseball," senior ace Mark Appel said. "This year there's going to be a huge emphasis on winning the Sunday games, getting those sweeps, and winning those midweek games. It's huge for getting that national seed and hosting a Super Regional."



In 2012, Stanford finished 41-18, but a regular-season ending home series loss to Cal, which included a gut-wrenching 18-inning Friday night defeat, eventually forced the Cardinal to pack their bags for Tallahassee.

This year, Appel is the country's best starting pitcher, and his surprising senior return complements an offense that packs legitimate firepower for the preseason No. 9 Cardinal. Austin Wilson, Alex Blandino, and Brian Ragira comprise an enviable three-batter core, but the Cardinal must replace starters Stephen Piscotty, Jake Stewart, Kenny Diekroeger, Eric Smith, and Tyler Gaffney.

Ultimately, as is always the case, the Farm Boys' success will hinge on pitching depth. Appel has Friday locked down, but the Saturday and Sunday starters' spots remain question marks until someone performs consistently. Sophomore lefty John Hochstatter gets the season's first Saturday nod at No. 20 Rice, while the Sunday role will initially belong to a freshman: highly-touted Freddy Avis, lefty Logan James and Daniel Starwalt are all candidates.

Defensive Lineup

1B - Brian Ragira (JR)
2B - Danny Diekroeger (JR)
SS - Lonnie Kauppila (JR)
3B - Alex Blandino (SO)
LF - Dominic Jose* (SO)
CF - Jonny Locher* (FR)
RF - Austin Wilson (JR)
C - Wayne Taylor* (SO)

Projected Batting Order
1 - L/R Jonny Locher* - known for speed, but has displayed impressive pop (two HR in one intrasquad game)
2 - L Danny Diekroeger - excellent bat control, can find hole to execute hit-and-run
3 - R Brian Ragira - beautiful, consistent line drive swing, but can he generate more power?
4 - R Austin Wilson - everyone is expecting a monster season; no shortage of intrasquad bombs
5 - R Alex Blandino - lightning-fast swing; must avoid sophomore slump
6 - L/R Dominic Jose* - The key to Stanford's lineup; .375 over 40 at-bats in 2012
7 - R Lonnie Kauppila - back from a knee injury; gap-to-gap power would greatly help
8 - L Wayne Taylor* - only hit .152 his freshman year, but has been hitting well to all fields in offseason
9 - DH (Drew Jackson, Zach Hoffpauir, Austin Slater, Brett Michael Doran, Brian Guymon, Austin Barr)

*First-year starter

Lineup Thoughts: Keys to Success
My projected Stanford lineup is contingent on all bats -- particularly Dominic Jose's -- reaching their full potential. With the Ragira-Wilson-Blandino core, there's no question that the Cardinal offense will be dangerous. The difference between a good attack and a juggernaut, though, likely depends on the type of season that the sophomore left fielder Jose can put together. In 40 at-bats last year, the freshman hit .375 and pumped a grand slam out of the ballpark. If he can translate that kind of success into a full season, Marquess' No. 6 hole will round out a true titan.

Of course, the losses of Piscotty, Stewart, Smith, Gaffney, and Kenny Diekroeger will be challenging to overcome. But Locher has dazzled at times in intrasquads. He is considered to have top-shelf run-generating tools primed for the leadoff spot, but he has also developed the power to drive the ball out of the ballpark. This was on full display during Stanford's first January intrasquad, when he belted two home runs to left field.



If Jose can successfully man the order's six spot, Marquess will have the luxury of batting Danny Diekroeger second in the order, a perfect spot for a left-handed hitter with excellent bat control. Diekroeger has repeatedly displayed the ability to utilize the hole on the right side of the infield throughout intrasquads, an especially valuable asset if Locher is able to consistently reach base and keep the first baseman glued to the bag in front of him.

Marquess confirmed that he is expecting a great year from five-tool stud Wilson in the middle. Meanwhile, Ragira and Blandino, two excellent bats in their own right, should see plenty of strikes because of the big junior stalwart. Plus, the development of the bottom of Stanford's order should also be intriguing. Taylor, who scuffled to a .152 batting average his freshman year, has been swinging the bat extremely well throughout the entire offseason. He has displayed power to all fields on his way to earning the starting nod a year after Smith's departure.

Kauppila's return from a season-ending knee injury solidifies the Cardinal defensively, but Stanford will also look for offensive efficiency from their starting shortstop. Kauppila was batting .280 when he went down last season. He won't be counted on to deliver much power at the plate, but a continued presence on base will help the Farm Boys reach the designated hitter spot and turn the lineup card over.

Speaking of that DH hole, Marquess has named several candidates, all of whom have the potential to raise the spot's slot in the lineup order. Brett Michael Doran saw starting action in 2012, while Austin Slater has strengthened as a sophomore. Junior Brian Guymon displayed impressive power this offseason, blasting another home run as recently as this past Sunday. A pair of talented freshmen, though, have generated a considerable buzz: shortstop Drew Jackson, the fastest player on the team, and outfielder Zach Hoffpauir, also a hard-hitting safety generating offseason buzz on the football team. Hoffpauir tripled off Appel in his first live at-bat since last April, though he must consistently learn to lay off breaking pitches on the college level. As for Jackson, Appel has raved about him at the plate, calling him a "very tough at-bat", high praise for a freshman coming from a senior star.

Pitching, Pitching, Pitching
Offensive prowess will be rendered moot, however, if Stanford does not perform well on the mound. Appel is expected to be excellent on the mound again after his 10-2, 2.56 ERA numbers in 2012 dazzled for much of the season. Alas, Appel cannot pitch every start, leaving the Cardinal tasked with replacing Brett Mooneyham and Stephen Piscotty, who anchored the Saturday and Sunday starting positions down the 2012 stretch.



Sophomore lefthander John Hochstatter, whose 12-to-6 breaking ball regularly baffled hitters early last season, gets the season's first Saturday nod. He finished 2012 with a 4.53 ERA while walking more batters (18) than he struck out (15). Almost all of his control struggles came after a hot start to the season, so Stanford is counting on him to regain his early form. Such mastery from Hochstatter could produce a potentially balance-disrupting Friday-Saturday combination with Appel, who throws much harder (and from the right side).

Either Freddy Avis, Logan James, or Daniel Starwalt will begin the season as Stanford's Sunday starter. "He Tries Harder" Avis has touched 94 miles per hour on the radar gun, while James has provided intrigue by hitting 92 MPH from the left side.

"All of those guys are more than capable," Marquess said. "Their success will depend on them being able to control a secondary pitch on top of their fastball. At this level, you need that to succeed."

Stanford hopes closer A.J. Vanegas, who lit up Cape Cod league radar guns with 98 MPH fastballs this past summer, returns in late March from back surgery. Assuming Vanegas can work back to full strength, the back end of the Cardinal bullpen will be fortified. Sahil Bloom, Dean McArdle, and David Schmidt all also have experience coming out of the 'pen, but the details of Stanford's relief plan will develop with the season. Fans need look back no further than 2011, when Chris Reed emerged as the closer midway through the season.

Outlook
Stanford's lineup remains formidable, and its pitching staff retains the talent to win. If Vanegas can return to man the closer's role by the Pac-12 season, the Cardinal look to have the firepower to be a very complete baseball team. Of course, strong individual performances from some newcomers and first-year starters are necessary, but offseason intrasquads have given plenty of reason for optimism. The Cardinal are as good of a bet as anybody to win a loaded Pac-12 that features No. 5 UCLA, No. 6 Oregon, the No. 9 Cardinal and No. 10 Oregon State each in the top 10. (And don't sleep on No. 16 Arizona State or No. 18 Arizona.) If the Card can win a stacked league, the road back to Omaha becomes exponentially easier, as it would go through Sunken Diamond.



David Lombardi is the Stanford Football Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMLombardi.


Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!


The Bootleg Top Stories


\r\n
\r\n\r\n
\r\n
\r\nThe Return to Omaha
\r\n
Warning: Don't take the Super Regional road through the humid\r\nSoutheast in an attempt to reach the College World Series. Stanford\r\nbaseball learned that the hard way in 2011 and 2012, swept away by\r\nNorth Carolina and Florida State squads in hostile environments.\r\nLast year's demise was particularly gruesome: the Seminoles\r\nbutchered the Cardinal 17-1 and 18-7 in sweltering Tallahassee.
\r\n
\r\n\"I think [the Florida State blowouts] taught us that we can't focus\r\non the externals, the crowd, the humidity, final exams. We have to\r\nlearn to focus on playing good baseball,\" senior ace Mark Appel\r\nsaid. \"This year there's going to be a huge emphasis on winning the\r\nSunday games, getting those sweeps, and winning those midweek games.\r\nIt's huge for getting that national seed and hosting a Super\r\nRegional.\"
\r\n
\r\n
\r\n
\r\nIn 2012, Stanford finished 41-18, but a regular-season ending home\r\nseries loss to Cal, which included a gut-wrenching 18-inning\r\nFriday night defeat, eventually forced the Cardinal to pack their\r\nbags for Tallahassee.\r\n

This year, Appel is the country's best starting pitcher,\r\nand his surprising senior return complements an offense that packs\r\nlegitimate firepower for the preseason No. 9 Cardinal. Austin Wilson, Alex Blandino, and Brian Ragira\r\ncomprise an enviable three-batter core, but the Cardinal must replace\r\nstarters Stephen Piscotty, Jake Stewart, Kenny Diekroeger, Eric Smith, and Tyler Gaffney.
\r\n
\r\nUltimately, as is always the case, the Farm Boys'\r\nsuccess will hinge on pitching depth. Appel has Friday locked down,\r\nbut the Saturday and Sunday starters' spots remain question marks\r\nuntil someone performs consistently. Sophomore lefty John Hochstatter gets the season's first Saturday nod at No. 20 Rice, while the\r\nSunday role will initially belong to a freshman: highly-touted Freddy Avis, lefty Logan James\r\nand Daniel Starwalt are all candidates.
\r\n
\r\nDefensive Lineup

\r\n
1B - Brian Ragira (JR)
\r\n2B - Danny Diekroeger (JR)
\r\nSS - Lonnie Kauppila (JR)
\r\n3B - Alex Blandino (SO)
\r\nLF - Dominic Jose* (SO)
\r\nCF - Jonny Locher* (FR)
\r\nRF - Austin Wilson (JR)
\r\nC - Wayne Taylor* (SO)
\r\n
\r\n\r\nProjected Batting Order
\r\n
1 - L/R Jonny Locher* - known for speed, but has displayed\r\nimpressive pop (two HR in one intrasquad game)
\r\n2 - L Danny Diekroeger - excellent bat control, can find hole to\r\nexecute hit-and-run
\r\n3 - R Brian Ragira - beautiful, consistent line drive swing, but\r\ncan he generate more power?
\r\n4 - R Austin Wilson - everyone is expecting a monster season; no\r\nshortage of intrasquad bombs
\r\n5 - R Alex Blandino - lightning-fast swing; must avoid sophomore\r\nslump
\r\n6 - L/R Dominic Jose* - The key to Stanford's lineup;\r\n.375 over 40 at-bats in 2012
\r\n7 - R Lonnie Kauppila - back from a knee injury; gap-to-gap\r\npower would greatly help
\r\n8 - L Wayne Taylor* - only hit .152 his freshman year, but has\r\nbeen hitting well to all fields in offseason
\r\n9 - DH (Drew Jackson, Zach Hoffpauir, Austin Slater, Brett Michael\r\nDoran, Brian Guymon, Austin Barr)
\r\n
\r\n*First-year starter
\r\n
\r\nLineup Thoughts: Keys to Success
\r\n
My projected Stanford lineup is contingent on all bats --\r\nparticularly Dominic Jose's -- reaching their full potential. With\r\nthe Ragira-Wilson-Blandino core, there's no question that the\r\nCardinal offense will be dangerous. The difference between a good\r\nattack and a juggernaut, though, likely depends on the type of\r\nseason that the sophomore left fielder Jose can put together. In 40\r\nat-bats last year, the freshman hit .375 and pumped a grand slam out\r\nof the ballpark. If he can translate that kind of success into a\r\nfull season, Marquess' No. 6 hole will round out a true titan.
\r\n
\r\nOf course, the losses of Piscotty, Stewart, Smith, Gaffney, and\r\nKenny Diekroeger will be challenging to overcome. But Locher has\r\ndazzled at times in intrasquads. He is considered to have top-shelf\r\nrun-generating tools primed for the leadoff spot, but he has also\r\ndeveloped the power to drive the ball out of the ballpark. This\r\nwas on full display during Stanford's first January intrasquad, when\r\nhe belted two home runs to left field.
\r\n
\r\n
\r\n
\r\nIf Jose can successfully man the order's six spot, Marquess will\r\nhave the luxury of batting Danny Diekroeger second in the order, a\r\nperfect spot for a left-handed hitter with excellent bat control.\r\nDiekroeger has repeatedly displayed the ability to utilize the hole\r\non the right side of the infield throughout intrasquads, an especially valuable\r\nasset if Locher is able to consistently reach base and\r\nkeep the first baseman glued to the bag in front of him.
\r\n
\r\nMarquess confirmed that he is expecting a great year from five-tool\r\nstud Wilson in the middle. Meanwhile, Ragira and Blandino, two\r\nexcellent bats in their own right, should see plenty of strikes\r\nbecause of the big junior stalwart. Plus, the development of the\r\nbottom of Stanford's order should also be intriguing. Taylor, who\r\nscuffled to a .152 batting average his freshman year, has been\r\nswinging the bat extremely well throughout the entire offseason. He has\r\ndisplayed power to all fields on his way to earning the starting nod\r\na year after Smith's departure.
\r\n
\r\nKauppila's return from a season-ending knee injury solidifies the\r\nCardinal defensively, but Stanford will also look for offensive\r\nefficiency from their starting shortstop. Kauppila was batting .280\r\nwhen he went down last season. He won't be counted on to deliver\r\nmuch power at the plate, but a continued presence on base will help\r\nthe Farm Boys reach the designated hitter spot and turn the lineup\r\ncard over.
\r\n
\r\nSpeaking of that DH hole, Marquess has named several candidates,\r\nall of whom have the potential to raise the spot's slot in the\r\nlineup order. Brett Michael Doran saw starting action in 2012, while\r\nAustin Slater has strengthened as a sophomore. Junior Brian Guymon\r\ndisplayed impressive power this offseason, blasting another home run\r\nas recently as this past Sunday. A pair of talented freshmen,\r\nthough, have generated a considerable buzz: shortstop Drew Jackson,\r\nthe fastest player on the team, and outfielder Zach Hoffpauir,\r\nalso a hard-hitting safety generating offseason buzz on the football team. Hoffpauir tripled off Appel in\r\nhis first live at-bat since last April, though he must consistently\r\nlearn to lay off breaking pitches on the college level. As for\r\nJackson, Appel has raved about him at the plate, calling him a \"very\r\ntough at-bat\", high praise for a freshman coming from a senior star.
\r\n
\r\nPitching, Pitching, Pitching
\r\n
Offensive prowess will be rendered moot, however, if Stanford\r\ndoes not perform well on the mound. Appel is expected to be\r\nexcellent on the mound again after his 10-2, 2.56 ERA numbers in\r\n2012 dazzled for much of the season. Alas, Appel cannot pitch every start, leaving the\r\nCardinal tasked with replacing Brett Mooneyham and Stephen\r\nPiscotty, who anchored the Saturday and Sunday starting positions\r\ndown the 2012 stretch.
\r\n
\r\n
\r\n
\r\nSophomore lefthander John Hochstatter, whose 12-to-6 breaking ball\r\nregularly baffled hitters early last season, gets the season's first\r\nSaturday nod. He finished 2012 with a 4.53 ERA while walking more\r\nbatters (18) than he struck out (15). Almost all of his control\r\nstruggles came after a hot start to the season, so Stanford is\r\ncounting on him to regain his early form. Such mastery from Hochstatter could produce a\r\npotentially balance-disrupting Friday-Saturday combination with\r\nAppel, who throws much harder (and from the right side).
\r\n
\r\nEither Freddy Avis, Logan James, or Daniel Starwalt will begin the\r\nseason as Stanford's Sunday starter. \"He Tries Harder\" Avis has touched 94 miles per\r\nhour on the radar gun, while James has provided intrigue by hitting\r\n92 MPH from the left side.
\r\n
\r\n\"All of those guys are more than capable,\" Marquess said. \"Their\r\nsuccess will depend on them being able to control a secondary pitch\r\non top of their fastball. At this level, you need that to succeed.\"
\r\n
\r\nStanford hopes closer A.J. Vanegas, who lit up Cape Cod\r\nleague radar guns with 98 MPH fastballs this past summer, returns in late March from back\r\nsurgery. Assuming Vanegas can work back to full strength,\r\nthe back end of the Cardinal bullpen will be fortified. Sahil Bloom,\r\nDean McArdle, and David Schmidt all also have experience coming out\r\nof the 'pen, but the details of Stanford's relief plan will develop\r\nwith the season. Fans need look back no further than 2011, when Chris Reed\r\nemerged as the closer midway through the season.
\r\n
\r\nOutlook
\r\n
Stanford's lineup remains formidable, and its pitching staff\r\nretains the talent to win. If Vanegas can return to man the closer's\r\nrole by the Pac-12 season, the Cardinal look to have the firepower\r\nto be a very complete baseball team. Of course, strong individual\r\nperformances from some newcomers and first-year starters are\r\nnecessary, but offseason intrasquads have given plenty of reason for\r\noptimism. The Cardinal are as good of a bet as anybody to win a loaded\r\nPac-12 that features No. 5 UCLA, No. 6 Oregon, the No. 9 Cardinal and No. 10 Oregon State each in the top 10. (And don't sleep on No. 16 Arizona State or No. 18 Arizona.) If the Card can win a stacked league, the road back to Omaha becomes\r\nexponentially easier, as it would go through Sunken Diamond.
\r\n
\r\nFollow\r\n@DavidMLombardi\r\n
\r\n
\r\nDavid Lombardi is the Stanford\r\nFootball Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him\r\nout at www.davidlombardisports.com.\r\nFollow him on Twitter: @DavidMLombardi.
\r\n
\r\n
\r\n

Are you fully subscribed to The\r\nBootleg? If not, then you are missing out on\r\nall the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our\r\naward-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in\r\nStanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com\r\n(sign-up)!

","mobileBody":"Follow @DavidMLombardi Warning: Don't take the Super Regional road through the humid Southeast in an attempt to reach the College World Series. Stanford baseball learned that the hard way in 2011 and 2012, swept away by North Carolina and Florida State squads in hostile environments. Last year's demise was particularly gruesome: the Seminoles butchered the Cardinal 17-1 and 18-7 in sweltering Tallahassee. \"I think [the Florida State blowouts] taught us that we can't focus on the externals, the crowd, the humidity, final exams. We have to learn to focus on playing good baseball,\" senior ace Mark Appel said. \"This year there's going to be a huge emphasis on winning the Sunday games, getting those sweeps, and winning those midweek games. It's huge for getting that national seed and hosting a Super Regional.\" In 2012, Stanford finished 41-18, but a regular-season ending home series loss to Cal, which included a gut-wrenching 18-inning Friday night defeat, eventually forced the Cardinal to pack their bags for Tallahassee. This year, Appel is the country's best starting pitcher, and his surprising senior return complements an offense that packs legitimate firepower for the preseason No. 9 Cardinal. Austin Wilson, Alex Blandino, and Brian Ragira comprise an enviable three-batter core, but the Cardinal must replace starters Stephen Piscotty, Jake Stewart, Kenny Diekroeger, Eric Smith, and Tyler Gaffney. Ultimately, as is always the case, the Farm Boys' success will hinge on pitching depth. Appel has Friday locked down, but the Saturday and Sunday starters' spots remain question marks until someone performs consistently. Sophomore lefty John Hochstatter gets the season's first Saturday nod at No. 20 Rice, while the Sunday role will initially belong to a freshman: highly-touted Freddy Avis, lefty Logan James and Daniel Starwalt are all candidates. 1B - Brian Ragira (JR) 2B - Danny Diekroeger (JR) SS - Lonnie Kauppila (JR) 3B - Alex Blandino (SO) LF - Dominic Jose* (SO) CF - Jonny Locher* (FR) RF - Austin Wilson (JR) C - Wayne Taylor* (SO) 1 - L/R Jonny Locher* - 2 - L Danny Diekroeger - 3 - R Brian Ragira - 4 - R Austin Wilson - 5 - R Alex Blandino - 6 - L/R Dominic Jose* - 7 - R Lonnie Kauppila - 8 - L Wayne Taylor* - 9 - DH (Drew Jackson, Zach Hoffpauir, Austin Slater, Brett Michael Doran, Brian Guymon, Austin Barr) * My projected Stanford lineup is contingent on all bats -- particularly Dominic Jose's -- reaching their full potential. With the Ragira-Wilson-Blandino core, there's no question that the Cardinal offense will be dangerous. The difference between a good attack and a juggernaut, though, likely depends on the type of season that the sophomore left fielder Jose can put together. In 40 at-bats last year, the freshman hit .375 and pumped a grand slam out of the ballpark. If he can translate that kind of success into a full season, Marquess' No. 6 hole will round out a true titan. Of course, the losses of Piscotty, Stewart, Smith, Gaffney, and Kenny Diekroeger will be challenging to overcome. But Locher has dazzled at times in intrasquads. He is considered to have top-shelf run-generating tools primed for the leadoff spot, but he has also developed the power to drive the ball out of the ballpark. This was on full display during Stanford's first January intrasquad, when he belted two home runs to left field. If Jose can successfully man the order's six spot, Marquess will have the luxury of batting Danny Diekroeger second in the order, a perfect spot for a left-handed hitter with excellent bat control. Diekroeger has repeatedly displayed the ability to utilize the hole on the right side of the infield throughout intrasquads, an especially valuable asset if Locher is able to consistently reach base and keep the first baseman glued to the bag in front of him. Marquess confirmed that he is expecting a great year from five-tool stud Wilson in the middle. Meanwhile, Ragira and Blandino, two excellent bats in their own right, should see plenty of strikes because of the big junior stalwart. Plus, the development of the bottom of Stanford's order should also be intriguing. Taylor, who scuffled to a .152 batting average his freshman year, has been swinging the bat extremely well throughout the entire offseason. He has displayed power to all fields on his way to earning the starting nod a year after Smith's departure. Kauppila's return from a season-ending knee injury solidifies the Cardinal defensively, but Stanford will also look for offensive efficiency from their starting shortstop. Kauppila was batting .280 when he went down last season. He won't be counted on to deliver much power at the plate, but a continued presence on base will help the Farm Boys reach the designated hitter spot and turn the lineup card over. Speaking of that DH hole, Marquess has named several candidates, all of whom have the potential to raise the spot's slot in the lineup order. Brett Michael Doran saw starting action in 2012, while Austin Slater has strengthened as a sophomore. Junior Brian Guymon displayed impressive power this offseason, blasting another home run as recently as this past Sunday. A pair of talented freshmen, though, have generated a considerable buzz: shortstop Drew Jackson, the fastest player on the team, and outfielder Zach Hoffpauir, also a hard-hitting safety generating offseason buzz on the football team. Hoffpauir tripled off Appel in his first live at-bat since last April, though he must consistently learn to lay off breaking pitches on the college level. As for Jackson, Appel has raved about him at the plate, calling him a \"very tough at-bat\", high praise for a freshman coming from a senior star. Offensive prowess will be rendered moot, however, if Stanford does not perform well on the mound. Appel is expected to be excellent on the mound again after his 10-2, 2.56 ERA numbers in 2012 dazzled for much of the season. Alas, Appel cannot pitch every start, leaving the Cardinal tasked with replacing Brett Mooneyham and Stephen Piscotty, who anchored the Saturday and Sunday starting positions down the 2012 stretch. Sophomore lefthander John Hochstatter, whose 12-to-6 breaking ball regularly baffled hitters early last season, gets the season's first Saturday nod. He finished 2012 with a 4.53 ERA while walking more batters (18) than he struck out (15). Almost all of his control struggles came after a hot start to the season, so Stanford is counting on him to regain his early form. Such mastery from Hochstatter could produce a potentially balance-disrupting Friday-Saturday combination with Appel, who throws much harder (and from the right side). Either Freddy Avis, Logan James, or Daniel Starwalt will begin the season as Stanford's Sunday starter. \"He Tries Harder\" Avis has touched 94 miles per hour on the radar gun, while James has provided intrigue by hitting 92 MPH from the left side. \"All of those guys are more than capable,\" Marquess said. \"Their success will depend on them being able to control a secondary pitch on top of their fastball. At this level, you need that to succeed.\" Stanford hopes closer A.J. Vanegas, who lit up Cape Cod league radar guns with 98 MPH fastballs this past summer, returns in late March from back surgery. Assuming Vanegas can work back to full strength, the back end of the Cardinal bullpen will be fortified. Sahil Bloom, Dean McArdle, and David Schmidt all also have experience coming out of the 'pen, but the details of Stanford's relief plan will develop with the season. Fans need look back no further than 2011, when Chris Reed emerged as the closer midway through the season. Stanford's lineup remains formidable, and its pitching staff retains the talent to win. If Vanegas can return to man the closer's role by the Pac-12 season, the Cardinal look to have the firepower to be a very complete baseball team. Of course, strong individual performances from some newcomers and first-year starters are necessary, but offseason intrasquads have given plenty of reason for optimism. The Cardinal are as good of a bet as anybody to win a loaded Pac-12 that features No. 5 UCLA, No. 6 Oregon, the No. 9 Cardinal and No. 10 Oregon State each in the top 10. (And don't sleep on No. 16 Arizona State or No. 18 Arizona.) If the Card can win a stacked league, the road back to Omaha becomes exponentially easier, as it would go through Sunken Diamond. Follow @DavidMLombardi .

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