Fall Baseball Preview

Generally, October baseball is associated with the major league playoffs. But, October is a pivotal month for college baseball teams around the country and at Stanford it's no different. Fall practice gets underway this Saturday, so here is a comprensive preview of what Cardinal baseball fans should be looking for.

Stanford baseball fall practice gets underway this Saturday as the team prepares for the 2004 season.  Individual workouts are currently taking place out at Sunken Diamond and they have been since the week school started.  The fall season is an important time for the players and coaches as numerous intra-squad games will take place over the next month which will go a long way to determining who plays this year.  And as is the case every year at this time, there are plenty of question marks that hope to get answered during the fall season.  Here are a list of five questions that I feel are front-and-center concerning the Stanford baseball team and ones that hopefully will at least be somewhat answered by the end of fall practice:

1. Who are the leading candidates for the starting rotation?
    - Two spots in the starting rotation are open with the departures of John Hudgins and Ryan McCally and many pitchers, both veterans and freshmen, look to have great opportunities to move in and claim a spot.  The one given is, of course, sophomore Mark Romanczuk.  Romanczuk went 12-2 last year with a 4.01 ERA in garnering Freshman All-American honors.  Romanczuk also had a great summer as a starter with Team USA (0.75 ERA in 36 innings) and would seem to be the front-runner for the #1 starting spot.  Classmate Matt Manship had a very solid freshman campaign as the Cardinal closer.  The Texas native recorded nine saves with a 3.98 ERA including a team-low .226 opponents batting average.  Manship is the logical choice to take control of the #2 spot in the rotation and he should push Romanczuk for the coveted Friday slot.  Nevertheless, these are the two pitchers, at least going into fall practice, that you expect will lead this young pitching staff in 2004. 

Now for that #3 spot.  This is the burning question right now as I see many possibilities for this role on the team.  Veterans David O'Hagan and Kodiak Quick have the most experience of the possible #3 starters.  The senior O'Hagan complied a 4.89 ERA in 49 2/3 innings as a relief pitcher last year and has the ability to go deep into games if needed.  The sophomore Quick may be tailored more for the closers role with his filthy stuff, but you would think he will be looked at as a possible starter.  Senior Drew Ehrlich and junior Mark Jecmen both could easily start, but each pitched very little down the stretch last year.  Ehrlich has shown that, at times, he can pitch five or six effective innings in a game.  But the 6'5" righthander did only throw 19 1/3 total innings last year (down from 39 2/3 as a sophomore) so it's probably more of a stretch for him to assume a starter's role.  Jecmen came to Stanford with high expectations, but has struggled mightily on The Farm which is evident by his career 7.54 ERA.  Still, Jecmen possesses outstanding stuff and if he can find a way to put it all together, he'll be someone that will certainly throw a lot this year.

Finally, there appears to be quite a few freshmen that could contribute early on in their careers.  Most notably is Greg Reynolds, the California High School Player of the Year last spring.  But, I'll get into the possibilities here with my next important question.

2. Which freshmen will contribute immediately?
    - Entering fall practice last season, who would have thought that Jed Lowrie would end up being the everyday starter at second base and a key player in Stanford's postseason run?  This just goes to show that it's not always the big names coming in as freshmen that are the ones that see a lot of the field in their first year.  The big names out of the freshman class this season include the aforementioned Reynolds, fellow pitchers Logan Ardis and Blake Holler, outfielder Jim Rapoport, and infielders Adam Sorgi and Joe Ayers.  Reynolds was a top five round draft pick based on talent last June, but fell all the way to the 41st round because of his strong commitment to Stanford.  The 6'5" righthander throws in the low 90's and should make a name for himself at some point here on The Farm.  Ardis and Holler were also top-flight recruits who could contribute immediately.  Holler especially considering he's the only other lefty on the staff outside of Romanczuk.  One thing to keep in mind though is that freshman hurlers generally struggle in the fall as they adjust to facing college hitters for the first time.  It's not easy to have to go up against the likes of Danny Putnam and Sam Fuld just weeks after setting foot on campus.  Romanczuk, for example, was hit very hard for the most part last fall, but still ended up becoming the #2 starter.

Rapoport was a consensus top 100 player in high school, but cracking the starting lineup for a hitter will be much tougher than cracking the regular rotation for a pitcher.  Still, Rapoport will be one to watch this fall as the speedy outfielder reportedly has a cannon for an arm and if he shows that he can hit college pitching, he could find a way into the lineup.  Sorgi and Ayers are a pair of middle infielders that come to Stanford after being drafted last June.  Sorgi was considered to be one of the top infielders in California last year while Ayers was widely considered as the top prospect in the entire state of Alaska.

But, who could be this year's Jed Lowrie?  This is a very big freshman class with 12 players on the team.  Other position players include Josh Corn, Zachary Gianos, Ryan Kissick, and Ryan Seawell.  While Matt Leva and Jeff Stimpson round out the pitching staff.  It's a whole new ballgame for all these guys and we shall see which of them get the early start here in the fall.

3. Which players are primed for breakout year's?
    - Last year the players who took their games to another level included Danny Putnam and John Hudgins among others.  So, which player this year is going to step up their game to a new level to help lead this team?  In my opinion, one strong candidate is Brian Hall.  The senior Hall has something to prove this year after going undrafted last June. Hall has yet to hit over .300 in a season at Stanford (came very close last year at .293), is coming off a strong summer in the Cape and is poised to be one of the leaders of this team.  Junior Chris Carter had to deal with an injury plagued 2003 season when he hit just .241 with seven homers in 87 AB's.  It's a credit to Carter that he even played in any games last year, but one hopes that the powerful lefty, if finally healthy, can be one of the main power sources on the club.  Is Donny Lucy ready to take control of the starting catcher position and a primary role in the starting lineup?  Lucy had a terrible first part of last season, but rebounded in the second half to finish with a .291 average and then followed that up with a successful summer in the Cape.  Lucy's progress will be closely watched as he, no doubt, is one of the keys to Stanford's success in 2004.  Finally, Stanford fans saw in the first half of last year what kinds of things John Mayberry, Jr. can accomplish.  Junior tailed off toward the end of the season (still finished with a .299 average), but he'll be looked upon to be a leader with the bat this year.  The sophomore is also coming off a huge summer when he hit a whopping .370 while playing in the Cape Cod League.

Then there's the crop of players that have seen very little playing time while at Stanford so far and look to take control of a starting spot (a la Putnam last year).  Sophomore Chris Lewis springs to mind.  Lewis was highly touted entering Stanford, but like most freshmen, he saw little playing time in his first season (.159 average in 63 AB's).  Will this be the year Lewis steps up and becomes an everyday starter?  Sophomore Ben Summerhays missed all of last season with a knee injury, but the power hitting first baseman has all kinds of potential and he may be ready to see significant playing time.  On the pitching side, sophomore Jeff Gilmore pitched only 2 1/3 innings last year, but is coming off a tremendous summer up in Alaska when he complied a 1.41 ERA in 32 innings of a very competitive league.  Will this be the year Ehrlich and/or Jecmen takes the next step?  Nobody knows which player(s) will be the one to step it up and take their games to a new level this year.  Hopefully, we'll be able to get an idea of which players are poised for breakout year's in the fall.

4. Which players are switching positions?
- You always have some players each year that bounce around from position to position.  The fall is a good time for the coaching staff to see where each player can perform well and it's certainly something we'll have our eyes on once official practice starts.  Some possible position switches this year include Mayberry, Jr. moving from first base to the outfield.  Many scouts feel that Mayberry projects better as an outfielder and he saw considerable time in left while playing in the Cape.  Lewis came to Stanford as a middle infielder, but was seeing time in the outfield by the end of last year.  Is a move to the outfield in Lewis' future?  And exactly what position is Brian Hall going to play this year?  Catcher anyone?  No, seriously, the ultimate utility man has bounced around quite a bit while at Stanford.  It will be interesting to watch where he sees the most time at during the fall, whether it be in the outfield, third base, first base, or maybe even shortstop.

5. Who will fill the third outfield spot?
- If there's one thing that isn't a question mark heading into the fall it's that Sam Fuld and Danny Putnam will be manning two of the starting outfield positions.  But, who is going to take control of that third starting spot.  This is something that likely won't be answered in the fall and could certainly last well into the season.  That's not stopping us from speculating though.  Carter is the only returning natural outfielder outside of the big two and may get an opportunity to start in the outfield.  If that happens, we may see Putnam slide over to right field considering that Coach Marquess usually likes to keep his strongest corner outfielder in right.  Carter struggled in practice last year in the outfield, but maybe a clean bill of health will change things. 

Other possibilities include Hall.  If Marquess wants to go this route, than he'll possess one of the fastest outfields in the country.  Maybe Mayberry, Jr. or Lewis for the third outfield position?  Rapoport is the centerfielder of the future and should get a look.  There are all kinds of possibilities here.

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