The fall practice season has come to a close for the 2002 Stanford baseball squad. This year's team will be much more experienced than last year's club and will look to get over that final hurdle and win a National Championship. There were some pleasant surprises in fall workouts this year along with some troubling injuries. Here is a summary of some of the main events:
* The "Big Four" hitters shined throughout fall practice and will once again be counted upon to lead the offensive attack. Sam Fuld will once again be starting in center and will lead-off. Everything off Fuld's bat was hit hard as he should once again have a huge year. Chris O'Riordan, who is tied for the highest career batting average in Stanford baseball history, will anchor second base once again. O'Riordan had a solid fall and should improve upon his 12 homer output in 2001. Carlos Quentin, the 2001 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, will once again roam right field. Quentin is primed for a huge year power wise and should be able to hit 15-plus homers this season. He's also improved defensively and showcased an above average arm this fall. Finally, Ryan Garko returns as the starting catcher. Garko, who led the team with a .368 average last season, still struggles somewhat behind the plate, but can hit with the best of them. He came on in the second half of last season and should eclipse the 10-homer mark.
* One of the emerging stars for this Cardinal team would have to be Brian Hall. Hall never stopped hitting all fall and should find a spot in the starting lineup come February. The question for Hall is where he will be playing. More on that later.
* The freshman hitters looked very good this fall and there is a very good chance that a few of them will sneak into the starting lineup. Billy Paganetti and Chris Carter are both battling out over at first base. Paganetti hit for a very high average in the fall season and has shown pretty good power. Carter has got unbelievable power as he was one of the team leaders in homers this fall. It's still to close to call on these two in terms of who will get a starting spot, so we could see a platoon situation early on in the season. Freshman outfielder Danny Putnam impressed as well this fall. The 5'10" outfielder burst onto the scene with a triple off the wall in center in the alumni game off Jeff Austin and is a candidate to start in left field. Also, catcher Donny Lucy swung the bat very well. Although Lucy will not be starting behind the plate, don't leave out the possibility of him getting some starts at DH.
* Jeremy Guthrie is back and it is clear that he is head-and-shoulders above everyone else. Guthrie is going to have a HUGE year and will be the #1 starter in the weekend rotation. The #2 and #3 spots are still up for grabs, but I would say that Tim Cunningham and John Hudgins are the leading candidates. The key for both will be throwing strikes on a consistent basis as both have great stuff. Other possible starters include Drew Ehrlich, Ryan McCally, and Mark Jecmen. Ehrlich, a sophomore, came on toward the end of the fall season and can throw in the low 90's and has shown great control. McCally has been a solid reliever the past two seasons and will throw strikes. The wild card is freshman hurler Mark Jecmen. Jecmen, who stands 6'8", throws very hard and has got an above-average braking ball. He still needs to learn to throw more strikes, but could find his way into the rotation at some point (could be a weekday starter). J.D. Willcox (6 saves in 2001) is back and will likely continue as the team's closer.
* Injuries were a central theme this fall as two returnees, Scott Dragicevich and Jason Cooper, were slowed with different ailments. Dragicevich has a bad back and did not play at all this summer. All he did this fall was hit in the intra-squad games, as he could not run at full speed and did not play in the field. Cooper's shoulder is once again giving him trouble as he did not participate at all this fall. He is out as more of a precaution and should be ready to go by opening day. Dragicevich is more of a question mark.
* An early guess at the starting lineup (based on the active
players in fall practice):
C - Garko
1B - VanZandt/Paganetti/Carter
2B - O'Riordan
3B - Hall/VanZandt
SS - Topham
LF - Putnam/Hall/Paganetti/Carter
CF - Fuld
RF - Quentin
-- First base is still a question mark as VanZandt is certainly feeling the pressure from the two freshmen. If VanZandt is ousted at first, he could move over to third. Topham looked great at short and will be very solid this season. If Dragicevich comes back full strength and returns to short, Topham will move to third. I believe that Hall will be starting somewhere. If he is bumped out of the infield, then look for him to move out to left. Although they played very little in the outfield this fall, both Carter and Paganetti do have some experience out there, so they are candidates to start in left. Jason Cooper, if healthy, will also likely start somewhere, either in left or at DH. Jonny Ash, although he didn't have a great fall season, could also start at DH or else be a top pinch-hitter off the bench. A very early guess at the batting order (this usually changes often in the season): 1. Fuld, 2. Topham, 3. O'Riordan, 4. Quentin, 5. Garko, 6. Cooper, 7. Hall, 8 and 9. VanZandt/Dragicevich/Carter/Paganetti/Ash/Putnam. Still too early to really predict the actual batting order, but that's my best guess at this point.
* The 2002 season begins on February 1st with a three-game series at home versus Cal State Fullerton. The non-conference schedule includes series' against Fullerton, Florida State, Fresno State, and Texas among others. The Pac-10 will be very strong once again this year. Conference season starts the first week of April while the postseason was moved back a week this year, so the CWS championship game will be played on June 22nd. See you all at Sunken on February 1st ...