Fabulous Frosh Pitchers

Stanford already has a deep pitching staff this season counting only the returning hurlers. But now you can add two freshman pitchers to the mix. Erik Davis and Nolan Gallagher both have all of the makings of a pair of pitchers ready to contribute from day one. Read on for notes about these two young talents plus other tidbits from this week's intrasquad games.

The rich just keep getting richer.  Stanford is certainly expected to have a strong pitching staff this season with seven of last season's primary hurlers returning in 2005.  But now two rookie right-handers have stepped up in preseason intrasquad games and look to be ready to contribute from day one this season.

Freshman Erik Davis came to the Farm highly regarded after a standout summer while pitching for the US Junior National Team in 2003 as their #1 starter.  He began his senior campaign as a consensus national top 25 prospect and a potential top three round draft pick the following June.   A strong commitment to Stanford, however, dropped his draft stock down to the 47th round and thus he's now wearing the Cardinal and White. 

After a very solid fall season, Davis has kept the momentum going this preseason with two impressive performances on the mound.  In Monday's intrasquad game, Davis fired three shutout innings with just two hits allowed and one strike out.  The Bay Area native features a fastball that reaches the high 80's in velocity to go with a tight slider and an excellent change-up.  He can already throw all three pitches for strikes which is a unique feat for a freshman pitcher.  The other thing you notice while watching Davis is that he possesses picture perfect mechanics.  Davis comes to the plate with a high 3/4 release point which results in movement in everything he throws.  I've written in the past that his motion and delivery to the plate reminds me of former USC standout and current Chicago Cub Mark Prior.  Davis doesn't throw as hard as Prior, but he does have very impressive stuff and he knows how to use it.

I expect Erik Davis to be a key contributor out of the Cardinal bullpen this season while he's someone who could even start a game if called upon.  All the signs point toward Davis becoming a successful starting pitcher in future years at Stanford.

The other scholarship freshman pitcher on this team is Nolan Gallagher.  Gallagher was recovering from an arm injury during fall ball and thus did not pitch in a single intrasquad game.  However, he's now back at full strength and has been very impressive over his two preseason outings.  In Monday's game, Gallagher featured a fastball that reached the low 90's which makes him one of the hardest throwers on the team.  He also featured a hard breaking ball with tremendous movement that is incredibly difficult to hit.  In a word, Gallagher's pure stuff is "electric."  The top pitchers on this year's team in Mark Romanczuk and Jeff Gilmore are more finesse pitchers (especially Gilmore).  Greg Reynolds is more of a power arm and then there's Gallagher who probably takes it up a step further.  With the stuff Gallagher brings to the table, he, without a doubt, has a chance to be a star at this level and beyond. 

It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff uses Gallagher this season.  I expect him to be a major part of the Cardinal bullpen and while Jeff Stimpson looks to have a handle on the role of closer, Gallagher is definitely someone who can come in during the late innings and blow a team away. 

Speaking of Stimpson, the sophomore right-hander had another excellent outing during Monday's game.  Over 3 2/3 innings, Stimpson scattered five hits with just one run allowed.  He walked one and struck out two.  Stimpson has allowed just the one run over his two preseason appearances on the mound.  The overall improvement he has shown since the end of last season continues to impress me - and he was a pretty good pitcher last spring to begin with.

Matt Leva also had a strong performance on Monday.  Like Gallagher, Leva sat out the entire fall, but is showing no signs of rust.  In his three innings, the Texas native allowed no runs on three hits.  He did not walk or strike out anyone.  In fact, Leva has now thrown six shutout frames with just one walk this preseason.

Matt Manship struggled during his outing on the mound Monday.  He worked through one frame quite easily 1-2-3, but was touched for five earned runs over his remaining two innings.  Not a great outing for the junior right-hander, although the two big RBI hits he gave up were to two of the better hitters on the team in John Mayberry, Jr. and Michael Taylor.


Mayberry, Jr. continues to do his thing at the plate.  The 6'5" first baseman had a huge day on Monday finishing 3-for-6 with a pair of singles, a double, and four RBI.  He got the best of Gallagher on one occasion.  With the count 1-and-1, Gallagher fired a hard breaking ball on the outside corner for a called strike two.  The freshman came back with the same exact pitch, this time starting at Mayberry's thigh and then breaking below the zone.  How Junior laid off, I have no idea as that was a pitch 95% of the hitters in college baseball will go after. 

Up next, Gallagher came inside with a hard fastball on Mayberry's hands to which Junior was jammed, but was still strong enough to bloop one into right field for a single.  Good pitching from Gallagher and even better hitting from Mayberry.  He's really turned into such a complete hitter.

Fellow Preseason First Team All-American Jed Lowrie also had a nice day at the plate on Monday.  The junior second baseman went 3-for-4 with an RBI and three walks.  Lowrie also walked two more times during Tuesday's game.  We all know about Jed's ability to hit for a high average and drive in runs, but his plate discipline has really been remarkable in both the fall and the preseason.  In fact, when you look at the stats, through 16 intrasquad games (fall+preseason), Lowrie has walked an incredible 19 times compared to just five strike outs.  The guy almost never chases a bad pitch.  And oh by the way, his batting average is also slightly over .400 during these practice games.

Jim Rapoport also continued his torrid hitting this preseason.  The sophomore center fielder went 3-for-5 on Monday with a double, an RBI, and two walks.  He's also shown the ability to steal bases almost at will.  Cardinal fans will be very impressed with how Rapoport plays the game and what he brings to the table this season - both offensively and defensively.

Other multi-hit games on Monday came from Taylor (2-for-5, 2B), Ben Summerhays (2-for-5, 2B, RBI), and Chris Minaker (2-for-5, RBI).  During Tuesday's game, catcher John Hester was the star of the day.  The slugging catcher went 2-for-3 with a ringing double to deep left field and a grand slam home run to left.  Hester was the team's top power hitter during the fall and things have remained the same this January.

When I look at this offense as a whole, I think we could see a similar output to what the 2003 ballclub accomplished.  That team had an incredible 3-4-5 trio with Carlos Quentin, Ryan Garko, and Danny Putnam.  I think Lowrie and Mayberry, Jr. will put up huge numbers in the 3-4 spots - both potentially worthy of All-American honors much like Quentin and Garko.  Lowrie is showing that he could make another run at .400 while still hitting for power.  Meanwhile, Mayberry, Jr. will definitely improve on his .333 batting average from a year ago and I think has a legitimate chance to hit 20 homers this season.  Finally, Hester has been incredible with the bat going back to his summer performance in Alaska through the fall season and now into January.  He's hitting for a high average, lots of power, and has been very difficult to strike out.  With Lowrie and Mayberry, Jr. hitting in front of him, Hester will have plenty of RBI opportunities this season (much like Putnam in 2003 when he had 66) and I think he's very capable of putting up All-Conference numbers.

But I don't think the 2003 hitting comparisons stop there.  That '03 team featured a pair of hitters (Sam Fuld and Jonny Ash) at the top of the lineup who hit above .300 and did an excellent job of getting on base.  I think we'll see similar production from the top two hitters in the batting order this year with Rapoport and Minaker.  Both guys have shown in practice that they can hit above .300 and have the ability to get on base.  And with the 3-4-5 combo Stanford boasts this year, all Rapoport and Minaker need to do is get on base with some regularity and they'll score more often than not.

The six through nine spots in the lineup on that 2003 team was filled with solid role players.  Lowrie (.292-0-28), Brian Hall (.293-6-44), Mayberry, Jr. (.299-4-33), Donny Lucy (.291-2-18), Chris Carter (.241-7-17), and Tobin Swope (.263-1-30) were the regulars in that part of the order.  None of their season numbers blew you away, but they were all solid players who had the ability to come through in some big spots.  My best guess right now is that we'll see similar production from the bottom portion of the lineup in 2005 with the likes of Taylor (who has incredible upside), Adam Sorgi, Chris Lewis, and Ryan Seawell among others.

That '03 team finished with an excellent .316 batting average (fifth all-time at Stanford) to go with 74 home runs and a 7.4 runs per game average.  High average and on-base guys at the top, an explosive 3-4-5 (perhaps the best in the country), and solid role players at the bottom.  The '03 team showed they were possibly the top hitting group in Omaha that season and it nearly carried the team to a national championship.  I think expectations for this year's offense can be for production similar to that group.  It will definitely be different from the 2004 team that scored a ton of runs via the long ball as they tried to out muscle you.  For reference, the '04 squad hit .324 as a team (second all-time) to go with 96 home runs (second most) and a whopping 8.3 runs per game.

Other Notes:
* Other top performers with the bat on Tuesday were Minaker (3-for-3, RBI) and Sorgi (2-for-3).

* Lewis smoked a home run to deep left center field off of David Stringer on Tuesday.

* Tuesday's game featured two hitting teams of nine or ten apiece.  Like in a game last week, Coach Marquess placed most of his starters on one of the teams.  The top seven hitters on that team were: 1. Rapoport, 2. Minaker, 3. Lowrie, 4. Mayberry, Jr., 5, Hester, 6. Taylor, 7. Sorgi.  Lewis and Seawell hit 1-2 for the opposing team.

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