Fresno State Preview

Baseball is back! The 6th ranked Cardinal open their regular season this weekend with a three-game series against visiting Fresno State. Stanford is led by their All-American duo at the plate and their deep and talented pitching staff. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs also feature plenty of returning arms as they look to reach the postseason for the first time in four years.

Fresno State (0-0)  at  #6 Stanford (0-0)

Friday - 5:00pm
Saturday - 1:00pm
Sunday - 1:00pm

A new year of Stanford baseball begins this weekend as the Cardinal host the Fresno State Bulldogs in a three-game series at Sunken Diamond.  Stanford is coming off a season in which they went 46-14 and claimed their sixth Pac-10 title in the last eight years.  The season, however, ended on a sour note as the Cardinal lost a pair of games to Long Beach State in the regional round.  There will be plenty of new faces in the starting lineup this season with just three regulars returning from last year's squad.  Pitching figures to be the strength of this Stanford team with seven of their top nine pitchers back which includes the entire starting rotation.

The Bulldogs are looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001.  Fresno State broke even last year finishing 29-29, but they finished strong and are looking to carry the momentum into the start of this season.  Like with Stanford, the Bulldogs will feature plenty of new faces in their starting lineup as five of their top six hitters from last year's squad either graduated and/or were drafted.  On the mound, Fresno returns seven of their top eight pitchers.


PROBABLE STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS:

Friday : Fresno State- Ryan Penn (RHP; 0-0, 0.00)  vs.  Stanford- Mark Romanczuk (LHP; 0-0, 0.00)

Saturday : Fresno State- Brandon Miller (LHP; 0-0, 0.00)  vs.  Stanford- Jeff Gilmore (RHP; 0-0, 0.00)

Sunday : Fresno State - Matt Garza (RHP; 0-0, 0.00)  vs.  Stanford- Greg Reynolds (RHP; 0-0, 0.00)


WHO AND WHAT TO WATCH

* Stanford's bottom of the order :
The bottom portion of the lineup is clearly one of the points of interest right now with the Stanford team.  Plenty of thunder returns in the middle of the order, but expect to see mostly inexperienced players at the bottom.  Hitting was the #1 strength of the Cardinal last year primarily because anyone down to the #8 spot in the lineup was fully capable of smacking a big home run.  That will likely change this season, but production is still needed from these new faces (players such as Adam Sorgi, Ryan Seawell, and Ben Summerhays to name a few) if Stanford is to remain a top 10 team throughout the year.

* Christian Vitters : Fresno State's starting shortstop and likely #3 hitter.  Vitters is an exciting player coming off a fantastic freshman campaign in which he hit .318 with nine home runs and 42 RBI.  For his efforts, Vitters earned First Team All-WAC honors and was named a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American.  A national top 50 player during his senior year in high school, Vitters is off to a strong start at the collegiate level and now will be asked to provide much of the offense in the middle of the order.  Defensively, Vitters played third base last year and now moves to shortstop to take advantage of a fantastic throwing arm.

* The Cardinal bullpen : This should be a major strength for Stanford this season with plenty of returning sophomore and junior arms plus a pair of freshman hurlers expected to contribute immediately.  Head Coach Mark Marquess will likely not have his starters go too deep into any game this weekend (generally he'll hold pitchers to less than 100 tosses the first weekend), so plenty of relievers should get some action in this series.  Three sophomore relievers in Blake Holler, Matt Leva, and expected closer Jeff Stimpson have shown tremendous improvement since the end of last season and will anchor the Cardinal relief corps in 2005.


STANFORD NOTES

The Cardinal earned a preseason #6 ranking according to Baseball America earlier this month.  This was despite losing six of their nine starting position players that includes past All-Americans Danny Putnam and Sam Fuld.  One of the reasons for the lofty ranking is who does return offensively for Stanford, most notably the dynamic duo of Jed Lowrie and John Mayberry, Jr.

Lowrie is coming off a sophomore season in which he earned Pac-10 Player of the Year and First Team All-American honors.  The Salem, Oregon native hit a remarkable .399 with 17 home runs and 68 RBI winning the Pac-10 Triple Crown.  Mayberry, Jr., who will hit fourth in the lineup, one spot behind Lowrie, hit .333 last year to go with 16 homers and 62 RBI.  The two of them combined form quite possibly the top 3-4 hitting tandem in the country.

The only other returning starter is junior shortstop Chris Minaker who hit .270 a year ago with four home runs.  Minaker is much improved with the bat and is expected to do plenty of damage from the #2 spot in the lineup.  Another person to keep an eye on this season is junior catcher John Hester.  Hester had to sit on the bench the last two seasons playing behind the likes of Ryan Garko and Donny Lucy, but now it's time for this slugging backstop to show what he can do.  Hester was easily one of Stanford's best hitters during fall ball and January intrasquad games and should slide into the fifth spot in the lineup behind the Lowrie-Mayberry, Jr. duo.

The top two starting pitchers are back for the Cardinal in Mark Romanczuk and Jeff Gilmore.  The two combined for a 21-5 record a year ago and are each looking to take their games to the next level.  The Sunday spot in the rotation belongs to sophomore Greg Reynolds.  A 6'7" right-hander from Pacifica, Reynolds was used primarily in the bullpen last year.  He dazzled last summer in the high-profile Cape Cod League (2.27 ERA, .187 opposing average) and kept it going through the fall and preseason and thus finds himself in the starting rotation to begin the year.

Probable Starting Lineup: (statistics are from 2004)
1. Chris Lewis, LF  (Jr., .233, 4 HR, 7 RBI)
2. Chris Minaker, SS  (Jr., .270, 4 HR, 33 RBI)
3. Jed Lowrie, 2B  (Jr., .399, 17 HR, 68 RBI)
4. John Mayberry, Jr., 1B  (Jr., .333, 16 HR, 62 RBI)
5. John Hester, C  (Jr., .265, 0 HR, 7 RBI)
6. Michael Taylor, RF  (Fr.)
7. Jim Rapoport, CF  (So., .250, 0 HR, 9 RBI)
8. Adam Sorgi, 3B  (So., .214, 0 HR, 5 RBI)
9. Ryan Seawell, DH  (So., .333, 0 HR, 7 RBI)  or  Ben Summerhays, DH  (Jr., .167, 0 HR, 1 RBI)

Fri.- Mark Romanczuk, LHP  (Jr., 11-3, 4.31 ERA, 108.2 IP, 39 BB, 94 SO)
Sat.- Jeff Gilmore, RHP  (Jr., 10-2, 4.43 ERA, 107.2 IP, 24 BB, 77 SO)
Sun.- Greg Reynolds, RHP  (So., 4-1, 6.00 ERA, 27.0 IP, 12 BB, 15 SO)

Notes: Lewis is one of the three new starters in the outfield this season ... Lewis played both second base and third base, primarily in a reserve role, during his first two seasons on the Farm, but now moves to the outfield to begin this year ... Minaker had a terrific summer in the Alaska League with the wood bat hitting .311 with three homers and 23 RBI in 36 games ... Lowrie and Mayberry, Jr. are both Preseason All-Americans ... Taylor is an exciting freshman who will get a chance to play from day one ... A 6'6", 235 lb. slugger, Taylor is rated as the #1 freshman prospect in the country by Baseball America ... Rapoport takes over in center field for the graduated Fuld and is the fastest player on the team ... Rapoport may hit leadoff, especially against right-handed pitching ... Romanczuk is a Preseason All-American as the junior southpaw is 23-5 in his career at Stanford ... Gilmore enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign when he went 10-2 with a 4.43 ERA after throwing just 2 1/3 innings as a freshman in 2003.



FRESNO STATE NOTES

Expectations are high for the Bulldogs this season as they are expected to make a run at an NCAA Tournament berth.  Fresno sputtered for much of the first half of last year, but came on strong at the end winning their last four series' of the year posting a 9-2 record in the process (included a series win over top ten Rice).  For the season, Fresno State finished at 29-29, but with an impressive 17-12 mark in the WAC.  This year, the Bulldogs have been ranked #44 in Baseball America's Preseason Top 50 poll.  Here's how BA sees the WAC Conference breaking down this season :

1. Rice - #18
2. Hawaii - #42
3. Fresno State - #44
4. Nevada
5. San Jose State
6. Louisiana Tech

Many of Fresno's top hitters have moved on, but overall six of their 11 regulars are back here in 2005.  Leading the way are a pair of sophomores who earned Freshman All-American honors a year ago in shortstop Christian Vitters and center fielder Nick Moresi.  Vitters (mentioned above) hit .318 last year with nine homers and now will have to handle the pressure of being the focal point in the lineup.  Moresi hit .311 a year ago with seven round trippers and is coming off a fantastic summer in the Cape.  Moresi hit an impressive .265 in the top collegiate summer league in country to go with a whopping six home runs (tied for fourth in the league).  Moresi has big shoes to fill as he replaces former center fielder Richie Robnett (.384-13-51) who was drafted in the first round by the Oakland A's last June.

As a team last year, the Bulldogs hit .321.  Offense was definitely their strength, but it will be interesting to see if they are able to put up similar numbers this season with the loss of five of their top six bats.  Certainly the pitchers, who had a lofty 6.08 team ERA in '04, will be asked to carry much more of the load.

Three of their four starting pitchers from last year are back for Fresno State.  Junior Matt Garza ended last season as the Bulldogs' #1 starter as the hard-throwing righty went 6-3 with a 4.90 ERA over 90 innings.  Garza is a major prospect, but is expected to start on Sunday this weekend.  Last season's #2 starter, Brandon Miller, returns and will remain in the Saturday slot.  A year ago as a freshman, Miller went 5-3 with a 5.91 ERA.  The other starter returning is workhorse Michael Cooper who led the team with 90 1/3 innings pitched as he posted a 3-8 record and a 5.58 ERA.  Cooper though will begin this season in the bullpen.

The Friday spot in the rotation belongs to JC transfer Ryan Penn.  A junior from Oregon, Penn recorded 101 strike outs and just 22 walks in 96 1/3 innings at the JC level last spring in earning All-League honors.  Penn has to be an unknown to the Cardinal hitters (with the exception of one player), but he must be throwing well if he's moved to the top of this experienced Fresno pitching staff.  Of note, Penn was a high school teammate of Stanford second baseman Jed Lowrie at North Salem.  You would certainly have to think Lowrie will share any knowledge of Penn to his fellow teammates before first pitch on Friday evening.

The closer for the Bulldogs is expected to be freshman left-hander Jamie Arnesen.  Arnesen is an exciting young player and is one of the top freshman pitching prospects in the country.  He was drafted in the 9th round last June out of high school by the San Francisco Giants, but turned down the professional game (for now) to attend Fresno State.

Probable Starting Lineup: (statistics are from 2004)
1. DeAndre Miller, 2B  (So., .290, 2 HR, 17 RBI)
2. Nick Moresi, CF  (So., .311, 7 HR, 31 RBI)
3. Christian Vitters, SS  (So., .318, 9 HR, 42 RBI)
4. David Gomez, DH  (Sr., .344, 2 HR, 22 RBI)
5. Kent Sakamoto, 1B  (Jr., .281, 1 HR, 24 RBI)
6. Beau Mills, 3B  (Fr.)
7. Ryan Overland, C  (Fr.)
8. Will Thomas, RF  (Sr., DNP)
9. Chase Moore, LF  (Jr., .289, 4 HR, 15 RBI)

Fri.- Ryan Penn, RHP  (Jr.. JC)
Sat.- Brandon Miller, LHP  (So., 5-3, 5.91 ERA, 77.2 IP, 32 BB, 44 SO)
Sun.- Matt Garza, RHP  (Jr., 6-3, 4.90 ERA, 90.0 IP, 34 BB, 77 SO)

Notes: D. Miller will make things happen on the base paths with his good speed ... he finished tied for third in the WAC last year in triples with four ... Vitters hit sixth in the order last season, but now moves into one of the power spots in the lineup ... Gomez, who really emerged during the second half of last year, was a First Team All-WAC performer at DH ... Mills is a talented freshman expected to start from day one this year ... Thomas is a fifth-year senior, but is playing in just his second season ... He redshirted in 2001, played in just eight games as a frosh in '02, and then was out with an ankle injury in '03 and '04 ... B. Miller did post a winning record last season at 5-3, but the opposition hit .348 against him ... Garza received high praise from Baseball America in the preseason ... He was rated as having the best fastball in the conference and is also the publication's pick for WAC Pitcher of the Year in 2005.

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