Baseball Season Opener Preview: Fullerton

While you might still be stinging from the 11th hour heroics of LSU in 2000, or the Miami mauling in 2001, notice is hereby served to get pumped for 2002 Stanford baseball. JJ has a run-down on the team after their pre-season practices, and how they will line-up against Cal-State Fullerton in the opening series this weekend. Prepare to be giddy.

CAL STATE FULLERTON (0-0) at STANFORD (0-0)

Friday - 6pm
Saturday - 1pm
Sunday - 1pm

Let the journey begin.  The unanimous preseason #1 team in the country Stanford Cardinal begin their quest for an unprecedented fourth consecutive trip to Omaha and the College World Series.  It was another banner year in 2001 for the Card as Head Coach Mark Marquess directed his youngest team ever to a 51-17 record and to the championship game of the CWS.  Expectations are high in 2002 as Stanford returns all nine starting position players and the majority of their pitching staff from last year's squad.  They open this season with a three-game series versus perennial power Cal State Fullerton.

Eight different Cardinal players (Cooper, Cunningham, Fuld, Garko, Guthrie, O'Riordan, Quentin, and Willcox) have been named preseason All-Americans by various publications.  Cooper, Guthrie, O'Riordan, and Quentin have each earned first-team honors.  Stanford's current freshman class was rated #2 in the country by Baseball America.  Three freshmen could see considerable playing time in the early season.  Chris Carter (1B/OF) and Donny Lucy (C/Util) have each impressed in preseason workouts, while 6'9" hurler Mark Jecmen is challenging for the #3 spot in the starting rotation.

Probable Starting Lineup :
C - Ryan Garko (.368, 7 HR, 43 RBI in 2001)
* Led 2001 team in hitting and on-base percentage (.448) ... hit .583 (7-for-12) with two homers and four RBI in the College World Series.

1B - Arik VanZandt (.262, 6 HR, 34 RBI)
* Struggled at times with the bat last season, but only committed two errors in 648 chances at first ... could also see freshmen Chris Carter or Donny Lucy start here.

2B - Chris O'Riordan (.359, 12 HR, 68 RBI)
* Team MVP in 2001 ... lead team in runs, hits, doubles, homers, RBI, walks (tied), slugging percentage (tied), and stolen bases ... only committed five errors last year as well.

3B - Andy Topham (.272, 7 HR, 45 RBI)
* Steady player who will hit toward the bottom of the lineup ... outstanding defensively.

SS - Scott Dragicevich (.320, 5 HR, 34 RBI)
* Appears fully recovered from a back injury that forced him to sit out all summer and most of the fall ... one of two players (O'Riordan) to start all 68 games last season.

LF - Brian Hall (.287, 2 HR, 21 RBI)
* Hit .350 last season after a 5-for-35 start ... freshmen Chris Carter and Donny Lucy could also start here.

CF - Sam Fuld (.357, 0 HR, 37 RBI)
* Leadoff hitter and catalyst in the lineup ... hit .378 in Pac-10 play ... one of top defensive outfielders in the country.

RF - Carlos Quentin (.345, 11 HR, 52 RBI)
* Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in 2001 ... will hit in the middle of the lineup and should improve on power numbers from a year ago.

DH - Jason Cooper (.272, 9 HR, 37 RBI)
* Led team in hitting and home runs before going down with a knee injury in March ... could never get it going after returning as hit only .105 (4-for-38) in the postseason.

Probable Starting Pitching Rotation :
Friday - Jeremy Guthrie (RHP; 13-4, 2.82 ERA, 134 IP, 41 BB, 128 SO)
* Unanimous preseason First Team All-American ... #1 starter all of last season ... throws fastball in the low 90's with a devastating slider and a formidable change-up.

Saturday - Tim Cunningham (LHP; 6-0, 3.62 ERA, 72 2/3 IP, 40 BB, 54 SO)
* Has been used as both a starter and reliever in his first two years on the Farm ... had trouble with his control at times last season ... has not given up an earned run in 8 2/3 career innings versus CSF.

Sunday - TBA
* Possible candidates include junior Ryan McCally (2-1, 2.62), sophomores Drew Ehrlich (0-0, 2.57) and John Hudgins (1-5, 4.27), along with freshman Mark Jecmen.

Primary Relief Pitchers :
RHP - J.D. Willcox (5-0, 2.06 ERA, 6 saves)
* Was the closer for the second half of last season ... walked only 10 in 35 innings while opponents hit only .220 off him.

Others : Ryan McCally, Drew Ehrlich, John Hudgins, Mark Jecmen, and Dan Rich.

Cal State Fullerton Titans

The similarities between the 2002 Titans and 2001 Cardinal to start the season are numerous.  In their previous year's each club reached the College World Series with a veteran team with the expectation of winning it all.  Each team came up just short and then was gutted by graduation and the draft.  The 2001 Cardinal lost their two top pitchers who dominated in the previous year and six key starting position players.  Meanwhile, the 2002 Cal State Fullerton Titans lost their two top pitchers (Kirk Saarloos and Jon Smith) from last year and six starting position players who combined for 60% of the entire team's at-bats and 90% (57 of 63) of their home runs.  But like Stanford, Cal State Fullerton never really rebuilds, they just reload.

Gone are household names in Saarloos, Smith, David Bacani, Aaron Rifkin, and Mike Rouse.  But the cupboard is far from bare as the Titans return three starters from last year's CWS team, two pitchers that were Freshman All-Americans last season, and the incoming class from a year ago (the current sophomores) were rated as the top recruiting class in the country.  This year's pitching ace figures to be Darric Merrell, who is scheduled to start on Sunday.  Merrell went 8-4 last year as the Titans #3 starter and finished last season with a bang tossing eight quality innings (2 runs, 0 earned runs given up) in Fullerton's CWS win over Tulane.  Chad Cordero returns as the Titans closer after a stellar freshman campaign from a year ago in which he recorded 14 saves.  Cordero was a big reason why Fullerton was 42-0 last season when leading after seven innings.  On the hitting side of things, the Titans return a trio of starters from a year ago in 2B Jason Corapci, OF Chris Stringfellow, and OF Shane Costa.  Corapci, who hit third in the lineup for a good part of last season, moves from DH to second base.  Stringfellow is the anchor in the outfield as he starts in center.  While Costa led the team in hitting from a year ago as a freshman.

Probable Starting Lineup :
C - P.J. Pilittere (.154, 0 HR, 11 RBI in 2001)
* Back-up catcher as he played in only 27 games (17 starts) last year ... very good defensively.

1B - Nick Fitzgerald (.222, 0 HR, 0 RBI) or Chris Klosterman
* Fitzgerald had only 9 at-bats last season ... Klosterman is a transfer from Houston where he hit .256.

2B - Jason Corapci (.333, 1 HR, 49 RBI)
* All-Big West selection in 2001, earned honorable mention honors as a utility player.

3B - Mike Martinez (.119, 0 HR, 4 RBI)
* Opening day starter at shortstop last year, but quickly lost job to Mike Rouse ... went only 5-for-42 last season.

SS - Mike Munoz
* Transfer from NAIA powerhouse Biola ... hit .370 with 12 homers and 63 RBI with them last year.

LF - Kyle Boyer (.220, 1 HR, 4 RBI)
* Played in only 27 games (13 starts) last year as a freshman ... struck out 21 times in only 50 at-bats.

CF - Chris Stringfellow (.345, 4 HR, 36 RBI)
* Starting centerfielder last season ... third on the club in hitting.

RF - Shane Costa (.380, 0 HR, 11 RBI)
* Started 28 games as a freshman last year ... primed for a big year.

DH - TBA
* Possible starters here include whoever doesn't start at first, Richie Burgos (sophomore), and Geoff Comfort (senior).

Probable Starting Pi


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