Posted on January 27, 2020
In this second installment of our Pac-12 preseason baseball previews, I examine the 2020 prospects of the two Bay Area schools, California and Stanford. If you missed the first one on the Arizona schools, you’ll find a link to it at the end of this column.
2019 Record: 32-20 (17-11 Pac-12)
The California Golden Bears are looking to build off their NCAA tournament berth of 2019. That won’t be easy as they’ll need to replace a number of important pieces. None will be more difficult to replace than Golden Spikes Award winner Andrew Vaughn, who was drafted third overall by the Chicago White Sox in the MLB draft.
In addition to replacing one of the best college hitters in recent memory, California will need to find arms to make up for the loss of their two most effective starters from a year ago. Coach Mike Neu believes he has the talent he needs to make up for those losses on his current roster, but success will depend on the ability of some young guys to step up, and mature quickly.
The Bears lose arguably the best pure hitter in college baseball over the past two years in Vaughn, a generational talent who will be nearly impossible to replace. Beyond him, California loses their second- and third-best offensive players as well, meaning the 2020 lineup will look vastly different than it did a year ago.
The 2020 squad will be led by Quentin Selma who hit .311 in his 43 games last season. The junior infielder will look to improve on that average and build on the 10 home runs he blasted last season.
Beyond Selma, the Bears expect to see more production from one of their few veterans in senior Max Flower. Flower provided consistency in the outfield a year ago, but is going to need to shoulder a heavier offensive burden in 2020.
The makeup of the Bears’ defense will depend on who can consistently crack the lineup. A few pieces are certain—Selma and Darren Baker will play in the infield, and Flower should remain in his right field spot. It looks like Selma may see much of his action at third while Baker should stay up the middle.
The rest of the infield is uncertain, but freshman Nathan Martorella should get a huge opportunity at first, making him a good candidate to be one of the best freshmen in the conference with his batting.
Beyond Flower in right, the rest of the outfield appears wide open. Connor Mack has the potential to take one of the other spots on a consistent basis. Outside of those two, there is little experience and a lot of young talent that will be given an opportunity to shine. California has plenty of athletes that could cause problems for opposing hitters in the outfield.
Similar to the Bears’ offensive uncertainty, they will need to replace many of their top arms from a year ago. In particular, the team’s top two starters in Jared Horn and Arman Sabouri will not be back. California will also need to replace bullpen mainstay Rogelio Reyes.
Although nothing has been formalized, it appears that Sean Sullivan and Sam Stoutenborough are going to get opportunities to prove they’re ready to be Friday and Saturday starters in the Pac-12. Both have experience starting games in the previous year, and have shown signs of being reliable guys moving forward.
Another interesting name is two-way player Grant Holman. Holman started nine games for Cal last year while posting a 4.82 ERA. He has a fastball in the mid 90’s and the potential to be a consistent part of the rotation in 2020.
The breakout candidate on the staff has to be 6-5 sophomore Ian Villers. The sophomore posted an atrocious 8.5 ERA in 18 innings of work his freshman year. However, with his ideal frame and a fastball that can reach 97mph, Villers has the potential to emerge as a dominant pitcher at this level and beyond.
Although plenty of uncertainty remains in the 2020 staff, California should not lose any pieces in 2021. That should make for an up-and-down season this year, but the future looks bright.
Common sense would say that the Bears should be in the bottom of the Pac-12 this season; they lose their three best bats and three best arms from the 2019 team. However, the young talent in Berkeley gives reason to believe this team could surpass expectations by finding a few breakout pieces.
|Stanford’s Nick Dellafronto appears ready to play a big role for the Cardinal this season. | Stanford Athletics|
Record: 45-14 (22-7 Pac-12)
Stanford has been one of the better teams in the Pac-12 in recent memory. Don’t expect that to change in 2020. The Cardinal lose some offensive power in a major way entering the year, but they likely have the best pitching staff in the conference, which could carry Stanford to a conference championship and beyond.
The Cardinal’s weekend rotation is as sure as any team’s in the conference. However, they face the problem of replacing the top five hitters from a year ago. Like most teams, they will need some returners to step up and increase their production while relying on a few newcomers to emerge as reliable pieces.
On paper, Stanford should be one of the lower-scoring teams in the Conference. The scariest statistic for Cardinal fans should be the loss of 68 home runs from last year’s lineup. Beyond that, they don’t have a single returning player who hit over .300 for the year.
While those numbers look dire, Stanford has ample talent to take the next step. In particular, a trio of returners look ready to fill in some of those gaps. Branden Dieter, Nick Dellafronto, and Tim Towa all played significant roles last season, but will be counted on in the middle of the lineup in 2020.
Dieter, who hit a touch above .200 last season, is poised to make some serious strides. Dellafronto and Towa will need to add to their power numbers to compensate for some missing pop from a year ago, when the duo combined for 14 home runs.
Christian Robinson will be a familiar name in the outfield for the Cardinal. Though his offensive numbers were a bit lackluster a year ago, he’s expected to play a bigger and more consistent role offensively.
Stanford’s lineup will feature many newcomers with a solid freshman class led by outfielders Brock Jones and Henry Gargus. Freshman Kody Huff could find himself in the DH slot when senior Christian Molfetta is behind the plate.
Cardinal fans have come to expect great defensive teams year in and year out, and that shouldn’t change. The infield is led by the trio mentioned above: Dieter at second, Bellafronto at third, and Tawa seeing extended innings at shortstop. Another important returner, Nick Brusser will round out the infield at first.
The key to any solid defense is an experienced leader behind the plate. Stanford has that in fifth-year senior Molfetta, who will take the bulk of the catching duties. Molfetta will also be tasked with grooming Huff to take over and handle backup duties.
Robinson is the only returning outfielder, though Tawa may see some time in center, provided the other pieces fall into place. Otherwise, look to see some freshmen with speed fill the remaining holes in the outfield. While young, expect little to no drop off in defensive outfield.
If the Cardinal makes a run at the Pac-12 championship, it will be due to the guys they have on the mound. Stanford’s rotation has few open questions and figures be the best staff in the Conference.
Expect the rotation to feature Brendan Beck on Friday and Jacob Palisch on Saturday, with Alex Williams finishing off the weekend. While any of the three could be a Friday night starter, the rotation should stay fairly consistent with the lefty sandwiched between the two right-handers.
Beyond the three starters, Cody Jensen and Zach Grech should play large roles out of the bullpen. The duo put up ERA’s of 3.55 and 3.68 respectively in 2019. That kind of experience coming out of the bullpen will be a luxury that few other teams can match.
Several other key arms will see playing time for the Cardinal. Stanford posted a team ERA of 3.62 last year and the bulk of 2020 innings will feature guys that helped achieve that number. The experienced staff should be able to make up for any inadequacies in the young Cardinal offense.
Stanford has the difficult task of replacing their five best offensive players from a year ago. However, that challenge is balanced by an experienced and occasionally dominant staff. If those arms can find a way to hold opponents to three runs or less, the talented young hitters should garner plenty of wins. Despite their unanswered offensive questions, the Cardinal should should finish among the top three or four teams in the Conference.
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