Jan. 24, 2007
BERKELEY, CALIF. - The 2007 California baseball team is looking to prove it has what it takes to be an NCAA Regional contender. On paper, the Golden Bears appear to be in a challenging spot, returning only one regular Pacific-10 starter on the mound and three regular starters in the field. But, what doesn't show up on paper is a talented young squad that is positioning itself to be a future force, first in the Pac-10, and then on the national scene.
"Our strength this season will be our youth and enthusiasm," said Cal coach David Esquer, who is entering his eighth season directing the Bears. "Overall, last year our pitching was excellent, and the young pitchers we used surpassed our expectations. They are returning and we will be looking for even more production from them. Offensively, we will be more athletic as a team due to some of the new players we have coming in. Our team speed will be better, and that will allow us to put pressure on people. I really like the make-up of this team. It is as good as any team I have ever had."
A perfect example of Cal's talented youth is 6-5 sophomore right-hander Tyson Ross, who is on the watch list for the Wallace Award as the nation's top collegiate baseball player. As a true freshman for the Bears, Ross was selected honorable mention All-Pac-10 after finishing 6-4 with a 3.19 ERA (seventh in the Pac-10). He also had 85 strikeouts (10th in the Pac-10) in 84.7 innings, with victories at Stanford and versus Pacific in May. He also picked up wins over Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara, Georgetown and Washington. Ross paced Cal with 15 starts and had a career-high nine strikeouts in 6.0 innings versus Long Beach State.
Another super sophomore for the Bears will be David Cooper, a transfer from Cal State Fullerton who was a member of the 2006 College World Series All-Tournament team. Cooper, a 6-0 left-hander who played first base for the Titans, but could also play left field for Cal, flirted with a College World Series record when he had seven consecutive hits in Omaha, tying Terry Francona (1980) and one short of Dave Magadan (1983) and Barry Bonds (1984). Cooper led all players at the World Series with a .533 average (8-for-15) with five RBI. He went 5-for-5 with a home run and four RBI in a 7-6 Titan win over top-seeded Clemson. For the 2006 campaign, Cooper hit .305 with nine doubles, two home runs and 37 RBI, earning All-Big West Conference honorable mention.
Three key returning infielders for Esquer's squad will be junior Josh Satin, senior Brett Munster and junior Mike Van Winden. This past summer, Satin was a Cape Cod League All-Star for the Orleans Cardinals, and was named Eastern Division MVP during the all-star game when he was 1-for-1 with a two-run homer and a sacrifice fly. A Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American in 2005, Satin has a career batting average of .291 with 20 doubles, two triples, seven home runs and 60 RBI in 106 games for the Bears. As a freshman second baseman in '05, he hit .348 with 15 doubles, a triple, five home runs and 40 RBI.
Munster started 43 games last season as a junior with 33 starts at second base, batting .268 with seven doubles, a triple, three home runs and 18 RBI. He starred in the summer for the Moses Lake Pirates in the West Coast Collegiate League, earning all-league honors and a Gold Glove award at shortstop. The left-handed hitting Van Winden has started the majority of games at first base the last two seasons and owns a .271 career average with 21 doubles, three triples, a home run and 53 RBI.
On the mound, right-handed reliever Matt Gorgan and left-hander Chris Petrini both showed flashes of brilliance as true freshmen in 2006. Gorgen was one of the Bears' most highly utilized relievers, finishing second on the team with 29 appearances, going 3-5 with a 2.50 ERA and two saves. Petrini made 16 appearances with two starts, going 3-2 with a 4.54 ERA and a save. Also vying for key spots in Cal's starting pitching rotation will be junior right-hander Alex Rollin and sophomore left-hander Craig Bennigson, who both have the ability to be weekend starters against Pac-10 competition.
Several other returnees will be in contention for playing time. Charlie Cutler is the front-runner to be Cal's catcher after the left-handed hitting sophomore started 16 games in right field last season, throwing two runners out at home. Junior Kyle Spraker has extensive experience after starting 44 games at shortstop in 2005. Junior Jordan Karnofsky could be the Bears' left-handed hitting designated hitter, owning a .297 career average with eight doubles, a triple, two home runs and 20 RBI in 54 games. Junior Taylor Grigsby and sophomore Ryan Hanlon both got occasional starting nods in the outfield last season, while sophomore Michael Brady has played well, both in the infield and outfield, in fall practices. Sophomore Michael Capbarat is another potential outfielder for the Bears after playing well in the fall.
What could change the dynamics of the Cal baseball program is the influx of freshman talent in 2007. Offensively, right-handed hitting Jeff Kobernus (6-2, 185) and left-handed hitting Brett Jackson (6-2, 195) could see immediate action in either the Bears' infield or outfield. Blake Smith (6-2, 200) is another talented left-handed hitting outfielder who could also be utilized as a designated hitter or third baseman, while 6-3, 215-pound catcher Dylan Tonneson will provide depth behind the plate.
Junior college transfer Nick Nunez, a right-hander from Cosumnes River College, could step in and be a valuable middle reliever or starter for the Bears. Freshman right-hander Greg Redig (6-4, 190) and freshman left-handers Andy Oros (6-3, 215) and Mike Cassady (6-1, 185) also have the ability to be effective middle relievers early in their college careers.
"This year's team is going to have to rely on their make-up," said Esquer. "Being so young, they are going to have to play off their toughness and ability to be resilient. They are going to have to be tough-minded, but we have a lot of confidence in their abilities."
Cal By Positions
Pitching A question mark for Cal entering last season was its pitching staff, which had lost key performers from the fine 2005 squad. What could have been a weakness turned out to be a strength as the Bears' young staff produced a 3.92 team ERA, the lowest team ERA since the 1989 season. Cal was also second in the Pac-10 with a 3.65 team ERA against conference competition, trailing only national champion Oregon State.
The Bears return several stalwarts from last year's staff, notably sophomore right-hander Tyson Ross, who started a team-high 15 games as a true freshman, earning honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors after going 6-4 with a 3.19 ERA, striking out 85 batters in 84.7 innings. Ross is on the 2007 watch list for the Wallace Award as the nation's top collegiate player.
Three more potential starting candidates are sophomore left-handers Chris Petrini and Craig Bennigson, and junior Alex Rollin. Petrini showed the ability to be a regular starter towards the end of last season, finishing 3-2 with a 4.54 ERA and striking out 27 in 39.7 innings. He started his last two outings, including throwing a career-high 6.7 innings with eight strikeouts and only two walks at Arizona State. Bennigson led the Bears with 15 appearances against Pac-10 competition and had 24 strikeouts in 36.3 innings. He was utilized primarily as a middle reliever as a freshman, but also showed the ability to be a weekend starter. This past summer Bennigson had six saves with a 2.39 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 26.3 innings for the Matsu Miners of the Alaska League.
Rollin, who redshirted in 2004 and had to sit out 2005 with an arm injury, finally was able to showcase his skills and should get better with experience. A right-hander who has excelled in summer league ball, including throwing two complete games with a team-high 76.4 innings for the 2006 Alexandria Beetles of the Northwoods League, Rollin had two starts against Stanford last season, striking out three batters in 3.7 innings May 7.
The Bears' leader out of the bullpen will be sophomore right-hander Matt Gorgen, who established himself as a valuable reliever last year with a 2.50 ERA and two saves in 29 appearances as a true freshman. Gorgen went 3-5 with 34 strikeouts in 39.7 innings, picking up victories over Stanford, Washington State and UCLA in relief. Throwing in the low 90s, he was stellar this past summer for the Anchorage Bucks of the Alaska League, going 3-1 with a 0.92 ERA and nine saves in 20 appearances.
Another top reliever, or possible mid-week starter, is junior college transfer Nick Nunez. The junior right-hander was a Junior College All-American at Cosumnes River College, going 9-1 with a 2.19 ERA as a sophomore, striking out 79 in 90.3 innings.
Cal has several other pitchers who are working on establishing their roles on Dan Hubbs' pitching staff. Left-handers Michael Bugary, Sean Watson, Case Dahlen and Mike Cassady could be valuable out of the bullpen. Bugary, who is also a first baseman for the Bears, can contribute on the mound, throwing in the high 80s with a sharp-breaking curveball. Watson is a 6-9 redshirt freshman with an outstanding change-up to go along with his curveball. Dahlen is a 6-5 junior who is now healthy and ready to contribute. Cassady is a freshman from Monte Vista High School who throws in the mid 80s with a curveball, cutter and change-up.
Right-handers coming out of the bullpen include junior Nick Tess, and sophomores Travis Erickson, Dane Ferguson and Kurt De La Rosa. Tess has made 16 appearances in his Cal career with a 3-0 record, a 5.60 ERA, and 14 strikeouts in 19.3 innings. Erickson, Ferguson and De La Rosa are all young pitchers who continue to improve, throwing in the mid to high 80s, and should get a chance to contribute this season.
What could give the Bears' pitching staff a boost is the return to action of 6-4 freshman right-hander Greg Redig and 6-3 freshman left-hander Andy Oros, who could step in and be effective middle relievers. Redig, who did not pitch his senior year of high school at Miramonte due to an arm injury, should be ready this spring and throws in the high 80s with a slider and change-up. Oros is recovering from rotator cuff surgery in May of 2006. When healthy, he throws in the low 90s with a curveball and change-up.
Cutler is a talented left-handed hitting catcher who had amazing numbers out of San Francisco's Lowell High School, holding California state records for career hits (219), RBI (203), triples (32) and runs (197). As a freshman, he started 16 games in right field, throwing out two runners at the plate while batting .246 with a double, triple and six RBI.
The 6-3, 215-pound Tonneson is an impressive athlete out of California High School in San Ramon, where as a senior he batted .395 with nine home runs and 36 RBI. Also a tight end and defensive end in football, he was named the 2006 East Bay Athletic League MVP and the Contra Costa Times Athlete of the Year.
Thomas, a junior transfer from Diablo Valley College, and Buestad, who transferred from College of Marin in 2006, will provide the Bears with depth behind the plate after impressing the Cal coaches in fall practices.
Infield The Cal infield returns every starter from the 2006 season with the exception of graduated shortstop Allen Craig, and will have several true freshmen vying for starting spots as well.
The Bears return junior first baseman Mike Van Winden, who was a clutch performer as a left-handed hitting redshirt freshman in 2005, knocking in three game-winning hits and batting .296 with 11 doubles, two triples, a home run, 31 RBI and a team-leading 29 walks. Van Winden has now competed in 106 games for the Bears, owning a .271 career average with 21 doubles, three triples, a home run and 53 RBI. Another top first base candidate is left-handed sophomore David Cooper, who is a standout transfer from Cal State Fullerton where he was a member of the 2006 College World Series All-Tournament Team. Cooper could also play in the outfield for Cal. Sophomore Michael Bugary, a 6-4, 220-pounder who is also a left-handed pitcher, also has the tools to be an outstanding college hitter.
Another talented hitter returning to Cal's infield is junior second baseman Josh Satin, who was spectacular as a redshirt freshman in 2005, earning All-Pac-10 and freshman All-America honors in Collegiate Baseball after hitting .348 with 40 RBI and leading the team with 26 multiple-hit games and a .434 average with runners in scoring position.
Other returning middle infielders are senior Brett Munster and junior Kyle Spraker, who be battling for starting shortstop duties, but both have also seen considerable playing time at second base. Munster started the final seven games at shortstop in 2005, helping the Bears capture key Pac-10 series over Stanford and Arizona, and then started 33 games at second base last season, batting .268 with seven doubles, a triple, three home runs and 18 RBI. Spraker started 44 games at shortstop as a true freshman in 2005, providing Cal with a sure glove, and had 18 starts at second base in 2006.
Redshirt freshman Rich Gorman will also be in contention for playing time in the middle infield after redshirting in 2006.
Senior Stephen Carlson and sophomore Michael Brady are the returnees who are in the running for playing time at third base. Carlson is a switch hitter and solid fielder who competed in 21 games last season with three starts at third base. Brady, who can handle any of the other infield positions, as well as the outfield, played well in the fall and is sure to push for playing time.
True freshmen Brett Jackson, Jeff Kobernus, Blake Smith and Austin Booker provide an added dimension for the Bears as all four players will immediately push for starting duty, either in Cal's infield or outfield. Jackson is a left-handed hitter from Miramonte High School, who was an All-CIF high school shortstop, but is pushing for starting duties in center field as well playing time in the infield. Kobernus is an All-East Bay shortstop from Bishop O'Dowd High School who can also play the outfield, while Smith is a left-handed hitting All-District third baseman/outfielder from Thomas Downey High School in Modesto, who has swung the bat well in the fall. Booker, a 5-10, 160-pound left-handed hitter from Robinson High School in Fairfax, Va., is the son of former Cal All-American and major leaguer Rod Booker.
Outfield Competition is fierce for starting duties in the Bears' outfield as Cal lost regulars Brennan Boesch and Chris Errecart to the major league draft. Besides five returnees, true freshmen Brett Jackson, Jeff Kobernus, Blake Smith and Austin Booker are all capable outfielders as well as infielders.
A frontrunner to start in left field is talented sophomore transfer David Cooper, who played first base at Cal State Fullerton, but is ready to make the move to the outfield after batting .305 for the Titans' World Series squad last season and .304 for the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Code league this past summer.
Junior Taylor Grigsby and sophomores Ryan Hanlon and Michael Capbarat are also in the mix for outfield duty. Grigsby had 11 starts in right field and hit .318 (7-for-22) with runners in scoring position. Hanlon started 10 games as a designated hitter, batting .245 with four doubles and five RBI. Capbarat only saw action in three games last season, but made the most of his opportunity, going 2-for-5 with a two-run double.
Junior Jordan Karnofsky, a 6-2, 225-pound left-handed hitter, and sophomore Tyler Waddell, a 6-2, 220-pounder right-hander, will be battling for playing time in the Bears' outfield as well. Karnofsky is also a top candidate to be Cal's left-handed designated hitter, owning a .297 career average for the Bears and hitting .302 with 12 doubles, five home runs and 24 RBI for the Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals of the Valley League this past summer. He was listed as the Valley Leagues' ninth-best professional prospect by Baseball America.