Jan. 19, 2006
BERKELEY, CALIF. - The 2006 California baseball team wants to "Leave No Doubt."
That is the rallying call for Golden Bears after being snubbed by the NCAA selection committee following a 2005 campaign in which Cal finished 34-23 overall and 13-11 in the Pac-10 - a record that normally would have warranted a postseason berth. The 2006 Bears, ranked 25th in Baseball America's preseason Top 25 poll and featuring three preseason All-Americans, believe they have enough talent, with plenty of motivation, to get into an NCAA regional.
"After what happened to us last year, the team should have motivation," said head coach David Esquer. "We should be able to work off the momentum we had at the end of last season after playing well against teams that did advance to the NCAAs. We tasted that success, and now we want to leave no doubt in anyone's mind that we deserve to be a regional team."
Cal has a wide array of talent returning to help prove its case. The Bears feature five players who enter the 2006 campaign with impressive accolades - junior center fielder Brennan Boesch, sophomore infielder Josh Satin, junior left fielder Chris Errecart, senior shortstop Allen Craig and junior right-hander Brandon Morrow.
Boesch has been selected a first-team Preseason All-American by the Collegiate Baseball Writers, and is a preseason All-American in Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball as well. The 6-5 left-hander is also on the 2006 Brooks Wallace Award list as a potential national player of the year candidate. A 2005 first-team All-Pac-10 honoree, Boesch had a team-leading .355 average last year with 21 doubles, two triples, seven home runs and 33 RBI. His 21 doubles was third on the school's all-time single-season doubles list.
Satin, high school teammates with Boesch at Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles, was also a first-team All-Pac-10 selection and earned Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-America honors. He was the first Cal freshman to be named All-America and All-Pac-10 since Xavier Nady was the National Freshman of the Year in 1998. After sitting out the 2004 season with an injured right shoulder, Satin started all 57 games at second base last year, batting .348 with 15 doubles, a triple, five home runs and 40 RBI. He paced the team with 26-multiple hit games, had a team-high 15-game hitting streak and a team-best .434 average with runners in scoring position.
After a stellar summer in which he was a Cape Cod League All-Star, Errecart has been picked as a second-team preseason All-American in Baseball America. A left-hander who bats right-handed, he hit .303 with six home runs and 22 RBI this summer for Yarmouth-Dennis after batting .298 with 15 doubles, eight home runs and 35 RBI for the Bears last spring.
The veteran Craig also had an exceptional summer as he was picked as a first-team shortstop on Baseball America's Summer All-America Team. He excelled for Alexandria (Minn.) of the Northwoods League, batting .362 with 12 home runs and 40 RBI. As a junior, Craig was honorable mention All-Pac-10 after hitting .307 overall and .358 in conference play, collecting 14 doubles, eight home runs and 35 RBI. Three times during the year, he began a game with a home run as Cal's lead-off batter.
Another preseason All-American for the Bears is 6-3 junior right-hander Morrow, who wooed the professional scouts last summer when he struck out 24 batters in 14.7 innings with a 1.84 ERA and three saves for Yarmouth-Dennis. Throwing in the mid 90s with an impressive slider, change-up and split-finger fastball, he was selected as a Cape Cod League All-Star and is a third-team preseason All-American in Baseball America.
The Bears possess much more than just the previously mentioned standouts. Several other athletes, both veterans and newcomers, will play key roles in Cal's postseason chase.
On the mound, the Bears return 6-6 junior right-hander Michael Cooper and 6-5 senior right-hander Alex Trafton, a pair of veterans who will provide stability to a young pitching staff that includes eight freshmen. Cooper was solid last year as a junior college transfer from Santa Ana College, going 3-2 with a 3.47 ERA, making 16 appearances with nine starts. Trafton, a side-winding reliever who was 2-1 with a 3.54 ERA and a save in 21 appearances last season, was all-league this summer for the Matsu Miners in the Alaska League, going 5-1 with a 1.72 ERA. Cooper should be one of the Bears' weekend Pac-10 starters, while Trafton is a candidate to be Cal's closer.
As far as position players are concerned, the Bears have a solid core of returnees. Sophomore first baseman Mike Van Winden, junior catcher Garrett Bussiere and sophomore infielder Kyle Spraker were regulars last season and will be looked to for continued production. Van Winden had a magical season as a redshirt freshman, starting 52 games at first base and batting .296 with 11 doubles, two triples, a home run, 31 RBI and three game-winning hits. Bussiere, Cal's regular catcher the last two years, overcame a slow start in 2005 to bat .262 overall and .306 versus the Pac-10 with four doubles, five home runs and 21 RBI, including a grand slam versus Washington State. Spraker solidified the Bears' infield as a true freshman, making 44 starts at shortstop, turning 31 double plays while batting .221 with six doubles, three home runs and 15 RBI.
Other returnees who will contend for playing time include sophomore outfielder Jason Corder, sophomore catcher/utility man Travis Howell, junior infielder Brett Munster, sophomore designated hitter Jordan Karnofsky and senior right-hander/outfielder Jeremy Burchett.
Corder is a top candidate to start in right field after batting .297 with 26 RBI and a league-leading 15 doubles for Anchorage in the Alaska League last summer. He can also be utilized as a relief pitcher, throwing in the low 90s. Howell had 19 starts behind the plate for the Bears last spring and this summer received the Rawlings Silver Glove Award as the top defensive catcher in the Northwoods League, playing for the Mankato (Minn.) Moondogs. Munster will again be vying for a spot in Cal's infield after starting the final seven games last season at shortstop, helping the Bears to a 5-2 mark.
Karnofsky is a talented left-handed hitter who sat out the majority of last season after having shoulder surgery, but could be Cal's main designated hitter. He has a .309 career average with five doubles, a home run and 15 RBI in 55 college at-bats. Burchett is a veteran player who will be utilized primarily as a relief pitcher this season after starting 12 games in right field last year. He has an outstanding arm, throwing in the low 90s with an above-average curveball and change-up.
The Cal coaching staff has again brought in a top-notch freshman class with several athletes who could see immediate action, especially on the mound where the Bears lost their top four pitchers to graduation and the draft. Tyson Ross, a 6-5 right-hander from Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, is already slated to be one of Cal's weekend starters, throwing in the high 80s to low 90s. He had an impressive outing against Cuba this fall as a member of the USA Junior National Team, allowing only two hits in 5.0 innings. Crafty freshman left-hander Chris Petrini, out of Sacred Heart Cathedral High School in San Francisco, has also put himself in the running to be one of the Bears' starters after throwing well in the preseason.
Outfielder Ryan Hanlon, from Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove, Calif., is another freshman who has impressed the Cal coaching staff with his hitting and fielding, while left-handed hitting freshman catcher Charlie Cutler, from Lowell High School in San Francisco, had unworldly stats during his prep career, hitting .636 as a junior with a California high school record 71 RBI.
"Our fall practices were very competitive," said Esquer. "This is as good of a freshman group as we have ever had. I have a lot of confidence in the players we have returning, and a lot of confidence in the newcomers. For the freshmen, it could be just a matter of how quickly their performance level matches their talent level. I am extremely optimistic about this year's team."
Cal By Positions
Pitching A big key to the success of the 2005 Bears was their pitching staff, with solid contributions from starters Eric Dworkis and Adam Gold, and superior relief performances from Travis Talbott and Matt Swanson. But Dworkis, Talbott and Swanson were drafted and graduated, and Gold signed with the Colorado Rockies. Cal is going have to replace these players with a few established returnees, some redshirts coming back from injuries and a large class of talented freshmen, including four left-handers and a member of the USA Junior National Team.
Junior right-hander Michael Cooper is Cal's top returning starter after a solid sophomore campaign. The 6-6, 230-pounder, who was drafted in the 17th round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2004, started nine games for the Bears, finishing 3-2 with a 3.47 ERA (ninth in the Pac-10). Cooper throws in the high 80s to low 90s with a slider, change-up and split-finger fastball.
The baseball world is extremely high on the talents of junior right-hander Brandon Morrow, a third-team Preseason All-American in Baseball America, who was also named the fifth-best professional prospect in the prestigious Cape Cod League this past summer by the national baseball publication. Morrow, who can throw in the mid 90s, had 24 strikeouts in 14.7 innings with a 1.84 ERA and three saves for Yarmouth-Dennis. Despite only owning a 1-4 career record with Cal, he has the type of skills that could make him one of the top hurlers in the Pac-10.
A newcomer who has the Cal coaching staff excited is freshman Tyson Ross, who has the skills to be one of Cal's weekend starters. The 6-5 right-hander comes to the Bears after a successful high school career at Bishop O'Dowd, where he was 12-1 with a 0.71 ERA and 130 strikeouts as a senior, earning North Coast Section Player of the Year honors. Ross is also a two-member of the USA Junior National Team and had a stellar pitching performance against Cuba in the fall.
Four more potential starters are freshmen left-handers Chris Petrini and Craig Bennigson, and redshirt sophomores Alex Rollin and Kevin Barnum. Petrini showed the ability to be a starter during the fall, throwing in the upper 80s with an effective curveball, slider and change-up. Bennigson is a 6-2 lefty from Benicia High School, where he was 14-0 with a 0.17 ERA as a senior, earning ABCA All-Region 8 and Solano County Conference MVP honors. He throws in the mid 80s with a cut fastball, curveball and change-up.
Rollin, who redshirted in 2004 and had to sit out 2005 with an arm injury, had a phenomenal 2004 summer in the Texas Collegiate League, where he was named the league's pitcher of the year after going 6-0 with three saves and not giving up an earned run in 37.0 innings. He is a right-hander who throws in the high 80s with a curveball, slider and change-up. The left-handed Barnum sat out last season after having Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2004. He throws in the mid 80s with a split-finger fastball, curveball and change-up. Both Rollin and Barnum are healthy entering the 2006 campaign, and their effectiveness could be a key for the Cal pitching staff.
The Bears' leader out of the bullpen will be senior Alex Trafton, who established himself as a valuable reliever last season with a 3.54 ERA in 21 appearances. Trafton went 2-1 with a save in 2005, including a key win at Long Beach State, and had 22 strikeouts in 28.3 innings. He throws in the mid to high 80s from a submarine arm angle.
Freshman Matt Gorgen, sophomores Nick Tess and Jason Corder, and senior Jeremy Burchett are also projected to help Cal as right-handed relievers. Gorgen, from Clayton Valley High School, throws in the low 90s with a cut-fastball, curveball and change-up. He is also in line to be one of the Bears' closers. Tess only saw action in four games last season, but finished with seven strikeouts in 7.3 innings with a 2.45 ERA, and only yielded one hit in 3.7 innings against Stanford. Corder and Burchett are both outfielders with outstanding velocity on their fastball, a sharp curveball and an effective change-up. Burchett will probably see most of his action on the mound this season.
Left-handers Cameron Johnson, Sean Watson and Michael Bugary could also play important roles out of the bullpen. Johnson is a talented athlete who was utilized as a spot reliever in 2004, but sat out last season recovering from arm surgery. He was impressive in the summer of 2004, going 7-1 with a 1.60 ERA and three saves in the Texas Collegiate League. Watson is a 6-9 freshman lefty from Acalanes High School with an outstanding change-up to go along with his curveball. Bugary, who is also a top freshman hitter for the Bears, can contribute on the mound as well, throwing in the high 80s and going 10-2 with three no-hitters as a senior at Monterey High School.
The Bears have a senior (Alec Harris), a sophomore (Case Dahlen), three redshirt freshmen (Travis Erickson, Dane Ferguson and Kurt De La Rosa), and a true freshman (Michael Brady) who could figure in the pitching scheme. Harris is a 6-5 right-hander with the ability to help as either a reliever or starter. He throws in the low 90s and had seven saves and a 1.17 ERA as a sophomore at San Diego Mesa Junior College. The 6-5 left-handed Dahlan throws in the mid 80s and is healthy after recovering from a high school arm injury and could see action as either a starter or reliever. Erickson, Ferguson and De La Rosa are all talented right-handers who throw in the mid to high 80s and should get a chance to contribute. Brady, from Santa Margarita High School, is also a standout infielder who throws in the mid 80s with an effective curveball and change-up.
Head coach David Esquer is extremely excited about his catching corps, calling it one of the best groups in the nation. The Bears have two solid returnees in junior Garrett Bussiere and sophomore Travis Howell, plus standout freshman Charlie Cutler.
Bussiere is a talented receiver and hitter, who has been an impact player for Cal the last two years. In 2004, he was named the team's Freshman of the Year after hitting .307 with five home runs and 21 RBI. Bussiere again hit five home runs with 21 RBI as a sophomore, coming back from an early season slump to bat .306 in conference play.
Howell is a capable catcher as well, and has the ability to play either the infield or outfield. He was named the top defensive catcher in the Northwoods League this summer, earning the Rawlings Silver Glove Award. As a redshirt freshman, Howell had a clutch suicide squeeze bunt in the 11th inning to help defeat Stanford.
Cutler is a highly touted left-handed hitting catcher from San Francisco's Lowell High School, where he knocked in an incredible 130 RBI in the last two years. He is in line to be an immediate contributor to the Bears' offense.
Two other catchers on the Cal roster are junior college transfer Connor Buestad and senior bullpen catcher Ben Liepman. Buestad will provide the Bears with depth behind the plate after impressing the Cal coaches in the fall, while Liepman is in his third year as the Bears' bullpen catcher.
The Cal infield returns every starter from the 2005 season with the exception of graduated third baseman Matt Einspahr, plus senior Allen Craig will move back to the infield after being named a first-team Summer All-America shortstop by Baseball America.
An honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection as primarily a left fielder in 2005, Craig owns a .292 career batting average with 33 doubles, a triple, 16 home runs and 72 RBI. He hit .304 overall and .358 versus the Pac-10 last year, proving to be a clutch performer as the Bears' lead-off man.
Another obviously talented hitter returning to Cal's infield is sophomore Josh Satin, who was spectacular as a redshirt freshman, 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. Satin could possibly move to third base this season after starting all 57 games at second base in 2005.
The Bears return sophomore first baseman Mike Van Winden, who was a clutch performer as a left-handed hitting redshirt freshman, 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. Other first base candidates include sophomore Jordan Karnofsky and true freshman Michael Bugary - both talented left-handed batters. Karnofsky hit .288 with five doubles, a home run and 14 RBI in 26 games as a freshman in 2004, and was 2-for-3 with an RBI last year before having surgery on his right shoulder. Bugary, a 6-4, 220-pounder, batted an impressive .659 with 15 home runs as a junior at Monterey High School and has the tools to be an outstanding college hitter.
Sophomore Kyle Spraker and junior Brett Munster are in the running for starting infield duties as well. Spraker started 44 games at shortstop as a true freshman, providing Cal with a sure glove, making only seven errors in 182 chances and providing some clutch hitting. He might move to second base this season. Munster is another capable member of the Bears' infield, starting the final seven games at shortstop last year, helping the Bears capture key Pac-10 series over Stanford and Arizona.
Junior Stephen Carlson, sophomore Travis Howell and true freshman Michael Brady could also be in the running for playing time at third base. Carlson is a switch hitter who finally played in 12 games last year after being plagued with shoulder injuries the prior two seasons. He is considered one of the team's top fielders. Howell, who is also a catching candidate, could step in and play third base as well. Brady, a standout shortstop out of Santa Margarita High School, can handle any of the infield positions and is sure to push for playing time.
The talented left-handed Boesch is Cal's most highly touted player entering a season since three-time All-American Xavier Nady (1998-00). After earning first-team All-Pac-10 honors last season as a sophomore, batting .355 with 21 doubles, two triples, seven home runs and 33 RBI, the Bears' center fielder is a 2006 NCBWA first-team Preseason All-American, a second-team preseason All-American in Baseball America and a third-team preseason All-American in Collegiate Baseball.
Cal's left fielder is slated to be Errecart, who is a second-team preseason All-American in Baseball America after an impressive summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League. The junior seems primed for an outstanding year after hitting .298 with 15 doubles, eight home runs and 35 RBI as a sophomore for the Bears, followed by his .303 average with six home runs and 22 RBI in the Cape Cod League.
Sophomore Jason Corder is a leading candidate to start in right field after showing flashes of brilliance as a true freshman, despite missing the early part of the season with a sprained ankle and only playing in 14 games. Corder has displayed impressive power to go along with an outstanding arm, batting .297 with 26 RBI and leading the Alaska League with 15 doubles last summer.
Standout freshman Ryan Hanlon, senior Rob Nesbitt and sophomore Taylor Grigsby are also in the mix for outfield duty. The 6-1, 185-pound Hanlon impressed the Cal coaches with his skills in the fall after a stellar career at Laguna Creek High School, earning league MVP honors as a junior. The veteran Nesbitt also played well in the fall and is strong defensively, seeing action in 15 games last season, while Grigsby played in eight games as a redshirt freshman, mostly as a pinch runner. Redshirt freshmen Michael Capbarat, a 6-3, 200-pound outfielder from De La Salle High School, and Tyler Waddell, a 6-2, 220-pounder from Peninsula High School, will be battling for playing time in the Bears' outfield as well.