Better late than never, here's a preview of what we hope isn't the last season in the history of Bear Baseball. We'll have some thoughts about the impending end of the program, but for now we're going to do our best to focus on the players and what they can do on the field. It's a tough issue to avoid, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy this season as much as possible. And that shouldn't be too hard if the Bears play up to their potential.
That potential is a team that competes at the top of the Pac-10, takes a spot in the playoffs for granted, and has dreams of Omaha. The pre-season polls have Cal as high as 17th, though there's hardly a consensus of their place in the stacked Pac-10, let alone nationally. With a stunning seven Pac-10 teams appearing in the top 25 of one poll or another it's going to be a grueling, hyper-competitive year on the west coast. Much of Cal's reputation is built on the strength of their starting pitching, but the Bears have some pretty solid bats, and that's what we're focusing on today.
Who's gone: 1B Mark Canha, 2B/SS Brian Guinn, OF Jimmy Bosco, C Eddie Hsieh
Canha and Guinn both left after their junior years. Canha was selected by the Florida Marlins in the 7th round of the draft, while Guinn was taken in the 11th round by the Padres. Good luck to both! Sophomore Jimmy Bosco decided to transfer to Arkansas with the uncertainty surrounding Cal's program. And back-up catcher Eddie Hsieh was the only senior position player on the roster - talk about youth.
The biggest loss by far is Canha, who led the team in home runs and walks and was a constant presence at 3rd in the lineup. He was a patent hitter who generally hit the ball hard when he got his pitch. The loss of Guinn, particularly as a table-setter, shouldn't be minimized either - he came on strong towards the end of 2010 as a solid on base man and speedster. Bosco's decision to transfer may end up being damaging as well - although he hadn't earned a full-time starting role, he had shown consistent power and patience at the plate and probably would have been a fixture in the lineup this year. The fact that he transferred to a baseball power like Arkansas says everything you need to know about his talent.
Chadd Krist: Assuming good health, Krist will start every game at catcher this year after a year of success hitting from the clean-up spot. He's arguably Cal's best hitter, and though he tends to strike out often, that's offset with solid power and a good walk rate.
Tony Renda: A returning freshman All-American and first team Pac-10 selection, I'm guessing that Renda will take over Canha's spot at 3rd in the lineup. He's got some position flexibility, having spent time at 3rd base and in the outfield, though he also was Cal's designated hitter at times, which might be the best place for him until his fielding catches up to his bat. But oh what a bat!
Marcus Semien: The son of former Cal footballer Damien, Marcus got into the lineup as a sophomore middle infielder after limited duty as a freshman. I'm guessing he'll be a top of the order hitter and will be expected to anchor Cal's defense up the middle. If he can improve on last year's 20 errors it would be a big step in shoring up Cal's biggest weakness from 2010.
Danny Oh: A steady, reliable outfielder, Oh started every game for the Bears last year and will likely hit towards the bottom of the order. He's an intelligent base-runner and a streaky hitter.
Chad Bunting: Cal's incumbent center fielder and one of the few players who came up big in nationals, Bunting will be looking to build on his successful sophomore campaign.
Mitch Delfino: Delfino took over 3rd base when Renda moved to designated hitter and is the presumed starter for 2011 as a sophomore
Devin Rodriguez: The best bet to take over from Canha at first base, Rodriguez spent some time at DH last year behind Cal's star. He's not the most patient hitter, but he's shown flashes of good power.
Austin Booker: One of the potential replacements for Guinn at 2nd base, Booker got occasional starts all over the diamond. His ability to replace Guinn's defense might be a more important factor than what he can bring to the plate.
Balance up and down the lineup. Other than maybe Renda and Krist there probably aren't any stars in the making. But Cal continually pressured pitchers from the lead-off spot through the ninth spot in the lineup last year and there's no good reason to assume that won't be the case this year. Cal was so young last year that you have to like their chances to improve on a number of strong freshman and sophomore performances. If everybody takes a step forward this could be a consistently scary lineup.
Defense, defense, defense! Errors really cost Cal last year, often in painful, gut-wrenching fashion in rivalry games against Stanford, in critical late-season games against Oregon, and even in regionals. To make matters worse, two of Cal's most consistent defenders in Canha and Guinn left for pro ball, so there will be question marks at almost every spot on the diamond. If Cal's defense doesn't improve they'll be putting lots of pressure on their pitching staff, which really seemed to wear down toward the end of 2010.