Last year Cal had 13 players who collected 50 or more plate appearances. 10 of those players are back, and it’s that experienced returning lineup that will likely be the strength of the team. Let’s go around the horn to look at who will get the bulk of the playing time at each position
Chadd Krist was drafted in the 13th round of the MLB amateur draft but decided to return to Cal for his senior season, and for that we’re eternally grateful. Tony Renda is your returning Pac-10 player of the year, but I’ve said multiple times that an argument could be made that Krist is the best hitter on the team. It’s one of those ‘there is no wrong choice’ type of situations.
Krist was one of four players to start every single game last season and he’ll likely be expected to get down in the crouch every game this year. Like everybody else in college baseball, Krist’s power numbers declined due to the new bats mandated in college baseball, but his home runs turned into twenty seven doubles – ten more than any other player in the conference!
It was awesome. But Devon Rodriguez’s hit was just one of many for Cal’s #5 hitter, who is a candidate to move up in the order. Rodriguez hits for solid power and average and plays a solid first base. To take a step forward he could improve his patience at the plate, but Rodriguez will be a key fixture in the lineup just by putting up the same numbers he did last year. Like Krist, he started every game in 2011 and I would expect him to do the same . . . except he was on crutches at fanfest on Saturday. I don’t know the extent of his injuries, but it would be a big benefit to have him healthy.
Andrew Knapp will start the season at first base and will hopefully have success filling Rodriguez's big shoes until he's ready.
Any time you can pencil in the returning conference player of the year at a middle infield spot you’re probably in pretty great shape. We already knew Renda was a special player entering last season, but his defense at 2nd base was a pleasant surprise as well. When he got hurt sliding home with the regional winning run against Baylor he played designated hitter the rest of the way, but I’m sure he’ll be back at second base all year.
The only change is his spot in the lineup – Renda will be leading off, replacing departed senior Austin Booker. It’s not an entirely unfamiliar position for him, and he’s hit in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd slot in the lineup at various points last year. He’s not your prototypical leadoff hitter in that he doesn’t draw a ton of walks, but he has decent speed and he’s a mortal lock to hit .300 or higher.
Losing junior Marcus Semien to the White Sox created the biggest gap in the lineup, but there’s plenty reasons to think that sophomore Derek Campbell is ready to play starting shortstop.
Campbell didn’t get a ton of at bats last year because he was stuck behind Semien and Renda on the middle infielder depth chart. When Renda was forced to DH Campbell stepped into the lineup and batted .400 in his five playoff starts and looked up to the task defensively. It’s a small sample size, but if you can get it done in the playoffs then you have the talent to get it done at any time.
Mitch Delfino started all but four games at third base last year and will likely have the position locked down again this year. He has solid power and plenty of experience, and will likely help anchor the middle of the lineup again this year. Delfino has been consistently good in his first two years, but his recruiting pedigree (various high school all-american honors) makes me think that he’s a potential candidate for a breakout season.
Gone is leadoff hitter and left fielder Austin Booker, who was drafted by the A’s after graduating. But Cal has a number of experienced outfielders who saw plenty of at bats last year. Chief amongst them is Chad Bunting, who started the season in centerfield, moved over to right, then sprained his thumb and missed nearly two months of the season. Bunting finished the season with half as many at bats as most regulars and still led the team in home runs and slugging percentage, so it’s exciting to see what he can do with a full season.
The other three outfield spots will likely get filled by the trio of Darrell Matthews, Vince Bruno and Danny Oh. Matthews took over in center when Bunting shifted to right and his range has consistently impressed me every time I’ve been able to watch a game in person or on TV.
Last year the DH spot was a revolving door in part because Cal’s best hitters all happened to be solid defenders. If Devon Rodriguez isn't out for an extended period, I would expect Andrew Knapp to get lots of time at DH. If Knapp is busy playing first base, my guess at candidates for DH time would be one of the four outfielders mentioned above, Michael Theofanopoulos, or perhaps a talented true freshman like Brenden Farney who was drafted by the A’s but decided to come to Berkeley. Vince Bruno is starting as the DH against Pacific.
Here's the starting lineup to start the season, according to the official release for the Pacific series:
- Tony Renda, 2B
- Vince Bruno, DH
- Chad Krist, C
- Andrew Knapp, 1B
- Mitch Delfino, 3B
- Chad Bunting, CF
- Danny Oh, RF
- Darrell Matthews, LF
- Derek Campbell, 2B