Cal Baseball to open season by hosting Texas this weekend

The team is ready for the 2014 season to start on Friday. - Cal Baseball Twitter

Go Bears! Beat the Longhorns!

Fri., Feb. 14    Texas, Evans Diamond, Berkeley, Calif.     7 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 15    Texas, Evans Diamond, Berkeley, Calif. (DH)     1 p.m. (KALX will broadcast the first game)
Sun., Feb. 16    Texas, Evans Diamond, Berkeley, Calif.     1 p.m.

This is your friendly reminder that it is already baseball time (although it may not feel like that on the East Coast this week). For many MLB teams, pitchers and catchers are reporting today. For Cal Baseball, the 2014 campaign is kicking off this Friday against a Texas squad that most Cal fans would love to see us beat (even if Mack Brown has absolutely nothing to do with them).

Back at Evans Diamond this season are night games (Cal Baseball said Fiat Lux last year) and that still quite new scoreboard. Also likely to return (although I can find any definite prove of this) is the beer garden.

TENTATIVE CALIFORNIA LINE-UP (From CalBears.com)

No.    Pos.    Player    2013 Stats
27     RF        Devin Pearson, So.    .302, 17 RBI, 2 HR    
2       CF        Derek Campbell, Jr.      .256, 5 RBI, 1 HR    
33     1B        Devon Rodriguez, Sr.    .277, 40 RBI, 7 HR
6       3B        Chris Paul, Jr.    .221, 36 RBI, 8 HR
19     DH       Nick Halamandaris, So.    .206, 7 RBI, 2 HR
22     LF        Vince Bruno, Sr. (2012 stats)    .323, 26 RBI, 1 HR    
21     2B       Brenden Farney, Jr.    .287, 10 RBI, 0 HR
30     C         Mitchell Kranson, So.    .279, 11 RBI, 1 HR
37    SS       Mike Reuvekamp, Sr.    .283, 13 RBI, 0 HR    
24    RHP    Daulton Jefferies, Fr. (Fri.)    ---- 
16/34 LHP/RHP    Kyle Porter, Sr./Alex Schick (Sat.)    1-1, 3.55 ERA/ ---
10    LHP    Michael Theofanopoulos, Jr. (Sun.)    0-1, 6.00 ERA

Interestingly, Ryan Mason is perhaps going back to being the closer for the team. Mason started the year as the closer before becoming the Bears' best pitcher (and usual "Friday starter" but started to falter late in the season).
With former All-American Andrew Knapp signing with the Phillies (after being a 2nd round pick), Mitchell Kranson will be the Bears' new starting backstop. Other than that one huge change, the rest of the lineup should be pretty familiar to Cal fans.

Baseball America doesn't think that highly of the Bears in their Pac-12 preview. The only thing written about the Bears is the following:

California is finally recovering from the recruiting hit it took when its program was in peril during its 2012 Omaha run. Its strong freshman class adds critical pitching depth, and the return to full strength of slugging 1B Devon Rodriguez, athletic OF Derek Campbell, Jr. LHP Michael Theofanopoulos and Sr. LHP Kyle Porter after various injury issues will provide a big boost. The two lefties figure to join So. RHP Ryan Mason in a sound weekend rotation.

New for 2014: New Cal Baseball Cap

I am personally not particularly fond of the new Cal font which has replaced the good old Block C as the new Cal Baseball logo. At least they didn't do away with the letter and go with just the new Bear logo.

You can see the new cap in this schedule promo:

Something about Texas

Since this post is meant to encourage you to go support the Bears this weekend, I should mention something about the Texas Longhorns squad. From CalBears.com game note:

No. 18 Texas (Baseball America), coached by Augie Garrido (18th year at Texas, 723-347-2, .675), finished last season 27-24 overall and 7-17 in the Big 12 (9th). Top returning hitters for the Longhorns are senior outfielder Mark Payton (.393, 0 HR, 29 RBI), sophomore shortstop CJ Hinojosa (.309, 2 HR, 29 RBI) and senior catcher Jacob Felts (.272, 1 HR, 15 RBI). A tentative Texas rotation is junior right-hander Parker French (4-5, 5.91 ERA), junior left-hander Dillon Peters (6-3, 1.97 ERA), junior right-hander Lukas Schiraldi (, senior right-hander Nathan Thornhill (3-6, 2.21 ERA). In 2011, both Texas and Cal were members of the College World Series field.

In Baseball America's Big 12 preview: Texas is their "Team to Beat".

A loaded freshman class should bolster an offense that lacked life last year, and an elite pitching staff will ensure Texas ends its two-year NCAA tourney drought.

It sure looks like the Bears might have a slight edge in playing a very young Texas team to open the year. They do include quite a few top prospects however.

4 of the top 6 Big 12 prospects for 2014 are Longhorns pitchers (LHP Dillon Peters - 2, RHP Parker French - 4, RHP Lukas Schiraldi - 5, and RHP John Curtiss - 6).

Series Record

Cal has a 6-6 all-time record versus Texas, last winning two of three over the Longhorns (L 13-3, W 12-2, W 6-5), March 30-April 1, 2012 in Round Rock, Texas. In NCAA tournament play, the Bears defeated Texas, 8-7, June 21, 1947 in the Western Playoffs in Denver. In 1988, Cal won, 8-7, May 29 and, 6-5, May 30, in Austin, Texas to win the Central Regional and advance to the CWS.

That's actually kind of a decent all time record against Texas since they are  most successful NCAA Division I college baseball program with 0.740 winning percentage and 2nd most wins all time with 3246 (interesting sidenote, Fordham has the most wins with 4298).

Cal actually have 16th most wins all time and a winning percentage of 0.572 which is better than UCLA (0.541) if Wikipedia can be believed.

Devon Rodriguez "Inside the Lair"

Devon Rodriguez's baseball career has been plagued by injury since his famous hit that sent the Bears to the College World Series Super Regional from the brink of elimination. It would be huge for both his potential pro career and the Cal Baseball 2014 season if Rodriguez is back to being 100%.

Bay Area Media Day with Coach Esquer, Derek Campbell, and Kyle Porter


In Case You Missed It (Off-season Q&A series with Ryan Gorcey on Cal Baseball)

The more relevant excepts on this season are included below.

Part 1: Evans Diamond improvements

2013 saw plenty of improvements to Evans Diamond, with the new lights that allow the Bears to host night games and the addition of a new video scoreboard. There are also new amenities for the fans such as a beer garden. For those of us who have not had the pleasure to experience all of these improvements in person yet, can you describe the new gameday experience? How comparable is it to that of other Pac-12 teams?

Ryan Gorcey: I've been to Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and USC so far, and I can definitely see the atmosphere tracking towards what it is at Jackie Robinson Stadium. The park certainly shows its age, but what the national champion Bruins have done there, is make the most out of what they have, on a limited footprint. That's exactly what Cal is aiming to do. Adding beer sales puts the Bears in a class with Arizona and Arizona State, but the parks where the Wildcats play in a former Spring Training facility, and the Sun Devils play in Packard Stadium - a comparable facility - Evans Diamond is never going to be that. It's built on a very small plot of land, and has to make the most out of its square footage. The further improvements on tap include increasing the bank of the seating bowl to a level much like Jackie Robinson Stadium, which provides better sightlines and adds capacity.

As I said earlier, the program wants to turn the experience into one that mirrors minor league parks, and to that end, they're going to finally even out the seating so that there's the main bowl behind home (where I anticipate seatback seating to be added), a grass berm down the right field line and additional bleacher seating down the left field line. That gives you a picnic area, premium seating and general admission, which allows for tiered pricing and, yes, more money and flexibility for fans.

As for the experience itself, it's very Cal. Without the infrastructure of a PK Park (which doubles as a minor league facility) or a Dedeaux Field, the game day staffers work their tails off to make sure there's never a dull moment. There are t-shirt tosses, lots of activities for the youngsters and an on-campus atmosphere that few other programs in the Pac-12 can offer. For a family, going to a Cal game can now be a whole-day experience. You can get lunch on Telegraph, walk around the campus, pop up to the Campanile or lounge in the eucalyptus grove, and then meander your way down to the park where the kids will have the run of the place, from player autographs to running the bases after a game to big-uniform races between innings. On Sundays, there's face painting and other carnival-style diversions down the left field line.

Of the stadiums I've been to, the fans are never closer to the field and the players as they are at Evans Diamond. You can hear a fastball cutting through the air down in the bullpen, balance a brew while you reach for a foul ball in the beer garden and partake of the same kinds of foods you'll find at Haas Pavilion. The difference from when I first covered this team from 2005-08 and this past season is mind-boggling, and the increased attendance really elevates the atmosphere.

Part 2: 2013 MLB Draft

Part 3: Pitching

Freshman Ryan Mason emerged as the Cal ace. How good is he? How much better can he get?

Ryan Gorcey: Mason is a pro in the making. He's already got a plus fastball with varying velocities and a plus-plus sinker, and he throws a very heavy ball, even when it's not a straight-up sinker. He has enough pop to overpower hitters with his fastball, but he can also pitch to the defense. He's currently working on his four-seamer in the Golden State Collegiate Baseball League, and his off-speed stuff works very well off of what he's got already, so that's going to add yet another dimension to his game. I love his slider, and I think that with some work, it could be a wipe-out pitch. He also has a very advanced approach, and can adjust his plan mid-game if one of his pitches isn't working.

The real X-factor with Mason is his attitude. He's an animal and a fierce competitor on the mound. He wants to win, no matter what, and while he'll let fly with a fist pump every now and then, he knows when to clamp down and reel back his emotions. He's also crazier than a five-seam fastball, and that really works in his favor. He shows no fear, no matter what opponent he's facing, and if the Bears can mount a few more playoff runs, he'll be absolutely money in the clutch.

The big thing Mason has to work on is endurance. He petered out at the end of the 2013 season because he'd pitched more innings than he ever had in a single campaign, and you could see that the late life just wasn't there on his sinker and his slider was a bit flat. The good news there is that the template for conditioning is already there in the program, given what Matt Flemer did to stretch himself from a closer to a starter in 2012.

Other than Mason, pitching was quite inconsistent for the Bears this past season. What other pitchers have impressed you and are poised for a big role in 2014?

The biggest issue with the pitching was that there wasn't much of it, and what little there was, was very inexperienced. That was mainly due to the recruiting hole created by the cutting of the program. The two pitchers Cal brought in, in that 2011 class - Michael Jordan and Robb Woodcock - pitched a combined 2.0 innings in two years, and Woodcock left the team after the 2012 campaign. You can't run a program when you essentially whiff on pitching in any one class, regardless of the circumstances.

Because of that hole, a lot of young pitchers were forced into some roles because of injury or poor performance (Michael Theofanopoulos was uneven at best and then got hurt, and Kyle Porter and Justin Jones did not bounce back, which was something the staff had been counting on), but what a season like that does is that it tests your young talent and makes them grow up a lot quicker. The other side of that coin is that sometimes, a year like that can do a number on a pitcher's psyche, and we won't know what effect 2013 had until fall ball starts.

Mason, obviously stepped up to the plate, and until further notice, he'll likely be the ace next season. Chris Muse-Fisher had a huge sophomore slump after being named a Freshman All-American in 2012, and he - along with Keaton Siomkin - were pressed into innings that they probably didn't anticipate pitching.

On the flipside of those two was Trevor Hildenberger. The side-arming righty was a pleasant surprise at the back end of the bullpen, but then had to move into the rotation, and while his numbers weren't fantastic (5-4, 5.31 ERA), he really showed some good stuff. His change and slider are developing, and when he's kept to the short innings or in the back of the bullpen, he can be a very effective reliever, and the numbers bear that out. As a starter, Hildenberger had a 9.68 ERA, allowing 32 hits in 17.2 innings pitched. As a reliever, he had a 2.70 ERA in 50.0 innings of work.

Collin Monsour also had a breakout true freshman year, going 2-0 with a 2.87 ERA. Monsour has a nice, long frame and can definitely add a few MPH onto his fastball, which is already a very good pitch for him. He has to improve his curve, which flashed at times last year and has a lot of potential. If he continues to work on the change, he's going to be very, very good.

Jake Schulz showed a good spike curve at times last season, but his motion is troubling. He short-arms his pitches, choking off the extra velocity he gets from his solid lower half. He needs to toughen up mentally, as well, and maybe learn some of that doggedness that is Mason's trademark.

Porter, for his part, really seemed to come back into his own later in the year, in the same role he filled as a freshman, which is as an innings-eating reliever. That gave him a big boost of confidence, and it showed. His fastball got up to 87 at times, whereas in 2012, it was barely around 83. Those extra few ticks on the radar gun make his 67-69 mph curve that much more effective, and I can definitely see him in the mix as a weekend starter if he returns to his 2011 form. A lot of his fall-off was due to his awkward delivery, which, for lack of a better term, wrecked the musculature behind his left shoulder at the end of 2011 and in the run-up to 2012, which is why we saw such a decline. Now that he's fully healthy, he'll be a nice change-of-pace between right-handed power pitchers. The fact that Theofanopoulos is also back from a broken hand gives Cal five potential weekend starters, including Jefferies, Haseltine and Mason. Siomkin and Muse-Fisher can move to the middle of the game or mid-week starts, with incoming freshmen Alex Martinez and Alex Schick in the running for midweek starts, as well. That's a big step up from last year, in terms of depth. It's still young, mind you, but I don't see relievers being pressed into service as starters in 2014.

As far as the bullpen is concerned, I'm excited to see what the Bears can get out of Dylan Nelson. He flashed big-time in certain spots last year, tossing six scoreless innings in a 1-0 loss to Rice and serving as a hard-throwing closer with some filth factor towards the end of the year. Again, he was another victim of the lack of pitching depth, shuttled between starter, middle relief and closer, as the situation dictated, and that inconsistency and lack of routine hurt him.

Part 4: Devon Rodriguez, Mike Neu, and Recruiting

I read that Devon Rodriguez has been playing hurt all year long. What was his ailment and will it hinder him next year?

Ryan Gorcey: Devon's had a rough two years since his famous walk-off in 2011. In 2012, he banged his knee diving for a ball in a fall scrimmage, which tweaked his PCL. That was bad enough, but then he suffered through several alarming blood clots that were far worse than anyone let on. Because of that, he had to take bloodthinners throughout the year, and that cost him the season. As (bad) luck would have it, Rodriguez once again suffered an injury this past fall, once again diving for a ball up the line. He jammed his right shoulder, and while it didn't seem horrible at the time, in hindsight, it probably should have been operated on.

Rodriguez was put on limited workouts to keep the stress off of his shoulder, and that hurt his overall level of fitness. When the season dawned, though, Rodriguez's shoulder was fairly sound, or so we thought. The muscles had tightened around the joint, from what I understand, making it more stable than it really was. He started off the year hitting .351, but then, after he started playing in the field again, warming up and doing more than just hitting with that shoulder, the muscles loosened up, and no longer held everything where it needed to be. By the end of the year, he had to cheat on pitches a lot more because he didn't have as quick a bottom hand as he had when healthy, and that caused a lot more roll-overs, strikeouts and pop-outs. To his credit, he tinkered with his swing and got it to a point where it was somewhat workable, and he finished the year relatively strong, but without his full power.

He finally got the shoulder cut on in May, and has been rehabbing throughout the summer, finally working out in full. The Rodriguez we saw last year was one who was not allowed to run or do anything particularly physical during practices. He was essentially limited to ball-bucket duty and hitting in the cage, and even that was closely monitored. It drove him nuts. He said he hated being swaddled in bubble wrap, it seemed like, for half the season. Now, he'll finally be able to lift with his upper body, which, combined with his strong lower half, is going to make for some fireworks, if he can avoid another fielding misadventure in the fall.

With the Bears being on the chopping block, there was kind of a lost year recruiting-wise. Do you attribute the disappointing result of this past season to that?

Ryan Gorcey: Cal succeeded in 2011 because of pitching and defense, and we saw how key pitching is in the postseason with what UCLA did in Omaha this year. Cal is bringing in a class with a ton of arms in Haseltine, Jefferies, Martinez, Schick, Andrew Buckley of Concord (Calif.) De La Salle, and two-way stud Lucas Erceg, while bringing back Mason, Theofanopoulos and Porter - all now veteran starters. When Cal was faced with replacing Dixon Anderson, Erik Johnson, Kevin Miller and Louie Lechich after 2011, they were only able to bring in two pitchers at the last minute. As I said, Woodcock is gone and Jordan has thrown two innings. In 2011, five pitchers accounted for all but two starts. In 2013, seven pitchers saw four or more starts. With Jones melting down and Porter's physical issues, the cupboard was essentially bare, as far as top-line starters go, resulting in the patchwork rotation we saw last year.

Part 5: Esquer

Part 6: Bunting

Part 7: Cal Bears in MLB

Cal Baseball on KALX

Day Date Opponent Location Time
Saturday 2/15/14 Texas Berkeley, CA 1:00pm
Friday 3/7/14 Tulane Berkeley, CA 7:00pm
Saturday 3/8/14 San Francisco Berkeley, CA 6:00pm
Friday 3/14/14 UCLA Berkeley, CA 7:00pm
Saturday 3/15/14 UCLA Berkeley, CA 6:00pm
Sunday 3/16/14 UCLA Berkeley, CA 2:00pm
Friday 3/21/14 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CA 6:00pm
Saturday 3/22/14 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CA 6:00pm
Sunday 3/23/14 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CA 1:00pm
Friday 3/28/14 Utah Berkeley, CA 7:00pm
Saturday 3/29/14 Utah Berkeley, CA 7:00pm
Sunday 3/30/14 Utah Berkeley, CA 12:00pm
Tuesday 4/1/14 Stanford Berkeley, CA 7:00pm
Friday 4/4/14 Washington State Pullman, WA 6:00pm
Saturday 4/5/14 Washington State Pullman, WA 2:00pm
Sunday 4/6/14 Washington State Pullman, WA 12:00pm
Friday 4/11/14 Arizona State Tempe, AZ 6:30pm
Saturday 4/12/14 Arizona State Tempe, AZ 6:30pm
Sunday 4/13/14 Arizona State Tempe, AZ 12:30pm
Thursday 4/17/14 Univ. of Washington Berkeley, CA 7:00pm
Friday 4/18/14 Univ. of Washington Berkeley, CA 7:00pm
Saturday 4/19/14 Univ. of Washington Berkeley, CA 1:00pm
Saturday 4/26/14 Stanford Stanford, CA 2:00pm
Sunday 4/27/14 Stanford Stanford, CA 2:00pm
Monday 4/28/14 Stanford Stanford, CA 6:00pm
Friday 5/2/14 Oregon State Berkeley, CA 7:00pm
Saturday 5/3/14 Oregon State Berkeley, CA 6:00pm
Sunday 5/4/14 Oregon State Berkeley, CA 1:00pm
Friday 5/9/14 USC Los Angeles, CA 6:00pm
Saturday 5/10/14 USC Los Angeles, CA 2:00pm
Saturday 5/11/14 USC Los Angeles, CA 1:00pm
Friday 5/16/14 Univ. of Arizona Berkeley, CA 4:00pm
Saturday 5/17/14 Univ. of Arizona Berkeley, CA 4:00pm
Sunday 5/18/14 Univ. of Arizona Berkeley, CA 3:00pm
Thursday 5/22/14 Univ. of Oregon Eugene, OR 7:00pm
Friday 5/23/14 Univ. of Oregon Eugene, OR 7:00pm
Saturday 5/24/14 Univ. of Oregon Eugene, OR 7:00pm

Games in italics are tentative.

Cal Baseball on Pac-12 Networks

Date             Matchup                        Time (PT)

Mar. 4          Stanford                  at                 California                6:00 PM

Mar. 16         UCLA                     at                 California                2:00 PM

Mar. 29         Utah                      at                 California                7:00 PM

Mar. 30         Utah                      at                 California                12:00 PM

Apr. 1           Stanford                  at                 California                7:00 PM

Apr. 27         California                at                 Stanford                  2:00 PM

Apr. 28         California                at                 Stanford                  6:00 PM

May 16         Arizona                 at                 California                4:00 PM

May 17         Arizona                 at                 California                4:00 PM

May 18         Arizona                 at                 California                3:00 PM

May 22         California                at                 Oregon                  7:00 PM

May 23         California                at                 Oregon                  7:00 PM

May 24         California                at                 Oregon                  7:00 PM

New to the Pac-12 Baseball broadcasting team is former Golden Bears and long time MLB player, Geoff Blum.

Blum, the former California Golden Bear, joins Pac-12 Networks after a 14-year career in the MLB. During his stint with the Chicago White Sox in 2005, Blum hit the game-deciding homerun in the 14th-inning of Game 3 to help the Sox earn the World Series Championship. Prior to Pac-12 Networks, Blum has served as an analyst on Astros telecasts for CSN Houston since 2013.

Also joining the Pac-12 Baseball coverage team this year in addition to Blum are familiar names in Eric Byrnes (UCLA alum) and Aubrey Huff (hopefully NOT wearing the "rally thong"). They join returnees in JT Snow (Arizona) and Kevin Stocker (Washington).

Cal Baseball Alumni returned to Evans Diamond

Back in Late January, some of the notable Cal baseball alumni who are in pro ball came back to Evans to practice with the 2014 team. Dixon Anderson, Charlie Cutler, Austin Booker, John Baker, and Tony Renda talk about their Cal experiences and being back in Berkeley.


GO BEARS!

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