First of all, a quick congrats to Erik Johnson and Marcus Semien, two key part of the magical 2011 College World Series Team, for making it to the MLB. They were both called up by the Chicago White Sox when the roster expanded and made their MLB debut on Wednesday (against the Yankees in Yankees Stadium). I actually went to their next game (White Sox at O's) but they did not play (I did get a GO BEARS from Marcus Semien before the game when he practiced fielding (at both SS and 3B), running the bases, and hitting linedrives around the field.
Back to our regularly schedule program.
There is no doubt that Esquer loves to give up outs and bunt. Do you know if he follows Sabremetrics at all? Any thoughts on the issue raised in this Fangraph article about Esquer (http://www.fangraphs.com/
Esquer and I have had arguments about this every year since I first covered the program. He's not a Sabremetrics guy, and to be fair, neither am I, really, but bunting is still the biggest bone of contention between us, and I've known him for nearly 14 years. It used to be his use of the bullpen, but bunting has surged into the lead. He's tried to play a hybrid style of ball for several years, which is somewhere between traditional, National League-style ball and the kind of speed-ball that you see with programs like Oregon and Texas. It drives me nuts. If you have the speed to force the issue, then bunt, but at least try for a base hit. The Bears have done that a lot more in recent years, and it's worked out well when Esquer has players who can handle the bat and get a bunt down (Devin Pearson comes to mind).
I'm perhaps more of a traditionalist in that I want my speed and on-base guy up top, a hitter with moderate gap power who can get on base second, your big guns three through five, light power but decent bat handler and a maybe-low-average but high-power guy at six-seven, and then you turn your lineup over with leadoff-type hitters at eight and nine. In my eyes, Renda is a prototypical two-hitter, and that's where he wound up at the end of 2011.
If you look at the later part of 2011, Cal led off with Austin Booker, Renda batted second, Krist (who set a program record for doubles in 2012) third, Semien fourth, Rodriguez fifth, Delfino sixth, Chad Bunting seventh, and then you get speedy Darrel Matthews and Derek Campbell to turn the lineup over. That's what you'd call a traditional, big-league-style lineup, and boy, did it work.
The problem is that when Cal doesn't have guys who neatly fit those roles, instead of trying to hew players into those spots, Esquer tinkers, which, as a baseball guy (and still very much the creature of habit that 11 years of catching tends to create) I can't stand. There's certainly room for fiddling about if certain guys aren't hitting, and I was a fan of how Esquer put Pearson into the middle of the order to protect Rodriguez, but when you come out with a lineup with Renda batting leadoff, a catcher batting second and the real speed guys down at the bottom, you're missing out on being able to truly stress a defense with speed early on, making pitchers throw more high-stress pitches in the first few innings.
Now, how does that affect the 2014 season? First off, you have two known quantities as far as speed is concerned: Pearson and slap-hitter Brian Celsi. Celsi's plate discipline and approach (I'd love to see him actually try to drive the ball the other way) need work, but his speed really works at the bottom of a lineup. If he had a better approach, he's my leadoff guy, without a doubt. But, as it stands, he battles at the plate, will foul off a ton of pitches and make a pitcher work when he thinks he has a bit of a break at the bottom, and when he gets on, he can stress the defense with his base running. Pearson definitely has some pop in his bat, and while he may not be the slugger that Marcus Semien was - at the moment - I think he can turn into a power threat, and as it stands, he's a true five-tool guy. He's also a former wide receiver. He didn't steal much over the course of the year, but he did turn it on at the end, stealing as many as three bases in one game. He can start the game off with a bang or a drag bunt, and that's going to keep opposing defenses and pitchers on their toes.
Returning from a hip surgery is Vince Bruno. He has that kind of gap power and sneaky speed, and he's proven as a top-of-the-order on-base guy, leading the 2011 team in that category (.392). He's your clear No. 2 hitter, and Esquer has used him there in the past.
Rodriguez is third, and I think that just about goes without saying. Theofanopoulos has enough pop to be a cleanup guy, but until he and Nick Halamandaris show a bit more plate discipline, I'd roll the dice with Mitchell Kranson. Kranson started slow as a true freshman, but finished the season hitting .383 (18-for-47) with nine RBIs, eight runs, four doubles and one home run over his final 12 games. Behind him, you can choose from Theofanopoulos, Jacob Wark (who absolutely must cut down on his Pac-12-leading 46 strikeouts if he wants to see any regular playing time), Halamandaris, Chris Paul, Max Dutto, Campbell, Mike Reuvekamp, Brenden Farney (decent tools for a No. 2 hitter, but a maddeningly inconsistent approach) and newcomers Robbie Tenerowicz and Lucas Erceg (who are also great candidates to be the two-hitter) to fill out the rest of the lineup, until you hit Celsi or even Grant Diede at nine. What I'm saying is, Cal has a lot of options, and guys who got a ton of playing time last year (Paul, Reuvekamp, Halamandaris) will have to fight to stay in the lineup, especially if some of the young bats come around like Kranson's did.
Coming up next week, we take a look at Cal Baseball alumni in the MLB.
Part 1: Evans Diamond improvements
Part 4: Devon Rodriguez, Mike Neu, and Recruiting