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Cal Baseball 2017 Season Preview - Another rebuilding year

It’s rebuilding time again for an extremely young/inexperienced Cal Baseball squad that counts 18 newcomers (13 freshmen).

Cal Baseball is back! First game of the new season is this Friday night vs. Cal Poly at 7:05 pm PT, if the weather permits.
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Cal Baseball 2017 Season Preview - Rebuilding year is here again

2016 Record: 32-21, 14-16 in Pac-12 - no postseason

Key Departures: Daulton Jefferies (RHP) - drafted, Brett Cumberland (C) - drafted, Ryan Mason (RHP) - graduated/drafted, Mitchell Kranson (1B/3B/C) - graduated/drafted, Robbie Tenerowicz (2B) - drafted, Aaron Knapp (CF) - drafted, Alex Schick (RHP) - drafted, Brian Celsi (RF) - graduated, Branden Farney (1B) - graduated, Devin Pearson (LF/DH) - graduated, Nick Halamandaris (1B/RF) - graduated, Keaton Siomkin (RHP) - graduated

That’s 8 of 9 starters in the lineup and the 2 top aces on the mound.

Key Additions: Jared Horn (RHP) - 1st round MLB Draft type of talent is the new Saturday starter, Andrew Vaughn (1B), and 11 other freshmen on the roster (18 new players total)

Schedule Highlights:

1st (home) game - vs. Cal Poly on Friday, February 17th at 7:05 PM

Out of Conference Foes - vs. Cal Poly, at Texas Tech, vs. Gonzaga, at Pepperdine, vs. TCU

Pac-12 play starts - vs. Oregon on Friday, March 17th at 7:05 PM

Cal vs. Stanford - Pac-12 series (in Berkeley, May 13th-15th); non-conference games at Stanford on April 4th (Tuesday) and 18th (Tuesday)

This is also the final season for Stanford head coach (and Cal head coach Dave Esquer’s former mentor) Mark Marquess, who will be retiring at the end.

As players report to Spring Training in Major League Baseball this week, Division 1 College Baseball is also back with games that count starting this weekend. After an entertaining season that saw the Bears just missing out on a playoff berth (if only Daulton Jefferies didn’t get hurt and/or Lucas Erceg, now a top 200 prospect in MLB, didn’t have academic issues that forced him out of the program), 7 Golden Bears were drafted in the 2016 MLB Draft including the Bears’ ace pitcher, Daulton Jefferies (would have been a senior had he returned), and hitter, Brett Cumberland (would have been a junior had he returned) - the 2016 Pac-12 Player of the Year. Bears lost basically the entire lineup in addition to two weekend starting pitchers and a relief ace.

Heading into the 2017 season, the Bears need to replace Friday starter (Jefferies), Saturday starter (Mason), key reliever (Siomkin) and 8/9 of the starting lineup: leadoff hitter/CF (Knapp), No.2 hitter/DH (Pearson), No.3 hitter/3B (Kranson), cleanup hitter/C (Cumberland), No.5 hitter/1B (Halamandaris), SS (Tenerowicz), RF (Celsi), LF (Frarney).

In fact, it is much much easier to say who (out of the regulars) is back - junior 2B/SS Preston Grand Pre (started 51 games) is the lone starter back (and he has been the 9th place hitter) along with pitchers: Erik Martinez (closer), Tanner Dodson (weekend starter), Matt Ladrech (weekend starter), and Joey Matulovich (midweek starter/reliever). Former bench players who are ready to step into the starting roles include Ripken Reyes (2B), 3B/OF Denis Karas (started 15 games), Tyrus Greene (C), and Jonah Davis (OF).

From Tuesday’s Bay Area press conference, head coach Esquer announced his starting lineup. Before we get to the lineup, Esquer also mentioned that the fact that the Bears mostly only play on the West Coast (save for an early season trip to Texas Tech) is due to the young team rather than budgetary concern (although Cal Baseball is again on the chopping block consideration in the near future since the baseball endowment still only partially cover the cost of operations). Bears will open 2018 at Coast Carolina (clearly something that has been scheduled before January 1st of this year per new state rule).

Andrew Vaughn (1B) - Freshman

The freshman will start at 1st base. He is a right handed hitter that reminds Esquer of a Tony Renda or Mark Canha type of hitter. I take that to mean good contact rate with doubles power from a short but powerful stroke.

Ripken Reyes (2B)

The sophomore middle infielder who is named after a famous former Big League middle infielder (and I don’t mean Billy) saw brief action in his freshman campaign. Reyes started 2 games while played in 16. He had a slash line (batting average/on based percentage/slugging percentage) of 0.250/0.455/0.313 in extremely limited action (16 ABs). Showing the ability to take some walks (in small sample size), maybe Reyes will be a table setter for the Bears.

Preston Grand Pre (SS) - Junior

The junior middle infield has been a two year starter. Esquer swapped him with Robbie Tenerowicz position-wise last year so he ended up playing more 2B. The veteran will open the new season back in the key defensive spot.

Hitting-wise, Grand Pre slashed 0.290/0.349/0.364 - with only 11 of 51 hits being for extra bases. After hitting in the 9th spot for two straight season, Grand Pre will probably get bumped to the top of the order.

Dennis Karas (3B) - Junior

In his sophomore year, Karas earned the starting 3rd baseman job by the end of the season. Karas hit a healthy 0.319/0.402/0.597 in 72 ABs (regular players get around 200 ABs per season). His 5 homeruns in limited appearance was tied for 3rd best on the team last year. He is easily the most hyped position players for the Bears going into 2017. Karas has also played some OF for the Bears in his Cal career.

Jonah Davis (CF) - Sophomore

Jonah Davis started 3 games for the Bears in his freshman year. In 15 ABs, he hit 0.267/0.421/0.267. Despite the very limited experience, there is some hype for Jonah Davis going into 2017.

Jeffrey Mitchell (RF) - Sophomore

Mitchell played in 25 games (3 starts) mostly as a defensive replacement late in the game in his freshman year. He didn’t hit much in limited opportunities (slash line of 0.154/0.333/0.154).

Somebody will play (LF)

It will be an open audition for the starting leftfielder job to start the season.

Tyrus Greene (C) - Sophomore

Playing behind Brett Cumberland in his Pac-12 Player of the Year season meant that Tyrus Greene only got to come in as a defensive replacement. Nevertheless, the now sophomore can claim a very nice looking 0.600/0.750/0.800 slash line in his 1st year as a Golden Bears. The nice round number meant that he only had 5 ABs.

On the mound, Bears will have:

Jared Horn (RHP) - Freshman

Given the MLB Draft rule, Horn will be a Golden Bears for at least two or three years (I can’t find the info on when his actual birthday is, which determines if he can be a draft eligible sophomore). Horn was considered a late 1st round talent in the draft last summer.

Check out his scouting report from John Sickels:

We start with the physicality: 6-3, 190 pounds with the athleticism of a quality quarterback who can run and throw. Reports put his fastball at 93-96 MPH (with reported peaks at 97) and he holds the velocity without much trouble. His mechanics aren't textbook and he sometimes has issues repeating them, but the fastball is so electric and the arm so quick it has yet to hurt him at the high school level. His slider, curveball, and change-up are not as good as the fastball but at his stage of development they aren't expected to be. All three show the potential to be impressive major league pitches, particularly the curveball.

Bears are fortunate that Jared stayed firm to his commitment to Cal.

Esquer has said that Horn will open the year as the Saturday starter.

Tanner Dodson (RHP) - Sophomore

The most experienced returning starter, Dodson had a pretty good freshman year campaign - gaining a lot of experience particularly after the injury to Daulton Jefferies. Dodson filled in as the closer for the Bears (picked up 3 saves) for a part of the season before moving to the rotation.

Dodson was 3rd on the team with 4 wins (4-5 record) but 2nd on the team in innings pitched with 61.2. He started 9 games and posted an ERA of 3.36 with 29 K (yeah, that’s a low K rate but I think he intentionally pitch to contact). Unfortunately, Dodson also walked 31 batters with a team high 10 wild pitches. In short his 3.36 ERA is fairly deceptive (and I’m too lazy to calculate his FIP).

It is very plausible for Dodson to take a huge leap forward in 2017. Esquer will open the year with him as the Friday starter.

Matt Ladrech (LHP) - Junior

The junior lefty also started 9 games last year. He went 3-4 while posting a 4.30 ERA as primarily the Sunday starter. Ladrech had a mediocre 20 to 22 K to BB ratio. Number-wise, he was a lefty Dodson without the luck.

Now an upperclassman, Ladrech will be counted on to shoulder more responsibility in 2017.

Erik Martinez (RHP) - Junior

Erik Martinez led the Bears in saves with 8 in 2016. While he had some struggles midseason, particularly in a couple of key conference games against UCLA and Stanford, Martinez had overall a fairly solid season.

Martinez posted an ERA of 3.13 while striking out 45 batters (3rd on the team) in just 37.1 innings pitched. As the key reliever, Esquer actually used Erik Martinez for many high leverage situations that occur before the 9th inning. Martinez, a former starter before last year, also had quite a few multiple inning outings.

E-Mar will open the 2017 season as the Bears’ closer.

Expect plenty of growing pain (and way too many bunts because of Esquer), but when you factor in how there is virtually zero expectation - maybe Cal Baseball is ready for a surprisingly fun year (Hooray for low/no expectations!). If you haven’t been to Evans Diamonds since all the fancy upgrades, the Cal Baseball experience has significantly changed in the past few years with night games (new lights), new video scoreboard, beer garden, etc. It is a fun time out, akin to a visit to a minor league baseball game but more intimate.

If you care more about the championships - well, here is the video of Cal Baseball’s first national championship in 1947 over Yale (and former president George H. W. Bush).

This season, CGB will supposedly get an extra contributor to our Cal Baseball coverage who will try to provide more players/coaches interviews. I am looking forward to getting to know these new Cal Bears better.

The Cal Baseball season commences on Friday night (weather permitting) against a very solid visiting Cal Poly squad.


Friday, Feb. 17 - 7:05 PM PT

Cal: RHP Tanner Dodson (4-5, 3.36 ERA in 2016) vs. Cal Poly: RHP Erich Uelmen (5-3, 3.68)

Saturday, Feb. 18 - 6:05 PM PT

Cal: RHP Jared Horn (n/a) vs. Cal Poly: LHP Kyle Smith (6-6, 3.64)

Sunday, Feb. 19 - 1:05 PM PT

Cal: LHP Matt Ladrech (3-4, 4.30) vs. Cal Poly: RHP Jarred Zill (4-3, 2.79)