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2011 Big West Baseball Preview: The Titans Carry a Rebuilding League

Brandon CaudillContributor IFebruary 9, 2011

2011 Big West Baseball Preview: The Titans Carry a Rebuilding League

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    Cal State Fullerton's Noe Ramirez

    It was less than four years ago that the Big West delivered two teams, the Cal State Fullerton Titans and UC Irvine Anteaters, to do battle in Omaha.

    UCI had to top national powerhouses Texas and Wichita State in the playoffs while the Titans beat Fresno State, a year away from their improbable National Championship run, and the Pac 10’s UCLA Bruins.

    That same June the Big West was represented in the Regionals by UC Riverside and Long Beach State. Although both made quick exits, the Big West had matched its west coast counterpart, the Pac-10, with four conference representatives in postseason play. The storied Pac-10, however, would once again have the last laugh as the Oregon State Beavers went on to win the College World Series.

    Only 18 months ago the Big West held two of the eight national seeds, again Fullerton and UCI. However, the conference was one team fewer in regional representation and although Fullerton returned to Omaha, they were ousted in just two games. Any faint hope of becoming the preeminent conference in the west was thoroughly crushed by the Pac 10’s whopping eight Regional bids in 2010.

    The only two Big West reps, once again the Titans and Anteaters, where ultimately (and fittingly) both KO’d by UCLA.

    The recent defeats likely say more about the status of the Pac-10—arguably the best conference in the nation going into 2011—than the Big West, but 2010 was still in many ways a rebuilding year for the league. The fruits of that rebuilding effort may come sooner rather than later as many programs have stepped up their recruiting efforts and appear to be on the rebound.

    Cal State Northridge has brought in new Head Coach Matt Curtis, former assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for Fresno State, to lead a team in need of direction while Long Beach State boasts 17 freshman on its 2011 roster.

    Cal Poly had a strong finish to a disappointing season and UC Davis doubled its win total to 26 last season. UC Riverside and Irvine appear poised to make another run at a Regional appearance and while Fullerton will always remain Titans on the baseball field the Big West looks to be much less top heavy in 2011 than in recent years.

    Here’s a look at how the conference figures to shake out in first season of the new decade. 

Titans Reign Continues...

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    Nick Ramirez

    Cal State Fullerton Titans

    2010 Record and Finish: 46-18 (21-3 in Big West, First Place, Lost in Super Regionals) 

    Overview:

    While the Big West may have taken a step back in recent years, the Titans remain a national title contender and the backbone of the conference. Despite being hit hard by the draft, including the loss of first round picks shortstop Christian Colon and outfielder Gary Brown, Fullerton has rebounded with one of the strongest recruiting classes in the country.

    Expect them to be able to offset the affects of a slightly weakened offense with a pitching staff that can compete with any in college baseball.

    Pitching Staff:

    Junior right-hander, and Friday starter, Noe Ramirez (12-1, 2.54 ERA, 119 strikeouts 19 BB in 2010) is arguably the most talented player in the conference and one of the best in the nation. He’ll lead a strong collection of pitchers with an arsenal that includes a good low-90s fastball, solid slider and devastating changeup.

    The rest of the rotation spots will be up for grabs, but Head Coach Dave Serrano will have plenty of arms to choose from with perhaps the best of them being junior righty Tyler Pill (4-4, 3.36, 58/13) who, when healthy, has shown that he can be every bit as good as Ramirez, as the two shared the conference Freshman Pitcher of the Year award in 2009.

    Sophomore southpaw Dylan Floro (7-2, 3.26, 69/11), who took home the 2010 Freshman honors, returns with a filthy fastball/changeup combo of his own and should have an inside track at a weekend spot.

    Junior right-handers Colin O’Connell (1-1, 3.65, 35/9) and Jake Floethe (Did not play-Transfer) should also get their fair share of starts. Left-handed junior Nick Ramirez (1-3, 3.50, 38/8, 11 saves) will continue to close out games while freshman righties Christian Coronado and Chris Devenski will add even more depth to an already absurdly talented staff.

    Lineup:

    The Titans offense may be somewhat of a question mark on the national stage after losing the majority of their 2010 lineup, but it remains strong enough to compete with any in the Big West.

    All-American first baseman Nick Ramirez (.346 average, 16 home runs, 75 RBI in 2010) returns to anchor the lineup after leading the conference in doubles (28) a year ago. He’ll be complimented by fellow two-way star Tyler Pill (.354, 7, 42), who will likely share time between the outfield and designated hitter with slugging sophomore Carlos Lopez (.354, 7, 51).

    Sophomore Richy Pedroza (.331, 0, 22) slides over from third base to help fill the void at short while two recruiting prizes, freshman outfielder Michael Lorenzen and Junior College transfer infielder Joe Terry, will be playing everyday in their first season with the Titans.

    JuCo transfer Nick O’Loughlin will compete with senior Zach Tanida (.212, 0, 4) for playing time behind home plate, a position that could be a weak point for the Titans.

    2011 Prediction:

    First Place; host Regional. The Titans are simply too deep and too talented not to be the preseason favorite in the Big West. Only UC Irvine and Riverside seem to have any conceivable chance of knocking them off and even that is a considerable stretch.

Veteran Lineup Leads Irvine

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    Brian Hernandez

    UC Irvine Anteaters

    2010 Record and Finish: 39-21 (17-7 in Big West, Second Place, Lost in Regionals)

    Overview:

    The greatest strength of the 2010 Anteaters was a superb pitching staff that finished behind only Cal State Fullerton in team ERA in the Big West, posting a mark of 3.98.

    The loss of revered pitching coach Ted Silva, now an assistant coach for Loyola Marymount, along with drafted arms Daniel Bibona (2010 conference Pitcher of the Year), Christian Bergman and Eric Pettis (both All-Big West) could hurt UCI in 2011.

    However the ‘Eaters return a solid lineup and have replenished its staff with a strong 2010 freshman class.

    Pitching Staff:

    UCI will hope to offset its loses on the pitching side with the return of junior right-hander Crosby Slaught, who was forced to redshirt in 2010 due to injuries. Slaught was an All-Big West starter in 2009 after posting a perfect 8-0 record and will likely get the ball on Fridays in 2011.

    Sophomore and fellow righty Evan Brock (6-4, 3.14, 62/30) had the largest workload in 2010 of the returning Anteaters, logging 63 innings in 20 games, and should join the weekend rotation after making six starts a year ago.

    Talented righties Matt Summers (2-2, 8.51, 32/18) and Nick Hoover (2-0, 2.48, 34/14) return for their junior seasons to anchor the bullpen, though either is good enough to be placed in the rotation.

    Top recruits include right-handers Phillip Ferragamo and Andrew Thurman along with lefties Tyler Abbot and Jimmy Litchfield who will lead a strong group of southpaw Anteaters this season.

    Lineup:

    After finishing in the middle of the Big West in most offensive categories in 2010, the Anteaters return a veteran lineup that should be among the best in the West. The left side of the infield is as good as any in the conference with senior third baseman Brian Hernandez (.322, 4, 44) coming off an All-Big West season, and junior shortstop D.J. Crumlich (.284, 1, 16) fresh from a standout performance on both sides of the ball in the Alaska Summer League.

    Junior Tommy Reyes (.229, 0, 9) is likely to serve as Crumlich’s double-play partner at second base. Junior backstop Ronnie Shaeffer (.318, 3, 41) regressed a bit in 2010 but remains one of the biggest offense threats in the lineup. Senior outfielders Drew Hillman (.352, 4, 19) and Sean Madigan (.280, 1, 29), and junior first baseman Jordan Leyland (.301, 2, 13) provide even more punch to possibly the league’s deepest lineup.

    2011 Prediction:

    Second Place; regional qualifier. The ‘Eaters can match Fullerton on offense for the most part but the pitching, while strong, is nowhere near the Titian’s level. Still, Irvine’s staff is strong enough to top most of the Big West and should be enough to secure a Regional Bid.

Highlanders Ready For Regional Run

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    Justin Shults

    UC Riverside Highlanders

    2010 Record and Finish: 32-23 (13-11 in Big West, Third Place)

    Overview:

    In recent seasons the “Big Three” in the Big West typically was a reference to Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine and Long Beach State. However, a recent regression by Long Beach State has left the top of the conference open for a new contender and in 2011 the Highlanders appear poised to step into that role.

    Head Coach Doug Smith retains a squad that includes a good mix of veterans and freshman and is less than four years removed from guiding Riverside to an improbable conference title.

    Pitching Staff:

    The Highlanders saw underwhelming results from the pitching staff in 2010, posting a 5.85 ERA, third worst in the conference. However, the staff expects to be more refined in 2011 as the majority of last season’s group returns, including all three weekend starters: junior righty Matt Andriese (5-5, 4.95, 69/18), and senior right-handers Dustin Emmons (9-4, 3.99, 51/24) and Matt Larkins (6-5, 5.34, 33/27).

    Mid-week starter and sophomore right-hander Trevor Frank (3-3, 8.46, 31/18) also returns for Riverside. In addition the highly touted junior left-hander Tommy Mackoul is back with the hopes of finally fending off the injury bug.

    Right-hander Mitch Patito (3-0, 1.33, 27/13, 3 saves) is coming off an outstanding freshman year and should compete with senior righty Mike Wolford (3-1, 8.78, 26/8) for the closer role.

    Lineup:

    Supporting the now strong pitching staff for Riverside in 2011 is a lineup stocked with talented veterans coming off a year in which they finished third in the conference in batting (.311) and fourth in runs (388).

    The duo of senior sluggers 1B/OF/DH Justin Shults (.390, 11, 62) and outfielder Tony Nix (.361, 11, 43) alone gives the Highlanders one of the best offenses in the conference. Both players were All-Big West first teamers in 2010 and each have career averages over .300.

    After redshirting his senior season due to an injury the now graduated second baseman Ryan Goetz returns to the lineup after having an All-Big West 2009 season. Junior third baseman Eddie Young (.270, 0, 26) and senior shortstop Trevor Hairgrove (.265, 5, 24) return to their everyday roles in 2011, while senior catcher Dan Pellegrino (.283, 2, 8), a 2010 draft pick and reliable bench player over the last three seasons, will finally get a chance to start with the departure of draftee Rob Brantly.

    Infielder Jake Middleton and outfielders David Andriese and A.J. Beckley headline a solid freshman class for Riverside.

    2011 Prediction:

    Third Place; Regional qualifier. A slightly better pitching staff is likely all they needed to make the Regionals a year ago and now that they retain all the key parts of last year’s staff, and maintain a strong offensive force, they have the ability to get back into postseason play.

'Stangs Could Make Some Noise at the Top

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    Matt Jensen

    Cal Poly Mustangs

    2010 Record and Finish: 23-32 (10-14 in Big West, Tied-Fifth Place)

    Overview:

    Cal Poly had looked like a team on the brink of a breakout season for the last several years. From 2005 to 2007 the Mustangs finished fourth in the conference or better before dropping to seventh in a disappointing 2008.

    When they reached the Regionals in 2009, after a third place Big West finish, it appeared as if they had finally arrived. In 2010, however, Poly started slow dropping into the Big West basement by mid-season.

    A 13-5 month in May salvaged a fifth place tie, but it was still a losing year for the Mustangs. Poly retains most of its starting lineup and pitching staff as it hopes to jump back into Regional contention in 2011.

    Pitching Staff:

    Decimated by injuries in recent seasons, the Mustangs had the league’s worst pitching a year ago. However a maturing—and hopefully healthier—staff in 2011 gives Poly reason to be optimistic.

    Junior Mason Radeke (3-1, 2.96, 23/7) will get the ball on Fridays after a strong showing in conference play a year ago. Competing for the remaining rotation spots will be junior left-hander Kyle Anderson (3-4, 9.10, 33/20), sophomore right-hander Joey Wagman (1-2, 7.09, 25/24) and senior righty Eugene Wright (2-5, 7.35, 40/32).

    The wild card for Poly in 2011 could be senior righty Steven Fischback, who returns after having not pitched since 2008 due to injuries. That year he went 5-4 with a 4.55 ERA as the team’s Sunday starter.

    Junior right-hander Jeff Johnson (3-3, 6.90, 53/17, 4 saves) mans the closer role after leading the team in saves a year ago. Senior Frankie Reed (1-4, 7.81, 22/20, 2 saves) will be the most valuable lefty in the pen and could also be asked to close some games.

    Lineup:

    The Mustangs boast a well-balanced offense that finished second in the conference in runs a year ago. It’ll be led by two talented outfielders, junior Bobby Crocker (.351, 3, 49) and last season’s Big West Freshman of the Year, Mitch Haniger (.326, 7, 46).

    Junior Matt Jensen (.270, 2, 32) anchors a veteran infield as one of the better second basemen in the nation, while his double-play partner at short, J.J. Thompson (.277, 4, 22), returns for his senior season and third baseman Evan Busby (.286, 2, 27) is back as a sophomore.

    Junior catcher Jordan Hadlock (.306, 2, 16) will likely assume an everyday role after a good 2010 season off the bench. Among the freshman class, first baseman Tim Wise and outfielders David Armendariz and Jimmy Allen will likely all see significant playing time this year.

    2011 Prediction:

    Fourth Place, miss playoffs. The new, more pitcher-friendly BBCOR bats figure to give an advantage to the Poly’s closest competitor, UC Santa Barbara, who has a more refined staff. But the Mustangs still hold a distinct advantage on offense and top to bottom appear to have more raw talent.

    In a close race, Poly will finish in the better half of Big West teams, though it likely won’t be enough for a regional bid.

Pitching Remains Strength For Santa Barbara

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    Jesse Meaux

    UC Santa Barbara Gauchos

    2010 Record and Finish: 24-30 (10-14 in Big West, Tied-Fifth Place)

    Overview:

    It’s been the same old song for UC Santa Barbara the last several years: good—sometimes great—pitching but little hitting.

    Last season was no different as UCSB posted a respectable team ERA of 5.30, fourth in the Big West, while finishing dead last in the conference in runs and batting average and struck out more than any team other than Cal Poly.

    The 2011 squad appears to have the potential to improve upon its 30-loss season from a year ago as it retains another solid pitching staff to go with a veteran lineup, but whether the Gauchos will be able to buck the all-pitch, no-hit trend of its past remains to be seen.

    Pitching Staff:

    The Gauchos lost their top arm, Mario Hollands, to the 2010 draft but still figure to once again offer a strong staff. Spearheading the rotation will be senior right-hander Jesse Meaux (8-3, 4.41, 39/18) who had the rare honor of leading the team in wins and saves (3-tied with graduate David Meals) a year ago.

    Senior left-hander Nick Capito (4-6, 7.09, 42/19) was inconsistent in 2010 but will likely return to the weekend rotation after making 13 starts last year.

    Left-handed senior, and two-time draft pick, Kevin Gelinas could give a big boost to the rotation after an injured elbow limited him to five innings of work a year ago, but he’ll have to out-pitch senior righty Greg Davis (2-2, 4.91, 47/14) who’s coming off a strong season as a mid-week starter.

    Senior right-hander Nick Loredo (0-5, 7.28, 24/16) could potentially find a spot in the rotation or, if not, serve as closer.

    Lineup:

    UCSB returns most of its lineup, however they lose arguably their two best players of 2010: catcher Marty Mullins and shortstop Matt Valaika.

    Junior Bryce Talefski (.241, 0, 4) will likely replace Mullins, although top recruit Joe Winterburn could compete for the job as well. Sophomore Steve Moon (.138, 0, 4) figures to be next in line for the shortstop position, however the light-hitting Gauchos may try to find a way to fit senior and natural third baseman Beck Wheeler’s (.297, 2, 22) bat into the lineup.

    Among the returning starters, seniors Trevor Whyte (.304, 5, 34) and Mark Haddow (.273, 6, 26) figure to offer most of the offense while manning first base and right field, respectively, and outfielder Ben Edelstein (.344, 2, 10) may be poised for a breakout senior season, after impressing in 23 games last year.

    2011 Prediction:

    Fifth Place, miss playoffs. The Gauchos pitching will carry them again in 2011, as their staff could conceivably end up as the second best in the conference. Their offense should improve somewhat, but not enough to make any serious run at a postseason bid.

Youth Movement in Long Beach

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    Andrew Gagnon

    Long Beach State Dirtbags

    2010 Record and Finish: 23-32 (7-17 in Big West, Ninth Place)

    Overview:

    The Dirtbags hit rock bottom last season. After seven consecutive seasons in which they’d finished no lower than second in the Big West, Long Beach State fell to sixth in 2009, and spent the 2010 season as the doormat of the conference, finishing ninth.

    Hoping to return to their status as perpetual Regional contender, the Dirtbags promoted long time pitching coach Troy Buckley to Head Coach after the 2010 season. In 2011 Buckley will guide a very young team with loads of potential, but is still likely a couple years from reaching their former level of competition.

    Pitching Staff:

    As long as Buckley is at the helm, Long Beach State figures to fill out a strong pitching staff. During his tenure as pitching coach, the Dirtbags won Big West Pitcher of the Year honors five times, including Jared Weaver’s 2004 Golden Spikes Award winning season.

    While Fullerton’s Noe Ramirez is the easy preseason pick for Pitcher of the Year, Long Beach State’s Friday starter, junior right-hander Andrew Gagnon (5-7, 3.28, 65/27), enters 2011 as one of the top pitchers in the conference, and an early round prospect for the draft this June.

    Junior righty Branden Pinder (4-7, 4.85, 45/22) helps create a strong 1-2 punch that will lead the remaining pitching staff, which is made up almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores.

    Top first year Dirtbags include right-handers Austin Boyle, Royce Murai, Jon Maciel and left-handers Jake Stassi and Ryan Strufing.

    Lineup:

    Like its pitching staff, Long Beach State’s lineup will consist of a few talented veterans leading an otherwise inexperienced group.

    Unlike its pitching staff however, the Dirtbags offense has been underwhelming in recent seasons, scoring just 317 runs with 26 home runs last year. Both marks were second worst in the Big West.

    Outfielder Brennan Metzger (.308, 2, 22) and shortstop Kirk Singer (.315, 5, 21), both juniors, will lead the attack. Senior catcher Kellen Hoime (.232, 1, 14), though a lackluster performer with the bat, has been the everyday catcher since 2009 and will be called upon to help guide the young pitching staff.

    A solid group of JuCo transfers, led by All-American junior outfielder Jonathan Kim, should fill out most of the rest of the lineup. 

    2011 Prediction:

    Sixth Place; miss playoffs. The Dirtbags could be a real measuring stick for the Big West as a whole in 2011. If everything falls into place they could finish as high as fourth in the conference, though they could also very well end up in the basement again.

    Most likely, they’ll finish somewhere in the middle, then make a serious run at the Regionals in 2012.

Pitching Could Make Or Break Aggies

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    Scott Lyman (Wayne Tilcock)

    UC Davis Aggies

    2010 Record and Finish: 26-29 (9-15 in Big West, Tied-Seventh Place)

    Overview:

    Head Coach Rex Peters’ team took a large step forward in 2010. The same program that went from 2008 Regionals qualifier to setting a school record for losses in 2009, came back last season and doubled their win total to post a respectable 26-29 finish.

    The progress came mainly from the offense, which improved from a laughably poor .268 average in 2009 to a .304 mark last year. Done-in by a lack of experience over the last two years the Aggies posted team ERA’s over six and half each season.

    UC Davis enters this season with a veteran team that looks poised for another step forward, but will only go as far as their pitching can take them.

    Pitching Staff:

    It’s difficult to predict what Davis will get out of its pitching staff after seeing only a marginal improvement last year when they finished next to last in the Big West with a 6.68 ERA.

    Nevertheless, the pitching staff figures to improve at least somewhat as the Aggies retain their entire weekend rotation: juniors left-hander Dayne Quist (7-4, 5.57, 79/40), right-hander Scott Lyman (5-6, 6.50, 61/46) and left-hander Anthony Kupbens (3-3, 6.98, 21/18), who returns after being injured for the second half of the 2010 season.

    Junior lefty Nathan Slater (2-4, 6.11, 45/21) will be the top mid-week starter, while fellow south paws senior Scott Chew (0-1, 7.46, 16/8) and sophomore C.J. Blom (1-3, 7.67, 28/25), as well as junior right-hander David Popkins (3-2, 6.67, 18/17) will fill out the bullpen; though all three have made starts for the Aggies in the past.

    Lineup:

    First Team All-Big West outfielder David Popkins (.388, 5, 43) leads a lineup that’s almost unchanged from last year.

    Fellow two-way player Scott Lyman (.356, 5, 40) will join him in the outfield for most games along with sophomore Seth Batty (.292, 0, 23). With senior second baseman Scott Heylman (.296, 1, 25) and junior shortstop Ryan Allgrove (JuCo transfer) playing up the middle along with junior first baseman Eric Johnson (.343, 1, 39) the Aggies will boast a veteran infield.

    Sophomore Paul Politi (.292, 3, 35) once again mans the hot corner after a strong rookie season and junior Scott Kalush (.270, 0, 23) will be behind home plate for the third straight season as he continues to mature with his pitching staff.

    2011 Prediction:

    Seventh Place; miss playoffs. The Aggies by no means look intimidating in 2011, but in returning the core of veterans that pushed them out of last place a year ago, they figure to have the talent to at least make some noise in the conference.

    If their pitching can finally take a step forward they’ll have an outside, but distinct, chance at a fourth place finish, and at the very least will have a shot at a winning overall record.

Pacific's Offense Will Be Tested

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    John Haberman

    Pacific Tigers

    2010 Record and Finish: 31-23 (12-12 in Big West, 4th Place)

    Overview:

    Typical “also-ran” Pacific put together a surprisingly strong 2010 season, which included being has much as 13 games over .500 (29-16) by May 9. At the time they were serious contenders with UC Irvine for second place in the conference. However the bottom dropped out in the closing weeks and the Tigers would win just two of their final nine games, including dropping five of six Big West contests. Pacific had to settle for a bittersweet forth place finish. The 2011 outlook is unclear for Head Coach Ed Sprague’s club, as they return a good portion of the 2010 squad, but losses include many of their most productive hitters. With a .325 team average, it was the offense that carried Pacific last year.

    Pitching Staff:

    Many key pieces return to a Tigers staff that last season was decent (5.39 ERA, fifth in the Big West) but far from overpowering (league worst 303 strikeouts). In the rotation, two of their three weekend starters, senior right-handers Marcus Pointer (7-5, 4.58, 65/45) and Jake Hummel (7-4, 4.65, 57/25), are back. While in the bullpen, Pacific is without draftee and All-Big West closer Hunter Carnevale, but retains senior righty Robbie Richardson (1-2, 3.26, 17/11, 3 saves), who will take on closing duties for the 2011 season. Three more pitchers who have started games in the past, including two-way players junior righty John Prato Matthews (0-2, 15.83, 7/11, 1 save) and sophomore lefty John Haberman (1-1, 7.97, 17/12), are also back for the Tigers.

    Lineup:

    Pacific moves into 2011 without four of its five All-Big West position players from the 2010 squad, including their team leaders in batting (J.B. Brown- .376), home runs and RBI (Mike Walker- 12 and 52). Returning, however, is All-Big West senior first baseman Brian Martin (.364, 0, 38), who will anchor the lineup with junior center fielder Brett Christopher (.312, 5, 39), and DH John Haberman (.321, 0, 30), who is coming off a fantastic freshman season. Senior Matthew Carvutto (.303, 0, 17) and juniors Allen Riley (.237, 0, 6) and Josh Simms (.333, 0, 0) will compete for the final two outfield spots. Sophomore infielders Dustin Torchio (.222, 0, 4) and Tyger Pederson (Redshirt) should move into everyday roles while the catcher position may be shared between juniors Aaron Hassel and Jacob Sylvester, despite only eight at-bats between the two last year.

    2011 Prediction:

    8th Place; miss playoffs. The Tigers return enough pieces from last year’s team to make another run at the top of the conference, but a new lineup with new bats may seriously hurt a team who’s greatest strength was its batting average.

A New Beginning For Northridge

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    Ridge Carpenter

    2010 Record and Finish: 29-27 (9-15 in Big West, Tied-Seventh Place)

    Overview:

    Like their fellow CSU brethren in Long Beach, the Matadors enter 2011 with a new head coach, though this one comes from outside the program.

    Matt Curtis joins Cal State Northridge after a successful career as pitching coach at Fresno State, which included a national championship in 2008. Perhaps just as important as his pitching expertise will be Curtis’ recruiting ability, as he leaves Fresno having also served as the program’s recruiting coordinator.

    His efforts were already felt this past fall as the Matadors inked top pitching prospect Danny Keller, who will join the team for the 2012 season.

    Pitching Staff:

    Curtis will hope to find some stability in the CSUN rotation after the team had five different pitchers make five starts or more last year.

    The biggest workhorse from last season, senior right-hander Ryan Juarez (3-7, 5.52, 57/28), returns to the Friday position where he’ll be followed by senior righty Paul Tremlin (7-6, 6.17, 52/27) and most likely junior right-hander Justen Gorski (5-3, 5.37, 31/17).

    Right-hander Alex Muren (2-1, 5.76, 16/21) could fight his way into the rotation after making eight starts as a freshman last season, as could right-handed senior Shawn Wilyman (1-4, 6.58, 31/24), who made seven starts.

    Sophomore southpaws Jacob Peterson (1-0, 7.11, 13/4) and Trevor Fredrickson (0-0, 4.73, 6/5) should play a large role in a bullpen that has no clear option for the closer position.

    Lineup:

    Northridge returns an athletic but unpolished team that last season finished second in the Big West in stolen bases (88) but last, by a wide margin, in errors committed (90).

    Seniors shortstop T.S. Reed (.323, 0, 25, 11 stolen bases) and outfielder Ridge Carpenter (.298, 2, 31, 20 SB), along with junior outfielder Drew Muren (.290, 3, 21, 13 SB), are back and will once again give the Matadors a team to be feared on the base paths.

    They’ll need the speed after losing their top two power threats, Ryan Pineda and Dominic D’Anna, to the draft last season. Senior third baseman Justin DeMarco (.301, 5, 27) will provide most of the power this season though outfielder Nate Ring (.306, 2, 16) could also provide a power stroke after an impressive freshman season last year.

    Sophomores catcher Marty Bowen (.271, 1, 11) and first baseman Chris Allen (.212, 0, 3) should also join the lineup on a full-time basis after serving as bench players a year ago.

    2011 Big West Prediction:

    Ninth Place; miss playoffs. Though the Matadors will field a dynamic team that may be fun to watch in 2011, there’s nothing to indicate they could make an real run at a finish in the better half of the Big West.

    With a little help they certainly could finish higher, but for now they’re likely to be bringing up the rear in 2011.

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