Posted: Jan 30, 2019
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Despite back-to-back second-place finishes and a group of pitchers who started 40 of Cal Poly's 57 games a year ago, the Mustangs baseball team has been picked by the Big West Conference's nine head coaches to finish fourth during the 2019 campaign.
Cal State Fullerton was tabbed by the coaches to repeat as Big West champion, earning three first-place votes and 70 points. UC Irvine is second in the preseason poll with four first-place votes and 67 points while Long Beach State is five points back in third after collecting one first-place vote and 62 points.
This year's 35-man Cal Poly roster includes 18 returning lettermen — five position players who started 25 or more games and four pitchers with 10 or more career starts — along with four players who redshirted a year ago and a dozen newcomers.
Topping the list of returnees are junior outfielder Bradlee Beesley, sophomore first baseman Tate Samuelson, three other position players with 25 or more starts in 2018 and pitchers Darren Nelson, Michael Clark, Taylor Dollard, Jarred Zill and Thomas Triantos, among others.
Beesley hit .277 with 33 RBIs en route to second-team All-Big West honors and is coming off a solid season with Yarmouth-Dennis in the Cape Cod League, hitting .368 with four doubles, a pair of triples, one home run and eight RBI over 22 games.
Samuelson hit .280 as a true freshman and led the squad with five home runs and 38 RBI on his way to All-Big West honorable mention praise. Third baseman Nick DiCarlo (31 starts) and shortstop Dylan Doherty (34 starts) both hit .226 a year ago and utility player Scott Ogrin hit .266 with four homers and 26 RBI in 42 starts.
Nelson (5-4, 4.79 ERA), Clark (4-6, 5.90 ERA), Triantos (1-3, 5.13 ERA) and Zill (0-1, 3.00 ERA) combined for 37 starts in 2018 while Dollars made strong contributions as a true freshman reliever, going 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA and three saves over 40 2/3 innings.
Led by five-time Big West Coach of the Year Rick Vanderhook, the Titans enter the 2019 season ranked in a variety of national polls, with their highest ranking of 18th being handed out by Collegiate Baseball. Cal State Fullerton is the fourth-highest ranked team on the West Coast, only behind UCLA, Stanford and Oregon State.
In 2018, Cal State Fullerton claimed its 22nd Big West regular season championship with an 18-6 mark. In earning the Big West's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Titans qualified for postseason for the 40th time in program history while making its 27th straight NCAA appearance. Since 1999, the Titans have captured 14 of the 20 championships (12 outright, 2 shared).
Cal State Fullerton welcomes back seven of the nine starting field players from a season ago, including double-play duo 2018 All-Big West First Teamer Hank LoForte and 2017 All-Big West First Teamer Sahid Valenzuela. On the mound, the Titans will showcase a new weekend rotation as 2018 Big West Pitcher of the Year Colton Eastman along with Tommy Wilson and Andrew Quezada were selected in the MLB Draft last June. Look for sophomore Tanner Bibee to step up after starting seven games last season, while striking out 56 en route to a 3.86 earned run average in his freshman campaign.
UC Irvine, under the helm of first-year head coach and former Anteater Ben Orloff, starts the season ranked No. 25 by Baseball America. The Anteaters are coming off a season where they finished tied for third with a 13-11 season and ranked in the nation's top 25 in several categories, including 14th in sacrifice flies (34). The pitching staff is headlined by preseason All-America Andre Pallante, a unanimous All-American after his 2018 campaign where he finished 10-1 with a 1.60 ERA. The junior right hander spent the summer on the U.S. Collegiate National Team where he played against national teams from Japan, Chinese Taipei and Cuba. UC Irvine also welcomes back its top hitter from last season with Brendan Brooks (.308, 22 runs scored, 23 RBI).
Last season, Long Beach State registered an even 12-12 league mark to finish fifth in the conference. On the mound in 2019 will be second-team All-Big West member Zak Baayoun, who finished second on the team last season with a 3.89 ERA and sported a 9-3 record. Defensively, catcher Chris Jimenez returns to the lineup after posting a .986 fielding percentage. He also contributed offensively, notching a team-best 32 RBI and nine doubles. Also keep an eye on sophomore outfielder Leonard Jones, who belted a team-high .312 average, scored 14 runs while driving in 22 more.
Cal Poly earned one first-place vote and 60 points. The Mustangs are followed UC Santa Barbara (49 points), Hawai'i (43), CSUN (29), UC Davis (19) and UC Riverside (17).
All nine Big West teams open their 2019 seasons Feb. 15, with Cal Poly visiting 2018 NCAA regional qualifier Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. The Mustangs play their first home game Feb, 22 with the first of three games against Cal.
2019 Coaches Poll Results
1. Cal State Fullerton (3) 70
2. UC Irvine (4) 67
3. Long Beach State (1) 62
4. Cal Poly (1) 60
5. UC Santa Barbara 49
6. Hawai'i 32
7. CSUN 29
8. UC Davis 19
9. UC Riverside 17