Stanford baseball officially kicks off its season this Friday at Sunken Diamond with several key returning players and talented new freshmen, but also with many major holes to fill.
“The 2014 Stanford baseball team will be a little bit of a combination of youth and experience,” said head coach Mark Marquess at Monday’s Pac-12 Media Day. “We return five position players who started or played most of the year last year — Wayne Taylor, Brant Whiting, Austin Slater, Alex Blandino and Danny Diekroeger.”
The Cardinal’s infield will largely be composed of returning players. Junior third baseman Alex Blandino returns and begins the season as a Baseball America preseason second-team All-American. Blandino finished second on the team last season with seven home runs and figures to hit in the heart of the Cardinal’s order.
Senior Danny Diekroeger will again start for the Cardinal, but may switch from second base, where he played for most of his 54 starts last season, to first base. Brian Ragira previously manned first for the Cardinal but left to play professionally after being drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the fourth round of the 2013 MLB Draft. Ragira led the team with eight home runs and 42 RBI last season and leaves a gap in the three-hole in the Stanford lineup.
“Right now, on Friday we’ll start Danny Diekroeger [at first base],” Marquess said. “He’s played there before and he will do a fine job there.”
Sophomore Austin Barr will back up Diekroeger at first base and will start if Diekroeger rotates back to second base. Marquess spoke highly of Barr’s hitting skills and mentioned that Barr could also see time at designated hitter.
Sophomore Drew Jackson won the starting shortstop position after starting in 24 games last season and hitting .207. His double-play partner at second base will likely be either freshman Tommy Edman or senior Brett Michael Doran.
Junior Wayne Taylor, who started 40 games last year for the Card, will see time at catcher and left field this season. His duties behind the plate will be split with senior Brant Whiting, who led the team with a .344 average last year while starting in 36 games. Both players figure to play every day, with Taylor alternating between left field and catcher and Whiting shifting between catcher and designated hitter.
The outfield for the Card is still largely in flux. Junior Austin Slater, who started 48 games last season, is the only real certainty and will play center field. Slater batted second for much of last season while hitting .269 with 32 RBI. Slater shifts over from right field to replace Austin Wilson, who was drafted in the second round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners. Wilson missed significant time due to an injury last season but still returned to hit .288 with five home runs and 26 RBI while batting in the cleanup spot.
Junior Dominic Jose, sophomore Zach Hoffpauir, sophomore Jonny Locher, freshman Jack Klein and freshman Alex Dunlap will compete for the remaining one or two outfield spots, depending on whether Wayne Taylor plays in the outfield on any given day.
“There are some new faces, so we will kind of figure out what’s going to happen after four or five games,” Marquess said.
The biggest hole to fill for the Cardinal surely comes in the rotation with the departure of Mark Appel, who was drafted first overall to the MLB by the Houston Astros after four years with the Cardinal. Appel finished last season as Stanford’s ace with a 10-4 record and a 2.12 ERA in 14 starts. He broke Stanford’s all-time strikeout record and ended his Cardinal career with 372 strikeouts to go along with 28 wins. The loss of his reliable presence in countering opposing aces on Friday nights will come as a major blow to the Card.
“That’s about 105 innings and 10 wins we have to replace…[But] we have four or five guys coming back who have thrown significant innings,” said Marquess regarding Appel’s departure.
Junior John Hochstatter figures to be one of the Cardinal’s main options for replacing Appel as Stanford’s ace. Hochstatter went 3-3 with a 3.88 ERA in 13 starts —mostly on Saturdays — last year for the Cardinal as the number-two option in the rotation behind Appel. While it’s unclear whether or not Hochstatter will claim Appel’s role as the ace, he brings valuable collegiate experience to a pitching staff largely devoid of it.
“[Hochstatter is] a crafty left-hander — not a real hard-thrower but he knows how to pitch,” Marquess stated.
Sophomore Bobby Zarubin would likely have joined Hochstatter in the starting rotation as a weekend starter after an impressive freshman year that saw him finish with a 3-3 record and a 2.16 ERA in 15 appearances, including 10 starts. However, a torn labrum will sideline the righty for the time being and push more of the load onto the younger pitchers.
Likewise, sophomore left-hander Logan James returns after pitching in 17 games last season with a 3-3 record and a 4.56 ERA. James can either start or come out of the bullpen and should compete to be a starting pitcher in either the Sunday rotation spot or as a starter for non-conference weekday games.
Several freshman pitchers that are expected to contribute this season include Cal Quantrill, Brett Hanewich, Chris Viall and Tyler Thorne. Quantrill could factor into Stanford’s starting rotation as a potential opening-day starter, as he brings valuable experience after having pitched for 18-U Team Canada for three years, winning a silver medal in 2012 at the 18-U World Championship in Seoul.
While the presumptive favorites in battling for spots in the rotation are Hochstatter, Quantrill and James, the rotation remains relatively unclear. Hanewich, Viall, Thorne and Schmidt could potentially become starting pitchers as well as sophomores Daniel Starwalt and Marcus Brakeman, each of whom recorded two starts last season.
On the coaching staff, Marquess begins his 38th season at the helm for the Cardinal. However, he will be without longtime assistant Dean Stotz, who retired after 37 years with the Cardinal this past offseason. Stotz was replaced on the coaching staff by former Cardinal first baseman Ryan Garko ‘03.
The Pac-12 released the results of the preseason Pac-12 coaches’ poll, which placed the Cardinal sixth in the conference behind Oregon State, Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona. Stanford also begins the season ranked at No. 25 in the USA Today coaches’ poll.
“It’s no doubt of mine that we’re in the toughest conference in the country,” Marquess noted. “The last two champions have come out of the Pac-12 Conference — Arizona and UCLA.”
Expectations for the Cardinal are tempered by the major loss of talent from last season and the demanding schedule that the team faces. Stanford plays seven preseason top-25 teams, including No. 3 Oregon State, No. 7 Oregon, No. 8 Vanderbilt, No. 10 UCLA, No. 15 Rice, No. 18 Arizona State and No. 22 Texas.
“That’s a very difficult schedule,” Marquess said. “We will surely find out where our weaknesses may be and where we are lacking…It’s a challenge.”
While competing for a Pac-12 title is always the goal for the Cardinal, the season will ultimately be a success if the Cardinal is able to make the postseason tournament, which it failed to do last year.
“You’ve just got to get in the tournament,” Marquess said. “If you play well at the right time, you can win it.”
The first pitch of the season for Stanford is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. this Friday, Feb. 14, against Rice at Sunken Diamond.
Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.