Stanford baseball is coming off a season where it finished top 10 in the national rankings and made its 19th College World Series appearance. This offseason, however, nine Stanford players — including star infielder Tommy Troy — were selected in the MLB draft. Stanford lost another notable player through the transfer portal in its star two-way player Braden Montgomery. The Daily spoke with head coach David Esquer ’87, who just received his third Pac-12 Coach of the Year award during his time at Stanford, to see how the team is handling the major shakeup of its roster.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): With several of last season’s players no longer with Stanford by means of the draft and the NCAA transfer portal, how did the team approach this offseason?
David Esquer (DE): Yeah, it is a huge transition year for us. We lost nine players to the draft, eight juniors and a senior. Obviously, the portal was not kind to us as we lost one of our best returning players in pitcher and outfielder Braden Montgomery. It is a huge blow to overcome now, but we have talent for sure. It may take us a minute to get back up to speed as a team. We are going to be playing a lot of guys that don’t have a lot of experience, but that is pretty typical. We have had good success with players that have limited experience coming out and playing well. We are not usually dealing with six or seven brand new players coming out and playing, so it is going to be a lot of opportunity for guys to get their feet wet. A main element of the fall practice was to maintain the culture and standards of the program in order to elevate the new players taking the field.
TSD: You mentioned the unusually high amount of players leaving and entering the program. With all the movement along the roster, how is the team taking form, including the frosh players?
DE: We are happy with our freshman class and excited about the pitchers in that class for sure. With the field players, we are probably in a situation where the freshmen will contribute, but they do not have to carry the load, which is good. We have the opportunity to play our last three starting shortstops all at once this year in the infield. Between Timo Becerra, Trevor Haskins and Owen Cobb, we are going to move them around the infield. At first base, there are a number of viable options, including Brendan Larson who transferred over from U.C. San Diego, sophomore Jimmy Nati and Jake Sapien who was our DH a year ago. The bigger question is who are going to be the three outfielders taking the field on a daily basis. There is going to be an opportunity for players to claim outfield positions. Then there is catcher Malcolm Moore, our returning sophomore who was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. He has improved this offseason and has been a great leader on the field for the whole team.
TSD: As you know, this will be the final year of Pac-12 baseball. What are your feelings on the conference coming to a close, and what are you looking forward to as we transition into the ACC?
DE: Well, it’s a shame, right? No other conference has won more NCAA titles in college baseball than the Pac-12. If you look up and down the conference, you can see the domination. Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, USC and of course Stanford have all been national champions. I think that we would be hard pressed to find another conference where there [have] been that many programs with a history of championships. And so it is a shame to lose a baseball power conference. We are moving into a very strong conference in the ACC, a well respected conference. It is not a step down for us in competition at all. But it is going to be different to no longer be facing the current Pac-12 teams on a yearly basis.
TSD: Looking at the final Pac-12 season coming up ahead, the Cardinal are scheduled to face Cal State Fullerton in a few weeks. What are you hoping to see in that first game?
DE: Well, it is obviously going to be a baptism by fire when you schedule Fullerton on opening weekend. You have got to be prepared for every aspect of baseball in order to establish any type of advantage. Fullerton is going to be well schooled on how to exploit you and score runs in bunches. It is a good opponent to play to start the season because they are talented and keep you on your toes. We are looking to play a well-rounded game right off the bat. It is nice to maintain this traditional opening weekend because when I was a player in the 80s, Stanford opened up the season every year against Fullerton.
TSD: Looking at the season as a whole, how will the team prepare itself for the long journey ahead?
DE: I think we’re going to anticipate every game being close, at least until we grow into our offense. We do not have the firepower to separate with the homerun ball as we have in the past three years. That is not how we are designing our offense as of this point. To start the season, it is going to be pitching and defense first. I do believe we will have nice offensive players and a style of play that will be best suited to those players. Hopefully we can develop that offensive power that we have been known for and that allowed us to lead the conference.
TSD: Is there just an overall message you’d like to send to the fans as the season approaches?
DE: We have had a great run recently. We have been to the Super Regionals four years in a row and we have hosted it every season I have been here. I don’t know if any Stanford team in these past few years has faced as much loss in quality players during the offseason. That is the blessing and curse of a great program. Stanford brings in good players, but many times major league baseball wants those same players by the end of their junior year. Sometimes you get lucky and you hold on to a couple. We have benefited from having seniors on the roster the last few years, including pitchers Brendan Beck, Alex Williams and Quinn Matthews. They have been the last three winners of the Pitcher of the Year award in the Pac 12. This year, the team is younger, and I think the young players understand the bar that Stanford baseball has for them. This year will provide a challenge, but it is great we have players like Moore who have extreme optimism. He thinks we are going to be better than we were last year and the team overall does not see any reason why we won’t be better than last year.