Early College Baseball Hits And Misses

March 1, 2012

The Good & Bad Through 2012’s First Two Weeks…

Maryland has been one of the top surprises in college baseball so far in 2012.

Through the first two-plus weeks of the 2012 season we have already seen our share of surprises. Probably the biggest to date was when Appalachian State won two of three games in its series at LSU. There have been plenty more hits and misses so far as well.

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Stanford (8-0)

It’s not a shock that Stanford is good this year, but who would have thought that it would be this good so soon? For a second straight year, the Cardinal started off with a brutal schedule that includes series against Vanderbilt, Texas and Rice. They went 4-5 against those three perennial powers last year, but they have started the season with three-game sweeps over Vandy and Texas, which both went to the College World Series last year.

Friday starter Mark Appel (2-0) took his lumps against that kind of competition, going 6-7 in 2011, but he’s been lights-out in the two marquee series so far. He sports a 1.29 ERA, and shares the staff lead with Brett Mooneyham (2-0) with 14.0 IP and 15 Ks. The Cardinal bullpen has been vulnerable at times, as displayed by the team’s overall 3.04 ERA.

The offense has been on fire as well, averaging 9.6 runs a game, including 26 runs over the weekend against traditionally pitching rich Texas. Stephen Piscotty is batting just .270, but he has been unconscious in RBI situations, with three home runs and a whopping 19 RBIs (he has driven-in 24 % of his team’s run to date). Piscotty has had plenty of RBI opportunities, with Jake Stewart and Tyler Gaffney on in front of him consistently (.488 and .500 OBPs, respectively). They share the team lead with 13 runs scored. Brian Ragira .400 BA, 8 RBIs) has given him protection in the clean-up spot as well.

Stanford has played seven of its eight games at home and gets out of its comfort zone for the first time this weekend with a three game series at Fresno State before hosting Rice next weekend.

Georgia (8-0)

The Bulldogs have been one of the fastest risers in the College Baseball 360 Composite Top 50 Rankings. They started out at No. 20 in the preseason rankings, but with eight wins to start the season, they are at No. 12 entering the season’s third week. To put that in perspective, after just two weeks Georgia is almost a fourth of the way to reaching last year’s 33-win total. Granted, the degree of difficulty to this year’s slate (three games each against Presbyterian and Winthrop) isn’t anywhere near the start of last year’s (three each against Stetson, Baylor and Florida State), but Georgia also lost early games last year to Furman and Kennesaw State.

Dave Perno’s offense continues to come alive. Curt Powell (.476) leads a team hitting .301, while Levi Hyams (.310) has been the top run producer with seven RBIs.

Pitching and defense have lead the way though for a team that is scoring just 6.1 runs a game. The Bulldogs are yet to allow an unearned run after committing just three errors in eight games. The pitching staff also boasts a 1.24 ERA, with Sunday starter Taylor Hicks (2-0) tossing 10.0 shutout innings to start the season.

Georgia’s first true test should come March 9-11 when it hosts UCLA. That series is followed by the SEC opener against Tennessee.

Tennessee (7-1)

It didn’t take long for Dave Serrano to make his mark on Tennessee baseball after leaving the west coast and Cal State Fullerton. Serrano’s Vols jumped out to a 7-0 start, with wins over Northern Illinois, Western Kentucky and Seton Hall, before falling 5-4 in 10 innings to Middle Tennessee State on Monday in Knoxville.

The early wins show the big picture, but Serrano’s mark is shown by looking deeper into the Tennessee stat sheet. Through eight games the Volunteers have a .423 on-base percentage, thanks in part to 49 walks, 18 HBP and just 38 strike outs – a plus-29 number in walks + HBP (67) minus Ks. Compare that to last year’s team ,which finished with a .354 OBP and drew just 170 walks all season, with 58 HBP and 311 strikeouts – a minus-83 in the BB + HBP – K total.

Chris Fritts exemplifies the early new direction for the Tennessee offense. The Junior centerfielder hit .455 last week and reached base in 11 of 18 plate appearances. His team-best 13 RBIs are also just one shy of the 14 he totaled in 45 games last season.

The Volunteer pitching staff, which includes reliever Dalton Saberhagen (son of former Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen), has a 2.05 ERA. The younger Saberhagen is 1-0 with 4.0 shutout innings in three appearances. Meanwhile, starters Zack Godley (0.90 ERA) and Drew Steckenrider (1.29 ERA) are a combined 2-0 withh 16 K and five walks in 17.0 IP.

Things get tougher pretty quickly for the Vols this week when they face Houston, Texas and Rice at the Houston College Classic.

Appalachian State (5-2)

The Mountaineers caught everyone’s attention this past weekend by taking two of three games at LSU. There was hardly a sign that big things might have been on the horizon in Baton Rouge. Appalachian State was picked to finish just fifth in the Southern Conference this season in the preseason coaches’ poll. ASU also lost its season opener to George Mason before taking two games the next day against Arkon.

College Baseball 360 Primetime Pitcher of the Week, Ryan Arrowood, keyed the weekend by holding LSU to just two hits with 10 strike outs in 7.0 IP in Saturday’s 1-0 win. The Mountaineers kept the momentum going the next day by scoring in each of the first four innings and in seven of nine innings overall en-route to an 11-1 Sunday victory.

Chris Pollard’s squad didn’t feel an immediate hangover after the big wins either. They beat North Carolina A&T 5-3 on Tuesday in Greensboro, NC. The Mountaineers host a four game series with Rider this weekend in their first home games of 2012. Their next big shot at a big statement comes on March 14 when they play at two-time defending national champion South Carolina.

Maryland (5-1)

After going 21-35 last year, Maryland is off to a 5-1 start to 2012. What makes the five wins the most impressive though is the fact that four of the wins have come against top 50 teams. The Terps started the season by taking two of three games at preseason No. 16 UCLA and followed that by winning games against preseason No. 31 East Carolina and  No. 48 Purdue (now No. 40) this past weekend.

Third year head coach Erik Bakich has brought a new attitude to Maryland, with his sights set on Omaha from the start. His Terps aren’t hitting well overall (.253 as a team), but Tim Kiene has done his share, batting .360 with team bests of three home runs and seven RBIs. The defense has been solid though (seven errors in six games) and the pitching has been great. The staff boasts a 1.24 ERA and starters Brady Kirkpatrick (1-0) and Brett Harman (1-0) are yet to allow an earned run in a combined 22.2 IP. They also have combined to fire 21 strikeouts with eight walks.

Oregon (7-1)

Through two weeks of the season, Oregon has to be the most traveled team in college baseball. George Horton’s Ducks started by going west some 2,500 miles for four games at Hawaii. They followed that with a roughly 2,300 mile trek to the east to Nashville for a game against Belmont and three games against Vanderbilt.

If the Ducks are jet lagged they haven’t shown it. After dropping their season-opener to the Warriors they have rattled-off seven straight wins in times zones that are separated by five hours.

Scott Heineman has paced an offense that has averaged 7.6 runs by hitting .478 with 5 RBIs, while Ryon Healy (.323) has been the top run producer with 10 RBIs.

Jimmie Sherfy may give Horton an ulcer after walking nine and hitting two other batters in 10.1 relief innings, but he also has racked-up 19 Ks and is 1-0 with two saves and a 0.87 ERA. He has helped a pitching staff that has a 2.93 ERA and has held opposing batters to a .214 average.

Texas Tech (8-1)

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone on the Texas Tech baseball team that they have been so good in the first two weeks of the season, but Dan Spencer’s team has caught a few others off guard. After going unranked in any of the preseason polls, the Red Raiders debuted at No. 37 in this week’s CB360 Composite Rankings.

Tech shot up in the polls quickly with its 8-1 start, which includes wins over preseason top 50 teams Missouri State and St. John’s.

As expected, Barrett Barnes and Jamodrick McGruder have played key roles in the Red Raider offensive attack. Barnes leads the team with a .438 average, 3 HR and 12 RBIs, while McGruder is hitting .375 with eight stolen bases and is tied with Barnes with a team-leading 11 runs scored. Scott LeJeune (.412, 7 RBIs) and Tim Proudfoot (.367, 8 RBIs) are off to fast starts as well.

Three different pitchers, Duke von Schamann, Rusty Shellhorn and Shane Broyles, are each 2-0. Von Schamann, who is the son of former Miami Dolphins kicker Uwe von Schamann, has allowed just an unearned run on four hits through 14.0 IP in his two starts. Three different relievers have each earned saves for a pitching staff that has racked-up 78 strikeouts and issued just just 20 walks in 81 innings.

Things get much more difficult for Texas Tech this weekend when they face Arkansas, Rice and Houston at the Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park.

Others: Cal Poly (7-1, at San Diego St. Tournament this weekend), Baylor (7-2, hosts UC-Irvine & Lamar this weekend), USC (7-1, at North Carolina this weekend)


Vanderbilt (1-7)

Considering Vanderbilt’s 1-7 start, it became very obvious very soon that its preseason No. 11 ranking was based more on head coach Tim Corbin’s reputation and last year’s CWS appearance than what the Commodores actually had on the field entering the season. The Commodores have dropped all the way to No. 35 in just two weeks after being swept both at Stanford and at home by Oregon. To add insult to injury, they also lost this Wednesday’s midweek game to Louisiana Tech.

We said this in our 2012 preview of the ‘Dores “If Commodore head coach Tim Corbin is to get back to the CWS in 2012, it may be his best coaching job ever.” Whether or not that happens is yet to be seen, but the fact is Corbin is still trying to deal with the loss of 11 players who signed professional contracts last year, including his entire weekend pitching rotation.

There is no single person to blame for the rough start, but the numbers don’t line. Vanderbilt is batting just .230, has committed 17 errors (.940 fielding percentage) and has a staff ERA of 6.60. The walks, hit batsmen and strikeouts are also completely turned around from both an offensive and pitching standpoint.

Vandy batters have 35 BB, 9 HBP and 48 Ks, for a minus-4 (four more strikeouts than combined BB + HBP), while its pitching staff has issued 33 BB and hit 17 batters with just 50 Ks for a plus-10 number (10 more BB + HBP than total Ks). Too many free base runners and errors and not enough free base runners of their own have led to being outscored 57-34.

It’s not going to get a lot easier either. The ‘Dores host a spirited Rhode Island team looking for some big wins this weekend and then hosts San Diego next week. SEC opening weekend is March 16-18 at No. 1 Florida.

LSU (6-2)

Paul Mainieri’s Tigers have been in this situation before. LSU, fresh-off seeing Appalachian State take two of three games at Alex Box Stadium over the weekend, lost two of three games to Illinois early in 2009. The Bayou faithful weren’t happy with the Tiger head coach then and there’s already rumbling on the Bayou now. Mainieri’s Tigers were able to put the sting of dropping that series behind them and went on to win the 2009 national championship. If the Appalachian State loss is to be just a speed bump on the way to glory, LSU is going to have to start hitting…soon.

Including Friday’s 4-0 win, LSU hit just .172 (16-for-94) in the three game series and .116 (7-for-60) in the two losses to the Mountaineers. In the process, they left nine runners on base in the win, but a combined eight on base in the two losses. The team is hitting a respectable .298 overall, but without Maton Katz (.417) and Raph Rhymes (.393) that drops to .277.

The question-Is the series loss to ASU just a speed bump? The Answer-Only time will tell.

Texas (3-5)

The Longhorns beat Houston Baptist 2-0 on Tuesday to snap a seemingly unheard of five-game losing streak. The skid started with a series-ending loss to Duke opening weekend, continued with a midweek loss to UT-Arlington and then reached its peak with a three-game sweep at the hands of No. 3 Stanford.

Pitching has long been the strength of Augie Garrido’s Longhorns, with the offense doing just enough to get by. Texas hasn’t been able to do either particularly well though so far, as evidenced by its .195 batting average and 4.16 ERA. Throw-in 12 errors in eight games and it’s a recipe for a slow start.

The Longhorns also have just a .330 on-base percentage, with 53 strikeouts, 35 BB, and 14 HBP (minus-4 in BB + HPB – K).

While the offense needs to get moving, the pitching needs to get better quickly too. The staff turned-in a 9.00 ERA in the three losses in Palo Alto.

The schedule stays tough this weekend as well, with games against Rice, Tennessee and Arkansas at the Houston College Classic. The three teams have a combined two losses between them.

St. John’s (3-5)

While most starting pitchers around the country haven’t stretched their inning very far yet this season, St. John’s has a problem it has had before at this time of year. Red Storm starting pitchers have averaged just under 4.0 innings per start over their first eight games. The result has been a 3-5 record and drop from a preseason No. 23 ranking to No. 44 this week.

Ed Blankmeyer’s squad has been known for its potent offenses in recent years, but the Red Storm have been lacking with the bats as well. The lineup is top heavy with Matt Weissinger and Sean O’Hare hitting .484 and .304, respectively, but the next best average is .238. St. John’s batters have already struck out 60 times and have only drawn 28 walks.

Dallas Baptist (3-5)

Since starting the season with a three-game sweep of Southeast Missouri State, Dallas Baptist has lost five straight. The skid started last Tuesday at Oklahoma State, continued with three losses at Rice and kept going this week with a home loss to UT-San Antonio. The Patriots, a surprise Super Regional team last year, hadn’t been below .500 since losing their 2009 season-opener.

The five losses have come by a combined 11 runs, but Dallas Baptist is batting just .240 and averaging four runs a game this season. They also have a tepid .334 on-base percentage due in part to 62 strikeouts, 34 walks and four batters HBP (a minus-24 total in BB + HBP – K ratio).

The DBU pitching staff also has a 5.06 ERA with 43 strikeouts and 33 walks and 72 hits allowed (.286 opponent batting average) in 72 IP.

Georgia Southern’s Victor Roache

It’s not his fault that Victor Roache suffered a potentially season-ending broken wrist last weekend, but he did and it’s a shame. Roache led the nation with 30 home runs and 84 RBIs in 2011, while hitting .326 and a .778 slugging percentage while helping his team receive and NCAA Regional bid.

Roache followed that by hitting .316 with six home runs and 28 RBIs for the Cotuit Kettleers in the Cape Cod League. He was named Cotuit’s team MVP and ranked as the sixth overall Cape Cod prospect. Roache was hitting .412 with two home runs and five RBIs through six games when he suffered his injury last weekend.



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