Waves Boast Strong Mix of Returners and Newcomers as they Embark on the 2012 Baseball Season
Feb. 13, 2012
MALIBU, Calif. - With a tough nonconference schedule in preparation of the West Coast Conference slate, the 2012 Pepperdine baseball team is ready to face stiff competition and a number of challenges ahead of it.
"We definitely have some challenges coming to us right away, and we are looking forward to those challenges just to see exactly what kind of team we have. We haven't had a chance to play against another opponent, so it will be great to get another color uniform out there to see what we are capable of doing," ninth-year head coach Steve Rodriguez said.
The Waves finished a tough 2011 season with a 22-34 overall record, 7-14 in WCC play, but continuity should play a major role in righting the ship in 2012, as Rodriguez returns his entire staff. Rick Hirtensteiner enters his 14th season with the Waves, Jon Strauss begins his third and volunteer assistant Cooper Fouts returns for his second season.
The Waves also return a large contingent from last year's team, including the nucleus of the infield, but have upgraded considerably, amassing an incoming class ranked 16th in the country according to Baseball America.
"I hope some of our freshmen can step in and secure a spot, because I really like when freshmen come out and play immediately. It means that they aren't going to skip a beat from high school to college.
"The biggest thing is I want us to stay healthy right now. We had a lot of injuries last year and hopefully this year the health of our players will withstand the length of the season. Hopefully at the end of the season guys starting games will also be finishing games as well," Rodriguez said.
"I think it is a pretty exciting team this year because we have the majority of our guys back. We return our entire infield from last year. We have redshirt junior Chris Amezquita (La Mirada, Calif./UCLA/Servite HS) and redshirt sophomore Sam Meyer (Los Altos, Calif./St. Francis HS) at first base, who might be interchangeable throughout the year. Juniors Joe Sever (San Jose, Calif./Bellarmine HS) and Zach Vincej (Saugus, Calif./Saugus HS) hopefully will be up the middle, with redshirt senior Miles Silverstein (Bell Canyon, Calif./Calabasas HS) returning at third base."
Sever was an All-WCC selection in 2011, as he hit .279 and led the team with 32 RBI and six home runs. He represented the Waves as a preseason All-WCC selection for this season, as voted on by the coaches. Meyer led the Waves last season with a .289 batting average in 36 games played. Amezquita had 13 RBI and three home runs on .275 hitting.
"Then we have two freshmen behind the plate in James Grandpre (Lancaster, Calif./Desert Christian HS) and Kolten Yamaguchi (Kona, Hawai'i/Konawaena HS)," Rodriguez said. "They are going to get their fair share of opportunities to go back there, and they are going to be splitting a lot of time to anchor down what we think is a pretty impressive pitching staff."
A pair of righties in junior Jon Moscot (Pacific Palisades, Calif./Cuesta College) and sophomore Scott Frazier (Upland, Calif./Upland HS) will anchor the staff and are projected to slot in as the Friday and Saturday starters. Moscot was 2-2 last season with 48 strikeouts in 12 appearances. Frazier made four appearances, compiling a 2-1 record in 18 innings last season.
Junior lefty Alex Najera (Anaheim Hills, Calif./Canyon HS), sophomore lefty Matt Maurer (Medford, Ore./North Medford HS) and sophomore righty Corey Miller (Mission Viejo, Calif./JSerra Catholic HS) that will battle for the Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday starting spots, leaving a number of options for key middle relief innings. At the back end of the pen, the Waves will look to freshman lefty Aaron Brown (Chatsworth, Calif./Chatsworth HS) and sophomore righty Michael Swanner (Cardiff, Calif./La Costa Canyon HS) to fill a prominent void faced by last season's team.
Rodriguez explained, "We have a couple guys that are going to be the end of the game guys with Aaron Brown and Michael Swanner. We are very excited about both of them as a right-left combination. That really gives us some flexibility with how we want to do things at the end of the game. That was our biggest issue that last year with trying to close out games, so hopefully we have eliminated it."
The pitching staff is going to be key for the Waves as Rodriguez really feels like the team leadership is going to stem from that group.
"They are going to set the table for a lot of our games and hopefully they can get us deep into the game in the sixth and seventh innings, and then our bullpen can close out those quality wins for us."
In the outfield, the Waves have the luxury and flexibility of going young, relying on experience or mixing and matching depending on the situation.
If they want to go young, they have Brown, who is also an outfielder, along with fellow true freshman Matt Gelalich (La Verne, Calif./Bonita HS) and redshirt freshman Bryan Langlois (Oak Park, Calif./Oak Park HS). Returning outfielders with experience include senior Ryan Van Amburg (Campbell, Calif./St. Francis HS), senior Tony Cooper (San Carlos, Calif./Canada College), senior David DiPaola (San Carlos, Calif./Canada College) and Division III redshirt senior transfer Matt Forgatch (San Marino, Calif./Denison University).
According to Rodriguez, "They have all done a good job in this early spring to fight for spots, so it is going to be a battle for the outfield spots. But that is what's going to make it so competitive and great, that those guys will hopefully rise to the occasion."
Speed on the base paths is ordinarily a staple of the Waves game plan but is something that has been missing over the past few years. This season, though, with the addition of speedsters Gelalich and Brown, along with returners Vincej and Sever, the Waves should be able to utilize that facet of the game more effectively.
"That is an aspect that we have been missing the last few years, but I think now that we have some of those guys, we will be able to get speed back on the bases and cause some problems for defenses," Rodriguez said.
As for the schedule, the Waves hit the ground running at Eddy D. Field Stadium, welcoming numerous quality opponents in Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Fresno State and Kent State. The team also travels to Louisville and Rhode Island. Seeing this caliber of opponent outside of conference will prepare the Waves for a tough WCC slate.
"The nonconference schedule is very challenging. Hopefully that will put us in a great place when we get into conference, because we have some quality teams coming in," Rodriguez expounded.
Overall, Rodriguez is excited about the upcoming season and college baseball as a whole.
"It is just amazing how many teams, not only in our conference but in the nation have guys that are throwing 95-100 mph. It is really amazing. College baseball has definitely taken a turn for the better just with the quality of the athletes that they are producing right now. I think the same thing goes for our conference. We have a lot of pitchers in this conference that are really going to determine how well their teams do. I think that goes for us as well. With the nucleus of our team coming back and having the end of the game figured out, I really like our chances, and the conference in my opinion is really up for grabs right now."