Thursday, February 12, 2015



Yes, I'm alive. I'm sure both of you were worried. Keeping up with the blog became difficult to do and last season, for a number of reasons, was my least engaging year of baseball ever. It was the first time in 20 years I didn't attend a major league game (the weather didn't help) and I old caught a few college contests.

But who cares? I may be back but so are the Dirtbags!

I first tweeted the above hashtag last June, shortly after the Gainesville Regional loss to Charleston. The defeat still stings, but it was a huge moment for the program. After Dirtbag greats like Brennan Metzger and Matt Duffy went their whole careers without a shot at the regionals, the program ended a five-year postseason drought, finished just four wins shy of Omaha (think about that!) and sent the Killer P's (Ino Patron and Richard Prigatano) among other true Dirtbags out on a high note. The Bags are back, and it's only the beginning.

I'm slowly shifting back into baseball mode, so I don't have much analysis to offer on the newcomers, other than their JuCo stats or draft position out of high school. The experts seem to think we're too young and our pitching too unproven, but on paper, hell if it doesn't look like a good squad to me. Garret Hampson looks like the next valedictorian of Shortstop U.; my fellow Cougar Zack Domingues seems primed to be a solid table-setter; the outfield is exceptionally athletic and well suited for big Blair Field; and I've maintained since his freshman year that Eric Hutting would be an All-Big West catcher before he's done. 

The pitching is a bit unproven at the D1 level, but as usual Troy Buckley pretty well raided the JuCo ranks to fill in the holes. It'll be fun to see what Kyle Friedrichs can do in a starting role (is it me or does it seem like he's been with the program for like, 12 years?). I love the addition of pitching coach Mike Steele; allowing Coach Buckley to have a more broad focus should only help (Jesse Zepeda is terrific at developing hitters but I've become infamous for my dislike of our, at times, bunt-heavy offense - good luck this weekend, coach). 

My "coverage" (if you can call it that) will consist mainly of tweets moving forward, which is just as well because it's time for me to shut up and let Buck's boys do their thing.


Also, is Ryan Struffing still alive?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

2014 Dirtbag Position Preview: Outfield

Johnny Bekakis – Outfielder; Red Shirt Junior; Bats: Right; .290/.353/.355, 49 (2012 season; academically ineligible in 2013)
I don't pretend to know the details behind Bekakis' lost 2013 season, but one can only hope Johnny B will be playing with something to prove in 2014, and that that attitude will be enough to overcome the fact that he hasn't play in a Division 1 baseball game in 21 months.

Last time we saw Bekakis he was finishing up an All-Big West Honorable Mention 2012 season in which he grabbed the lead-off spot early in the year and never relinquished it, ultimately finishing second on the team in batting and stolen bases (7) as the everyday left fielder. Though his .353 on-base mark was solid, especially for the 2012 Dirtbags, he wasn't the ideal lead-off man, K'ing 38 times with just 11 walks. Still, Bekakis entered his true junior year looking like a key part of the 2013 Dirtbags. Then the bombshell dropped.

Bekakis hasn't totally disappeared from the baseball field during that time, however. He spent this past summer in the Northwoods League, teamed with Jeff Frye and Zack Rivera with the La Crosse Loggers. There he had a solid, though hardly spectacular summer while manning centerfield and primarily batting in the middle of the order. While a .993 fielding percentage in CF would seem encouraging, it's worth noting straightaway center at the Loggers' home ballpark is a paltry 365 feet, a centerfield distance I didn't know existed east of Sam Lynn Ballpark.

At the plate Bekakis put up a slashline of .263/.359/.382, numbers that probably aren't too far off what he should put up for the Dirtbags, save for maybe a better batting average since his BABIP was fairly low playing in such a small ballpark (even if his average goes up, his slugging will probably stay about the same; it's unlikely he'll be able to hit six homers playing in Blair Field – which is how many he hit in the NWL). Bekakis also collected 12 steals on 13 attempts and drew a somewhat encouraging 34 walks and with a somewhat discouraging 64 strikeouts.

Johnny was selected to play in the NWL all-star game, though he went unrecognized on Baseball America and Perfect Game's top prospect lists. He had a heavy workload for the summer, playing 66 games with 251 at bats and after peaking with a .830 OPS in early July he began to struggle in the last half of the season.

Bekakis could be poised to re-claim his spot in left field for the Dirtbags, though he could be pushed for playing time by Loggers teammate Rivera. It'll be interesting to see if Bekakis is ever asked to handle spacious centerfield at Blair, or at least play center during road games, as he poses a bigger threat at the plate than incumbent CF Colby Brenner. Without an ideal alternative for the spot, Bekakis also has a solid chance to reclaim the lead-off role.

Zack Belanger – Red Shirt Sophomore; Bats: Left; .250/.291/.346, 25 games
In his first season playing on Blair Field, Belanger struggled while playing sporadically, though he did show some promise by season's end. The-then redshirt freshman posted a poor K/BB of 20/1 and collected just four hits, all singles, in his first 24 at bats. He began to turn things around in the season's final month, slugging a home run against Cal State Fullerton, one of just 12 blasts the Dirtbags had on the season, before closing out with nine hits in his final 27 at bats (.333). Belanger ended up starting as the Designated Hitter more often than not for the hobbled Dirtbags over the final weeks.

Belanger would end up being the regular first baseman for the Wisconsin Rapid Rafters in the Northwoods League; though he continued to strike out with alarming frequency, K'ing nearly as often as he reached base.

Well-recruited out of high school with strong blood lines, Belanger will be interesting to watch as his college career progresses. He could fight for playing time at first base or DH and has enough power potential in his bat to be an impact player in the Dirtbags' lineup. The question is will he be able to plug the hole in his swing.

Colby Brenner – Senior; Bats: Left; .162/.333/.210, 46 games
In the wake of Johnny Bekakis' disappointing academic issues, I think I got a little too optimistic about the 2013 Dirtbags' alternatives at the lead-off spot last winter. Colby Brenner offered the total package in an outfielder playing JuCo ball; a good on-base percentage, excellent speed, and a strong defensive track record. As a result I was one of Brenner's biggest proponents last season and probably had some unfairly high expectations.

After striking out just 11 times in 214 plate appearances in 2012, Brenner opened his Division 1 career with a strike out; after 154 total chances in the field without a single error, Brenner committed an E in his first start of the year; and by the time conference play began he was hitting .077 and had seen his playing time drop exponentially. The one constant for Brenner was getting hit by pitches. The ball-magnet was plunked a team-high 13 times and once was hit in four consecutive games.

Ultimately Brenner's defense would be fine, as he committed just one more error the remainder of the season. With the exception for a great series at Pacific in which he went 4-for-8 with three doubles, Brenner's offense never fully came around. The boney-armed outfielder had just one extra base hit outside he Pacific series (a game winning triple in his last at bat of the year) and struck out 28 times.

Brenner's strong defense, speed, and adequate ability to get on base via walk or HBP still makes him a strong candidate to retain the CF job in 2014, though it's possible Bekakis could be shifted over from left. As a lefty-swinger, Brenner could also be a put in a platoon as well. If Brenner does start he'll probably bat ninth, as the so-called “second lead-off hitter,” until he can work his way higher in the order.

Nolan Meadows – Outfielder; Junior; Bats: Left; .299/.399/.424, 36 games (LA Habor Community College)
Meadows is one of two newcomers to the Dirtbag outfield that will be heavy on left handed hitters in 2014. The junior spent the first two years of his college career enjoying modest success with the LA Habor Seahawks. Meadows apparently can also play some infield, though he seems to have spent virtually his entire collegiate career, both spring and summer, as a corner outfielder.

Meadows ended his junior college career on a roll, finishing with a nine-game hitting-streak that included seven multi-hit games. On top of that he had a respectable K/BB mark of 24/22. However, he followed that up with an unspectacular performance in the Alaska Summer League, posting just a .681 OPS. For what it's worth, he consistently hit near the middle of the lineup for the league-champion Goldpanners. Meadows will likely serve as a bench piece on the 2014 Dirtbags.

Tristan Mercadel – Outfielder; Freshman; Bats: Left
Mercadel joins the Dirtbags as an unpolished prospect coming off a highly successful high school career. A solid overall player, Mercadel has the range to patrol spacious center field at Blair Field, though he'll likely be doing so only as a backup in 2014. Look for the speedy Mercadel to also get some pinch running appearances.

Mercadel has a smooth, easy swing but occasionally has trouble keeping his head down, though coach Buckley says his skills “lend (themselves) to being productive at the plate.” Assuming Mercadel's offensive approach continues to develop he would seem to have the inside track on the center field job heading into 2015.

Richard Prigatano – Junior; Bats: Right; .302/.362/.415, 44 games (though by my count the LBSU website has shorted Prigatano a double. I've tallied his slashline as being .308/.368/.428)
Projected to be picked within the top five rounds of the 2014 MLB draft, Prigatano is almost certainly entering the final year of his Dirtbag career. He career has progressed nicely thus far, although big Blair Field has suppressed his numbers a bit (College Splits calculates his OPS as improving by nearly 70 points when factoring park adjustments). Despite having his sophomore season cut short with a wrist injury, Prigatano managed to garner a All-Big West second team honor for the year.

After a solid freshman campaign and a great summer in the Northwoods League, Prigatano opened the 2013 season on a roll. He collected a double in each of the opening series games at Vanderbilt and by the end of the second weekend had a .323 average and was slugging .452. Prigatano remained consistent for much of the season, only once going so many as three consecutive games without a hit. He reached his peak for the season between March 24 and April 12, when he went on a nine-game hitting streak in which he batted .541. That coincided with the start of a Big West season in which Richard would be the toughest out on the club.

In 17 Big West games Prigatano would hit .362/.439/.431 before a broken hamate bone in early May ended his season, and shortened his time in the Cape Cod League.

When back on the field up at the Cape, he played in just 22 games hitting .204/.434/.278. That middle number is an encouraging sign, as Prigatano had never before showed such strong plate disciple. For the summer he drew 21 walks against 25 strikeouts; that was after receiving just 13 free passes with 33 K's in the spring. He was ranked the 92nd best prospect in the league by Perfect Game.

Despite his ever growing size (he's added about 25 pounds since arriving on campus), the supremely athletic Prigatano continued to be a strong base runner in 2013. The 6'4”, 220 pound outfielder swiped seven bases in the spring before going a perfect five-for-five in his brief summer season.

Right field and the middle of the order will belong to Prigtano in 2014 (and 2015 if he so chooses). His power should continue to develop, and if he can have the same control of the strike zone he held in the Cape he could turn into one of the most dangerous hitter in the conference.

Zack Rivera – Sophomore; Bats: Right; .283/.353/.407; 42 games
Rivera is still listed as an infielder on the Long Beach State website, despite logging all of his field time last season in the outfield. As a true freshman, Rivera alternated most of the first two months of the year between designated hitter and left field before moreorlesss taking over the 7-position full time in May, after season-ending injuries to Richard Prigatano and Michael Hill thinned out the lineup.

After opening the season with a revolving door of DH's that featured, among others, Ino Patron and Brennan Fulkerson, the Dirtbags quickly began giving many, but sporadic, starts to Rivera. Lacking regular playing time Rivera got off to a slow start, going 7-for-34 (.206) to start the year. It wasn't until the April 12-14 series against UC Davis that Rivera started an entire weekend. He responded with a 3-for-8 series that featured a double and a stolen base.

Finally on April 28, in the middle of a stretch in which Rivera would hit safely in five of six games including three doubles and a triple, Rivera joined the starting lineup for good. Prigatano would suffer a broken wrist and be shut down for the season and as a result Rivera manned left field in every game going forward (except one in which he DH'd).

With the opportunity to start the final 16 games of the season, Rivera didn't disappoint, posting a line of .286/.344/.464 with three steals in four attempts. Rivera came to Long Beach with the expectation of providing the Dirtbags a solid power/speed combo from the second base position, so those numbers are probably a reasonable reflection of his talents, which will hopefully only improve going forward. It remains to be seen if he will indeed end up patrolling second base at some point.

Colton Vaughn returns after inheriting the 4-position last year from another infielder-turned-outfielder, Jeff McNeil, but so does 2012 left fielder Johnny Bekakis leaving Rivera's position entering 2014 uncertain. Regardless, Rivera's bat should play almost anywhere and he's likely to find himself batting near the middle of the lineup on a regular basis this spring.

2014 Dirtbag Position Preview: Shortstop

Garret Hampson – Freshman; Bats: Right
Hampson is one of the best position player recruits to make it to Blair Field in recent years. He was one of the top high schoolers in the country a year ago, yet may actually be slightly underrated due to a lack of playing time at major showcase events last year.

A smart student-athlete both on and off the field, Hampson has a line-drive swing with solid gap power/average combo in his bat for a middle infielder and adds good range and excellent hands. He best attribute is his base running and blazing speed, which rated a 70 last spring on the 80-20 scouting scale according to Baseball America.

It's not often a true freshman is able to displace an incumbent senior in the lineup, but Hampson's defensive prowess and last year's shortstop Michael Hill's shaky glovework could allow for the freshman to take over the 6-position, likely bumping Hill to third or DH. The rookie looks like the complete package.

The Daily 49er just published their own intriguing read on Hampson as well. Take a look.

2014 Dirtbag Position Preview: Third Base

Michael Hill – Senior; Bats: Left; .336/.357/.522, 37 games
Michael Hill was one of the biggest surprises of the 2013 Dirtbag season. Despite receiving acclaim from Baseball America's Aaron Fitt during fall ball, Hill was just a .179 hitter entering his junior year and began the spring as the Dirtbags' number-9 hitter. However, Hill quickly arrived on the scene, opening the season with a seven-game hitting-streak and through March held a .372 average.

Early in the season Hill credited his success to a refined approach at the plate, specifically by hitting the ball on the ground more in order to better exploit the spaciousness of Blair Field (it would be intriguing to know how many other Dirtbags are taking in approach in 2014). Additionally, Hill spoke of an improved approach to hitting with a two-strike count. Whatever adjustments Hill made seemed to work. After K'ing 48 times in 145 career at bats entering 2013, Hill fanned just 15 times in 134 ABs last season. However his command of the strike zone could still stand to improve, as he drew just two walks all season.

Hill's Achilles' heel is his defense. Hill went more than three-straight errorless games once all season and he had three two-error games on the year. Despite the occasional highlight-reel play (including a game-ender on February 23 against Valparaiso) Hill finished with just a .913 fielding percentage and average just five chances per game.

By the start of conference play, Hill had been moved up to the 2-hole where he would stay for the rest of his season. He peaked on March 28 against Cal Stat Northridge, when he went 4-for-4 with nine total bases, four runs, and four RBIs. However, on April 23 against UCLA Hill suffered a seemingly minor leg injury and had to be removed from the game. The injury ended up being a season-ending broken ankle. For the year Hill lead the Dirtbags in slugging percentage, homers (3), tied for the lead in triples (5), and is the leading hitter among the returning players.

Hill unquestionably will be playing everyday this spring, and will be batting somewhere in the top five spots of the order. If he can add the element of drawing a walk, Hill could become one of the biggest offensive threats in the conference. If he “only” manages to replicate and build off of his 2013 production, he'd still be one of the biggest contributors to the 2014 lineup.

The only uncertainty is where he'll be in the field. Being a senior, there's probably value in putting the experienced Hill back out at shortstop, but his shaky defense coupled with the arrival of top recruit Garret Hampson makes him a candidate to be shifted to third base, or perhaps even designated hitter. (Since writing this it's been reported Hill will be played left field. Once again, I nailed it.)

Jonathan Serven – Sophomore; Bats: Right; .162/.197/.206, 26 games
One of the seemingly undernoticed newcomers to the program in 2013, Serven quickly found himself playing a significant role for the Dirtbags; filling in for injured starters Juan Avila (third base) and Michael Hill (shortstop). Serven ultimately played 15 games at the hot corner, including starting 11 straight games leading up to conference play and Avila's return. While Avila's defense was always subpar, Serven provided admirable glovework, logging a .950 fielding percentage at third, averaging over three chances per start, and committing just one error in Avila's absence.

His offense, however, left much to be desired. Serven never found a grove at the plate and ended up striking out as often as he reached base (14 K's; 14 hits plus walks plus hit by pitches). The Dirtbags tried to make the best of Serven's light-hitting, and calling upon him to sacrifice a team high eight times.

After Avila's return Serven went nearly a month without seeing any playing time. He found his way back in the lineup after shortstop Michael Hill suffered a season-ending broken ankle on April 23 against UCLA. Serven earned the bulk of playing time at short the rest of the way, at one point starting nine straight games. However, the true freshman's defense at the 6-position struggled. Serven committed six errors in his final nine games and finished with a mediocre .878 fielding percentage and had just 4.8 chances per start.

Serven isn't likely to become much of a threat at the plate, but with no incumbency in third base entering 2014, Serven's experience and strong defensive skills could put him in play for a starting position this season. What remains to be seen is if the coaching staff prefers a better offensive player at the hot corner or if they want to build the lineup with more of a pitching/defense approach. Who ultimately wins the second base and shortstop positions could also affect Serven's bid to start at third. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

2014 Dirtbag Position Preview: Second Base

Though the fluidity of the Dirtbag lineup leaves multiple positions, such as third base and the outfield, up for grabs, second base appears to be the only spot in the field where there is an open competition for the job. Colton Vaughn, the starter for the latter part of 2013, returns but will have to outplay two talented returning sophomore's in addition to a JuCo transfer with an impressive resume.

Replacing an all-Big West player like Jeff McNei won't be easy, but it's possible the high competition at second could drive the eventual starter (or starters) to play at peak performance.

Alex DeGoti – Sophomore; Bats: Right; .080/.207/.080, 16 games
DeGoti saw the least amount of playing time in 2013 among the returning Dirtbags, logging just 31 plate appearances across 16 games. There's not much to take away from DeGoti's spring performance, though he played solid defense at second base while also moonlighting at shortstop. For what it's worth he also went hitless in his final 16 at bats, spread across ten weeks.

DeGoti finally got a chance to cut his teeth playing summer ball in the West Coast League. Serving as the everyday shortstop for Victoria, DeGoti got off to a hot start at the plate. His season peaked with a ten-game hitting streak in late June and he carried a .400 On-Base Percentage into August before finishing with a .286/.370/.381 slash line. He managed to avoid many of the top pitching prospects in the league, but he did go 1-for-4 against top prospect (according to Perfect Game) Cody Poteet of UCLA and had a multi-hit games against San Diego's CJ Burdick.

In the field DeGoti was among the top shortstops in the league, logging a .965 fielding percentage across 51 games. He would end up being ranked the 37th best prospect in the league by PG and was be one of four Victoria players (along with fellow Dirtbag Ty Provencher) to be selected for the WCL all-star game.

DeGoti has physically grown a little since last spring, but so far there's not much to report as to how it's affected his bat. Had it not been for the unexpected arrival of top prospects Garrett Hampson, DeGoti could've been a candidate to take over shortstop duties this spring. Owning an exceptional arm, DeGoti remains an option at third base, but for now it appears his best chance for playing time will be a second. Regardless of where he plays in the field, how the sophomore's bat is progressing will play a big role in whether he can break into the starting lineup.

DeGoti is will be an interesting name for Dirtbag fans to follow this spring.

Zack Domingues – Red Shirt Sophomore; Bats: Left; .316/.538/.412, 37 games (Cuesta Community College)
A Cuesta alumnus, former SLO Blues player, and he can take a walk? I already like this guy. Originally a Chico State commit, Domingues moved down for San Luis Obispo for his collegiate debut last spring. There he displayed a remarkable batting eye, leading the state (by a considerable margin) in both walks (51) and on-base percentage in 2013, while striking out just 12 times in 174 plate appearances as the Cougars' shortstop.

Domingues then moved over to Sinschimer Stadium for the summer where he had less successful season at the plate, playing for the NBC World Series bound Blues. For the summer Domingues hit just .208 and saw his K-rate spike to 35 in about 170 plate appearances (data incomplete); though he still managed to get on base at a solid .378 clip thanks to another 37 walks.

Much like Alex Bishop at the catcher position, it's hard not to be optimistic about Domingues' talents after such a successful JuCo career. However, also like Bishop, it's difficult to know just how much of an opportunity Domingues will have to showcase his ability while facing such stern competition for playing time. According to the recent infield preview, Domingues should also get a long look at third base, much like DeGoti. A Visalia native, the “San Joaquin Valley God of Walks” also boasts the advantage of being just one of two hitting left-handed hitting infielders in the mix (Michael Hill being the other; this of course is ignoring first base) possibly giving him an edge when searching for starts against righties.

Colton Vaughn – Red Shirt Senior; Bats: Right; .263/.311/.293, 35 games
Vaughn's Dirtbag career took agonizingly long to take off, red shirting in 2012, then barely touching the field the first month of 2013. But ultimately Vaughn became as key part of the lineup as a “third year sophomore.” Vaughn's class seems to be in question, as last year he was listed on the roster as a RS sophomore, yet in 2014 is apparently an RS senior. He seemingly made his collegiate debut in 2011 playing JuCo ball, and it appears he graduated high school in 2009, so my best guess is he sat out 2010 and there was either a mistake on last year's roster, or he has since lost that year of eligibility. But back to his on-field results...

Vaughn spent the first five-plus weeks of the season making cameos here and there as a pinch runner, replacement second baseman, and even a center fielder (where he committed an error on his first play of the season). In the wake of Colby Brenner's struggles, however, he slowly moved into the starting second base position, as Jeff McNeil shifted to center field. Vaughn would start the Dirtbags' first four Big West games at the 4-position, yielding modest results at the plate but playing solid defense. After shifting back into a part time role for three weeks, he took over the position April 23 in the Dirtbags' 11-1 buttkicking of the eventual national champion UCLA Bruins, starting every game at second from there on out.

Despite batting second on multiple occasions during the season Vaughn's offensive output remained minimal (although he did manage an eight-game hit streak and another six-game streak during the year). A .344 average in 2011 while playing JuCo ball notwithstanding, Vaughn will likely remain a relatively weak hitter. Much like the light-hitting outfielder Colby Brenner, much of Vaughn's value derives from his speed and defense. After becoming the starting second baseman in April, Vaughn posted a solid .970 fielding percentage while average 5.2 chances per game.

Though Vaughn will likely start the year at second with DeGoti and newcomer Domingues in the fold (not to mention the hard-hitting sophomore Zack Rivera) his standing in the lineup is a precarious one. Being a righty, Vaughn could also be asked to enter a platoon. The obviously platoon-mate would be Domingues, but also keep an eye on Vaughn splitting time with the left-handed Brenner, with Rivera shifting back and forth between second base and the outfield.