Summary – Though three starters return from the 2012 club, the Long Beach State infield is very much up in the air. Three newcomers (freshman Alex DeGoti and Zack Rivera and JuCo transfer Colton Vaughn) could push for playing time, two returners (Juan Avila and Jeff McNeil) could change positions, and a bench player from last year (Michael Hill) could make a big splash. The only sure thing seems to be that Ino Patron will man first base.
The shortstop position could be the big wild card. Vacant after seeing the 2012 starter Matt Duffy get drafted, there are a host of candidates to fill the position. From a historical perspective, the Dirtbags have been as prolific in producing shortstops as any program in the nation, but in recent years have struggled to find an elite player for the position. This year it appears Jeff McNeil will hold down the job, though some talented freshmen are waiting in the wings.
Finding that next great Dirtbag shortstop could be Long Beach State’s key to getting back to the regionals, and beyond.
Juan Avila, Senior (2012: .288/.364/.369 in 54 games) – In a lineup lacking any significant home run threats, Avila’s line drive hitting ability and gap power makes him one of the Dirtbags best run producers and, like last year, he’s expected to be batting in the middle of this Dirtbag lineup. The real question concerning Avila in 2013 is where he’ll be playing in the field, or rather, if he’ll be in the field at all. Avila has struggled defensively as both a third baseman (where he spent the bulk of last year) and an outfielder, and with plenty of other players vying to starting positions it’s possible Avila could move into the Designated Hitter role. For what it's worth, Avila was recently mentioned by both a LBSU press release and the Long Beach Press Telegram as a third baseman.
Alex DeGoti, Freshman – Coming all the way from Florida, DeGoti is a solid overall player with good tools at shortstop and coming off a strong high school career at the plate. He may grab the shortstop job at some point in his Dirtbag career, though it probably won't be this season… but don’t tell him that…
Michael Hill, Junior (2012: .140/.232/.180 in 27 games) – Despite a .179 career college batting average, and an unspectacular summer in the California Collegiate League, Michael Hill could find himself in the middle of the position battles in Long Beach, if not the middle of the lineup. This pretty much all comes from Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt’s assessment of Hill during fall ball, where Fitt says Hill made “consistent, hard contact” and even went as far as to say Hill could “anchor” the lineup. Given how light his bat had been as an underclassmen, it’s hard to know what to expect from Hill but if his bat has really come around it could be just what the Dirtbags need. Hill, who has solid speed and the range to play shortstop, could slide over to third base and instantly improve the Dirtbag defense at the hot corner.
Jeff McNeil, Junior (2012: .254/.333/.304 in 55 games) – The team's second baseman from a year ago, McNeil is your classic middle infielder and he returns to Long Beach after having a strong summer in the Cape. McNeil is capable of providing solid defense at third base or the outfield, but will likely end up in the middle infield once again. He played a strong shortstop during fall ball, though there are plenty of other options available for Coach Buckley and Company to choose from. Being the typical middle infielder that he is, McNeil has a strong ability to bunt that could land him a spot at the top of the lineup (I’ll reserve commentary on that for now).
Ino Patron, Junior (2012: .279/.379/.342 in 55 games) – I’ve said it before, though his numbers don’t blow you away, Ino Patron is arguably the best hitter on the Long Beach State roster. His 2012 on-base percentage is the best among the returning players, and in general he always grinds out every at-bat and makes pitchers work. The Dirtbags could badly use more of a power stroke from their incumbent first baseman, but regardless Patron will probably be batting third in 2013.
Zack Rivera, Freshman – Rivera joins the Dirtbags in 2013 where he’ll add some impressive athleticism (a common trait for many of the new Dirtbags) to the infield and perhaps some power to the lineup. A solid 5’11”, 185 pounds, Rivera has a nice combination of strength and speed, showcased while playing running back for his high school football team. Rivera played third base at the prep level, but could end up playing second base for Long Beach, which would bump McNeil to shortstop.
Jonathan Serven, Freshman – Though somewhat less heralded than some of the other incoming freshman, Serven joins the Dirtbags after starring in both baseball and basketball in high school. He’s capable of playing multiple infield positions, including shortstop where he spent last season. The 6’3”, 200 pounder will likely be a utility man his freshman year.
Colton Vaughn, Red Shirt Sophomore – Since he was red shirted last year, Vaughn is technically not new to the Dirtbag program, however 2013 will mark the third year sophomore’s first season on the field for Long Beach. Vaughn spent his freshman year with South Mountain College in Arizona, where he played shortstop, batted .344 and stole 10 bases, though he drew only 11 walks and committed 14 errors. His speed should make him a useful role player for the Dirtbags, and possibly a dark horse candidate for the starting shortstop job.
Jeff Yamaguchi, Junior (2012: .230/.352/.276 in 34 games) – Yamaguchi saw his playing time drop somewhat last year, and is coming off a disappointing summer in the Alaska League. He’ll likely continue the role he played last year, manning first base when Patron is DH’ing, and getting the occasional pinch hitting duty or filling in at the hot corner.
Up next: We find out who is going to be in the Dirtbags rotation, after seeing the departure of Shawn Stuart, Matt Anderson, and Matt Johnson. Oh well, at least we still have Ryan Strufing. What? No! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!