Thursday, February 7, 2013

Dirtbags 2013 Preview: Lineupology


Just over a week to go. Here's the final Long Beach State season preview post, but stay turned for a few more things before opening day.


I pretty much had this post done the week of January 21. I devoted 1,265 words to explaining why I thought the Dirtbag starting lineup would probably look like this: 

1. Johnny Bekakis, LF (RH)
2. Jeff McNeil, SS (LH)
3. Ino Patron, 1B (LH)
4. Richard Prigatano, RF (RH)
5. Juan Avila, DH (RH)
6. Michael Hill, 3B (LH)
7. Zack Rivera, 2B (RH)
8. Eric Hutting, C (RH)
9. Colby Brenner, CF (LH)

And reasoning why, if I were filling out the lineup card, my lineup would look like this:

1. Colby Brenner, CF (LH)
2. Johnny Bekakis, LF (RH)
3. Ino Patron, 1B (LH)
4. Richard Prigatano, RF (RH)
5. Juan Avila, DH (RH)
6. Michael Hill, 3B (LH)
7. Zack Rivera, 2B (RH)
8. Jeff McNeil, SS (LH)
9. Eric Hutting, C (RH)

Then, days later, word came down that Johnny Bekakis would sit out the season for academic reasons. While the Dirtbags have the depth to fill the void in left field, I’m not sure I have the fortitude to put together a new post… but I’ve got nothing better to do, so here goes.

We met our projected starters here and here, but before we begin let's recap the field of nine we're working with:

Designated Hitter: Juan Avila, Senior (2012: .288/.364/.369) - Typically used as a middle-of-the-order bat, Avila could also see time in the outfield or retain his 2012 position at third base.

Catcher: Eric Hutting, Freshman - Potentially solid hitter but not expected to be a big offensive threat this year.

First Base: Ino Patron, Junior (.279/.379/.342) - Lacking some power but has a good bat and is a frequent #3 or 4 hitter.

Second Base: Zack Rivera, Freshman - May take some time to develop but has good speed and power potential.

Third Base: Michael Hill, Junior (.140/.232/.180) - Still waiting for him to breakout but looked strong in fall ball.

Shortstop: Jeff McNeil, Junior (.254/.333/.304) - Nice role player but lacks an impact bat.

Left Field: Josh Guerra, Sophomore (.282/.370/.380) - Another solid role player but questionable whether he can repeat his 2012 performance. 

Center Field: Colby Brenner, Junior (.272/.412/.314 in JuCo) - Has all the tools to be a capable leadoff man.

Right Field: Richard Prigatano, Sophomore (.278/.335/.329) - Coming off a disappointing freshman year but may have the most potential in the lineup.



One of the biggest problems LBSU faces in losing Bekakis is that he was the Dirtbags’ only apparent right-handed option at the top of the lineup, short of pulling one of the run producers from the middle of the order. Lefties Colby Brenner and Jeff McNeil are the most likely options, other than Bekakis, to bat first or second and another left-hander, Ino Patron, is the most logical choice to hit third. So now we have three candidates to fill the first three spot in the lineup, and they all have the same handedness. We essentially have to find a right-hander to fit somewhere in that trio of spots, so it’s time to get creative.

Handedness aside, Brenner and McNeil appear to be the most likely options to leadoff and, to me anyway, the obvious choice in Brenner. McNeil has some of the classic tools; decent speed, one of the nation’s leading bunters a year ago (more on that later), but if Brenner is half the leadoff man in Division 1 as he is in JuCo he’ll be a solid choice at the top. Brenner rarely strikes out, is probably the fastest runner on the team, and last season got on base at a .412 clip. Brenner’s our leadoff man, and I've already established Patron should hit third, so let’s see what we've got so far…

  1. Colby Brenner, CF (LH)
  2. ?????
  3. Ino Patron, 1B (LH)
That number two slot has to go to a right-hander, which leaves us with the following options: Avila, Guerra (assuming he replaces Bekakis), Hutting, Rivera, and Prigatano.

Two of those options (Hutting and Rivera) are unproven freshmen, though Rivera does come with some speed and offensive potential. If Guerra could repeat his ’12 performance (.370 OBP) he would be a decent option, but he’s coming off a rough summer and needs to improve his pitch selection. Plus, I didn't even originally project him to be a starter, let alone bat near the top of the lineup. Avila and Prigatano are two of the Dirtbags’ better run producers; what did I say about that, earlier?

Bekakis… was the Dirtbags’ only apparent right-handed option at the top of the lineup, short of pulling one of the run producers from the middle of the order.

There’s our answer. Though it may not be ideal, the lineup has been shaken up so much that at this point it’s probably best to focus more heavily on getting the best hitters the most at bats rather than focusing on what "roles" each hitter will play.

Prigatano needs to prove a little more before he should be batting that high and his raw power is too valuable to pull from the middle of the order. Juan Avila, on the other hand, looks like a perfect fit. A senior, with a solid on-base percentage, and decent power but not so good that he’ll be missed in the middle of the order. He also occasionally hit second last season and is capable of laying down a bunt, which should make assistant coach Jesse Zepeda happy. Avila’s K:BB could be better but what are you gonna do?

  1. Brenner, CF (LH)
  2. Avila, DH (RH)
  3. Patron, 1B (LH)
It’s also possible we could see Patron, and his high on-base percentage, batting second, which would make Avila a decent option to hit third; however that would break up our nice left-right-left pattern.

Despite his unpolished bat, Prigatano’s power makes him the best option to cleanup and it would be preferable to put a righty in the 4-hole. After that, finding power for the middle of the order becomes difficult. Michael Hill is the big wild card. He could be poised for a breakout year and none of our remaining options are noticeably better hitters. Plus he’s another lefty, which keeps a good balance in the lineup.

  1. Brenner, CF (LH)
  2. Avila, DH (RH)
  3. Patron, 1B (LH)
  4. Prigatano, RF (RH)
  5. Hill, 3B (LH)
The rest of the lineup is pretty wide open. The only certainties being that McNeil or Hutting shouldn't be batting sixth (not enough power) nor should McNeil be batting ninth (bunches too many lefties together). For the sixth spot, Rivera probably has the most power of the remaining hitters, but Guerra has more experience  It’s pretty much a toss-up at this point, but given the team’s serious lack of power and the potential in Rivera’s bat, I’ll take a flyer on him for now. 

  1. Brenner, CF (LH)
  2. Avila, DH (RH)
  3. Patron, 1B (LH)
  4. Prigatano, RF (RH)
  5. Hill, 3B (LH)
  6. Rivera, 2B (RH)
From here the rest of the batting order is fairly unimportant, other than keeping McNeil out of the ninth spot (and having the 9-1-3 hitters all be lefties). I realize bumping the two-year starter McNeil to the seventh or eight hole may hinder Coach Zepeda’s small ball strategy but frankly that’s probably for the best. 

With the utmost respect to the Dirtbags coaching staff, I hate the endless bunts. Ninety-one bunts in just 55 games last year? I understand the whole "manufacturing runs" argument, but at a certain point it just goes too far. There were a few games last year where the Dirtbags attempted six or seven sacrifices. In other words, a team already struggling to score runs willingly surrendered two full innings worth of outs. Our offense was playing a seven-inning game while the opposition played nine. The "small ball" approach is fine, but maybe substitute the bunts with some hit-and-runs or utilize our speed more often.

McNeil lead the Dirtbags with 15 sacrifices last year and one could argue by taking the bunt away from him you eliminate a large portion of his offensive game. I think the obvious counter-argument to this is that the lineup should be built around what best accentuates the strengths of the team as a whole, not how an individual player’s weaknesses are best utilized. Jeff McNeil is a very good player; a fantastic defender, good base runner, and in a situation where you absolutely should bunt (which is seldom) he’s the guy you want up. But on the whole a good hitter he is not. By batting him this low you reduce the number of at bats (and outs produced) he gets, instead giving those opportunities to players who won’t waste them on voluntary outs.

Now that I got that out of my system, let’s bunt bat McNeil seventh. He’s the most experienced of our remaining hitters and if Coach Zepeda really wants to lay down a bunt this may not be a terrible spot to do it in. A sacrifice here could push some of the middle-of-the-order hitters into scoring position, where the lighter bats (Guerra and Hutting) would only need to get a single to drive them in.

Let’s go ahead and give Guerra the "second leadoff" spot, batting ninth, over Hutting given the former’s speed and experience.

Projected Lineup
1. Brenner, CF (LH)
2. Avila, DH (RH)
3. Patron, 1B (LH)
4. Prigatano, RF (RH)
5. Hill, 3B (LH)
6. Rivera, 2B (RH)
7. McNeil, SS (LH)
8. Hutting, C (RH)
9. Guerra, LF (RH)

This post was originally supposed to be a comparison between Coach Zepeda’s "projected lineup" and "my lineup", as you saw above. However, this new lineup looks like it could very well fit both Coach Zepeda’s and my preferences. The proven bats (Avila, Patron, and McNeil) are still given roles where they can contribute (or bunt) while the high-potential athletes (Brenner, Prigatano, and Rivera) are given the opportunity to shine (or, also bunt). It’s a balanced lineup relying on some unknown commodities but with solid athleticism and versatility throughout.

There you go Dirtbag fans, assuming everyone else makes the grade, this could be our opening day versus Vanderbilt.


Nah, I’m probably way off…


Up next: I show some love for my current hometown teams. From the ACC to Division III, it's the Beltway Baseball Preview...