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 LongBeachState.com 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.