USC Baseball Brings Experience and Energy with Postseason Expectations in 2015|
Feb. 9, 2015
On the heels of a successful 2014 season that saw USC finish with a winning record for the first time since 2005 and narrowly miss the NCAA Regionals, the 2015 Trojans enter the season with lofty standards and an expectation of a regional bid.
Former Trojan pitcher Dan Hubbs enters his third season at the helm, assisted by Trojan great and former major leaguer Gabe Alvarez, in his fifth season, and second-year assistant Matt Curtis. Hubbs also has a brought in new addition to the staff, former Arizona State standout and major leaguer Chris Duffy, who will serve as a volunteer assistant in 2015.
The team of 17 freshmen from two seasons ago has grown up, as this year's squad boasts 19 upperclassmen and returns seven starting position players and two starting pitchers. The 2015 squad is highlighted by senior catcher Garrett Stubbs, junior pitchers Kyle Davis and Kyle Twomey, and sophomore catcher/designated hitter Jeremy Martinez. Nine freshmen also join the fold this season, along with two impact junior college transfers in pitcher Tyler Gilbert and outfielder David Oppenheim.
"We have seen their development. We knew a couple years ago when we had 17 freshmen that it was going to be a big transition year for them and that we were going to take our lumps," said Hubbs. "But last year--especially in the second half of the season--you really saw that this team start to take a step forward in a couple different ways."
"One is, they were more consistent with their performance, but two, they realized that they really belong and that they can compete with anybody in the country. The most telling thing for me was the last week of the season, with everything on the line, we beat the No. 1 team in the country two-out-of-three times, when a lot of teams would have folded under the pressure. Instead our kids stepped up. A lot of the guys that were a part of that were back."
The strength of this year's squad is pitching and defense, and both will be keys to success this season. Coach Hubbs is particularly excited about his staff, which he feels is the deepest one he's had in his four seasons at Troy.
The pitching staff is led by junior right-hander Davis, an All-Pac-12 selection in 2014. Davis was the team's closer in 2014, tallying nine saves in 56.1 innings of work, striking out 57 batters but also won his only start, which came against No. 1 Oregon State in the must-win final game of the season. He threw a complete game, allowing one unearned run on five hits, while striking out a career-high 14 batters. Twomey, a highly touted junior lefty who has both started and relieved during his career, will be another key piece. Last season he went 2-2 with a 3.11 ERA through 55.0 innings, striking out 50 batters in 19 appearances--four of them starts. Junior Brent Wheatley, the Trojans' Saturday starter for much of the 2014 season is also returning in 2015. He finished 4-3 through 18 appearances (14 starts). Sophomore right-hander Jeff Paschke also returns in 2015, after making 18 appearances as a true freshman, throwing 28 innings and striking out 22. Right-hander Brooks Kriske and lefty Marc Huberman, both juniors, also will see innings out of the bullpen.
The 2015 staff is also bolstered by a number of newcomers. Junior college transfer lefty Tyler Gilbert, freshman right-hander Mason Perryman and freshmen right-handers Mitch Hart, Brad Wegman and Bryce Dyrda. Hart was a highly-touted recruit and 35th round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants is likely to either start or close for the Trojans.
"At the back end of the pen we are looking at guys like Jeff Paschke, Mitch Hart, Bryce Dyrda and Marc Huberman. We have a ton of options there," explained Hubbs. "Then we have a number of guys who can fill the swing roll and be a little more long relief like newcomer Mason Perryman, Brooks Kriske and Bernardo Flores.
"Overall I am excited about the staff's ability to throw strikes and their ability to strike people out. I think in particular Davis, Twomey and Wheatley had a bunch of success last year and we are only expecting them to have more this upcoming year," said Hubbs.
Aside from the staff, the strength of the Trojan defense starts behind the plate with catcher Garrett Stubbs. Last season the Del Mar, Calif., native hit .287 with 18 RBI and six stolen bases. The versatile and athletic Stubbs hit at the top of the order and also saw starts in the infield, outfield and at DH last season. The Trojans' other backstop, Jeremy Martinez, is already a season veteran as a sophomore and is the lead returning bat for the Trojans in 2015, having hit .297 with 29 RBI as a freshman.
"The strength of our team, especially defensively, will be up the middle of the field," said Hubbs. "We have two guys behind the plate we think could start for anybody in the country in Garrett Stubbs and Jeremy Martinez. Garrett is a three-year starter who we feel is the best defensive catcher in the conference and maybe even the country, with his athleticism, his ability to call a game and his ability to manage a staff and throw runners out. Jeremy is developing into a very good receiver and a good blocker while continuing to work on every other part of his game. We believe these two give us the best catching core in the country."
Other key returners include a trio of experienced middle infielders--senior second baseman Dante Flores, redshirt sophomore shortstop Reggie Southall and junior Blake Lacey, who is slated to move to the corner and start at third base in 2015. Flores brings the experience of a three-year starter who drove in 23 runs last season, and Southall is sure-handed and slick with the glove at shortstop. Lacey, who missed the early part of the season with an injury, once again showed the strength of his bat, hitting .281 with 19 RBI and 10 doubles in 43 games (38 starts). Additions to the infield include Angelo LaBruna, a transfer from Duke who brings DI experience and freshman infielder Angelo Armenta. The Trojans will look to Martinez, Flores, Joe Corrigan and AJ Ramirez to fill the hole at first base that was left with the graduation of Jake Hernandez.
On the infield, Hubbs said, "Up the middle of the diamond we have four guys that are really in the mix for short and second in Dante Flores, Reggie Southall, Angelo La Bruna and Angelo Armenta. They all had fantastic falls defensively and offensively, and we are excited about the dynamic. We are trying to figure out what the look of the infield will be. Blake Lacey is going to play third base, and then at first base we are looking at either Dante Flores or Jeremy Martinez, who has been taking a lot of ground balls there. Joe Corrigan is also in the mix. We feel like our infield has a chance to be special defensively."
In the outfield, the Trojans return a pair of juniors in center fielder Timmy Robinson and corner outfielder AJ Ramirez. Ramirez, had a great fall with the bat, provides flexibility for the Trojans, as he is also one of the team's best defensive first basemen. In the mix for the left field job are senior Omar Cotto Lozada, juniors Bobby Stahel, Turner Clouse and David Oppenheim--a junior college transfer--and sophomores Corey Dempster and David Edson. The speedy Cotto Lozada and the athletic Stahel will be key for the Trojans, and Oppenheim gives the Trojans a left-handed bat who can play immediately.
"In the opening in left field we are looking at Bobby Stahel who had a great fall, Omar Cotto Lozada who played quite a bit over the last year, a newcomer David Oppenheim, who had a really good fall, Turner Clouse, an excellent defender who is really making strides with the bat, and Corey Dempster who also had a really good fall," said Hubbs. "The last guy in the mix is David Edson, who has been in the program for a couple of years, had a fantastic fall with the bat and has continued to hit since we got back from break."
The Trojans open the season on Friday, Feb. 13 at Dedeaux Field as they host Towson for a three-game set. The Trojans then go on to play at perennial power, preseason No. 19 Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday, and return to Dedeaux to host a talented Kentucky squad on Thursday before a three game set with Oakland. Overall, the team opens with eight games in 10 days, which Hubbs believes will be a strong test out of the gates.
"It will give us a chance to play a lot of different people, get them in there and see what we really have," Hubbs explains of the fast start. "It will be a chance to get a lot of at bats early and see where we`re deficient and where we're good. Same thing on the mound. It will put guys in a bunch of different spots, give us a chance to see who can take the closer role as we are building up the starters. This team understands now more than any other team why every game is important. At the end of the year you don't know which game is going to keep you out of the Regionals."
Overall the schedule boasts 24 out of 56 games against 11 different teams that made the 2014 NCAA postseason. In addition to the perennially tough Pac-12 slate, this year's schedule includes games against three teams that made the 2014 College World Series, and a nonconference series against 2014 regional team Cal Poly.
"I think it's a good, strong schedule," said Hubbs. "We should have a strong RPI based on who we play. Our job now will be to go out there and win as many games as possible."
The 2015 Trojans are ready to get back out on the diamond and are determined not to be left out of postseason play like 2014. This year's squad has put in the work both on the field and in the weight room, knows the importance of every game and is ready to compete day in and day out.
"We are excited about the makeup of the team, both in their physical ability but also in their work ethic and how hard they have been working," said Hubbs. "They felt like they should have been in the Regionals last year, and I agree with them. They've come with a renewed effort on the field to not let that happen again."