Trojans Enter 2013 Baseball Season Under New Leadership of Dan Hubbs
Feb. 15, 2013
The 2013 Trojans have adopted the mantra of "don't talk about it; just do it." With 17 returners and 18 talented newcomers, the Trojans have a strong mix that is ready to take on the toughest schedules in college baseball this season and looks return the USC baseball program to winning ways.
The Trojans start out the season with a new head coach, as associate head coach Dan Hubbs was elevated to head coach on Wednesday, February 13, 2013, following the termination of third-year head coach Frank Cruz, due to knowingly violating NCAA Countable Athletic Related Activities (CARA) rules. Those CARA rules restrict the number of hours student-athletes can spend in activities directed by or supervised by the coaching staff. In addition, the University has self-imposed a reduction in the number of practice session hours for the USC baseball team this season and next year. USC has alerted the NCAA and Pac-12 of the infraction and the University-imposed actions.
Hubbs becomes the sixth head baseball coach for USC since 1930, and spent last season as the associate head coach at Troy. Prior to that, the 42-year-old Hubbs was the pitching coach at California for 12 seasons. He was an All-American pitcher at USC and spent seven seasons in the minor leagues before getting into coaching.
He is joined on the coaching front by third-year assistant coach Gabe Alvarez, another USC great, who spent three seasons in the major leagues. First-year volunteer assistant Adam Dedeaux also joins the staff. Adam is the grandson of the late, great USC head coach Rod Dedeaux, the namesake of the USC baseball stadium.
This year, the Hubbs-led Trojans look to duplicate last season's hot start, in which the team won 12 of its first 15 games, climbing into the national rankings but will have to do so against one of the most difficult schedules in the country.
The Trojans have contests against 10 teams ranked in the preseason top-25 national polls and a total of 27 of 55 games against these ranked opponents. They will be tested from opening day, as they face a top 25 Cal State Fullerton team on the road, before heading to CSU Bakersfield and rounding out the first weekend of play with the home opener against Nebraska.
While this year's Trojan roster looks inexperienced with 18 newcomers, seven of the positions will be filled by returners. The team returns senior infielder Adam Landecker (Calabasas, Calif./Calabasas HS), junior infielders James Roberts (Cupertino, Calif./Archbishop Mitty HS) and Kevin Swick (La Canada, Calif./Loyola HS), sophomore catcher Garrett Stubbs (Del Mar, Calif./Torrey Pines HS), sophomore infielder/outfielder Dante Flores (Norwalk, Calif./St. John Bosco HS), junior outfielder Omar Cotto Lozada (San Juan, Puerto Rico/Bonneville School), senior outfielder J.R. Aguirre (Palos Verdes Estates, Calif./Palos Verdes) and fifth-year senior outfielder Greg Zebrack (Northridge, Calif./Campbell Hall) who has played three years of college ball.
On the mound, it looks to be the youth movement for the Trojans, as five of the players in contention to form the starting rotation are underclassmen, including sophomores Nigel Nootbaar (El Segundo, Calif./El Segundo HS) and Wyatt Strahan (Villa Park, Calif./Villa Park HS);freshmen Kyle Davis (Garden Grove, Calif./Garden Grove HS) and Kyle Twomey (Placentia, Calif./El Dorado HS). Junior Bob Wheatley (Villa Park, Calif./Orange Lutheran HS), who has seen a number of innings in relief, is also in contention to join the rotation and adds experience to a young staff.
"We've got a really youthful team," Hubbs explained. "Especially on the mound."
The deep but unproven Trojan bullpen brings a unique mix of arms and features six lefties group, including junior Sean Silva (Fresno, Calif./Clovis West HS), a transfer from Fresno City College. Leadership for the young Trojan pen will come from senior righties Matt Munson (Irvine, Calif./Northwood HS) and Nick Berhel (Benicia, Calif./De La Salle HS). Junior James Guillen (Covina, Calif./Damien HS) also will be a key arm from the right side for the Trojans.
Trojans will have proven depth handling the pitching staff from behind the dish with returners Stubbs and junior Jake Hernandez (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Los Osos HS), and Coach Hubbs will look to use both throughout the season. When one is catching, the Trojans may look to the other as the designated hitter, since Hernandez, brings a strong right-handed bat, while Stubbs hits from the left side.
The infield is undoubtedly the strength of this year's Trojans, as it boasts strong returners in Swick at third base and Roberts and Landecker interchangeable up the middle. All three are veterans with good hands and experience working together as a cohesive unit. Backing up the upperclassmen will be freshmen Reggie Southall (Gardena, Calif./Serra HS), Blake Lacey (Clovis, Calif/Clovis West HS) and Conner Sullivan (Orange, Calif./Orange Lutheran HS).
The infield position still in open competition is first base. Since the Trojans are deep and experienced at the other infield spots, Coach Cruz is looking to put a talented athlete in the position. Possibilities include: Flores and freshmen Sullivan, Andre Ramirez (Bakersfield, Calif./Bakersfield Christian HS) and Davis.
In the outfield, the Trojans return a top bat in the left-hand hitting Flores. Redshirt senior-transfer Zebrack and junior Cotto both did well in the fall and should be key outfielders for the team. Freshman Vahn Bozoian (Chino Hills, Calif./Ayala HS), a big bat, will look to make his mark as a right fielder, and senior J.R. Aguirre, who also had a strong fall, looks to compete for playing time. Heralded freshman Timmy Robinson (Huntington Beach, Calif./Ocean View HS) is another player who should see significant time in the Trojan outfield. The depth in the outfield continues with freshman Turner Clouse and redshirt freshman Bobby Stahel who will look to use their athleticism in the outfield.
As for putting runs on the board, the Trojans will look to Landecker, Swick and Roberts for experience, as they have had a lot of at-bats in their careers. Flores, who hit .300 as a freshman, looks to be a middle-of-the-order hitter for USC. Coach Hubbs will look to utilize Cotto's speed and his ability to hit from both sides of the plate at the top of the order. Zebrack, a two-time All-Ivy League selection at UPenn, could also lead off, though he also brings power to the lineup after hitting three home runs in the fall. Freshman Bozoian is another source of power and should be able to produce anywhere in the Trojan lineup.
USC will look to upperclassmen such as Swick and Landecker to provide leadership to the team and the younger Trojans.
"We've had some guys really step up as leaders throughout all this," Hubbs said. "We're a coach down right now, so it's going to be up to some of the older guys to help out a bit more in practice. We are looking towards guys like Landecker and Roberts, who have really taken the younger guys behind them under their wings and taken a teaching roll."
Per the theme of the year, the Trojans aren't talking about things this year--their sole aim is to go out and show it. They are approaching this season with cautious excitement, as they know they have a tough road ahead with a lot to prove.
"We've got some promise," Hubbs said. "If we play well, we have a chance to beat anybody. But we have to play well and we have to execute, because it will be tough for us to grind out wins when we're not."