Jan. 29, 2008
SAN DIEGO, Calif. - The 2008 University of San Diego baseball season will be much like a new season of a popular television series. Each season, a television show has the same name and airs on the same network but often introduces new characters and new storylines. While the premise and main characters of the show remain the same from year to year, each season is filled with new adventures, new drama and a whole lot of entertainment.
Over the years, USD's baseball team has provided many chills and thrills. It's a storyline that seems to get better and better with each season. While the past two seasons have been some of San Diego's best with back-to-back trips to the NCAA post season and the first 40-win season in program history, they were very different in many ways. Each season had its' own cast of players who created their own storylines and style of play. Gone from last season's record setting team are WCC Player of the Year Shane Buchini, catcher Jordan Abruzzo, first baseman Daniel Magness and second baseman Justin Snyder, but the cupboard is far from bare for the Toreros this season.
The Toreros are locked, loaded and ready to go for the season as they welcome in the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, have three preseason All-Americans on the roster and arguably the best pitching rotation in the country.
"Our pitching is the strength of this team, the depth in the bullpen is the strongest it has ever been of a Torero team, or of any team I have coached in my 21 years," said head coach Rich Hill. "On the offensive side of things, the power will be a question mark, but we will continue to put pressure on the defense as much as we can to create scoring opportunities and play an aggressive style of offense."
Highlighting the returners is preseason first-team All-American Brian Matusz. A year ago, Matusz set a new program record for single-season strikeouts with 163, posted a 10-3 record and had an ERA of 2.85. For his efforts this past season, Matusz was named a second-team All-American, was Insidepitching.com's West Region Pitcher of the Year, was named first-team All-WCC and was a member of Team USA over the summer. Matusz will help anchor down the nation's top pitching rotation.
"Everything has gone to plan with Brian Matusz. He is one of the most dominating pitchers in the country, which provides us with a quality starter at the top of the rotation," said Hill. "He continues to raise the bar for himself, which is important. He has stepped it up a notch on his strength and conditioning program over the off season, where he is stronger and more durable and has better bite on all of his pitches."
Another key returner for the Toreros pitching rotation is preseason All-American Josh Romanski. The junior left-hander makes his return after spending summer with Team USA. During his sophomore campaign, Romanski posted a record of 9-1 with an ERA of 3.05. The two-way star was also a solid force at the plate for the Toreros, as he hit .335, with 43 hits, 10 doubles, two triples, three home runs and 30 RBI. For his efforts, Romanski was named a second-team All-American and was a first-team All-WCC performer.
"Josh is another guy that helps provide that one-two punch at the top of the rotation, and I felt like he was our best guy down the stretch last season," stated Hill. "We are really counting on him out in center field and in the middle of the batting order as well. So he is well aware that he needs to be one of the best conditioned athletes on our team, and he has accepted that role."
Making a return for his fourth season is senior right-hander Matt Couch. As a junior, Couch opened eyes around the country as he helped solidify one of the nation's top pitching rotations becoming USD's Sunday starter. For the season, Couch posted a 9-2 record with a 3.60 ERA in 100.0 innings of work. Couch was also a first-team All-WCC selection this past season.
The Toreros will also welcome back their preseason All-American closer, AJ Griffin. As a freshman, Griffin made a splash on the collegiate baseball scene as he racked up 11 saves, posted a 6-2 record and had a team-leading 2.70 ERA. Griffin took home freshman All-American honors and was selected as a first-team All-WCC performer.
"AJ is one of the premier closers, premier relief guys in the country. He has only gotten bigger, stronger and more durable since last season," stated Hill.
The Toreros pitching corps doesn't stop here, as USD has one of its deepest pitching rotations in the history of the program. Highlighting some of the key returning pitchers is junior south paw Ricardo Pecina, who posted a 5-4 record with a 3.86 ERA a year ago. Pecina found himself becoming USD's mid week starter early in the season and helped lead USD to a 40-win season.
After taking a redshirt season, Torero fans will get an opportunity to finally see Darrin Campbell. Campbell, who missed all of 2007 after having Tommy John surgery in January 2006, bounced back strong this past summer, going 2-0, with a 1.53 ERA, had 19 strikeouts and six walks in 18 innings of work to be tabbed as one of the summer's top prospects out of the Clark Griffin League.
"Two of the top guys that no one talks about that I believe will be key to our season are Ricardo Pecina and Darrin Campbell," stated Hill. "We really like to use that set-up guy in the middle of the game and I believe that both of these guys will do a great job for us in this type of role."
The final returners in the bullpen are senior Luke Roniger, junior Scott Denault and sophomore Steve Winnick. As a junior, Roniger posted a 0-0 record and threw in 1.0 inning and didn't allow a single run to cross the plate for the season. In DeNault's sophomore campaign, he made one appearance for 0.2 innings of work and Winnick made two appearances in 2007, throwing in 1.1 innings.
Newcomers to the Torero pitching staff that are expected to have an immediate impact include fifth-round draft choice Kyle Blair from Los Gatos High School. Blair comes in as one of the most highly touted freshman in the country as he was a second-team All-American as a senior in high school. He was very impressive against experienced college hitters in the Northwoods League this past summer, going 3-3, with a 2.81 ERA, striking out 52 batters and posting 16 walks in 42 innings of work. The coaching staff is expecting big things from Blair this season, as he was tabbed as the No. 2 prospect out of the Northwoods League this past summer by Baseball America.
Another big impact player to the Toreros pitching staff is the addition of freshman Sammy Solis. Solis comes to San Diego from Litchfield Park, Ariz. where he was a stand-out on the Agua Fria High School team. Through his first three seasons, he posted a 17-10 overall record, with 289 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.90.
Matt Kohorst will be another new face to Torero fans in the bullpen as he comes to San Diego after a stand-out career at La Salle High School. He posted a 6-4 record with 104 strikeouts in 67.1 innings of work as a senior en route to earning first-team All-League honors.
Another freshman to the USD bullpen will be Moraga, Calif. native Nick Ousman, who comes to the Toreros from Campolindo High School. During his senior season, he posted a 9-1 record with a 0.36 ERA and was named the DFL Pitcher of the Year. He was ranked as the No. 5 pitching prospect in the state of California according to Perfect Game.
The final newcomer to the pitching corps for the Toreros is sophomore transfer Matt Thompson from Santa Rosa Community College. Thompson also had a big summer in 2007. Thompson was selected as the No. 1 prospect out of the Alaska League, as he went 4-4, with an ERA of 2.37, had seven walks and 33 strikeouts in 42 innings for the Oilers. Thomson was a 22nd-round pick of the Blue Jays in the 2007 MLB draft.
Behind the dish for the Toreros this season will be senior Logan Gelbrich. The Los Angeles, Calif. native has waited patiently for three years to get his chance as the starting catcher for USD, and now he gets it. Gelbrich is coming off his best season in a Torero uniform as he hit .316 with 67 hits, 16 doubles, 38 RBI and four home runs. His final home run came in the bottom of the ninth inning in the NCAA Regionals against Minnesota, which was a three-run blast to tie the game and force extra innings. For his efforts, Gelbrich was named first-team All-WCC for the first time in his career.
Backing up Gelbrich will not be an easy task, but there are two players battling it out for the right to earn time behind the plate. Sophomore's Nick McCoy and Steven Chatwood are the two capable catchers vying for playing time behind Gelbrich. Chatwood made two appearances this past season with one plate appearance. McCoy redshirted this past season and has had two at bats in three games during his freshman season.
The Toreros will have a different look to the infield this season, with the departure of Daniel Magness and Justin Snyder, but coach Hill and his staff are confident the Toreros will not skip a beat defensively.
At first base, sophomore James Meador is expected to be the starter. A former high school shortstop, Meader has demonstrated great defensive prowess in the fall and his bat will also be a welcome part of the Toreros' offense. As a freshman, Meador hit .215 with 14 hits and one double, while rotating between the outfield and designated hitter positions. Meador can also be figured into the Torero pitching staff, as Coach Hill can see him giving some valuable innings if need be to close out games during the season.
Backing up Meador at first will be Jose Valerio. Over his first two seasons in a Torero uniform, Valerio has given USD several valuable innings at first base and delivered several critical hits in several ball games. As a junior, he hit .200.
Another familiar face, but in a different position, will be Kevin Hansen making the move from third base to second base. As a junior, Hansen helped the team defensively at the hot corner and was also a huge help with is bat. Hansen hit .316 with 71 hits, 11 doubles, two triples and had 34 RBI.
Moving to shortstop, the Toreros will welcome back their defensive gem from a year ago, Sean Nicol. As a sophomore, in his first season with USD, Nicol was impressive defensively as well as offensively as he hit .300 with 71 hits, 10 doubles, two triples, five home runs and drove in 30 runs.
At third base, the Toreros will turn to highly touted freshman recruit Victor Sanchez from Norwalk, Calif. Sanchez was ranked the No. 1 prospect by Baseball America out of the Northwoods League this past summer after putting up solid numbers. He was a member of USA Baseball's junior national team in 2006 and as a senior he hit .402 with three home runs and had 30 RBI at Gahr High School.
A returner who could also see some time on the field this season is sophomore infielder Blake Tagmyer. Tagmyer is a left-handed hitter who has showed some good things to the coaching staff during the fall and they wouldn't be surprised to see him emerge a bit this season.
Another newcomer who could be a valuable addition to this season's team is freshman Steve Kaupang. Coach Hill sees Kaupang as the starting designated hitter position. Kaupang comes to USD after a stand-out high school career at La Mirada High School, where he hit .400 with five home runs as a senior en route to earning his second consecutive first-team All-CIF distinction.
Moving to the outfield, center field is already locked down to Josh Romanski, when he is not pitching. Romanski is considered as one of the top center fielders in the nation by coach Hill.
When Romanski has to pitch, the Toreros can feel comfortable with the return of sophomore Kevin Muno has a possibility to fill in that role. As a freshman, Muno was impressive with his speed and knowledge of the game. He hit .243 with 17 hits, three doubles, one triple and had four RBI.
Another possibly to back up Romanski in center, or any other outfielder, is junior outfielder Michael Lugo. In his sophomore season, Lugo appeared in two games for USD with one start against Gonzaga.
Out in right field USD will look to senior transfer Ryan Davis, who comes to the Toreros from Vanderbilt University. As a junior he hit .309 with 38 hits, seven doubles, one home run and 26 RBI in helping the team earn the No. 1 National Seed in the NCAA Regionals.
The other corner spot in the outfield is up for grabs between freshmen Anthony Strazzara and Zach Walters. Both highly touted freshman who were high school shortstops can also see time in the infield if need be for USD this season. Walters comes to USD from Cimarron Memorial High School where he was a first-team All-State performer for three straight years. Strazzara makes his way to the Toreros from Scottsdale, Ariz. he hit .435 as a senior en route to helping his team to the state championships.
"Each year is it's own entity. If you have one eye in the past and one eye in the future, your blinded in the present. So we are focused on this year, actually focused on the first game of the year," stated Hill. "It has been our philosophy since day one here, to take it game-by-game and inning-by-inning. So we are excited about our training, our preparation and the start of the season. "