February 13, 2013

Baseball Season Preview: Gauchos Set Their Sights on Omaha

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Andrew Checketts's second season as skipper of the Gauchos is shaping up to be a great one. In its present state, the UCSB roster features a blend of productive returners – such as shortstop Brandon Trinkwon and third baseman Marc Venning –and extremely promising first year players.

UCSB will miss Brett Vertigan, Matt Vedo, and Lance Roenicke – all of whom were drafted – but possess the roster depth to replace them and still challenge for the Big West title. The second year of the Checketts regime means we will see the fruits of his staff's recruiting for the first time, and what a recruiting class he and assistant coaches Eddie Cornejo and Jason Hawkins put together. The 2012 recruiting class –highlighted by pitchers Connor Baits, Dylan Hecht, Justin Jacome, Domenic Mazza, and outfielder Andrew Calica – was ranked 12th best in the country by Baseball America, the highest ranking in school history and tops among all Big West teams. With continued recruiting success, the Gauchos should be stocked for years to come. 

"We're very excited about this incoming group of young players," said Checketts. "Along with some of our returners, we feel very strongly about our roster and our chances in the Big West this year."

Coach Checketts points to his infield as the team's key strength this season, noting their combined experience and hitting ability. Three of the four projected starters –first baseman Tyler Kuresa, second baseman Parker Miles, and shortstop Brandon Trinkwon – performed extremely well over the summer in various collegiate leagues. Miles (.488 OBP for the Klamath Fall Gems) and Kuresa (.373 OBP for the La Crosse Loggers) should fit right into the Gauchos offense, while Trinkwon should become the anchor of the lineup after hitting .347 last year and starting the Cape Cod League All-Star Game over the summer. Trinkwon was also named a Preseason All-American by Baseball America, who called him the best defensive infielder in the country. Projected third baseman Marc Venning is a run-producing hitter – he had 30 RBIs last year – with the ability to play at both corners.  Jackson Morrow – who spent last year at LA Harbor Community College – and sophomore Campbell Wear should see the lion's share of duties behind the plate.

With three new starters, the UCSB outfield can't boast the same experience as the infield. Scott Quinlan, Andrew Calica, Dalton Kelly, Cameron Newell, converted second baseman Joe Woodward, and Joey Epperson will face an uphill battle in trying to replicate the successes of last year's outfield – which featured draftees Roenicke and Vertigan – but will also not be relied upon to the be the meat of the order as last year's trio was. What the Gaucho outfield does possess is speed, and the pitching staff will appreciate their ability to track down fly balls in the spacious confines of Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.

The Gauchos rotation will be anchored by a pair of lefties who were named Freshman All-Americans last season by Collegiate Baseball. Andrew Vasquez – who was also named a Preseason All-American this year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association – defied all expectations last year, ascending to the role of Friday starter and leading the entire conference with a 1.93 ERA, which ranked fourth in school history. The lefty should occupy a similar role this season. Greg Mahle will be the Gauchos' rock in the bullpen after excelling in the closer's role last season, where he struck out just under a batter per inning. No slouch at the plate, Mahle hit .347 last year and should see time at DH as well. Sophomore righty Austin Pettibone – who led the team in wins last year with eight – will be the team's Saturday starter, while freshmen Justin Jacome, Kenny Chapman and Domenic Mazza will compete for Sunday's spot.

The bullpen will be on the young side, but features a dependable returner in Jared Wilson as well as a trio of exciting newcomers:, Baits, Hecht, and righty Robby Nesovic. Wilson logged a 4.63 ERA last season, but seemed to improve over the summer, when he struck out 40 batters in 36.2 innings while sporting a 2.86 ERA for the Los Angeles Brewers in the California Collegiate League.  Hecht and Baits both sport explosive fastballs clocked as high as the mid-90's, giving the Gauchos viable options at the back end of the bullpen. Sophomore righty Dalton Douty should also see plenty of time out of the pen.

If UCSB's returners live up to their prior performances and the newcomers fulfill the lofty expectations, there is no reason to think the Gauchos should be not at or near the top of the Big West standings at seasons end. They boast All-Conference class top-end players in Mahle, Trinkwon, Vasquez, and Kuresa, while Calica, Baits, and Hecht have an immediate opportunity to make names for themselves as freshmen. Most importantly, the players have bought into the culture of competitiveness, commitment, and accountability Coach Checketts and his staff have instilled. The future looks very bright at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. 

UCSB Athletics and the Santa Barbara News Press radio will team up to broadcast a vast majority of UCSB Baseball's games this season, with 30 games being carried over the air by KZSB AM 1290 and online through UCSBgauchos.com and another 17 games airing exclusively online. For the entire broadcast schedule, click here.

Fans, full season tickets plans start at under $2 per game, and upon purchase, season ticket holders will receive a $10 credit to the Gauchos Shop. Any credits must be redeemed in person at a game and not through the online shop. To purchase season tickets, call 893-UCSB or visit the online ticket office here.

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