Jan. 19, 2001
Following a year in which the Gauchos narrowly missed postseason play and finished above the .500 mark in consecutive seasons for the first time in eight years, the 2001 season looks to be a promising one for UCSB. The Gauchos return their entire starting alignment from last season, including three senior infielders in Chad Peshke, Jeff Bannon and Dave Molidor and junior first baseman/designated hitter Tyler Von Schell. Von Schell, Peshke and Molidor were 2000 All-Big West selections. With the return of a few veterans back from injuries and contributions from the right newcomers, UCSB hopes it can earn its first postseason appearance since 1996.
The Gaucho pitching staff took the biggest hit in the off-season, losing its two top arms to graduation. However, not only does head coach Bob Brontsema return five experienced hurlers, but he adds seven new pitchers, three of whom have been drafted.
"I feel that we've increased our depth with the new guys we've brought in behind Rylie Ogle, Jim Bullard and Jeremy Sugarman, and we'll have considerably more options going into this season compared to seasons past."
Ogle (2-0, 6.98) is the preseason favorite to be the Gaucho ace, provided he stays healthy. Sugarman (2-6, 6.52) and 6-7 Bullard (3-3, 3.98) should each get considerable innings both as starters and out of the pen. The remaining spot in the starting rotation may be filled by hard-throwing transfer James Garcia (El Camino JC). Matt Moran (Consumnes River JC) and Rob More (Utah Valley State College) both have the ability to pick up innings out of the bullpen early in the season. Returnees Jamie Gonzales and Russell Wirth and freshmen Matt Vasquez (Santa Barbara HS), Mike Sutherland (West Torrance HS), Justin Angevine (El Dorado HS) and Keith Kelley (redshirt), should solidify the UCSB staff.
"How quickly our freshmen are able to make the transition to Division I baseball will determine the amount of innings they see. I'm excited about their skills, but we'll just have to see how they progress," said Brontsema of his young guns.
The Gauchos may also call on sophomore outfielder Jared Schumaker for relief duty. Shumaker redshirted 2000 after suffering a shoulder injury.
The Gauchos start the season with a behind-the-plate competition between Donovan Warrecker, Jimmy Walker and Taylor Vogt for a second consecutive year. The welcomed change, however, is that now both Warrecker and Walker have a year of Division I experience under their chest protectors. Warrecker started the majority of the games in 2000, and brings a steady bat to the plate. The senior hit .320, good for third on the team, with ten doubles and five homers. Walker, who clubbed three homers in 35 at-bats in 2000, has improved his play in the off-season and should see significantly more innings this year. Vogt, after redshirting 2000, looks to contribute this season with his strong arm and power at the plate.
Only seven games over the last two seasons did not see seniors Chad Peshke, Jeff Bannon, and Dave Molidor in the starting lineup, and their dependability is paramount in the Gauchos' quest for a Big West Championship. The 6-5 Molidor will again start at third base, coming off a year in which he was named First Team All-Big West and led the Gauchos in four offensive categories (.378 avg., .567 slg., 32 BB, .474 OB%). Bannon, the Gauchos' 6-3 starter at short, enters 2001 as last year's team leader in home runs (11), triples (3) and total bases (106). Honorable Mention All-Big West selection Chad Peshke will start at second base for a fourth straight year. He brings a streak of 157 consecutive games started following a season which saw him lead the Gauchos in five offensive categories (213 AB, 56 R, 71 H, 20 2B and 7 SB). First Team All-Big West selection Tyler Von Schell (DH) and Mike Kolbach will likely both see time at the first base and designated hitter spots. Von Schell, a junior, led the Gauchos with 53 RBI in 2000 and finished second on the team with ten big flies.
Brontsema is grateful to have such an experienced and productive group of veterans. "Obviously, I feel very comfortable with our infield. We have proven players at every position, and we'll go as far as they can take us this year."
The return of the season's end starting trio and increased depth due to improved health should make the outfield grass UCSB's biggest area of improvement in 2001. Jeff Carter returns and is expected to start in left field, but he will have competition from R.J. Smith, Andy Campanella and walk-on Nate Sutton. Carter and Campanella each hit .288 last season, while Smith hit at a .252 clip with an outfield-leading three homers. Jared Shumaker and Ryan Spilborghs are both back after recovering from season-ending injuries last year. Shumaker's speed and strong arm make him the early favorite to start in center. Spilborghs, who carries a respectable bat, is a strong candidate to start in right. Transfer Jed Stringham could play the outfield, but with plenty of power, will probably see most of his action at desingated hitter.
"We have a strong lineup," recapped Brontsema. "As always, pitching will be of the utmost importance. Our offense is well-balanced, we'll just have to see how our pitching develops throughout the season, particularly those pitchers who have yet to play Division I baseball."