January 22, 2003

2003 Gaucho Baseball Season Preview

Jan. 22, 2003

Santa Barbara, Calif. - Following a year when the UC Santa Barbara baseball team posted a sub-par record of 22-33, it will look to return to their winning ways in 2003.

The Gauchos return three of their top hurlers in Matt Vasquez, Sean Thompson and Eric Posthumus. UCSB also returns three starters on the infield, including Nate Sutton, Josh McCanne and Chris Malec. Malec, along with outfielder/designated hitter Matt Wilkerson and pitcher Eric Posthumus, received freshman All-American honors in 2002. With the return of a few veterans back from injuries and contributions from the right newcomers, UCSB hopes to get back to the postseason in 2003.

Pitching
Head coach Bob Brontsema returns five experienced hurlers and adds a solid freshman core of young guns.

Matt Vasquez (5-10, 5.53) is the preseason favorite to be the Gaucho ace. He has good stuff and should see a lot of innings. In 2002, Vasquez led the Gaucho staff in games started (16), and innings pitched (99.1).

"I expect Matt to be horse of our staff," said Brontsema. "He started a lot of games and pitched a lot of innings last year and things won't change that much this year."

Seniors Sean Thompson (4-3, 5.34) and James Dayley (1-3, 7.84) should each get considerable innings both as starters and out of the bullpen. Thompson had good stuff during the fall workouts and, depending on Dayley's health, Brontsema feels confident that he will "put up some Friday night-type numbers this year." The remaining spot in the starting rotation may be filled by freshman All-American Eric Posthumus, true freshman Steve Morlock or junior transfer Ivan Ramirez. In his freshman campaign Posthumus posted a 6-1 record and an ERA of 5.34. The versatile Ramirez has had an impressive fall and could also see considerable innings as a set-up man or even as a closer. Morlock, the most impressive freshman thus far also has a very good chance.

"The question will be is who's going to step forward and take the spot," said Brontsema.

Jared Edrosolan returns from a back injury and looks to be the Gaucho closer in 2003. Returnees Mike Sutherland, Alex McRobbie and freshmen Mike Martin, Andy Graham, and Brian Tracy should solidify the UCSB staff. "We're going to depend heavily on our returning pitchers to carry the load," Brontsema observed. "However, the development of our new players will dictate how well our staff competes,"

Catching
UCSB starts the season with plenty of depth behind the plate in Chad Ziemendorf, Taylor Vogt, Nic Rodriguez and Josh La Grotta. Ziemendorf is the projected.

"He is an outstanding catch-and-throw guy," said Brontsema of Ziemendorf.

In limited playing time last season, Ziemendorf threw out an impressive 36-percent of potential base runners. Vogt also provides experience behind the plate, as he started a majority of the games in 2002. The junior's steady bat could get him plenty of at bats in the designated hitter role if he's not catching. Last season Vogt hit .318, with nine doubles and 23 RBI. Rodriguez, after an injury-filled 2002, returns and brings a switch hitter to the Gaucho lineup. A converted infielder, La Grotta also provides a solid glove for UCSB. Overall, Brontsema believes the Gauchos have made significant improvements behind the plate.

"The improvement of Vogt defensively and return of Chad will help us control the running game, which was a weakness of ours last season," Brontsema assessed.

Infield
UCSB returns three of their four infielders from a season ago in Chris Malec, Josh McCanne, and Nate Sutton.

Coming off a year in which he was named Freshman All-American, Malec will again start at second base. He led the Gauchos in three offensive categories, hits (75), doubles (17) and RBI (60) in 2002. McCanne, a senior, was the Gauchos starter at first base in 2002, clubbing 11 doubles and eight home runs.

"I feel Chris (Malec) is one of the top players in the league and we're looking for him to be one of the offensive leaders for our team," said Brontsema. "McCanne is a solid defensive player and an offensive force. He will provide more power from the right hand side of the infield that wasn't there for us last year."

Bill Rowe will backup McCanne at first base and provide the Gauchos with a powerful lefthanded bat off the bench.

Sutton will start for the second consecutive season at third base.

"Nate was an everyday starter last year and we're expecting significant improvements from him this year," said Brontsema.

Josh Fulton will get the call at shortstop. After transferring from Washington a season ago, Fulton only saw limited action behind senior David Licht, but an impressive off-season will lead the senior into a great year.

"Josh can be a very good defensive player when he stays within himself and he's done that this fall," said Brontsema.

Greg Powers and Matt Stevens could also see significant time at any position on the infield. The versatility of the duo will give UCSB solid infield depth. Brontsema is grateful to have such an experienced and productive core of infielders returning this season.

"I anticipate us being a more mature and confident group of infielders," he said. "If we can get good defense out of the shortstop position, then I think we will be very good defensively."

Outfield
The loss of outfielders Andy Campanella, R.J. Smith, and Ryan Spilborghs will give the Gaucho outfield a whole new look in 2003.

Blair Havens, who led the Gauchos with a .387 batting average last year, will play left field. Havens will see time in both the leadoff spot and the two hole.

"Blair was a spark plug for us last year and I very much anticipate him doing that again for us this year," said Brontsema.

In center field there is a three way battle between freshman Matt Emerick, red-shirt freshman Gabe Mann and transfer Brian Adams. Emerick and Adams both provide a left handed bat in the lineup while Mann provides impressive speed. Emerick had the most impressive fall and is the early favorite. Either way, Brontsema feels that the Gauchos are going to be "pretty good defensively and going to be able to run at that position." Sophomore Matt Wilkerson will fill the void left by Spilborghs in rightfield. The Freshman All-American led the Gauchos in home runs (16) and was second on the team in runs scored (49).

"I can see Wilkerson having a great offensive year," commented Brontsema. "He has many tools and I think his experience last year will really pay off."

Freshman Chris Caraballo has good offensive skills and should also see action as a role player in the outfield this season.

Brontsema is excited about the addition of speed and range in the outfield.

"I feel good about our ability to cover ground in the outfield," said Brontsema. "I think that will be an area of major improvement for us over last year."

Summary
Overall the Gaucho coaching staff is confident of the experience they return this season.

"We feel good about the position players we return this year," said Brontsema. "And we return three of our most productive pitchers from the previous season. By returning a lot of guys who saw a lot of action last season we hope it translates into a better group. As always, pitching will be of the utmost importance, but better team speed, and team defense will also contribute to our success."

In addition to an always-tough conference schedule, the Gauchos add an even tougher non-conference schedule that includes four teams which reached the postseason in 2002.

"Our schedule is a challenge, and were going to be tested every weekend," Brontsema predicted. "But that's what you want. I like the make-up of our team, and I think that they'll be ready for the challenges that they're going to face."