Feb. 7, 2006
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -
With an experienced middle infield, a strong pitching staff and talented new additions, look for the 2006 UCSB baseball team to turn some heads and compete for a playoff berth.
After an injury-riddled season that resulted in a 26-30 season in 2005, the Gauchos will attempt to get back on the winning track depending on both experienced and newly acquired sluggers and the arms of their returning veteran pitching staff. Head Coach Bob Brontsema says the team will "rely heavily on the returning arms on staff, especially those of the three weekend starters (Andy Graham, Steve Morlock and Brian Tracy). Even in the competitive Big West Conference, the Gauchos look to be in the mix for their first post-season bid since 2001.
Santa Barbara returns three starters on the field, highlighted by the return of 2004 Big West Freshman of the Year Chris Valaika and senior Matt Emerick. Sophomore Alden Carrithers is also a returning member of a strong 2006 Gaucho defense. On the mound, the Gauchos return two of their weekend starters from last year's squad. Senior Steve Morlock and junior Andy Graham will aim to provide quality starts for the Gauchos, while the third weekend starter from 2005, Michael Martin, is expected to redshirt the 2006 campaign due to injury. As a result, UCSB will call upon junior Brian Tracy for starting duties. Junior Justin Segal, senior Andrew Schoneberger and a host of first-year Gauchos will be summoned to deliver quality innings out of the bullpen.
Head Coach Bob Brontsema and Pitching Coach Tom Myers return key members of the 2005 pitching staff. Pitching has the potential to be a major strength of the Gauchos in 2006. With UCSB returning 74% of the innings pitched from last year, Brontsema will be able to use experienced arms in times of need. With two of the three weekend starters returning, Brontsema will input Tracy into the third weekend spot and then have a strong bullpen to be called upon late in the game.
"Morlock and Graham have been starters for the last few years and we will have to ride their shoulders early on," said Brontsema. "Although our bullpen pitchers are young and inexperienced, they are also young and talented and we will need them to supply quality innings...it is a matter of how they handle pitching in the Big West and Division I baseball."
After turning in some of the best numbers on the 2006 roster, Morlock is expected to be one of the three weekend starters for the third year in a row. The right-hander posted an even 7-7 record with a 5.83 ERA in 97.1 innings pitched. He led the Gauchos in games started (17) and wins (seven). In addition, the Kentfield, Calif. native ranked second on the squad holding opponents to a .276 batting average.
Brontsema is also expecting big things from junior Andy Graham. Graham, a three-year starter, is slated to be the Gauchos' Friday night starter. Andy is coming off a strong performance this past summer, helping his team win the Cape Cod League Championship. The Rolling Hills, Calif. native started last season strong, earning a win in four of his first five decisions. Junior Brian Tracy rounds out Brontsema's weekend rotation. Tracy made 16 appearances and five starts for the Gauchos in 2005. The Claremont, Calif. native posted a 2-3 mark with a 7.22 ERA last season.
Left-hander Andrew Schoneberger and junior reliever Justin Segal are expected to be two of the more called-upon arms out of the bullpen for UCSB once again in 2006. Last year, Segal made 27 appearances out of the pen and finished the season with a 4.66 ERA, which ranked second on the team. In 2005, Schoneberger excelled out of the pen as a left-handed specialist. After a great showing this fall, freshman Clayton Edwards should provide quality innings pitched while potentially developing into the Gaucho closer in 2006.
In 2006 the Gauchos will have five different players competing for time behind the dish. UCSB picked up four new catchers for the 2006 season, with the only returnee being senior Josh LaGrotta. Along with LaGrotta, transfers Matt Anderson and Matt McColgan and freshmen Cody Dee and Chris McMurray will all battle for innings. Carrying so many backstops will allow Brontsema the flexibility of having some of them play more than one position. According to Brontsema, "The catching position is very deep...each player brings a couple different things to the table." The Gauchos are expected to play whichever catcher fits that week's scouting report.
According to Brontsema, "McColgan, Anderson and LaGrotta all bring college experience to the team behind the dish. In addition, each provides right-handed pop in their bats."
Junior Matt Anderson is a transfer from Cosumnes River College. While starting all but one game, Anderson batted .327 with five homeruns and 40 RBI last year. The Cameron Park, Calif. native was named All-Conference and Team MVP in 2005.
Senior Josh LaGrotta brings a big defensive presence to the field behind the plate. LaGrotta managed to drive in four runs in only 18 at bats in 2005.
Senior Matt McColgan is a transfer from Santa Clara University. McColgan saw limited action in 2005, but provides a quality arm behind the dish.
Freshmen Cody Dee and Chris McMurray both completed stellar senior seasons in 2005. Dee was voted Second Team All-Miramonte League in 2005. The Moorpark, Calif. native was also a three-time Defensive Player of the Year recipient in high school. "Dee is a quality left-handed bat and a solid backstop" said Brontsema. Brontsema credits McMurray, an excellent defender in his own right, with having "the best arm of any backstop on the roster." He hit .385 in his senior year and was a two-time All-South Coast League selection, League All-Star selection and North/South All-Star participant in high school.
UCSB's infield should once again be a defensive strength for the team. With the return of shortstop Chris Valaika, Brontsema feels that, "The team defense is significantly better with Chris back in at shortstop. He makes everyone around him play at a higher level." Earlier this season, Valaika was named to the 2006 Wallace Watch List by the College Baseball Foundation. In only 72 at-bats in 2005, Valaika managed to rack up five doubles and 12 runs scored.
UCSB also returns its leadoff hitter in Alden Carrithers. Carrithers filled big shoes last season as both Chris Malec and Valaika fell victim to injury. In their absence, Carrithers mainly took over the duties at second base, but did start twelve games at shortstop. Brontsema advises everyone to "look forward to a quality year in the leadoff spot and in the field from Carrithers."
Junior transfer Robbie Blauer is expected to inherit the first-base position in 2006. Last year Blauer hit .362 with nine doubles, 10 hit-by-pitches, one homerun and 37 RBI for Orange Coast College. According to Brontsema, "Blauer has shown an outstanding glove and a quality bat all fall, and the coaching staff is excited about what he has brought to the table thus far."
Two players are competing for the starting nod at third base in 2006. Freshmen Matt Clark and Shane Carlson should both see action at the hot corner this season. Clark batted .450 with 15 doubles, two homeruns, 28 walks and only five strikeouts for Etiwanda High School in 2005. Carlson also had a stellar senior year, batting .485 with five stolen bases, nine doubles and six homeruns. Brontsema stated, "Clark has big-time offensive potential from the left side of the plate and Carlson is an outstanding defensive player. Between the two, our coaching staff feels good about the situation at third base."
Seniors A.J. Knox and Chris Webber, along with sophomore transfer Pat Rose, will provide depth in the Gaucho infield. Knox can play any of the three infield positions, and is a potentially strong right-handed bat off the bench. Considering his strong offensive ability, Brontsema may use Webber as his occasional right-handed DH. According to Brontsema, "Rose is a sparkplug who can run, and there is little doubt that he will fill some role for the Gauchos in 2006. A.J. is healthy and will also help us at all the infield positions."
Anchored by three-year starting center fielder Matt Emerick, the UCSB outfield looks to be strong offensively and defensively in 2006. With Emerick penciled in to start in center and junior transfer Mario Lewis to get the early season nod in right, the competition is heating up for the left field starting spot. Coming out of fall, junior Brian Lee is the front-runner for the position, but any outfielder on the roster could potentially see time down the line. Sophomore Dave Harrit "is getting better both offensively and defensively" said Brontsema, while junior transfer Clayton Shank has picked up his offensive game as the season draws closer. According to Brontsema, "[Austin] Hogans is a young, strong and talented freshman who will battle for time." Freshman Brian Gump has been described as "a smart ball player who is pushing some of the returnees, and who will likely see time somewhere in the outfield."
Emerick is coming off a year in which he played in 54 of the Gauchos' 56 games, while starting 48. The Santa Barbara, Calif. native finished the year with a .238 batting average and five stolen bases, ranking him third on the team in that category. Lewis, a junior transfer from Butte College, batted a team-high .402 with 12 homeruns, eight doubles, a .732 slugging percentage and 44 RBI last season. He also sported an on-base percentage of .462 and was 15-17 in the stolen base department.