Dec. 23, 2001
As 2001 comes to an end the UC Santa Barbara baseball team will begin preparing for the 2002 season in hopes of another season to remember. With eight position players lost to the draft and graduation, the Gauchos welcome 17 new faces that are learning to play at the Division 1 level. The Gauchos hope to build on their strong fall ball practices that exposed some strengths and weaknesses.
" We are so young as a team we used the fall as an opportunity to get to know the guys," new UCSB pitching coach Dan Ricabal said. "Everyone will be battling for jobs."
Offensively the Gauchos posses a lot of team speed, as evidenced by two freshman, Gabe Mann and Josh Wilkerson, who stole nine bases apiece in the UCSB Blue and Gold scrimmages, which the Blue team won. Ryan Spillborghs will be the leader on offense with his clutch hitting. The Gauchos are still looking for a bonafide power threat.
Defensively UCSB will be hampered by breaking in a new infield. All five infield positions are being contested so it will take time for the infielders to gel once they get a regular infield going.
The team strength will obviously be pitching as the Gauchos had excellent falls from James Garcia, Matt Vazquez, and a host of newcomers.
All five infield positions will be up for grabs as the Gauchos lost all five starters from the 2001 team. The only player to guarantee himself a starting spot was freshman Chris Malec who had an excellent fall offensively and defensively. But even for Malec, the Gaucho staff still does not know where he will start, possibly at second or third. At first base, the position is being contested by junior transfer Josh McCanne, freshman Matt Wilkerson and senior right hand pitcher James Garcia, who hit three home runs during the scrimmages. As for second, junior Blair Havens, freshman Matt Stevens and Malec are battling it out. At short the starting job is between Washington transfer Josh Fulton and senior Dave Licht. At third base sophomore Nate Sutton, Wilkerson and Malec are the three competing for playing time. At the catcher position the battle is between four athletes, Chad Ziemendorf, Nic Rodriguez, Taylor Vogt and Josh LaGrotta.
"Our defense looked shaky to start fall ball but they have made significant strides since then," assistant coach Brian Allen said.
As for the outfielders junior Ryan Spillborghs and senior Andy Campanella swung hot bats all fall. Spillborghs, a 2001 First Team All-Big West selection, led the Gauchos in almost every offensive category in the fall, including runs, hits, RBI, triples and batting average, which was .462. Campanella, slated to be the starting centerfielder, hit .333 and lead the team with four home runs hit. The right field position is currently between senior R.J. Smith and junior transfer Kevin Miller. Freshman Gabe Mann and C.J. Cook should get some playing opportunities as well. Mann tied for the team lead in stolen bases with nine.
Without a question the team strength will be pitching as the Gauchos return two All-American pitchers in James Garcia and Matt Vasquez. Garcia, a third team All-American, continued his dominant ways striking out 17 batters in 12 innings pitched with a 1.50 ERA. Vasquez continued to show improvement from his freshman All-American season striking out 16 while walking only one batter in twelve innings. Senior Matt Moran also made a case for a starting rotation spot by performing well. The Chico, CA., native struck out 15 in 12 innings. Lefty transfer Sean Thompson also threw well, possibly earning the closers role with a good fall showing. Freshman Eric Posthumus was also another pleasant surprise for the pitching staff, showing uncanny poise for a freshman.
The Gauchos begin their season January 31, hosting Loyola Marymount at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.