The 2017 Cal State Fullerton Titan Baseball season ended in Omaha with the Titans making their 18th trip to the College World Series. Although the trip to Omaha resulted in the dreaded “2 & a Q”, the 2017 team will give way to a 2018 team that will need to fill some holes before booking a return trip to Omaha.
Of the starting line-up that played at the end of the season in the 2017 Palo Alto Regional, 2017 Long Beach Super Regional and the 2017 College World Series in Omaha, six of those nine starting batters will not return to the 2018 Titan Baseball squad. Those six players include:
Scott Hurst, Junior – Drafted 3rd round – St. Louis Cardinals – Signed contract
Dillon Persinger, Junior – Drafted 18th round – Cleveland Indians – Signed contract
Timmy Richards, Senior – Eligibility exhausted
Taylor Bryant, Junior – Drafted 33rd round – St. Louis Cardinals – Signed contract
Hunter Cullen, Senior – Eligibility exhausted
Chris Hudgins, Junior – Drafted 16th round – Kansas City Royals – Signed Contract
Based on positional needs vacated by either drafted players or graduation, some of the holes could be filled by current players on the roster. Of course incoming freshmen and JC transfers could make big impacts on the 2018 squad much like Sahid Valenzuela as a freshman and Dillon Persinger as a JUCO transfer did for the 2017 Titans.
Projecting the starting line-up by position:
Designated Hitter – Hank LoForte, Zach Weisz, Brett Borgogno or Coby Kauhaahaa
As a freshman, Zach Weisz had the highest batting average, highest on-base percentage and highest slugging percentage of all of the 2017 Titans. Why is he not a shoe-in for the DH spot in 2018? All those averages came with a small sample size of only 18 official at-bats. Used primarily as a pinch hitter or a defensive replacement late in games, when Weisz did get multiple trips to the plate in a game, he usually performed. A draft-eligible redshirt Sophomore in 2018, if Weisz does not crack the starting outfield, he could see his trip to the plate increase.
Hank LoForte was the regular DH late in the 2017 season by default. Nico Pacheco, JT McLellan and Jake Pavletich tried to cement themselves as the primary DH but all were not producing. As LoForte started to emerge, the DH job fell to him by default. LoForte’s bat may stay in the 2018 line-up as a second baseman making way for another Titan to take over the DH role.
Kauhaahaa did not play in 2017 and was redshirted. He did play in 2016 as a freshman and batted above the Mendoza line at .221. Not exactly what you want out of a guy who is grabbing a stick four times a game but given the other batters available, Kauhaahaa might be the DH. A year off to get healthy and a year older and stronger, Kauhaahaa could break into the starting line-up in 2018.
A dark horse to keep an eye on is incoming freshman Brett Borgogno. Brett Borgogno played three years on the Chino Hills High School varsity team and is the son of Matthew Borgogno who played baseball at Cal State Fullerton in 1989 and 1990. Batting .322 with an on base percentage of .376 in high school, if Borgogno can duplicate those numbers at the Division 1 level in college baseball, he could pick up a bat four times a game.
Catcher – Daniel Cope, Nico Pacheco or Tyler Lasch
Cope looked to be the heir apparent to Chris Hudgins as the main backstop for Titan pitchers. Although Nico Pacheco is a catcher, it is uncertain he will return to the team. Pacheco has eligibility left due to a redshirt season but it is still up in the air if he will return.
A dark horse for catcher could be incoming freshman Tyler Lasch. Lasch is a left-handed hitting catcher who was named to the 2016 Perfect Game Underclass Second Team. Big upside for a young guy coming in but a lot of responsibility and pressure to catch and call games for a guy straight out of high school. Lasch could move into the starting catcher’s role by mid-season or conference play if Cope struggles with the bat or the glove.
First Base – Jake Pavletich, JT McLellan or Jace Chamberlin
Pavletich looks to be the odds on favorite for this spot but his struggles at the plate in 2017 could open the door for Jace Chamberlin, an incoming freshman from Visalia, Calif. The 2016 Pavletich was hitting the cover off the ball and was hitting above .400 for a stretch. He finished the 2016 season hitting .390 in 59 at bats. What a difference a year makes in that Pavletich batted .178 in 45 plate appearances in 2017. Sophomore slump indeed. Take into consideration that Scott Hurst in 2016 batted .215 but improved that line by over 100 points in 2017 to bat .328. It can be done but Pavletich will be on a short leash with the coaches eager to get Chamberlin a chance.
Chamberlin is a big kid, 6′ 4″ and 240 lbs., and looks like an offensive lineman that used to line up for Gene Murphy’s Titan Football squad back in the day. Chamberlin played all four years on the varsity team at Redwood High School and as a junior, Chamberlin batted .410, clubbing five home runs and 32 RBIs. Chamberlin looks the part of a power hitting first baseman that has been sorely missed the past few years. Keep in mind, hitting in high school and hitting at the Division 1 level are night and day.
A dark horse for the first base job could be JT McLellan. Unless he improves upon his 2017 batting average of .143 and is even invited back to the 2018 squad for his senior season, first base looks like a two horse race.
Second Base – Sahid Valenzuela or Hank LoForte
Sahid Valenzuela had a sensational freshman season batting .314 in 57 games and 223 official at-bats. Valenzuela was second on the team in batting (of those Titans with 150 ABs or more) behind only Scott Hurst who batted .328 and was drafted in the third round by the St. Louis Cardinals. Sahid was a fan favorite for not only his production at the plate but great glove in the field. No matter what fielding position he is placed, Sahid is the odds on favorite to lead off for the Titans in 2018.
Hank LoForte is a possibility at this position because he served as the team’s DH in 2016. Second base is LoForte’s natural position but Valenzuela shined so brightly as a freshman that LoForte had to settle for DH duties. With the graduation of Timmy Richards, Valenzuela could slide over to shortstop making room for LoForte to regain his position in the field.
Shortstop – Sahid Valenzuela or Jacob Amaya
The aforementioned Valenzuela will be playing middle infield for the Titans in 2018. That you can take to the bank. Whether it is at second base or shortstop will be determined in the fall.
The wild card could be incoming freshman Jacob Amaya. Amaya is a 6’0″, 195 lbs shortstop from South Hills High in West Covina and was drafted in the 11th round by the LA Dodgers. High school kids drafted by the hometown team in early rounds usually means they will sign and spend the next three to four years in the bus leagues and not come to campus. But as of today, Amaya has not signed with the Dodgers and the July 7, 2017 signing deadline to go pro or come to college is inching closer and closer. In two years of varsity baseball at South Hills, Amaya batted .348 with an on base percentage of .429. As a base runner, Amaya was never caught stealing in two years and was a perfect 14 for 14 in stolen base attempts in his senior year. Amaya’s glove is just as impressive in that of the 29 games played as a senior at South Hills, Amaya did not commit an error registering a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. No wonder the Dodgers thought so highly of Jacob Amaya and burned an 11th round pick on him.
Amaya is still a threat to sign and go pro but the Dodgers may not have enough bonus money firepower to convince the talented Amaya to turn pro. The majority of the factors rely on the three players the Dodgers selected in the first three rounds who remain unsigned. Outfielder Jeren Kendall could be the linchpin to Amaya coming to Fullerton or going to the minors. Kendall was drafted in the first round and is slotted to make a $2,702,700 signing bonus. Kendall is also represented by Mega-Agent Scott Boras who is notorious for extracting huge bonuses for his clients, well above the draft slot projection. Add to that, the second and third round picks for the Dodgers, Morgan Cooper and Connor Wong are also unsigned. All three top draft choices for the Dodgers have eligibility left in college and could return if the signing price tags are not to their liking.
How does that affect Jacob Amaya and the possibility of his coming to Fullerton? It all comes down to money. The Dodgers have the sixth smallest signing bonus pool ($5,794,200) to offer their draftees without incurring a penalty. With the top three draft picks slotted to get a combined $4,258,000, you can see there is not a lot of bonus money floating around to offer Amaya, the 11th round pick. Any bonus money offered to draftees 11th – 40th rounds above $125K counts towards the bonus pool. If the Dodgers want to offer Amaya a $200K bonus to lure him away from his Fullerton commitment, $75K will count towards the bonus pool. So the question remains, if the top three Dodgers draft picks hold hard and fast and ask for slot money or above slot money, that spells a smaller bonus offer to Amaya. And with Amaya’s high upside projection, three years invested at Fullerton could mean improving his draft position by leaps and bounds.
If Amaya does not sign and comes to Fullerton, he will be given every chance to earn the starting shortstop position vacated by the graduating Timmy Richards. If he doesn’t win the job, Sahid Valenzuela will probably slide over to short and the aforementioned Hank LoForte will take over at second.
Third Base – Zach Weller or Jacob Dominguez
Zach Weller could be the starting third baseman by default with the exit of Taylor Bryant. Weller did not play all that much in 2017 as a freshman but did perform when he was put in the line-up. Weller batted .250 in 36 official at bats and hit two home runs, brought in 11 RBI and crossing the plate himself 11 times. Weller is one of those “physical” players that comes in at 6′ 2″ and 205 lbs. and looks every bit of the part of a third baseman. With Bryant signed with the Cardinals and off to the minor leagues, this could allow Weller the chance to shine and earn the position outright. He will be pushed by incoming freshman, Jacob Dominguez.
Jacob Dominguez, like Jacob Amaya, is from South Hills High School and played four seasons on the varsity squad. Dominguez improved his batting average every year on the varsity squad topping out at .308 his senior year. His 1.000 fielding percentage in high school also may play a role in winning the job at the Fullerton hot corner.
Outfield – Ruben Cardenas, Chris Prescott, Boston Romero, Zach Weisz or Mitch Berryhill
The only outfielder assured a spot is Ruben Cardenas. The back injury to Cardenas in 2017 opened the door for Hunter Cullen to come in and perform wonderfully in right field both with his glove and his clutch hitting at the plate. But Hunter Cullen was a senior and with his eligibility being exhausted means there will be no “right fielder controversy”. If Ruben Cardenas can stay healthy, you can bank on him roaming right field in 2018. In just 58 at bats when he was healthy, Cardenas batted .293, belting 3 HRs, 18 RBI and stealing three bases in 2017. A full and healthy season could see Cardenas’ numbers improve and expect him to be drafted in 2018 within the top 10 rounds.
The other two outfield spots are relatively up for grabs despite Chris Prescott holding down left field for the second half of the season. Prescott is not assured of getting left field back in 2018 because his .228 batting average is not what you want out of player taking up an outfield spot. Batting in the No. 9 spot of the order, Prescott was basically the last option to fill the spot because other options were even less appealing. Tristan Hildebrandt, normally a middle infielder, was given the opportunity to play in the outfield but his .148 batting average and .224 on base percentage was the worst on the team. Boston Romero, who can also play catcher, was given a shot at the outfield at times and his .171 average and .256 OBP wasn’t much better than Hildebrandt’s. Chris Prescott better get in the batting cages this summer and improve on his hitting if he wants to occupy left field again. Prescott’s glove was quite good but a solid defense is not enough to keep you in the Titans line-up if your bat does not produce.
Based on the stats and the high praise the Titan Baseball coaches have placed on Mitch Berryhill, he looks like he will slide into the Center Field spot replacing Scott Hurst without too much interruption in production. Berryhill will arrive at Fullerton by way of Salt Lake Community College where as a freshman in 2016, was named the Region 18 Defensive Player of the Year. Berryhill led the Scenic West Athletic Conference in batting average (.434), on base percentage (.517), hits (76), and runs scored (59) and was also named First-Team All-Region in his first year at JUCO. As a sophomore, Berryhill led the team in average (.333), on base percentage (.444), runs scored (37), hits (54), triples (3), hit by pitch (8), stolen bases (15) and fielding percentage (.986). Of all the batters with 90 official at bats or more, Berryhill struck out the least with 21 strike outs in 163 at bats.
Based on his stats coming in from JC, Berryhill looks cut from the same mold as other JC transfers, the most recent being Dalton Blaser from Sierra College in 2016 and Dillon Persinger in 2017. Blaser batted .359 for Cal State Fullerton, which led the team in 2016 and Blaser was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 8th round (248th overall). He is currently playing for the Yankees Single-A affiliate in Staten Island.
Dillon Persinger arrived on the Fullerton campus from Golden West CC expecting to play second base. Sahid Valenzuela’s performance combined with the ineffectiveness of Jake Pavletich and JT McLellan at first base and wanting to keep Persinger’s bat in the line-up, prompted a position change. Persinger responded by batting .292 and leading the team in stolen bases at 18 swiped bags. Persinger’s was rewarded by being selected in the 18th round by the Cleveland Indians and will be playing minor league ball.
If Berryhill can translate his JC numbers to Fullerton, we may be looking at another “one and done” player who will be taken in the top 10 rounds of the MLB draft.
Obviously the Titan Baseball coaches have the ultimate say in which Titans will play and at what position. Fall practices will determine a lot and the annual alumni game should showcase what type of team the 2018 Cal State Fullerton Titans will shape up to be and if another run at Omaha is worthy of expectation.
Check back soon as we will make predictions on the 2018 Cal State Fullerton pitching staff on who should be the three weekend starters, the likely non-conference mid-week starter, middle relievers and who will take on the the set-up man and closer roles for the Titans in 2018.