The 2018 Titan Baseball season started rocky but despite many speculating the Titans streak of 26 consecutive NCAA Regional appearances could end in 2018, the Titans were one win away from a 19th trip to Omaha. Despite the crushing disappointment of coming one game short of Omaha, in extra innings no less, the Titan Baseball fans would have never expected the team that started 0-4 and 1-7 to have gone that far in 2018.
As with any high caliber team rich in winning tradition, the Titan Baseball team did lose a number of players to the MLB draft and graduation. Most of those lost to the draft or graduation were pitchers and only a handful of position players from last year will not return for the 2019 season. Coincidentally, two of the three outfielders played significant roles and will not return.
Ruben Cardenas, a junior and played right field, was drafted in the 16th round by the Cleveland Indians and signed his contract. Chris Prescott, a senior and played left field, exhausted his eligibility playing two years in junior college and two years at Fullerton.
With seven of the nine 2018 batters returning to the 2019 squad, it appears Rick Vanderhook’s line-up card won’t be that difficult to fill out. That considered, incoming freshmen and JUCO transfers could make the 2019 batting line-up not as close to a carbon copy as some might think.
Projecting the starting line-up in the field by position:
Catcher – Daniel Cope
Others vying for time – Kameron Guangorena, Korrey Siracusa, Nick Ciandro
Daniel Cope enters his third year on campus with the catcher’s job firmly in hand. Playing the lion’s share of 2018 behind the plate during weekend series and getting limited relief during non-conference mid-week games, Cope is poised for another season that can propel him into the MLB draft as a junior. Cope batted .280 in 225 at-bats, fourth on the team, and hit five home runs to lead the team. His .992 fielding percentage demonstrated that his defense behind the plate was quite good as well. He was also behind the plate when Colton Eastman threw his no-no vs. UC Santa Barbara. Cope was on the Johnny Bench Award watch list last season and many expect him to start the season there as well.
A dark horse to steal some time behind the plate is freshman phenom, Kameron Guangorena. A left handed, power hitting catcher, Guangorena could give Cope’s legs some rest in the mid-week games. Guangorena comes out of the St. John Bosco baseball factory and was projected to be drafted high out of high school. With 382 high school at-bats, Guangorena posted a .340 BA, with 130 hits, 70 runs scored, 27 doubles, 11 HR’s, 75 RBI’s and 200 total bases. This impressive resume was compiled while playing in the Southern California Trinity League, considered one of the most competitive high school baseball leagues in the nation. Guangorena was projected to be drafted in the top five rounds of the 2018 MLB draft but fell to the Toronto Blue Jays in the 36th round. MLB teams may have been scared of drafting Guangorena due to his strong commitment to play for Fullerton and questioned his signability. Whatever the reason, Guangorena comes to campus with high expectations to compete for the regular catching job. The competition between Cope and Guangorena for the regular job could pay dividends with both becoming better players.
Korrey Siracusa, a freshman from Hawaii has many fans excited due to the easy comparisons to a former Titans catcher from Hawaii, Kurt Suzuki. (They even have the same initials.) Siracusa could redshirt in 2019 because with Cope and Guangorena projected in front of him, saving a year of eligibility might be in his best interest. Odd man out looks to be Nick Ciandro, a walk-on last year who saw his time in the line-up limited to mid-week games. Ciandro may stay with the team in a bullpen role now that “Bullpen Brian” DeJesse is no longer with the team.
First Base – AJ Curtis
Others vying for time – Jake Pavletich, Zach Weller
Jake Pavletich was the starting 1st baseman in 2018 but could be replaced by incoming JUCO transfer, AJ Curtis. Pav is a “Super Senior” playing a fifth year on campus after redshirting earlier in his career. Despite the experience of Pavletich, Curtis could win the job outright. Curtis transfers as a Junior from Ohlone JC appearing in 49 games, batting .358, blasting 7 HRs, 54 RBI, 39 runs scored and stealing 13 bases. If those numbers in Junior College translate to Division 1, Curtis could see plenty of time at first base. Much like at the catcher position, competition between incumbent and newcomer is good to bring out the best in both athletes.
Jake Pavletich could hold onto the job but needs to improve his offense to keep it. Defensively, Pav dug out quite a few throws to record the put out but defense will not keep you in the starting line-up on its own. Jake’s batting average of .282, was respectable but the power numbers were not impressive. Zero home runs and a .332 slugging percentage is not what you are seeking out of your first base position. The little guys, Sahid Valenzuela, Hank LoForte and Mitchel Berryhill all had higher slugging percentages than Pav. With Pavletich returning for a fifth year, his role may be more that of a bench coach and team leader for the younger guys. His playing time could be limited if Curtis projects the way most are predicting.
Zach Weller may be an emergency play at this position because he had played first base sparingly last year. If there are injuries to either Curtis or Pav, Weller could slide into this role but he is better suited for the other corner infield spot.
For those asking, “where’s Jumbo?”, Jace Chamberlin is no longer with the team. Jumbo had academic issues coming out of his freshman campaign at Fullerton and will spend his sophomore season with Yavapai JC in Arizona. It is unclear if he will return to Fullerton after this upcoming Junior College season or enter the MLB draft.
Second Base – Hank LoForte
Others vying for time – Max Miller, Zach Lew
Hank LoForte returns for his senior season at Fullerton after going undrafted in 2018. LoForte led the 2018 Titans in batting .339 and came up with numerous clutch hits all season. Despite his small stature (which probably scared off Major League clubs from drafting him), LoForte hit two home runs, including a solo blast vs. Washington in Game 3 of the Super Regionals. His on-base percentage flirted around .400 (.397) and he slugged .445 in 2018. His senior leadership will be leaned on heavily this upcoming season and hopefully not getting drafted will be the motivation for LoForte to improve his slash line even more in 2019. We all know the Titan Baseball program was built on guys with a chip on their shoulder feeling underappreciated, overlooked or outright ignored.
Redshirt Frosh Max Miller and incoming freshman Zach Lew could see time at second. More than likely those appearances by Miller and Lew may be late in games with the score out of reach. Lew is a freshman coming out of the highly regarded Orange Lutheran program. Not very big at 5’9″ and 160 lbs, Lew may not redshirt based on the lack of depth at the middle infield spots.
Shortstop – Sahid Valenzuela
Others vying for time – Max Miller, Zach Lew
No sophomore slump for Sahid Valenzuela in 2018 makes him poised for a return to the short stop position for his junior season. Following a stellar freshman season, Sahid batted .272 while leading the 2018 Titans with 254 at-bats. Valenzuela was invited to play this summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League for the Warham Gateman. While there he was named to the Cape Cod All-Star roster and impressed during his time on the Cape. The switch-hitting short stop is firmly planted in the starting role and it would take a miraculous effort by either Miller or Lew to take the job.
Max Miller is more suited for the short stop spot and resembles Titan first base coach Neil Walton when he played for the Titans at short during the 2004 National Championship campaign. Tall and athletic, Miller may need to wait one more year after Valenzuela gets drafted to see more time here.
Third Base – Brett Borgogno
Others vying for time – Zach Weller
Brett Borgogno was the pleasant surprise in 2018 holding down the hot corner as a freshman. Ending the season with a .246 batting average after a slow start to the season, Borgogno came on later in the season. Making plays that do not show up in the box score, (the tag out during Game 3 of the Stanford regional comes to mind) Brett looks to have the third base spot on lock.
Weller needs to improve at the plate in order to steal time at this position. Weller batted .068, recording just three hits in 44 at-bats. Of those 44 ABs, Weller struck out 18 times. Expect to see Weller at third late in games as a defensive replacement or if Borgogno suffers any type of injury that prevents him from playing.
Outfield – Mitch Berryhill, Trevor Cadd, Jason Brandow
Others vying for time – Jairus Richards, Zach Weisz, Jordan Hernandez, Jackson Lyon, Jeff Pelligrino, Bryce Wooldridge, Isaiah Garcia
With Right Fielder Ruben Cardenas, drafted and Left Fielder Chris Prescott graduated, the outfield corners are wide open for competition. 2018 Center Fielder Mitch Berryhill returns by virtue he was not drafted as a junior. The speedy Berryhill could hold down one of the outfield spots but his return to center could be in question. Numerous times in 2018 Berryhill misplayed fly balls that dropped in front of him had he used his ample speed to get to it. Other fly balls that went over his head were misread after leaving the bat resulting in base runners. It is unfair to compare Berryhill to recent Titans to roam center at Goodwin Field, but Scott Hurst and Michael Lorenzen frequently would make plays in center robbing opponents of potential base runners. Yes, Titan Baseball fans have been spoiled.
Berryhill’s bat and legs may keep him in the starting line-up in 2019 despite some questionable defense. Berryhill batted .295 and was a true “Titan” at the plate. That means he took pitchers deep into the count leading the team in walks (23) and ranked second among returning players in on-base percentage (.384). He was unafraid to take a pitch, getting hit seven times in 2018. Many of his base hits he legged out on bunt singles, 21 to be exact. Once on base, Berryhill’s speed was a distraction for pitchers resulting in 10 stolen bases in 12 attempts. If Berryhill can improve his defense, he looks to have the Center field spot his to lose.
The two remaining corner outfield spots could very well go to incoming freshmen. Trevor Cadd and Jason Brandow look to be the strongest candidates to take those spots. If either of those newcomers can not lock the starting role down, do not be surprised if returners Jairus Richards, Zach Weisz or Jordan Hernandez seize their opportunity.
Congratulations to the Marshall Gates World Series Home run Derby Champion @_jasonbrandow of the @utahmarshalls & @FullertonBSB hitting 21 home runs. Great BP thrown by @SamSwenson21 〽️’s👇🏻#homerunderby #utahmarshalls #marshalls #marshallgatesfoundation #summerball #baseball pic.twitter.com/WINaIaiO2u
— Andy Concepcion (@CoachConcep) July 24, 2018
Jason Brandow, a 19th-round pick by the Pirates, has raw power from the right side of the plate which has been lacking in recent years for the Titans. Brandow won the Marshall Gates World Series Home Run Derby while playing for the Utah Marshalls in summer ball. Brandow is a physical specimen at 6′ 3″ and 215 pounds and more time in the weight room and batting cages could add to his already impressive bat speed and power.
Trevor Cadd from Riverside was hampered his senior year with a hand injury but his athleticism combined with raw power make him an intriguing newcomer. With a bat in his hand, Cadd puts the ball into play and brings the attitude Titan coaches like from their players. Although not quite as big as Brandow, the 6′ 2″ and 185 pound Frosh brings quite a bit to the table.
The remaining outfield position players provide depth and of that depth comes experience. The top three candidates to challenge for regular roles all return from last year’s squad. Jairus Richards saw quite a bit of time in Left Field with Chris Prescott injured a few times during the 2018 campaign. Starting in 33 games and appearing in 46, Richards appears to have an advantage over Weisz and Hernandez. Their opportunities were limited and when they did see time, did not produce impressive results, batting .148 (Hernandez) and .139 (Weisz).
Newcomers Jeff Pelligrino and Isaiah Garcia are JUCO transfers along with Bryce Wooldridge and Jackson Lyon who are two freshmen outfielders. Jeff Pelligrino out of San Diego Mesa JC batted .348 for the season with 32 RBI. Not a power guy with zero homers in JC ball but can swipe a bag or two (6 last year).
Isaiah Garcia transfers from Sierra College near Sacramento, the same JC that produced Dalton Blaser a few years ago. Not a big guy at 5′ 11″ and 185 pounds. Garcia medically redshirted in 2017 and could turn out to be a diamond in the rough overlooked by other programs for his lack of size and medical issues. He might just be the “Augie” type of gritty player that has a lot to prove given the chance.
Bryce Wooldridge, a true athlete in every sense of the word, was a three-sport stand-out while at Glendora High School. His senior season he averaged .495 with an OBP of .541. Woolridge was also the Glendora High quarterback for the last two seasons and was a guard in basketball. This summer, he played for the Yakima Valley Pippins, prepping to come to Fullerton.
Jackson Lyon from Woodbridge High in Irvine had a superb junior campaign when he batted .416 but came down to earth his senior year while batting .307. Lyon may be slated to redshirt this season to bulk up his 5′ 10″ 170 pound body with so many other outfielders D1 ready in front of him.
Designated Hitter – Kameron Guangorena
Others vying for time – Joe Magrisi, Jairus Richards, Zach Weisz, Jake Pavletich, Jordan Hernandez, Jeff Pelligrino, Bryce Wooldridge, Isaiah Garcia
Based on the expectations, the opinion of pro scouts and the physical tools gifted to this young man, all signs point to Guangorena picking up a bat four times a game without having to shed the “Tools of Ignorance”. Despite having to bide his time to call and catch games on the regular because Daniel Cope is expected to be behind the plate in 2019, the bat this young man possesses makes coaches thankful there is a designated hitter in college baseball.
Wait, what? Joe Magrisi? I don’t recall seeing his name mentioned with the position players. Where’d he come from?
Joe Magrisi is a two-way player that could play outfield or third but has been brought in as a freshman to primarily pitch. (We’ll take a deeper dive into Magrisi as a pitcher next post when we examine and predict the arms for the 2019 Titans.) Magrisi brings right handed power to the line-up to the point he batted .303 with eight homers and 28 RBIs en route to being named California’s “Mr. Baseball”.
Pavletich could sneak into this role from time to time based on pitching match ups if the opponent is throwing a lefty. Same goes for the outfielders that won’t have a glove on their hand regularly. If their hitting is impressive enough and they get on base when presented with the opportunity, the DH spot could be theirs. A good mix of both lefties and righties could platoon at this spot if nobody separates themselves from the pack.
Obviously the Titan Baseball coaches have the ultimate say in which Titans will play and at what position. Fall practices will determine a lot. The two fall ball games vs. Arizona and New Mexico State and the annual alumni game should showcase how the 2019 Cal State Fullerton Titans will shape up. Is another run at Omaha worthy of expectation?
Check back soon as we will make predictions on the 2019 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 2019.
A sneak preview regarding the pitchers: Get ready for some big kids to be taking the hill for the Titans in 2019.
Two incoming pitchers measure 6′ 6″, one a 6′ 5″ lefty, a 6′ 4″ right hander and two freshman coming in at 6′ 2″. The newcomers have the physicality that the Titans have lacked in the past and was quite apparent when facing teams in the post-season and extremely apparent the last two trips to Omaha.
Stay tuned for the pitchers preview coming soon.