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 rotation and bullpen 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, only three will definitely not return to the 2018 Titan Baseball squad. But of those three pitchers not returning, 2/3rds of the weekend rotation was lost to the Major League Baseball draft.
Friday starter Connor Seabold was drafted in the 3rd round by the Philadelphia Phillies and signed his contract. Seabold is currently playing for the Williamsport Crosscutters, a Class A-Short Season team playing in the New York–Penn League.
Saturday starter John Gavin was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 8th round and made the jump to pro ball by signing his contract.
Reliever Maxwell Gibbs was a senior on the 2017 squad and will not return because his eligibility has expired. (Gibbs finished the 2017 Titan Baseball season not making much of an impact appearing in 14 games and pitching 9 1/3rd innings. In those brief outings, Gibbs had a 1-3 record and a 7.71 ERA.)
Although losing only three pitchers off of a team that carried 14 hurlers in 2017 is not bad if you look directly at the number. But a closer look and two of those three, Seabold and Gavin, were at the front of the weekend rotation. Seeing how Cal State Fullerton Baseball has been built on pitching and defense since the program moved to Division I in 1975, losing your top two weekend pitchers is a big blow.
Taking a closer look at the pitchers returning and the recruits coming in, it is not all doom and gloom at Goodwin Field. We will attempt to project the weekend starting rotation. (The mid-week non-conference starters, set-up man, closer and bullpen relief pitchers predictions will come in a future blog post.) Keep in mind some players on last season’s roster may not return or may not be invited back so our predictions are only that; predictions. We do not have an inside information from the Cal State Fullerton coaches. CSUF Head Coach Rick Vanderhook is not giving us an insider information.
NOTE: Pitching coach Blake Hawksworth is moving on. Hawksworth joined the Titan Baseball staff last summer after long-time pitching coach Jason Dietrich left for Oregon to accept the same position. Last week, Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball tweeted Hawksworth would not be returning and has chosen to pursue other opportunities.
— Kendall Rogers (@KendallRogersD1) July 14, 2017
With Hawksworth leaving the program, Rogers predicted that Steve Rousey, will take over pitching coach duties.
— Kendall Rogers (@KendallRogersD1) July 14, 2017
We will take a deeper dive into Rousey in another article.
Predicting the 2018 weekend rotation:
Friday Starter – Colton Eastman
Colton Eastman came into the 2017 campaign heralded as one of the most promising young pitchers to pick up the ball at Goodwin Field. Eastman’s freshman season in 2016 saw him tie Noe Ramirez‘s Cal State Fullerton freshman record with 100 strikeouts in a single season, which also led the team. As a frosh, Eastman went 8-3 with a 2.24 ERA and held opponents to a .218 batting average. The final game of the 2016 regular season, Eastman went 8 1/3 innings against the dreaded Long Beach State Dirtbags at Blair field, helping the Titans clinch the Big West Conference title with a 2-1 victory.
After his freshman season, the awards stacked up for Eastman including:
- 2016 Baseball American Freshman All-American, First Team
- 2016 Louisville Slugger National Freshman Pitcher of the Year
- 2016 Louisville Slugger All-American, Third Team
- 2016 NCBWA Freshman All-American, First Team
- 2016 Big West Conference Freshman Pitcher of the Year
- 2016 Big West Conference First Team All Conference
- 2016 Big West Conference Pitcher of the Week, May 30
- 2016 Big West Conference Pitcher of the Week, Feb. 22
Coming into the 2017 season, expectations were sky-high for Eastman to put up even better numbers that would hopefully translate into more wins. But 2017 didn’t go as planned and after throwing just nine innings in the beginning of the 2017 season, Eastman sat out 2 1/2 months with elbow tightness. He returned in Mid-May but was on a strict pitch count so as to not injure himself again. Eastman was back to being his dominant self going 26 innings with a paltry ERA of 1.38 in games against UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Northridge, Long Beach State and Stanford. In the Super Regionals vs. Long Beach State, Eastman went seven innings, allowing one hit, striking out eight and walking four. The one run Long Beach State managed to scratch across the plate was unearned. The win propelled the Titans to their 18th appearance in the College World Series.
In the opening game against Oregon State, Connor Seabold started the game but Eastman was brought in relief. Eastman has not relieved since his freshman season. In his only appearance out of the Fullerton bullpen, Eastman went five innings and struck out a career-high 10 batters against UNLV in April 2016. Coming out of the bullpen in a non-conference game in April is not the same as pitching in relief in front of 22,656 people in Omaha. Saying Eastman was out of his element is an understatement.
Eastman’s line vs. Oregon State was 2/3 of an inning pitched, 4 runs, 4 earned runs and 4 walks. The walks were the killer and despite not giving up a hit, the runs scored credited to Eastman came in the form of a sacrifice fly and two singles surrendered by Blake Workman in the sixth inning. The Titans ended up losing that opening game in the College World Series and Rick Vanderhook took the blame for it.
In the post-game press conference, Head Coach Rick Vanderhook took full responsibility for placing Eastman in an unfamiliar position of relieving rather than starting. In his opening statement Vanderhook said:
“That was a good game. They [Oregon State] are really good and I’m stupid. I out thought myself. Eastman was on a normal rest. We had a healthy lead. At that point my theory was let’s turn it over to the best guy. I definitely out thought myself. Probably would do it different again. I let them get back in the game. And you don’t do that to good teams. When you have them down, you keep them down. And we didn’t do that. We gave them momentum and they took advantage of it. That’s why they have only lost four games.”
When asked about his thought process of bringing in Eastman, a regular starter, in relief to hold the 5-1 lead in the sixth inning, Vanderhook answered:
When you play Saturday, if you win, you know you are going to play on Wednesday. So you are off Sunday. You’re off Tuesday. He’s [Eastman] our best guy. For me, he’s one of the best guys here [Omaha]. And I didn’t want to get beat twice and not have my best guy pitch. He was on normal, good rest. Seabold – he was battling. But he was at 97 pitches. He didn’t have a 1-2-3 inning. Everything was stressful every inning. He got out of it but I figured let’s roll – we’ll go with Eastman for two, three [innings] and then go to [Brett] Conine and close it out. Obviously it didn’t work. But that was the thought process.
Eastman’s uncharacteristic appearance in Omaha should not loosen his stranglehold on the Friday night starting spot in 2018. Vanderhook’s confidence in Eastman is sky high and that is unwavering after the 2017 season. Of the many question marks surrounding the 2018 Titan Baseball team, who will take the mound on Friday nights is not one of them. That guy will be Colton Eastman.
Saturday Starter – Andrew Quezada
The Titans 2018 weekend starting rotation could be comprised of two faces that were playing elsewhere during the Titans run to Omaha. Based on his performance and success at Cypress College, Andrew Quezada could easily fill in nicely on Saturday nights.
Coached by Titan Baseball alumnus Anthony Hutting, Quezada was a star righty for the Cypress Chargers. As a freshman in 2016, Quezada went 10-3 on the mound with three saves in 24 appearances, tossing a total of 85 innings. Over those 85 innings he had three complete games, 70 Ks and a 3.60 ERA.
His sophomore season was even more impressive going 9-2 in 15 games, 14 of them he started. Quezada pitched 108 innings with 85 strike outs and compiled a 1.17 ERA. The highlight of Quezada’s 2017 season with Cypress college came on March 14 vs. Santa Ana College, tossing a no hitter. In that no hitter, Quezada went the full nine innings striking out three while issuing only one walk.
Of his 14 starts, he threw five complete games and six more games where he got to the sixth inning or beyond. Of his two losses, both were one-run games when the Cypress Chargers batters gave very little run support. The first loss was on March 7, 2017 at Riverside City College, losing 2-1. The only other loss Quezada suffered was May 12 at Grossmont College deep in the Community College playoffs, losing 3-2.
Quezada was invited to pitch in the Cape Cod League, considered to be the top level of collegiate summer ball, also speaks volumes as to his ability and talent. Joining the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox late in the Cape Cod League season, to date, Quezada has appeared in five games racking up wins in two of them. His microscopic ERA of 0.87 is best on the team of pitchers with 10+ innings. He also has a 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio in the Cape Cod League.
The fact that Quezada has been facing college batters in the JC ranks for the past two years and has been performing at a high level there, makes him an easy fit to come in and take over the Saturday night starting slot.
Sunday Starter – Gavin Velasquez, Jimmy Endersby, Tommy Wilson or Timmy Josten
The strong favorite for the Sunday spot is Gavin Velasquez. Velasquez got off to a red hot start to the 2017 season and ended up making 18 appearances, including 8 starts. Velasquez had a 20 1/3 scoreless innings streak to begin the season. Most of those starts came while Colton Eastman was shelved with his elbow injury and John Gavin was pitching Sundays. Velasquez was eventually moved to Sundays while Eastman was injured and was as effective.
In 43.1 innings pitched since March 11, Velasquez gave up 32 runs, 31 of them earned. That’s a 6.44 ERA since his scoreless innings streak was snapped and a 4.38 ERA for the season if you factor in his scoreless games. To say Velasquez is the shoe-in for the third weekend spot would be premature. Velasquez may need to do some serious off season work to secure a starting spot on the weekends and fend off the newcomers.
Jimmy Endersby redshirted in 2017 after coming into the Titan Baseball program out of Orange High School. Despite redshirting at Fullerton, Endersby was invited to play for the prestigious Alaska Goldpanners this summer. Although he has not been starting for the Goldpanners, he has been pitching quite well, and long, in relief. He has appeared in 12 games with 30 innings pitched, three wins, one save and a 2.70 ERA. Endersby could come back to Fullerton ready to take on a starting role and if he performs well in the fall, could be a solid choice for the Sunday starter.
Another JUCO transfer that could slide into the Sunday slot is Tommy Wilson. If Wilson wins the Sunday starting role, that would give the Titans three juniors toeing the rubber on the weekend. Wilson graduated high school in 2014 and attended Saint Mary’s but did not play for the Gael’s, preserving his college eligibility. Recruited by Loyola Marymount, UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge out of Pierce College, Wilson ultimately chose Fullerton to be the best fit for his talents and pitching style. As a freshman at Pierce in 2016, Wilson made 18 appearances and eight starts pitching a total of 54 innings and striking out 50. The coaching staff is high on Wilson saying, “Tommy is a polished right-hander who will be able to come in and fight for a spot in the rotation. He has three quality pitches and pounds the strike zone.”
Three quality pitches and pounds the strike zone? Sounds like another right-hander that was on campus a few years ago in Thomas Eshelman. Given his age and experience, Wilson could be one to watch that could sneak in and grab the final weekend starting position.
A dark horse for the Sunday spot could be incoming freshman Timmy Josten. Josten comes in with high expectations from West Ranch High School in Santa Clarita. A left hander, Josten might have an advantage for the Sunday starter spot making opponents reconfigure their line-up to face a southpaw. Josten finished his junior season with a 9-3 record and one save in 14 appearances with a 1.79 ERA and 59 strikeouts. Josten’s senior year numbers in high school nearly mirrored his junior year stats. He finished his senior year 8-4 starting all of his 12 game appearances. From his junior year to senior year, Josten reduced his walks by 22% and increased the number of strikeouts by 16%. This summer, Josten has been pitching well for the Walla Walla Sweets appearing in eight games and starting five of them. Of the pitchers with 20 innings or more, Josten leads the team in wins (4), runs surrendered (7), earned runs (7), ERA (2.46) and walks allowed (7). Josten’s 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio leads the pitching staff with 20+ innings pitched.
Depending on how things shake out in the fall on campus, Josten might start his freshman season as the Sunday starter. If you are wary about a true freshman coming in and locking down a weekend starting position, the Titans have a good history of freshmen coming in and transitioning from high school to Division I college ball nicely. Colton Eastman was the last one to do it in 2016. Before Eastman took a weekend starting spot as a freshman, both Thomas Eshelman and Justin Garza were true freshmen in 2013. Both Eshelman and Garza turned out to be pretty good pitchers right from the moment they took the mound. In no way are we comparing Josten to the previously mentioned trio nor predicting he will have the same success. We are just pointing out that a true freshman is not something to fear picking up the ball each week.
There may be others Titan pitchers that come in and take a weekend spot but we here at Cal State Omaha are pretty confident the Friday and Saturday night spots are locked down. Those not making the Sunday starter spot will hold down vital roles in the Titan bullpen. Typically, the non-conference mid-week starts are a round robin of bullpen pitchers piecing together a game of two to three innings at a time. The aforementioned guys in the Sunday starter conversation will definitely be considered for those mid-week non-conference games along with other bullpen guys like Dillon Brown, Erik Cha, Jack Pabich, Joe Wills, Evan Larsen, Josh Rios, and incoming JUCU transfer Brandon Moore and incoming freshmen Tanner Bibee and Tyler Smith.
The weekend starters going long innings helps keep the bullpen rested and fresh. If the weekend starters can stay healthy, especially Colton Eastman and Drew Quezada, the bullpen may not need to get up until Sundays possibly. Set-up man Blake Workman and closer Brett Conine might be the only two bullpen guys to see the mound on Friday and Saturday nights which bodes well for bullpen health and freshness down the stretch. All the talk in June in the NCAA post-season tournament is how strong and rested a team’s bullpen appears. By not burning out those young arms in the bullpen cam make for a fun road to Omaha.
Check back soon for predictions on roles for the bullpen pitchers, who will be the closer, set-up man and mid-week non-conference starters.