Pitching and defense. That has been hallmark of Cal State Fullerton Titan Baseball since Augie Garrido took the program to Division 1 status in 1975. “Augie Ball” has always been to just throw strikes and let the seven guys behind the pitcher make plays. Heading into the 2019 Titan Baseball season, Augie Ball will still rule the day. The guys just throwing those strikes are a bit uncertain.
The good news is that this year’s bunch of hurlers will have the same pitching coach as last year. Steve Rousey returns after replacing Blake Hawksworth in 2018 who had replaced Jason Dietrich in 2017. Rousey’s impact on the pitching staff was not only felt on the mound performance in 2018 but on the recruiting trail as well. Expect that same impact in 2019 and beyond.
Coaching and philosophy can only go so far and the arms on the field will need to perform if the Titans expect to make another run at Omaha. After reaching the Super Regionals two consecutive years in 2017 and 2018, the 2019 Titans will look to make it three consecutive trips to the Super Regionals. The last time the Titans made three consecutive Super Regional appearances was in 2010, advancing to eight straight supers since 2003. If the Titans are to advance to yet another Super regional and hopefully Omaha, they will have to rely on some young arms to do it.
Gone are the three juniors that formed the majority of the weekend starts in 2018. Colton Eastman came into the 2018 season firmly planted as the Friday night starter. Eastman lived up to the hype and expectations going 10–4 with a 2.37 ERA and 124 strikeouts. Eastman also threw a no-hitter vs. UC Santa Barbara to open Big West Conference play in 2018. Eastman was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 4th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball draft. Upon signing with the Phillies, Eastman received a $522,900 signing bonus and started his pro career with the Williamsport Crosscutters.
Cypress Junior College transfer Andrew Quezada was the expected Saturday night starter in 2018 but another JC transfer, Tommy Wilson held down the No. 2 slot in the rotation for the majority of the season. Wilson was also drafted, his team the New York Mets, who selected him in the 19th round. Wilson also signed and was off to the minors. Quezada after settling into the rotation and starting Sundays also left Fullerton via the draft. Quezada was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the seventh round and signed his pro contract as well.
The Major League Baseball draft not only decimated the Titans weekend rotation but the bullpen was also hit hard. Closer Brett Conine was selected by the Houston Astros in the 11th round while set-up man, occasional mid-week starter and all-around dependable reliever Blake Workman was drafted in the 22nd round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Erik Cha was the other bullpen arm lost to the 2018 draft, going to the Minnesota Twins in the 17th round. Joe Wills will not return to the Titans after exhausting his college eligibility of two years in junior college and his final two years at Fullerton. With so many Titans lost to the draft, the door is wide open for some young guns to step up and take over the pitching responsibilities heading into the 2019 season. Much like last season, it appears the Friday night starter will come from the Sunday starter role.
Predicting the 2019 weekend rotation:
Friday Starter – Tanner Bibee
Tanner Bibee stepped foot on the Fullerton campus as a freshman out of Mission Viejo High School and made his 2018 collegiate debut at Stanford on Sunday of the opening weekend. That first start was dreadful to put it mildly. Bibee recorded one out while surrendering three hits, a walk and four runs, all of them earned. But redemption would be Bibee’s later in the season in the biggest game of his young collegiate baseball career.
Starting the Sunday game at the 2018 Stanford Regional, Coach Rick Vanderhook asked Bibee to start in place of Andrew Quezada who was experiencing elbow soreness at the time. Bibee would get his revenge opposing a Stanford squad facing elimination at the hands of the Titans for the second year in a row at Sunken Diamond in Palo Alto. Bibee responded by facing 25 batters in 6 2/3rd innings, striking out 11 and surrendering five hits, one walk and two earned runs. Bibee showed the pinpoint control that has been the calling card of Titan pitchers of the past. That strike throwing ability foreshadowed Bibee taking over the Friday night starting role in 2019.
Bibee earned freshman All-American honors and played a little summer league ball for the Santa Barbara Foresters of the California Collegiate League. He threw sparingly in the fall in order to rest his arm and prepare for the 2019 season. During the fall scrimmages in Arizona and vs. New Mexico State, Bibee did not throw much either. It appears that coach Rick Vanderhook knows what he has in Bibee and there is no need to risk injury or fatigue on a young arm on meaningless scrimmages. Scrimmages are meant to showcase what a player can bring to the table and it is apparent that ‘Hook and staff know what Bibee brings to the table. We expect Tanner Bibee to toe the rubber against TCU to open the MLB Collegiate Tournament in Surprise, Arizona on February 15th.
Saturday Starter – Timothy Josten
It’s beginning to look a lot like 2016. Anyone else remember back to 2016 when two promising sophomores took over the Friday and Saturday night roles? In 2016, the Friday guy was RHP Connor Seabold and Saturday starter was LHP John Gavin. Mirroring that one-two punch of a righty on Friday and lefty on Saturdays, we are predicting Tim Josten gets the nod on Saturdays. Josten made 13 appearances in 2018 as a freshman, starting just three games. The three starts were mid-week, non-conference games against Arizona State, Pepperdine and University of San Diego. Josten also pitched in summer ball playing for the Valley Blue Sox in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Based on his performance in the fall and his experience as a freshman last year, Josten looks poised to take over the Saturday night role.
Sunday Starter – Jimmy Endersby, Michael Knorr, Joe Magrisi, Michael Weisberg, Damon Treadwell or Gavin Velasquez
The Sunday starter competition is about as wide open as it has ever been. Both Endersby and Velasquez were tabbed in last year’s 2018 Projected Titan Baseball Roster – Weekend Starters blog post to potentially start in 2018 but did not. Both will have to fend off challenges from freshmen and JC transfers in order to lock down the final weekend starting spot.
Velasquez had to medical redshirt in 2018 after coming off the 2017 season where he saw time in Omaha pitching at the CWS. Velasquez seems to be healed and could be the Sunday guy in 2019. Endersby is a third year sophomore after redshirting in 2017. In 11 appearances last season, Endersby held batters to a .237 batting average and looked good in fall ball scrimmages. Endersby did not pitch a lot in summer ball, also playing in New England Collegiate Baseball League, for the Mystic Schooners. In just 10 innings pitched, all in relief, Endersby had a 6:1 strikeout to walk ratio.
If past track record holds true to Titan tradition, the Sunday starter could come down to a true freshman. The two freshmen battling for the Sunday spot could both hail from the San Diego area, where Titan recruiting has been strong lately. Joe Magrisi makes a strong case based on his high school performance last year at Torrey Pines High School. En route to being named California’s Mr. Baseball by Cal-Hi Sports, Magrisi ended his senior season 12-0 with an 0.75 ERA. He struck out 130 batters in 93 innings.
In addition to his impressive W/L record and strikeouts, Magrisi also recorded 54 2/3 scoreless innings that included six straight shutouts. The scoreless innings streak surpassed the previous San Diego County record held by David Wells who played his prep ball at Point Loma.
Another San Diego product, Michael Knorr, could potentially take the ball on Sundays. Drafted in the 40th round by the hometown San Diego Padres, Knorr hails from Carlsbad High School, the same high school that produced Thomas Eshelman, a Titan righty who didn’t turn out all that bad.
Knorr is a big kid, coming in at 6’6″, 215 pounds and could sneak into the starting rotation on Sundays. Just to be safe, two JC transfers could steal the Sunday spot.
Michael Weisberg and Damon Treadwell come to Fullerton with some mid-90’s velocity on their fast balls. Depending on how practices shape up once the boys come back to start the spring semester, one of these JUCO transfers could end up with the ball in their hand on Sundays.
Mid-Week Starter – Dillon Brown
The mid-week starting spot typically is not held down by just one guy. Typically it is “Johnny All-Staff” with the bullpen guys getting two innings a piece in order to save their arms and to combine for hopefully a non-conference win. Dillon Brown has been a steady middle relief guy for the Titans for the past two years and could be a steady starter for those middle of the week games. Look for Brown to be one of the first out of the bullpen on the weekends if any of the starters get into a jam.
Closer – Evan Larsen
Evan Larsen is coming off of Tommy John surgery and has not thrown for two years now. Despite the time off, Larsen has shown the stuff that caught the eyes of the coaching staff and reminded them why they brought him to Fullerton. Having a strong closer to slam the door late in games gives the 2019 Titans a bit more confidence heading into the season.
Overall, the Titan pitchers are much bigger than in years past. Size and strength has been a focus in recruiting for Vanderhook after the 2015 and 2017 trips to Omaha. The size and physicality of the players in Omaha showed that the collegiate game has changed and in order to keep pace, measurables are important. The 2019 pitching staff reflects this change in recruiting and could translate to big things in the win/loss columns. The 2019 college baseball season kicks off February 15th. 2019 is the season the Titans need to win a national championship in order to keep the streak of a dog-piling in Omaha every decade since competing in Division 1. The offense looks poised to provide the firepower for a run at Omaha. If the arms can deliver and hold up their end of the bargain, it is not too far fetched.