The 2019 Titan Baseball season was the most offensive and offensive in recent years. Offensive in that the failure to make the postseason in 27 years left many Titan players, coaches and fans with a sour taste in their mouth for months. Also offensive in that the team batted well statistically but unfortunately, many of those games were high scoring which resulted in 26 losses. With many position players returning and some bright, young newcomers arriving on campus, look for the bats to be even more alive in 2020.
In 2019, the Titans batted .289, scored 326 runs and blasted 20 home runs. Not exactly the offensive juggernaut type numbers Arizona State put up last year, bashing 94 bombs and averaging .310 but respectable for a Cal State Fullerton team. After seeing three exhibition games, UNLV, UCSD and the most recent Titan Baseball Alumni game, it appears the 2020 batters could break out and push that average above the .300 mark and potentially double the home run output.
With the departure of Chad Baum leaving to take the head coaching position at Fullerton College and volunteer assistant Neil Walton bolting for a paid job at Cal State Northridge, enter Sergio Brown and volunteer assistant, Andy Jenkins. Both will assist head coach Rick Vanderhook in coaching the hitters which should be improved.
And speaking of newcomers, the Titans lineup will be loaded with fresh faces sprinkled in with a few familiar ones. Gone are Shortstop Sahid Valenzuela and Catcher Daniel Cope, lost to the MLB Draft last year. Super Senior Jake Pavletich along with Seniors Hank LoForte, Jairus Richards and Mitchell Berryhill graduated out of the program. AJ Curtis transferred and after redshirting his freshman year, Korrey Siracusa has transferred to Junior College. Of the players that left via the draft, transfer or graduation, this year’s players look to fill their spots with ease, little transition and few growing pains.
Here’s our prediction who will take the field a week from now up on the farm at Stanford:
Predicting the 2020 position players:
Catcher – Kameron Guangorena
After splitting time with Daniel Cope behind the plate in 2019, the catcher spot is all Kameron Guangorena‘s this season. D1Baseball ranked him the No. 15 catching prospect in the nation and he isn’t even draft eligible in 2020. If KG can put in a year Titan fans have been expecting since he landed on campus from St. John Bosco, expect him to land on plenty of watch lists to start his junior season.
As a freshman, Guango played in 50 games in 2019 and batted .261, driving in 26 runs, scoring 30 runs and launched one home run, primarily as the Designated Hitter. He started behind the plate the last 13 games of the season after Daniel Cope re-injured his thumb and gave Titan fans a glimpse of what they can expect for the next two years behind the plate. Although he started the Alumni game in Center field, expect to see Kam behind the plate receiving from Tanner Bibee on Friday night at Stanford.
Guangorena will be spelled by Austin Schell, a JUCO transfer from Golden West College. Schell is a classic “JC bounceback” that attended Valparaiso out of high school but came back home to Golden West his second year. Gunago can’t be behind the plate for all 50+ games this spring and Schell should be a veteran backstop to help keep him fresh.
Freshman Cole Urman could potentially redshirt this season based on the experience of Schell and Guangorena in front of him. Urman is an outstanding defensive catcher with a cannon of an arm to second base but will struggle to get playing time this year. This is not a knock on his talent but more his experience. If the Titans can avoid the injury bug this season, Urman will likely redshirt.
1st Base – Cameron Repetti
The departure of Jake Pavletich and AJ Curtis ensures there will be a new 1st baseman for the Titans in 2020. All signs point to freshman phenom Cameron Repetti holding down that spot.
Repetti arrives on campus via Cypress High School where he was named the CIF Player of the Year. Playing primarily 3rd Base and pitching for the Centurions, Repetti tossed a no-hitter his senior year and racked up so many awards and accolades they are too many to list here. Needless to say, Repetti could have written his ticket to any college baseball program in the country and chose to come to Fullerton. Undoubtedly, a guy like Repetti is going to find his way onto the field.
Repetti may see some time out of the bullpen late in games but expect to see him holding down 1st Base. Although he played 3rd Base in high school, throughout the fall Repetti has been starting on the right corner of the infield. Over the summer, Repetti shined for the Ridgefield Raptors in the West Coast League. Playing in 50 games against primarily college level players, Repetti batted .248 in over 200 at-bats and blasted five home runs over the summer. If the expectations on Repetti weren’t large enough with all the high school honors, Perfect Game predicted Repetti to win the Big West Conference Freshman of the Year Award. So far, Repetti has responded nicely and transitioned to the college game as expected.
Don’t be surprised if Isaiah Garcia plays 1st Base as well. But wait, didn’t Garcia play outfield last year? Isn’t he an outfielder? Not really. Garcia is an infielder by trade and played 2nd Base and DH while at Sierra College before transferring to Fullerton. Garcia can flat out hit and averaged .323 at the plate and led the team in RBI (39) in 2019. Garcia appears more suited for the DH role in 2020 but could spell Repetti at times. More on Garcia when we cover the DH spot…
2nd Base – JJ Cruz
The right side looks to be all freshmen which isn’t a bad thing. JJ Cruz looks as though he will be following the same path as Sahid Valenzuela. Starting at 2nd Base in his freshman year, he could slide back to shortstop the next two years as Sahid did. A middle infielder for certain, JJ Cruz in the early going has looked impressive leaving the Titan coaches staff scratching their heads. Andy Jenkins said in our interview on the 1544 Miles to Omaha Podcast, the coaches are baffled how Cruz ended up on campus and wasn’t offered a king’s ransom in signing bonus money by MLB teams out of high school. Pro baseball’s loss is Fullerton’s gain and Cruz looks to be a star in the making based on his early exhibition game performances against UNLV, UCSD and the Titan Alumni squad.
Max Miller could see time at 2nd Base but probably in a plus/minus game where the Titans are up a ton or down a ton. Miller, now a redshirt sophomore, played sparingly last season after redshirting his freshman year in 2018. The infield depth is not that deep and should Cruz need a replacement, the most likely candidates will come from positions already on the field and everyone shifts over. Which leads us to shortstop.
Shortstop – Brett Borgogno
Filling the shoes vacated by Sahid Valenzuela and Timmy Richards before him is the tall task bestowed upon Brett Borgogno. Now a junior, BoGo played a little bit at short after Sahid announced he was shutting down the remainder of his 2019 season to undergo Tommy John Surgery. He has played 3rd base in the past and hopefully is ready for shortstop. His glove speaks for itself and the only concern is his bat.
Based on last year’s stats, Borgogno hit just above the Mendoza Line at .206 but had three home runs on the year. He tied with Zach Lew for second place for home runs behind Pavletich. Hopefully Borgogno can improve at the plate and improve on those numbers from last year.
Expect JC bounce back Demitri Colacchio to challenge for the shortstop spot should Brett Borgogno falter. Colacchio hit .379 at Saddleback College after spending his first year at the University of Utah. Lew, Miller and Cruz could also potentially play short should their services rendered necessary.
3rd Base – Zach Lew
Along with Guangorena, Jackson Lyon and Jason Brandow, Zach Lew was one of the young, promising gems of last year’s freshman class. Unfortunately Lew’s playing time was hindered by nagging injuries and only played in 34 of the 53 games. Despite his time in the field and at the plate being limited, he managed to hit .313 and finished with a .448 on-base percentage and a .458 slugging percentage.
Lew consistently started all three exhibition games at the hot corner and appears ready to hold down that spot in 2020. Big shoes to fill keeping in mind the high level of success Titans like Phil Nevin and Matt Chapman had there.
Repetti, Borgogno, or freshman Josh Urps cold fill this role as well. Urps is another JC bounce back after attending Sacramento State first and then Scottsdale Community College. Urps is from Elk Grove, California the same Elk Grove that produced JD Davis and Hank LoForte.
Outfield – Jackson Lyon, Jason Brandow, Caden Connor
Jackson Lyon and Jason Brandow are probably names you are familiar with but Caden Connor is a freshman that will probably start the season in the outfield. We’ll touch on the two young, sophomore veterans first.
Brandow appears destined to roam right field again this year after holding down that spot for the majority of 2019. Brandow’s power is unquestioned and has not fallen off from last season. One only needs to point to the Alumni game where Brandow destroyed a baseball that landed in the left field parking lot. (Pre-game tailgaters beware if you choose to park closer to the field this season. Mr. Brandow nor California State University, Fullerton will be responsible for shattered windshields.) Brandow’s homer left the bat at 104 MPH and traveled 426 feet.
If Brandow can improve on his .256 batting average from last year, look out. His fielding looks improved and being right handed, is ideally suited for right field for those long balls into the corner. His arm is also a formidable threat that will discourage runners from tagging and advancing.
Jackson Lyon was off to a scorching freshman year before being sidelined with a back injury in 2019. In the month of February, Lyon batted .333 in the first six games he played in prior to the Stanford series. Lyon played in eight additional games and was clearly not 100% and garnered only two hits in 17 at-bats. Lyon looks to be back to healthy and just in time because centerfield appears to be his to lose.
Mitchell Berryhill has graduated and along with his .415 batting average and plus-plus speed. Lyon flashed signs he is up to the challenge and can produce when healthy to fill Berryhill’s cleats.
Freshman Caden Connor has been a pleasant surprise this fall and appears to have locked down the left field spot. Connor, a lefty out of Orange Lutheran, led his Lancer team in seven offensive categories in the highly competitive Trinity League. Connor has seen significant time in all three exhibition games and could very well be a stalwart in the outfield for a number of years to come.
A deep outfield is a luxury the Titans posses this year. Two freshmen are vying for playing time in Alex Solis and Miguel Ortiz.
Solis can flat out fly and could be a speedy pinch running option. He holds the Montebello High School record for most stolen bases in a game with six.
Redshirt freshman Trevor Cadd could have competed for a starting spot last season had he not been injured. A great pedigree out of MLK High in Riverside, Cadd is a bit of an unknown because he did not play last year. Isaiah Garcia is another option after playing last season in the outfield although he did not look completely comfortable out there.
JC Transfer Andrew Scheinert could be a nice surprise and provides much needed depth. He played two season at Los Angeles Mission College and hit .368 with 10 doubles, two triples and three home runs his sophomore year. Zach Weisz is also a versatile option with the ability to play both outfield and infield. Weisz played last year at Hope International, an NAIA school across Nutwood from Cal State Fullerton. Weisz was on the 2017 Titan team that went to Omaha and could provide valuable senior leadership to a young and talented team.
Designated Hitter – Kyle Luckham & Isaiah Garcia
Kyle Luckham spent all of 2019 on the mound, primarily as a starter. His role has changed drastically in 2020 and appears destined for the closer role along with picking up a bat four to five times a game.
Luckham has been batting in the DH spot and has performed quite well in the fall. Against UNLV when offense was at a premium, Luckham went 2-for-3 with an RBI. In the UCSD exhibition game, Luckham duplicated the UNLV effort going 2-for-3 again with a double while closing out the game on the mound.
Luckham throws right but bats left making him a great option at DH with so many right handers on the mound. If the opposition throws a lefty to start, right handed hitter Isaiah Garcia would be the DH choice.
We’ve touched on Isaiah’s hit tool previously and he could easily hold down the DH spot on his own despite the lefty-righty combo with Luckham. Unlike previous years when the coaching staff scuffled to find a DH that could hit above .200, this season looks to be an embarrassment of riches at the DH slot. Luckham or Garcia at DH? What a wonderful problem for Vanderhook to contemplate when filling out the line-up card.
All in all, if the Titans can improve their performance at the plate and bring their average closer to .300, this 2020 team could be going places. There are a lot of new faces for both the players and the coaches this year. If they can mesh quickly and avoid the slow starts that have necessitated a sprint to win the Big West Conference, maybe the Titans can host a Regional for the first time since the 2015 season.