Punxsutawney Phil failed to see his shadow and superstition predicts an expected early spring. For Titan Baseball fans, it would be great if it meant the season started even sooner so everyone can put the 2019 season behind them.
In the wake of the disastrous (by Titan Baseball standards) 2019 season, comes a new dawn in 2020. Almost the entire team is back with few players lost to the MLB draft and graduation. Even better news is that most of the pitchers who notched the most innings last season, have returned. (Evan Larsen, Gavin Velasquez and Jimmy Endersby have transferred out of the program) That means 48 of last year’s 53 starts were made by Titans currently on the 2020 roster. The Titans pitchers are long on experience.
Although consistency on the mound is nice, the elephant in the room is that the 2019 team ERA was above five for the majority of the season. It finally settled in at 4.81 after sprinting to the finish with a 5-1 record over Long Beach State and Cal State Northridge. The big difference this season compared to 2019 sparking optimism among Titan Baseball fans? The addition of Dan Ricabal as the pitching coach.
The Titans pitching coach spot has been in a state of flux for a number of years now. Jason Dietrich was the pitching coach from 2013-2016 and still has ties to the pitchers in the program. Now juniors, Tanner Bibee and Timmy Josten and Senior Dillon Brown were recruited by Dietrich while still in high school. They committed thinking Dietrich would be their coach upon arrival.
George Horton up at Oregon lured Dietrich away and in comes Blake Hawksworth for the 2017 season. Hawksworth leaves after one season and enter Steve Rousey. Rousey is on campus for the last two seasons and is replaced by Dan Ricabal. You follow all of that? That’s a lot of turnover in a coaching spot where consistency is needed.
With the departure of Rousey after last year, many Titan fans were calling for Dietrich to return to Fullerton since the Oregon coaching staff was upended at the same time. Dietrich has made no bones about the fact that he eventually wants to be a head coach at the Division 1 level. Rick Vanderhook wants consistency at the pitching coach spot and knows Dietrich will leave if offered a head coaching gig. Ricabal is content with being a pitching coach and although you never say never, does not appear to want to be a head coach anytime soon. It would appear that Ricabal is in for the long haul which will bode well for the current pitching staff and set the minds of recruits at ease that he will not leave anytime soon.
If you are unfamiliar with the recent hiring of Dan Ricabal, you can get caught up by listening to Episode 14 of the 1544 Miles to Omaha Podcast or read the introduction on his pitching coach pedigree.
RELATED: Who is Dan Ricabal?
In the past, it has been a much easier task to predict the starting rotation and bullpen roles based on those returning. Not the case this year. Outside of Tanner Bibee on Friday nights, the remainder of the weekend rotation is a crap shoot. Only Rick Vanderhook knows who will toe the rubber during the the opening weekend series at Stanford. Fortunately for you, we’re not in the business of shrugging our shoulders and waiting and seeing. We will attempt to predict how the 2020 Titans will look on the mound this season. (The projected position players will come soon.)
Predicting the 2020 pitching rotation:
Friday Starter – Tanner Bibee
Tanner Bibee appears poised for the Friday night starter role in his junior season much like guys like Colton Eastman, Connor Seabold and Thomas Eshelman did in their junior year. All of those previously mentioned guys were drafted in the second, third or fourth round. If Bibee has the junior season we all know he is capable of, his draft position may very well fall within the first five rounds of the MLB draft.
Bibee pitched a ton of innings last season and at times, went too deep in games (in our opinion) when he should have been lifted. Although Bibee is a big, strong guy, that many miles on a sophomore arm may not be a good thing. With Ricabal the pitching coach, throwing 100+ pitches a game does not look to be in store for Bibee’s right arm.
Since Bibee pitched so many innings in 2019, one would assume he would have been shut down for the summer. Not the case. Bibee apparently had more bullets to throw and pitched in the prestigious Cape Cod League in a reliever role for the Wareham Gatemen. Bibee appeared in 10 games for the Gatemen, pitching 18 2/3rd innings recording a 3-1 record, 3.38 ERA and one save. Bibee only issued four walks and struck out 19 while on the Cape.
Bibee pitched sparingly this fall in exhibitions and did not pitch in the Titan Baseball Alumni game. Bibee is cut from the same mold as the previously mentioned pitchers with outstanding command of the strike zone with his 90-93 MPH fastball. Bibee’s curve ball is high quality and his change up and slider are improved from last season. A four pitch arsenal that Bibee can locate for strikes sounds like bad news for opposing batters this season.
Make sure to be at Goodwin Field on Friday nights this season to catch a glimpse of this guy before he heads off to professional baseball like so many of the other Friday night starters before him.
Saturday Starter – Michael Knorr
Michael Knorr held down the Sunday starter role last year during his freshman year. Knorr, despite not playing summer ball, has made massive improvements this fall and is positioned to take over on Saturday nights. During the podcast interview with Ricabal, he had nothing but high praise for Knorr and his ability to absorb information and apply it the next day to his pitching regime.
Although his numbers from last season were pedestrian, (4-4, 5.90 ERA) a new year and new pitching coach is already paying dividends for Knorr. He is listed as 6’6″ and 215 lbs and his length matches his height. With long levers like that, it’s no wonder his fastball can reach the mid-90’s. Knorr also has a three-pitch mix that he can throw for strikes.
Knorr threw one inning in the UCSD exhibition and struck out three batters. Even though Knorr’s freshman year was not as impressive as Titan Baseball fans would have liked, a new year with a new coach and improved confidence should do wonders for him.
Sunday Starter – Gavin Kennedy
It wouldn’t be Titan Baseball unless a promising freshman pitcher arrived on campus and took a weekend starting spot. Gavin Kennedy, a freshman fresh out of Ocean View High School, appears to be the main ingredient in a recipe that has bred success for years. In three years of playing varsity baseball at Ocean View, Kennedy was named Second Team All-League in 2017 as a sophomore, First Team All-League in 2018 and 2019 and League MVP in 2018 and 2019.
Over the summer, Kennedy played for the Pacific Union Financial Capitalists (Puf Caps) and performed admirably. The Puf Caps is a summer baseball team comprised of some of the top incoming freshman enrolling at Division 1 baseball programs. Over the summer, Kennedy appeared in seven games, starting three of them and recording a 1.82 ERA. Kennedy struck out 25 batters while issuing seven walks over the summer.
High school and summer ball stats and accolades are one thing but replicating those numbers in college are another. Kennedy started the Alumni game for the Titans which leads us to believe Vanderhook wanted to see him face down some formidable hitters. Kennedy responded by striking out the first batter he faced, Michael Lorenzen. (Yes, THAT Michael Lorenzen who recently avoided arbitration by signing a $3.75 million, one-year contract.) Kennedy left the Alumni game after going three innings allowing two hits while striking out a total of two.
Kennedy was also the starter in the UCSD exhibition, going two innings, surrendering a single hit and striking out four batters.
Based on starting the two most recent exhibition games, Kennedy looks positioned to get the ball on Sundays in 2020.
Mid-Week Starter – Joe Magrisi
It has been a long time since the Mid-Week starting spot has been held down by one guy on a consistent basis. Recent memory goes back to Koby Gauna starting those Tuesday non-conference games while still having availability out of the bullpen on weekends. Joe Magrisi started sparingly as a freshman last year with a number of appearances out of the bullpen. After a summer up in the Pacific Northwest playing for the Yakima Pippins, Magrisi looks to make a huge jump this season.
Let’s forget his stats from 2019 (1-3, 4.64 ERA) in a Titan uniform. Magrisi himself will admit that was not his best showing and has worked hard to prove that his freshman year was an anomaly. His summer ball stats are more indicative of the pitcher Titans fans thought was going to arrive on campus.
Magrisi appeared in eight games for the Pippins, six of then as a starter. The eye-popping stat was the number of strikeouts Magrisi recorded, punching out 66 batters in 34 2/3rd innings. That’s an average of almost two batters per inning and 5.5:1 ratio of strikeouts to walks. Regarding Magrisi, Rick Vanderhook was quoted in the D1Baseball 2020 Big West Preview saying, “His numbers this summer were just stupid.”
Video game type numbers in summer ball are one thing but coming back to campus and channeling that confidence built can only help Magrisi moving forward.
Look for Magrisi to see more innings in 2020. If Knorr or Kennedy stumble early in the season, Magrisi could take over a weekend starting spot by the time the Titans take on Long Beach State to open Big West Conference play on March 20th.
Closer – Kyle Luckham
You may recall Kyle Luckham was a weekend starter last season but a new year means a new role for the sophomore right hander. Luckham scuffled in 2019 going 4-6 and recording a 5.37 ERA. He did not play summer ball and has returned to campus throwing his fastball in the 90-94 range. Another reason Luckham is moving to the back end of the bullpen, he should be the main Designated Hitter in 2020 for the Titans. (More on that in our next post predicting the position player starters.)
Luckham has been streaky in the closer role early, looking strong in both the UNLV and UCSD exhibitions but faltered a bit vs. the Alumni squad giving up three runs. Then again, there’s no shame giving up runs vs. the Titan alumni because those guys are playing professionally. Compare Luckham’s performances against college level talent players he’ll likely face during the regular season, he appears ready to slam the door late in games. But if he keeps mashing balls at the plate as the DH, he may not have to pitch all that much if the Titans have a comfortable lead. (Again, more on the position player predictions coming…)
Bullpen – Dillon Brown, Michael Weisberg, Landon Anderson, Matthew Sanchez, Evan Adolphus, Cameron Repetti, Peyton Jones, Brady Barcellos, Titus Groeneweg, Nicco Cole, Timothy Josten, Damon Treadwell
The bullpen has not been this deep and talented for a while now. Led by Senior Dillon Brown, he looks to resume his middle relief role for the Titans in 2020 coming in and steadily eating innings. Brown’s leadership for a young group may be leaned upon heavily especially if the staff gets into a jam.
Michael Weisberg was the closer last year but was erratic in that role. He led the team with 6 saves and had 13 strikeouts in 18 innings. Weisberg has a legit Major League fastball sitting around 93-96 but his lack of control got him into trouble last year. His slider has improved and hopefully his time out in the Cape Cod League this summer helped get his control under wraps. Only a sophomore, Weisberg could be used in a 7th or 8th inning role before Luckham comes into the game in the 9th to close it out.
Landon Anderson is another Titan pitcher that had a horrible season in 2019 but a change of scenery during summer ball proved to be just what the doctor ordered. Anderson left Fullerton to play in the Northwoods League for the Rochester Honkers and reduced his ERA from 8.20 at Fullerton down to 2.92 with Rochester. He started six games in the Northwoods and struck out 34 while issuing 13 walks. Look for Anderson as one of the first options out of the bullpen when the Titans need a left hander.
Speaking of tall and lanky leftys, Titus Groeneweg should contribute heavily this season. His summer playing for the Portland Pickles saw him strike out 22 while issuing 2 walks in 25 2/3rds innings. Groeneweg showed promise last year for the Titans and a year of weight room and training table under his belt and Titus potentially could compete for a starting role down the stretch.
Matthew Sanchez and Brady Barcellos are two seniors that should see considerable relief innings as well. Both JUCO transfers last season, these two will provide solid innings in relief. Sanchez was a strikeout machine, ringing up 14 batters in 9 /23rd innings en route to a 2-0 record and an ERA of 0.93. Returner Damon Treadwell red shirted last season and is an unknown quantity at this time.
Newcomers both from the high school and community college ranks arrive highly touted and talented. Nicco Cole arrives as a sophomore after playing one year at Howard College in Texas. Cole could be one of those sneaky JUCO pitchers like Tommy Wilson that arrives looking to find innings out of the bullpen and ends up finding a starting role on the team.
The Freshmen are talented and land on campus with loads of expectations. The biggest one, both physically and with heavy expectations, is Evan Adolphus. Adolphus is 6’3″ and 225 and is one of those “first of the bus” type guys with his physical stature. He doesn’t just fill out a uniform nicely, he throws in the 90’s and there is room to grow into that frame. In relief during thew Alumni game, Adolphus threw four consecutive pitches that clocked at 91 MPH on the Goodwin Field radar gun. Imagine what some time working with the Titan strength and conditioning team along with some good nutrition will do for Evan Adolphus becoming be a stud on the mound. Adolphus could find himself in a set-up role coming in the seventh or eighth innings before handing off the ball to Luckham in the ninth. Think Blake Workman but a bit bigger and stronger already.
Another set-up role guy could be Cameron Repetti. Repetti, a legitimate two-way threat, will probably see the majority of his innings played with a glove and a bat in his hands his freshman year. Keep in mind, Repetti was named the CIF Southern Section Player of the Year out of Cypress High School and pitched a no-hitter. Without making comparisons to Mark Kotsay or Michael Lorenzen, (Oops, we just may have…) Cameron Repetti could possibly be the next Titan that trades in his First baseman’s glove for a pitching glove without taking any warm-ups in the bullpen. Think Nick Ramirez from the early 2010 decade of titan Baseball.
Peyton Jones should be a starter in the coming years but with the Titans pitching staff this deep and talented, he looks to get innings out of the bullpen. Most likely a starter of the future, Jones, a freshman lefty will learn a lot from the veterans on the staff, making him better this season and in the future.
Look for Timothy Josten to make contributions in March, projected to be ready by the time Big West Conference play starts. Josten was a weekend starter last season but had a back injury that has sidelined him for the fall. Projections put Josten back and available by March and he could be a major weapon from the left side. Josten could potentially work his way back to a starting role by the end of the season and into post-season play barring any injury regression.
No matter who is on the mound for the Titans in 2020, the staff as a whole should be much improved. The addition of Dan Ricabal to the staff has already been a huge lift and you could see the difference in the Titan’s three exhibition games. Referencing Titan Baseball history and tradition, when the Titans are good on the mound, they go places.
Hopefully one of those places in 2020 will be in Nebraska in June.