The overall theme when it comes to the projected 2022 Titan Baseball pitching rotation is a game of “Good News, Bad News”. We’ll explain:
Good News – Jason Dietrich is back and coaching the pitchers again! Anywhere he has gone, including Cal State Fullerton from 2013-2016, the pitching staffs have benefited greatly.
Bad News – Dietrich inherits a pitching staff that recorded a 6.01 team ERA and 6.44 team ERA in conference.
Good News – From that 2021 team that had the 6.01 ERA, the guys that ate up 75% of the inning last year are either graduated, transferred or turned pro.
Bad News – That leaves a pitching staff with very little D1 pitching experience heading into 2022.
Good News – In fall ball games vs UNLV and Grand Canyon, Titan pitchers gave up one earned run collectively in 23 innings of play.
Bad News – Those were meaningless exhibition games where the other teams may have been tinkering with their line-ups and a low ERA could be fool’s gold.
Good News – One of our pitchers just struck out the side in a scrimmage!
Bad News – Yeah, but it was an intrasquad game and he struck three of his own teammates.
You see where we are going with this? The optimism is there but it needs to be tempered because outside of a handful of veteran guys on the team, questions abound. That’s what makes this year’s projections even tougher.
Five pitchers in 2021 accounted for 306.1 innings pitched out of the 485 total innings last season. All five ranked at the top for innings pitched last season. All five are no longer Titans. They include:
Tanner Bibee – 89.2 IP – drafted by the Cleveland Guardians
Kyle Luckham – 82.1 IP – Transferred to Arizona State (Projected to be Saturday starter for the Sun Devils)
Ryan Hare – 50.2 IP – UNLV graduate transfer and exhausted NCAA eligibility.
Michael Knorr – 46.1 IP – Transferred to Coastal Carolina (Projected weekend starter for the Chanticleers)
Landon Anderson – 37.1 IP – Left the Titan Baseball program. (Unknown if playing elsewhere or started his professional career outside of baseball)
Unlike last year and the years prior, predicting the weekend rotation was a bit easier. In 2018, we predicted that Colton Eastman would take over the Friday night starter role. (Big challenge coming up with that one, huh?) In 2019 we predicted Tanner Bibee would get the Friday night nod. Again, a no-brainer after his stellar performance up at the 2018 Stanford Regional. 2020 and 2021 were just as easy because Bibee returned to campus both years.
It’s not rocket science to predict the Friday night starter. If the Friday starter leaves, normally via the MLB draft, look at the previous year’s weekend rotation returners, elevate the next guy up to Friday nights. Sit back, crack a beer and look like a genius. But what happens if all three weekend starters from the previous season are no longer at Fullerton?
Hence, you can see that if we nail all of our pitching predictions, we will look like Nostradamus. If we swing and miss, we’ll look like the Chicago Tribune editors calling the 1948 election for Thomas Dewey over Harry Truman.
Enough procrastinating and let’s get to the prognosticating…
Disclaimer: These projections are based solely on our observations spanning from fall practices, fall ball exhibition games vs. UNLV and Grand Canyon, the Navy vs. Orange Fall World Series, the Alumni game and Spring intrasquad scrimmages. We did not consult with the coaching staff prior to publishing this projected line-up.
Predicting the 2022 Pitching Rotation
Friday Starter – Cameron Repetti
Cameron Repetti? You mean the guy that was essentially the closer in 2021, recorded five saves and had a 4-2 record last year? Isn’t he also the guy that sometimes plays third base and takes an at-bat every now and then? That Cameron Repetti?
Yes, Titan Baseball fans. That Cameron Repetti is going to be starting Friday nights.
So how does a guy go from his freshman year in 2020 and playing limited time in the field behind Zach Lew and Josh Urps to pitching primarily in 2021 as a closer to the Friday night starter in 2022? Because Repetti is a DUDE from the word go. (True baseball folks understand the definition of the term “dude” in baseball vernacular.)
Right off the bat, Repetti is a great overall athlete and has played both in the field and pitched on the mound in two season at Fullerton. Let’s not forget Repetti coming out of Cypress High School pitched a no-hitter. And it was not the garden variety no-hitter where a guy walks nine guys to preserve the no-no. Repetti struck out 11 and the two errors behind him in the field prevented the game from being a perfect game. Sure, that was 2019 and in 2022 we need to close the yearbook. We only bring it up to remind fans that Repetti can start games when given the opportunity and not just close them.
Repetti spent the summer in Waterloo, Iowa where he played both infield and pitched for the Waterloo Bucks. Summer ball straight stats do not tell the whole story of a player’s development, but Repetti came home from the Midwest with a 5.5:1 K/BB ratio along with a 1.41 WHIP.
Cam will bring his fastball, change-up, curveball and slider to the mound on Fridays in order to keep opposing batters off balance. We do not have official stats on his velocities but watching from the stands and noticing the radar board to the left of the scoreboard, Repetti’s fastball sits 91-93 MPH and tops out around 94. Repetti’s change-up is disgusting coming in at 78-81 . His slider has significant bite inducing lots of swings and misses at 80-83 MPH. The curveball is also nasty and sits mid-to-high 70’s. With Cole Urman expected behind the plate, Repetti can throw the slider and curve with confidence even with runners on knowing that Urman can block any balls in the dirt.
Although we alluded that picking the Friday night starter isn’t brain surgery, Repetti doesn’t fit the mold of the “next returning weekend starter is up” formula because he wasn’t a weekend starter last year. In looking at the team ERA and especially the weekend starters ERAs with the exception of Bibee, it’s probably a good thing Dietrich looked elsewhere.
Repetti pitched in the alumni game, albeit for the alumni squad, and pitched well. If you can’t have a weekend returner coming back, the next best indicator is starting the Alumni game. Repetti looked the part of a Friday starter and gives us confidence he will pick up the ball up at Stanford for the season opener.
Continuing the tradition of lights out pitching to open the season series, Repetti takes the torch from other Friday night guys like Thomas Eshelman, Blake Quinn, Connor Seabold, Colton Eastman and Tanner Bibee. No pressure Cam…
We don’t expect Cam to pitch on Friday nights and then pick up a bat and DH on the other days he does not pitch much like Kyle Luckham did in 2020 as the Saturday starter. But don’t be surprised to see “Two-Way Cam” pick up a bat every now and then if needed. With travel rosters limited to 27 players, having guys with versatility can’t hurt. (JT Navyac who may emerge as the regular short stop can also pitch in relief if needed.)
They say Saturday nights are for the boys but at Goodwin Field in 2022, Friday nights are for Repetti.
Saturday Starter – Tyler Stultz
You may not know Tyler Stultz’s name yet, but you can bet by season’s end, opposing hitters will be cursing it.
Tyler Stultz is the true embodiment of the term JUCO Bandit. Stultz brings a wealth of college pitching experience to the mound for the Titans, and we are predicting Jason Dietrich gives him the ball on Saturdays. So how does a JC transfer bring a “wealth of experience“?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down spring sports in 2020, eligibility rules changed for those affected, including those competing at the junior college level. Stultz, from Livermoore, graduated from Granada High school in 2017. (Yes, the same year the Titans made their last trip to Omaha.) Now at Fullerton, Stultz still has his junior and senior year of eligibility left because JUCO players were granted their 2020 eligibility back. If they played in junior college in 2021, that year just did not count. Sure, players played and got experience, but in the eyes of the NCAA, it’s like it never happened and it was a “free” year.
That’s how Stultz arrives on campus four years removed from his high school graduating class but still has two years of eligibility left. He’s essentially a Super Senior with extra eligibility. But can he pitch?
All we can go off of are his stats from Ohlone College. Tyler Stultz went 19-2 in three seasons at Ohlone, won two championship rings and was an All-American in 2021. Not too shabby considering California JUCO baseball is nothing to sneeze at.
Last year at Ohlone, Stultz appeared in 10 games, starting seven of them and racked up a 5-1 record with one save. Stultz led Ohlone in innings pitched (49.2) and strikeouts (63) while walking 21. That works out to a 3:1 K/BB ratio while his ERA finished at 2.54. Oh, did we mention he is a lefty? (The photo above probably gave you a slight clue.)
With the righty Repetti starting on Fridays and the Lefty Stultz starting on Saturdays, that sets up for another righty to finish the weekend. Which brings us to our projected Sunday starter.
Sunday Starter – Christian Rodriguez
After arriving on campus highly regarded and sought after, it’s time for Christian Rodriguez to show Titan fans why he was projected to not even arrive on campus had the MLB draft in 2020 not been reduced to five rounds. We’re projecting C-Rod to get the ball on Sundays and shine as brightly as the Sunday sun in May.
Rodriguez had an inauspicious start to his career at Fullerton last year as a true freshman. On Saturday vs. Utah, C-Rod threw three complete innings, walking one and striking out three. This was the Christian Rodriguez Titan fans were promised. He pitched a 1/3rd of an inning at USD leading up to his first collegiate start.
A mid-week game at highly ranked UCLA, Rodriguez got the start but only lasted one inning, giving up two hits and two earned runs. Those two hits came from the first two batters he faced.
Kevin Kendall tripled to lead off the Bruins and the second Bruin to the plate, Jack Filby, deposited a home run over the right center fence and the Titans found themselves down 2-0 early. Due to an injury either occurring in the UCLA game or afterwards, C-Rod found himself sidelined for the majority of the season. Although healthy enough to make the travel squad later in the season, Rodriguez would not pitch for Cal State Fullerton again in 2021.
We don’t bring this up to rub salt in the wound or bring up bad memories. We bring this up to prove that even the most highly regarded and heavily talented Titans can have a rough start to their careers and still go on to redeem themselves. Um, hello? Anyone remember Tanner Bibee on Sunday, February 18, 2018 at Stanford?
Bibee started that game February 18, 2018 and gave up three hits, walked one, allowed four earned runs while recording only one out before getting lifted in favor of Blake Workman. Bibee ended the day with a 108.00 ERA. A disastrous start for Bibee to put it mildly.
Bibee would not start another game until March 18, 2018, a mid-week game vs. Grand Canyon and pitched sparring out of the bullpen to mixed results. Not until Sunday, June 3, 2018 at, of all places, Sunken Diamond in the championship game of the Stanford Regional, did Bibee get his redemption. Bibee absolutely SHOVED that day, going 6.2 innings, allowing five hits, two earned runs, walking one and striking out a mind boggling 11 Cardinal batters.
So, wait? Is this a write-up about Christian Rodriguez or a fanny kissing expedition for the recently departed Tanner Bibee? It’s still a preview for C-Rod.
Rodriguez in fall and spring workouts looks to have received help from Jason Dietrich’s return to Fullerton. Not only does Dietrich coach sound pitching mechanics and call pitches in games towards a pitcher’s strengths, Dietrich is a huge proponent of the mental game. A big believer in the teachings of the late, great Ken Ravizza, Dietrich can help pitchers with the mental side of pitching. In C-Rod’s case, can you blame him for being a little rattled after a first college start like that at UCLA?
C-Rod’s physical tools are unmatched giving him a high ceiling. At 6’6″, Rodriguez is long and lean, and his wingspan is ridiculous. His fast ball sits 90-92 MPH and tops out around 93 MPH. Not bad to have two fireballers in the low-90’s throwing on back-to-back days.
C-Rod’s arsenal boasts a four pitch mix with the aforementioned fastball, curve ball, a cutter and a split change. A split change is not a split finger fastball and is not really a circle change up. It’s a combination of a change up but with movement. Should Rodriguez find this pitch tremendously effective, it could be lights out for hitters with a 2-strike count.
Closer – Michael Weisberg
All gas and no brakes used to be Michael Wiesberg’s calling card since stepping on campus in 2019 as a freshman. Now a senior, we’ve noticed two major differences in Weisberg. His change-up has become extremely effective, and he has gained control.
Titan fans all know the movie Bull Durham where Fullerton Alumnus Kevin Costner plays the veteran catcher brought into the bus leagues to supply guidance to a young, flame thrower that lacks control. Weisberg’s previous seasons with Cal State Fullerton looked like the embodiment of Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh. Nuke had an untouchably fast fastball but struggled to land it for strikes more often than not. (Sorry Ice Man if you’re reading this but you appear better now and poised to go to the next level.)
Many closers can exceed with a plus-plus fastball and a good change up. Trevor Hoffman, considered to be one of the greatest closers in MLB history, lived on his fastball and change-up with an occasional slider. Rarely would Hoffman throw his curveball which he hardly needed it.
Weisberg’s fastball touches 96 and when properly combined with his change-up, he can strike out MLB batters. No, really. In the alumni game, Weisberg struck out current Anaheim Angel and former Titan Michael Lorenzen on four pitches. It was so impressive that Lorenzen gave Weisberg a wry smile and a tip of his batting helmet out of respect.
All signs point to Michael Weisberg locking down the closer role late in games for the Titans in 2022.
Set-up Man – Jake Vargas
The Titans have not had a true set-up man for quite some time. In 2018, Blake Workman filled that role a few times in the eighth inning and eventually handed the ball off to Brett Conine to come in and close out games. Jake Vargas appears to have that role settled and could come into games in the seventh and eight innings, keep the opponent at bay, and then hand the ball over to Weisberg in the ninth.
Vargas’ fastball hovers between 88-91 MPH and he has shown the fortitude to come in late in games and handle the pressure. A big sophomore at 6’4″ and 220 lbs., Vargas could become a staple late in games that eventually turn into wins.
Mid-week starter – Peyton Jones, Fynn Chester or Evan Yates
The first mid-week, non-conference game will come March 1st, when the Titans welcome Kansas State into Goodwin Field. Most college baseball programs utilize a “Johnny All-Staff” approach on mid-week games. Basically throwing whoever is not a weekend starter and did not pitch too much relief the previous weekend. One guy will pitch two innings and then the rest of the game is pieced together one inning at a time to eventually get to the ninth inning.
This year, the Titans could have a bonafide mid-week starter much like the Titans did in in 2013 & 2014 in Koby Gauna. Guana would pitch in relief on the weekends, but Titan fans could count on him starting in those mid-week games vs. UCLA or Pepperdine. In 2021, veterans Peyton Jones, Timothy Josten or freshman Evan Yates could fill that role.
Jones enters his third year on campus from Utah and saw quite a bit of time in the fall and spring on the mound. Bringing a three pitch mix of fastball, change-up and curve ball, Jones could prove a fantastic lefty starter on Tuesdays.
Fynn Chester, a junior college transfer from Salt Lake Community College by way of Victoria, British Columbia looks as though he was in the running for a weekend spot. Also, a four-year junior college player like Stultz, Chester possesses a three pitch mix consisting of a fastball, curveball and change-up. Chester saw significant time on the mound in fall and spring and looks every bit the part of a starter.
Evan Yates, the talented freshman out of MLK Jr. High School in Riverside has stood out amongst all the Frosh arms. Although the coaches may not hand over a weekend starting role to Yates just yet, he sure looks poised to possibly take Tuesdays or Wednesday nights. It may not happen this year but count on Yates becoming a weekend starter before he is done at Fullerton. His freshman year may just start on Tuesdays, which is a great place to get your feet wet against still competition like UCLA, USC, BYU and USD.
We all know a strong bullpen is the key to winning games and eventual championships. The starters may get all the hype, but the bullpen arms are the unsung heroes who really help win games. (And sorry PETA, we’re not calling it the ‘Arm Barn’ just because you think the name is offense to cows that can’t read English. Now go eat a salad.)
The bullpen and middle relief in previous years has shown to be thin and unreliable with the exception of a few dependable arms. Hopefully Jason Dietrich has gotten the pitchers to the point where he can call in some relief and the decision is based on the amount of rest the guy has and if he is a righty or a lefty. In years past, the decision came from a position of trust because most were unreliable in big moments.
The previously mentioned Jones, Chester and Yates will get time out of the ‘Pen on weekends. Dietrich and Co, have six left-handers to choose from when needing relief. Jones, who we all know is a South Paw, is a practical choice along with veteran Timothy Josten. Josten, now a super senior thanks to COVID and injuries, has earned four varsity letters while at Fullerton. It appears that if Josten can stay healthy and pitch to his abilities, he will prove to be the player Jason Dietrich recruited him to be. (Yes, Jason Dietrich while still at Fullerton before leaving for Oregon, recruited both Josten and Tanner Bibee.)
Other left-handers seeing middle-relief time include Josh Howitt, an LA City College transfer originally from Encino. Howitt clocks in at 6’5″ and 220 pounds and can fill up the strike zone from the left side.
Ryan Gil, another JC transfer in 2022, comes from the Sacramento area by way of Sierra College. The Titans have had success with players coming from Sierra College, most recently Isaiah Garcia who just graduated and Dalton Blaser who the Yankees drafted in 2016. Gil had Tommy John Surgery and spent the entirety of the fall practices finishing his rehab regimen. Gil is healthy now and will provide quality lefty depth out of the bullpen.
Samuel Gomez returns to the Titans after posting a 3.00 ERA in 2021 in just nine innings pitched. A steady and reliable left-hander last season, let’s see if Gomez can expand his role and eat up more inning in relief from the left side.
The final lefty, Anthony Joya, is a bit of a mystery because we have not seen too much of him. A three time MVP with Banning High School in Wilmington, Calif. his transition to D1 is unknown. Depending on how other pitchers pan out, Joya could potentially redshirt if he won’t see significant innings this season.
The right handers looking to get the majority of innings out of the bullpen include James Wambold and Wyatt Johnson. Both pitched well in the fall and spring and should get a lot of middle relief innings should both stay healthy. Wambold shows great control and fills up the strike zone with poise on the mound.
The other right handers are inexperienced at the D1 level and getting innings in 2021 could prove challenging. Gavin Meyer, Izeah Muniz and Grant Kelly, all true freshmen, come in with awards and accolades out of high school.
Meyer was a team captain since his sophomore year (2019-2021) and was named All-League honorable mention his sophomore year. Meyer threw recently in the weekend scrimmages and looked solid but it’s hard to tell what his role will be other than fighting for middle-relief innings.
Muniz comes from Bishop Amat High School where he played all four years on the varsity. Muniz was hampered by illness in the fall that prevented him from showcasing his talents and earning a more significant role. A big bodied kid, (6’5″, 235 lbs.) Muniz could turn into a power right-hander down the road with some work in the weight room, conditioning and more experience.
Kelly arrives in Fullerton by way of Palm Desert High and looks the part of a big right hander coming in at 6’4″ and 212 lbs. We have not seen much of Kelly, and it appears with such a crowded bullpen, he may get few innings this season.
The final right-handed pitcher that could see time out of the bullpen is Brayden Spears. Spears pitched for the one and only year that Boise State fielded a baseball program in 2019. He also attended a year at the University of Oregon in 2020 before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Spears is a big dude, (6’6″, 225 lbs.) and his experience at the D1 level at two different schools could prove helpful out of the bullpen.
With a new year and a new coaching staff comes new hope. As with anything new, that hope, and enthusiasm should be tempered, and expectations not placed too high. Yes, we understand that Dietrich’s history when working with pitchers, especially Titan pitchers, has been exceptional. Many point to his years at Cal State Fullerton as the pitching coach and can’t help getting giddy over the prospects of sub-three team ERAs. The numbers don’t lie:
2013: 2.47 ERA
2014: 2.24 ERA
2015: 2.89 ERA
2016: 2.22 ERA
Again, the track record speaks for itself. Cutting a team ERA in half from one year to the next is not impossible but requires a lot of hard work and a bit of luck. Also remember, all of the returners and most of the newbies are not “his guys”. They are his guys now, but he did not recruit them. Think of it like a celebrity chef trying to make a masterpiece using ingredients they did not buy. We’re also not saying that the Vanderhook regime left Dietrich with ground chuck either.
If you look at the team ERA from 2013, Dietrich’s first year with Cal State Fullerton, Dietrich helped shave the ERA by over a full point from the previous year from 3.53 to 2.47. None of those guys on the 2013 team were Dietrich’s “guys”.
That’s true. But some of “those guys” on that 2013 team included dudes like Thomas Eshelman, Justin Garza, Koby Gauna, Tyler Peitzmeier and Grahamm Wiest. Dietrich arrived at Fullerton July 7, 2012, and probably did not have much, if any, recruiting influence on incoming freshman phenoms Eshelman and Garza. Gauna, Pietz and Weist were already on campus.
All we’re saying is do not expect miracles in Dietrich’s first year. Should Dietrich bring the team ERA down below four in his first year, the reason for optimism is real. Just a reminder, Mississippi State, the 2021 College World Series champions, finished the year with an ERA of 4.04.
It all gets started tomorrow up at Stanford.