It’s time to have some fun and publish our Projected 2023 Titan Baseball Roster: Batters edition.
Disclaimer: These projections are based solely on our observations spanning from fall practices, fall ball exhibition games vs. UNLV and Washington State, 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.
Although Head Coach Jason Dietrich is best known for his prowess with working with pitchers, he and his staff improved the batters’ performance in 2022 over the previous numbers in 2021. Most noticeably, the team batting average gained 14 points, improving from .264 to .278. The home runs improved from 22 in 2021 to 36 in 2022. Total runs scored increased from 245 to 289 and slugging percentage went up from .362 to .396. Across the board, the Titans improved in almost every single offensive category and metric.
Of the 10 Titans from last year’s squad with 100+ at-bats, seven return. Of the Titans from 2022 with the top 10 highest batting average, again, seven return. Of the top 10 Titans from last year’s team with the highest RBI totals, seven return. You get the point. And for clarification, those seven noted, it is not the same seven players in each category.
As it stands right now, the 2023 position players are older, wiser, more experienced and hopefully improved from last year. Let’s take a look at how the Titans could stack up on the field in 2023.
What’s changed for the Titans from 2022 to 2023?
As with every year, a college baseball program changes due to graduation, the MLB draft, incoming recruits and more frequently nowadays, guys coming and going via the NCAA transfer portal. We will touch on the new guys coming into the Titan Baseball program later, but first let’s look at who from 2022 will not return for the 2023 campaign.
Probably the biggest loss from the 2022 squad is Jackson Lyon. Lyon batted .328 (2nd best) and belted seven home runs (also 2nd best) in 2022. He played in 50 of the 55 games last season. Had it not been for a literal teeth jarring collision at home plate during the Loyola Marymount series, Lyon could have played in all 55 games last season. Lyon signed a free agent contract with the New York Yankees and has started his professional baseball career.
Last year’s team batting average leader (.382), Austin Schell, has also left the Titans for the pros. Fans recently learned that Schell signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Twins and he too, has begun his professional baseball journey.
Although Jason Brandow had an additional year of eligibility due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, he has chosen to return to Northern California and pursue a career outside of baseball.
Damon Hale entered the transfer portal after the 2022 season and has chosen to transfer to New Mexico State University.
Deylan Pigford entered the transfer portal after the 2022 season and has chosen to transfer to the University of New Mexico.
Tristan Gomes entered the transfer portal after the 2022 season and has chosen to transfer to the University of Portland.
JJ Cruz entered the transfer portal after the 2022 season and has chosen to transfer to Hope International University.
Jakob Schardt played in 11 games and had 25 at-bats for the Titans as a freshman in 2022 and batted .160. He was not on the fall roster, and it is unclear where he is attending college or if he is continuing to play college baseball.
Jake Gentry batted .100 in 10 at-bats in his senior season in 2022. He is no longer eligible to play college baseball.
Jake Harvey, a transfer from Oregon State, played two years for Cal State Fullerton from 2021-22. He reaggravated a shoulder injury after just four games into the 2022 season that required surgery. Harvey entered the transfer portal after the 2022 season and has chosen to transfer to Washington State University.
Anthony Pomilia, a JC transfer from College of Marin, played in six games and had seven at-bats. He batted .143 for his limited career with the Titans. He was not on the fall roster, and it is unclear where he is attending college or if he is continuing to play college baseball.
Of the players that turned pro (Lyon and Schell) and one that has chosen to not play baseball anymore (Brandow), accounted for 17 of the Titans’ 36 home runs in 2022. Add in players that transferred, Cruz (2) and Pigford (1), and that equates to 55% of last year’s HRs now gone. The Titans will need to look elsewhere for that power in 2023.
The good news is that last year’s HR leader, Brendan Bobo has returned and will look to improve on his eight home run total from last year. Caden Connor hit four home runs in 2022 after not hitting a round tripper in the years prior. Nate Nankil hit two home runs last season and later on in our projected starting line-up section, we will offer a bold prediction on what Nankil’s and Bobo’s power numbers could look like in 2023.
The sheer numbers of position players (11) lost from last season to this season compared to the number of pitchers lost (8) is larger. With the exception of Lyon, Schell and Brandow, the other players did not see significant playing time.
Cruz played in 38 games, took 75 at-bats but averaged .187 at the plate. Pigford was slightly better, batting .230 in 61 at-bats in 31 games. In Hale’s limited playing time of 23 games and 47 at-bats, he batted .234 but did steal two bases in 2022.
Replacing Lyon, Schell and Brandow in 2023 will not be an easy task but the current crop of Titans on campus look ready for the challenge. Who those Titans could be? Let’s look at how we expect the Titans to take shape in the field and at the plate in 2023.
Predicting the 2023 Batting Line-up
Catcher – Cole Urman
Cole Urman returning to the Titans in 2023 is a bit of a surprise. At last year’s Dinner with the Titans, in speaking with then Volunteer Assistant Coach Danny Benedetti, he expressed high confidence that Urman was as good as gone and would be playing professionally by now. That did not happen and despite professional interest from the MLB Draft, Urman chose to return to Fullerton in 2023. This brings about mixed emotions from many involved with college baseball.
The ones that love his return include Titan pitchers who know Urman’s ability to manage a game from behind the plate and block pitches in the dirt. That defense will not show up in any box score but will improve the Titans chances of winning game in 2023. His receiving ability and knack for blocking balls in the dirt is also a welcome sight by umpires while lining up behind him. Umpires that can stay in there without fear of getting hit by a ball that goes unblocked bodes well for more called strikes.
Those not thrilled to see Urman return behind the plate? Opposing base runners.
Urman’s defensive prowess has been detailed in previous projection articles and his ability to erase base runners with his throws to second or back picks to first and third are impressive. His bat took a dip from 2021 to 2022 going from averaging .275 in 2021 to .210 in 2022. In fall and the spring, Urman has shown consistent gap power reminiscent of Chris Hudgins who played for the Titans from 2015-2017. Urman did hit a home run in 2022 and if he can improve his offensive numbers in 2023, he will be the anchor of a strong middle presence this year.
Max Ortega, freshman from Stockton, Calif., looks to push Urman for playing time behind the plate. Ortega showed off some power at the plate during the Alumni game depositing a home run over the left field fence. Ortega has shown excellent skills behind the plate and appears to have the inside track for increased playing time after Urman has moved on to professional baseball.
Waldie Perez, a Junior College transfer from El Camino College adds veteran depth at the position along with Freshman, Jack Vanoncini. Vanoncini has also seen work at 1st base for added depth there as well. Which leads us to our next prediction…
First Base – Caden Connor
Caden Connor returns to Cal State Fullerton after receiving professional interest in the draft but ultimately chose to return for his junior year. After playing a summer in the Cape Cod League, Connor appears ready to improve on an already impressive 2022 season.
Connor started all 55 games last season and in doing so, led the team in scoring 42 runs, knocking in 37 RBI and notching 74 hits in 226 at-bats. He also hit four home runs last season, second among players returning. His first home run was a grand slam at. Stanford on opening weekend.
5️⃣ days until Stanford comes to Goodwin Field. #TusksUp pic.twitter.com/QaYMLkOIbG
— Titans Baseball (@FullertonBSB) February 12, 2023
Without counting the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, Conor’s numbers have increased each year from 2021 to 2022. He increased his batting average slightly from .325 to .327 but the slugging percentage took a nice jump in 2022, going from .387 to .460, attributed by an increase in doubles (12-14), triples (0-2) and home runs (0-4). The increase in at-bats also played a factor going from 191 to 226.
Connor received the honor of D1Baseball naming him to their Top 50 1st Basemen list, ranking him No. 44. Suffice to say, should Connor keep that trajectory going and continue to bat over .300 for a third straight season, the Titans fortunes could improve in 2023.
Others battling for time at First Base include Brendan Bobo who worked there and at Third base and in the outfield during practices and scrimmages, along with Vanoncini. The biggest competition to earn innings at First Base is Luke Mistone. Originally projected as a two-way player to both bat and pitch, Mistone has focused on offense upon returning from winter break. In a crowded bullpen, Mistone’s opportunity to play as a freshman is as a batter learning from Connor. Added depth at First Base could set the Titans up for success down the road once Connor leaves for professional baseball or exhausts his eligibility.
Second Base – Maddox Latta
This position was the toughest for us to predict in that four Titans could easily get the nod. The competition remains close down to the wire, but the slight edge could go to the JC transfer, Maddox Latta.
Due to his age and experience, Latta appears to start at second come opening day. Named the 2022 Western State Conference Player of the Year at LA Valley College, Latta batted .358 with seven home runs and also stole 18 bases in JUCO ball. The coaches may have tipped their hand a bit by starting Latta at second during the alumni game.
If Latta can’t lock up second base, look for Jack Haley, Draven Nushida and Angelo Aleman to take over. Haley has the most experience of these options but also has been dealing with an injury this spring. Baseball and sports in general abides by the mantra of, “the best ability is availability”. Unfortunately, Haley’s availability has been limited and the other guys have been getting the valuable reps at practice.
After testing out Jackson Lyon, JJ Cruz and Jake Harvey at second base for the first few weeks of the 2021 season, Jason Dietrich turned to Jack Haley to hold down the role in 2022. Haley saw action in 53 out of 55 games last season and took 166 at-bats, averaging .253.
The concerning aspect of Haley’s game is the susceptibility to strike out. His 55 Ks led the team and in parsing that out compared to his at-bats, he struck out 33% of the time he recorded an official at-bat. For Haley to earn the starting role at second base, that K:AB ratio needs to come down.
His fielding up the middle is acceptable but not exemplary. Out of 229 total chances, he committed seven errors for a .969 fielding percentage. Of the returning players with 100+ total defensive chances, Haley ranked third in fielding percentage behind Cole Urman (.395) and Caden Connor (.984).
Freshmen, Angelo Aleman from Maranatha High School and Draven Nushida, from Kailua on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, could challenge for time at second base.
Come Friday vs. Stanford, it would not surprise us in the slightest if any of these four guys got the start or a combination of them got the starts all weekend. Clearly the toughest position to pinpoint a true starter for us.
Short Stop – JT Navyac
Speaking of Hawaiians, Hawaii native JT Navyac played 49 games, almost all of them at short stop last season. He appears slotted into that position in 2023 but Jason Dietrich could have a short leash on him. Navyac’s 11 errors in 154 chances in 2022 ranked him in the bottom five in fielding percentage on last year’s roster. Navyac did hit at a .266 clip last season and successfully stole six bases on six attempts.
Navyac has seen the majority of the practice reps at short and although it is in practice and not the pressure of games, he looks smoother and more confident with the glove in the field. Should he cut down on his errors from 2022, Navyac has a good chance to start at short all season.
Freshman Angelo Aleman could press Navyac for playing time in 2023. We mentioned Aleman regarding second base, but he could play short as well. Freshman Eli Lopez can also play short but we will sing his praises in the next position prediction.
Third Base – Zach Lew
Zach Lew returns to campus for his senior season, and this will be his fifth year on campus. Due to the Covid-19 shortened 2020 season, Lew has an additional year of eligibility after his freshman season of 2019. The grey beard of the group, Lew will be 24 years old before the end of the 2023 regular season. On Friday vs. Stanford, Lew will most likely record his 500th career at-bat in a Titan uniform. That kind of veteran presence will go far for the 2023 Titans.
In order to get nearly 500 at-bats before your college career ends in this day and age, you have to be pretty good. Coming into this season, D1Baseball ranks Lew the No. 36 Third Baseman in the country in their 2023 Top 50 rankings. Lew brings his career .309 batting average into 2023 with eyes on making this his best season in the Navy and Orange.
Next man up to potentially to grab the hot corner spot, freshman Eli Lopez. In both the fall scrimmages and intra-squad practices, Lopez impressed tremendously. Lopez looks like another undersized and overlooked diamond in the rough that fits the new and old Titan style of play. A surehanded defender and good hitter at the plate, do not let this guy get on base. Opposing pitchers will be pulling out their hair out if he gets on base because he will be a pest to say the least. Lopez can play some short stop as well but he could fit in at 3B if Lew gets injured or needs to move to a different spot.
Don’t count out Brendan Bobo to see time at third in 2023. He has played there in the past. He was also spotted playing some second base in a recent scrimmage but also can play first base. We will touch on his ability to play in the outfield and his hitting prowess next.
Outfield – Colby Wallace, Moises Guzman & Nate Nankil
The outfield, especially Center Field, was particularly difficult to predict. The battles for regular playing time has been an all-out war and we do not envy Jason Dietrich when he has to fill out his line-up card. Quite a good problem to have and Deetz just may have to go off of who had the best batting practice and they get the start that day.
The one outfielder we did not have to guess on… Right Fielder Nate Nankil. Nankil spent a portion of the summer playing in the Cape Cod League along with finishing up in the Northwoods League. He performed well over the summer and in fall and that confidence appears to have come home in his suitcase. Nankil has been hitting the cover off the ball and he could see a huge power surge in 2023.
Now a junior, he should improve on his home run totals after hitting just two last season. He could hit double digit home runs in 2023 and nobody would doubt that if they have seen him this past fall and into the spring. Nankil also swiped 14 bases in 15 attempts in 2023 and he could eclipse 20 or even 30 this season depending on how aggressive Neil Walton wants to play things. His glove in right should prove worthy as well and Nankil could get the call from the MLB after this season.
Although Colby Wallace, the transfer from Washington, suffered an abdominal or an oblique strain in spring practices, he should be good to go by opening weekend. Wallace showed well in the fall and hopefully the time away injured didn’t slow down his progression. We project Wallace to start in left field in 2023. Brendan Bobo is also a strong option in left, the position he started during the alumni game, a game in which Wallace did not play. With as many scouts expected at Goodwin Field looking at Bobo this season, many of them will want to see Bobo’s defensive acumen as well. (We’ll talk more about Bobo in the next section.)
At Center Field it could come down to the wire or a coin flip as to who gets the start. JC transfer from Long Beach City College, Moises Guzman, looks to have the spot based on his fielding ability. He can run down balls in the gap that normally could roll to the wall for a double. Challenging him for the starting center field spot, none other than another Long Beach City College guy, Carter White. Titan fans know White as a calm and clutch hitter from his performances last season. He also showed his fielding abilities last season and both White and Guzman could alternate in center field all season.
Other outfielders pushing for playing time include the previously mentioned Draven Nushida along with freshman Luke Mistone and Jack Vanoncini. We hit on all three in previous sections as Vanoncini could play first or catch, Nushida could play middle infield and Mistone, now that he has focused on offense, could play anywhere in the infield or outfield with the exception of behind the plate.
The depth and versatility of a mix of left handed and right handed bats in the outfield could cause issues for opposing coaches where selecting pitchers to trot out to the mound to face these Titans.
Designated Hitter – Brendan Bobo
Brendan Bobo will hit somewhere in the 2023 line-up, probably in the third or the fourth spot. The major variance for Bobo could come in the form of where he lines up defensively. We mentioned he is a threat to play both corner infield spots and has a distinct possibly of starting a lot of games in left field. Depending on how Jason Dietrich wants to line-up vs. a specific team, if healthy, look for Bobo’s name listed in the top half of the line-up card.
Bobo led the 2022 Titans in home runs, dumping eight over the fence last season. He then traveled out to the Northwoods League and deposited 17 more baseballs beyond the wall to set the Wisconsin Rapid Rafters franchise record for home runs in a season. Bobo also received team MVP honors for his summer performance in Wisconsin.
Sure, that’s summer ball but will it translate to NCAA play starting Friday? We’re banking it will. Bobo in the fall and spring showed no signs of letting up and we’re going as far as to predict that Bobo could hit 20+ home runs in 2023. Is that a big optimistic and aggressive considering the program’s style of play? Yes, but Bobo has shown the potential to do it.
The last Titan to hit 20+ home runs was Ryan Owens (23) in 1999. You’ll notice that year 1999, BBCOR bats had not come into play. That happened in 2011. Since the 2011 BBCOR mandate, Scotty Hurst leads the Titans, hitting 12 homers in the 2017 season. Of those 12 homers, four of them came in the same game vs. Cal State Northridge on May 20, 2017. Predicting 20 home runs for Bobo is bold but it’s not unheard of to hit that many in today’s day and age.
Last season’s Golden Spikes Award winner, Ivan Melendez of Texas, belted 32 home runs. 37 other players beyond Melendez hit 20 or more. It’s not beyond the pale to think a player in 2023 can hit 20+ home runs in the age of BBCOR bats. If Bobo can stay healthy and in the line-up daily, pray for the wildlife in the Fullerton Arboretum when he’s at-bat. They could have some whistling projectiles coming from the vicinity of home plate quite often.
Beyond Bobo at DH, any of the players that are not locked into a specific position could fill this role. Carter White comes to mind if he will not start in the outfield. Possibly one of the promising young freshman could cut their D1 teeth as the Designated Hitter. Luke Mistone, Max Ortega, Jack Vanoncini or Draven Nushida could all hold down this spot. With only nine hitters allowed in the line-up, the coaches have a difficult choice to make on which nine they choose to put on the line-up card.
As we predicted in the Projected 2023 Titan Baseball Roster – Pitchers preview, the arms should be improved and continue to chip away at that team ERA. If they can lower the ERA by just another point and the batters just maintain their numbers from last year, the Titans could win 30+ games in 2023. The Titans lost 11 games with a run differential of just one run last year. Turn those losses into wins and the Titans would have had a 30+ season. Knowing baseball, confidence and momentum, had some of those losses turned to wins, other larger losses may not have happened due to the team’s high confidence.
The time for talk and predictions is over and the Titans will see what they are made of this weekend vs. Stanford. Many of the college baseball polls have the Cardinal ranked 3rd or 4th in the pre-season college baseball rankings. Definitely a tough test to open the season but the Jason Dietrich and the staff should have the boys prepared.
In scheduling such tough non-conference opponents prior to the Big West Conference schedule, rest assured, the team will be battle tested. With the likes of Stanford, Michigan, and Texas visiting Goodwin Field the first three weekends and sprinkle in mid-week games vs. Tulane, USC and Utah all at home, the beginning of the season couldn’t be tougher. If the Titans can come out of the first three weeks relatively injury free and a record of 6-6 or better, look out. Although coming out of the first three weeks at .500 is not ideal, it is realistic considering the depth of competition they will play.
The optimism surrounding this 2023 team is quite high in Jason Dietrich’s second year at the helm. Despite Baseball America, D1Baseball and the Big West Coaches poll all predicting a 5th place finish for the Titans, others are bullish on Cal State Fullerton. Dimitri Kourtis of the 11Point7 Podcast boldly predicted the Titans will win the Big West Conference. Mike Rooney of D1Baseball also likes the Titans to improve greatly.
All the predictions and pontificating amounts to jack squat if the Titans do not perform on the field. Could 2023 be the season the Titans make it back to the post season since 2018? We’re about to find out in a few short days.