Because it’s fall ball, we thought we would shake things up a bit and deviate from our normal Thursday Thoughts format of outlining the good, the bad and the ugly. Instead, we’ll share our thoughts on what we saw coming out of the two fall ball scrimmages with the Titans traveling to Riverside to take on Cal Baptist and then at home vs. UNLV.
Both scrimmages were broken down into two games, or segments in that at CBU, the Titans and Lancers played a nine-inning game and then a seven-inning game. (In order to maximize the coaches observing and the players to gain playing time, some of these segments featured a bottom half of the final inning despite the home team leading.) The scrimmage vs. UNLV was broken up into two 7-inning games.
Without further delay, here’s our thoughts on what we saw over the past two weekends:
They say you can’t tell the player without a scorecard and even for the most perceptive of Titan Baseball fans, you’ll need to know these number changes for returning players.
Most notable includes projected weekend starter Christian Rodriguez who has ditched number 50 for number 17, previously worn by Josh Howitt who has since transferred to Arizona State.
With the graduation and departure of longtime Titan Zach Lew, that frees up number 1 which Eli Lopez snatched up and will give up number 12 from last season.
Catcher Waldie Perez wore number 42 last season but has chosen to invert his number to number 24 after Trevor Hinkle departed via the transfer portal freeing up number 24.
Game 1 starter Evan Yates
Everyone wants to know who will get the ball on Friday nights and Head Coach Jason Dietrich may have tipped his hand as to who has the early lead on that role. Right hander Evan Yates who has been a weekend starter his past two season on campus, started both Game Ones of the CBU and UNLV scrimmages.
Yates did not go deep into either game because the coaches wanted to see more arms perform but the fact he got the ball in both games indicates he may be the guy we all see on the mound in Palo Alto to start the season. (By the way, Stanford confirmed our suspicions the Titans would open the season on the road against the Cardinal.)
Lost Game 1s – Won Game 2s
Although all four segments were meaningless on the scoreboard, they were played situationally like a real game. Projected starters and contributors played the lion’s share of Game 1 while Game 2 saw a lot more freshmen and bench players getting their chance to showcase their talents.
This could go down in the “bad” category because when the projected starters were on the field, the result was a loss. The good news to take away is that the youngsters are talented but lack experience at the Division 1 level. Add to that, the newbies look to be ahead of the curve compared to the CBU and UNLV youngsters.
Speaking of young and talented but lacking experience, Marcos Rosales has really shown out in the early part of the fall. In practices and the two scrimmages, the freshman from South Hills High School looks like he could challenge for a regular line-up spot come spring.
Veterans Jack Haley and Maddox Latta who held down the shortstop and second base positions last season have good reason to look over their shoulder. Rosales could play either one of those sports and if not, he could play third potentially.
Don’t let his size fool you at 5’9” & 185 lbs. He has power at the plate and moved well on defense. Should he not win a defensive position come spring, he could easily slide into the DH role. He appears to be cut from the same mold as Titan Alumni Zach Lew and Hank LoForte who many would say had decent careers on campus.
Welcome Back Jackson & Jakob
Sophomores Jackson Giaconne and Jakob Schardt did not play for the Titans in 2022 but the outfielders played quite a bit in the 2023 fall scrimmages.
You may recall Giaconne suffered an off the field neck injury that required surgery and he had to rehabilitate all spring. He played for the Humbolt Crabs this summer and appears to have put on some weight and has shown what the coaches saw in him when bringing him to campus.
Someone who was on campus in 2022 but not in 2023 is Jakob Schardt. As a true freshman, Schardt played in 11 games and hit .160 in 24 at-bats. Kind of what you would expect from a freshman who was battling for playing time with guys like Nate Nankil, Jason Brandow, Carter White, Damone Hale and Deylan Pigford, all older and with more experience than the youngster.
Schardt was mysteriously missing from the 2023 Titan Baseball roster. We’re unclear as to if he left Cal State Fullerton because of grades, a medical issue, family/personal matters or what. We scoured the internet to see if he was playing at a junior college, but we came up empty in our research.
No matter the reason Schardt was gone last year, he must have used his redshirt year last year because he is listed as a sophomore despite his eligibility clock starting in 2022. Look for both Schardt and Giaconne to battle veterans Moises Guzman, Draven Nushida and Colby Wallace along with newcomers Ny’Zaiah Thompson, Cam Burdick, Nico Regino and Matthew Bardowell.
Unlike the “Where’s Waldo?” books, Matthew Bardowell is not hard to pick out of a crowd. At 6’4” and 245 lbs., the guy looks the part of a power hitting outfielder. Strangely, Titan fans did not see much of him during the fall scrimmages leading us to believe he may have an injury.
Of course, that is pure speculation on our part because it is hard to believe that a guy that put up big numbers at Riverside City College is not getting playing time because he is underperforming. Given the fact that Bardowell spent the fall semester of his freshman year at CBU before transferring to RCC, you would think he would want to show out against his former team.
Here’s hoping it is a minor injury that does not prevent him from competing in the Navy vs. Orange Series scheduled for this weekend.
Payton Hawkinson Knee Injury
A freshman arm widely considered one to come in and compete for meaningful innings right away was Payton Hawkinson, the 6’ 7” righty from Turlock, Calif. Unfortunately, Hawkinson was spotted at the CBU scrimmage sporting a leg brace on his left knee after undergoing knee surgery a few days prior.
The injury appears to be minor and Hawkinson should be able to participate in baseball activities in four to six weeks. That means he will miss all the fall ball practices and scrimmages but should be good to go for the spring.
Peyton Jones – Bullpen or Sunday Starter?
Enough about the newcomers, how about some focus on a veteran?
Peyton Jones is one of three seniors listed on the roster with Jack Haley and Nico Regino the other two. Jones is the only 2024 Titan senior to have started his collegiate career at Cal State Fullerton. (Haley transferred from Oregon and Regino from Charleston Southern.)
Although Jones did not start any of the four scrimmage games vs. CBU and UNLV, he did see plenty of time on the mound. How did he do? Just fine and looked to have picked up where he left off last season. He came in, pounded the strike zone and put up zeroes, just like you want him to do.
Since the Titan arms will be so young and inexperienced in 2024, Jones’ presence may be more felt in the clubhouse and the bullpen as a leader than it will on the mound. And that’s saying something for a guy who pitched 54.2 innings in 2023, struck out 56 while holding opposing batters to a .234 average while posting a 5-1 record.
Aaron Ceniceros – From 0 to 60?
Going from a guy who contributed quite a bit out of the bullpen last season to a guy that did not pitch at all, Aaron Ceniceros looks like he could eat up a lot of innings in 2024. Maybe upwards of 60 innings out of the bullpen and cement his role as a solid middle relief option come spring.
Despite not pitching at all last season, Ceniceros played for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots during the summer and did quite well up there. In Alaska, he appeared in 11 games, recording a 3.02 ERA with 40 Ks, and finished the regular season with a 4-1 record. He started a playoff game, earning the win while striking out seven in 7.1 innings of work.
He brought that competitiveness back to California and showed well in both scrimmages. Ceniceros did the most with his limited opportunity in the first game vs. UNLV putting up zeroes in his lone inning of work. He went three up and three down and only used 12 pitches to get out of the fifth inning.
Look for Ceniceros to have a huge increase in playing time in 2024 out of the bullpen.
6th & 7th inning Freshman Woes
Both Chad Gurnea and Dylan Goff got a taste, an unpleasant taste, of pitching at the Division 1 level in the CBU and UNLV scrimmages.
Gurnea, out of Pacifica High School in Garden Grove, pitched in relief of Game 1 at Cal Baptist. Designated hitter Cole Howarth hit a three-run home run in bottom of ninth off Gurnea to extend the lead.
Gurnea got a chance to redeem himself in Game 1 of the UNLV scrimmage. Although Gurnea did not give up a home run, the Rebels roughed him up a bit in his one inning in relief. Gurnea faced six batters and gave up two hits, walked one and allowed an earned run.
The following inning, freshman Dylan Goff started the top of the seventh inning and unfortunately could not record an out before being lifted for Andrew Morones. Goff faced five batters and allowed four hits, three runs to score (two of them earned runs) in 14 pitches.
Freshman growing pains for sure.
Bombs Away Titans
Normally you would expect the big guys to deposit the ball over the wall, but it was the guys on the average to smaller size that had the big bats vs. UNLV.
In Game 1, Eli Lopez (5’ 9” 155 lbs.) hit one of his two hits on the game out of Goodwin Field. In Game 2, Maddox Latta (5′ 11″, 175 lbs.) hit a towering home run that not only cleared the wall but got stuck in the fencing protecting the Arboretum and ROTC obstacle course from incoming projectiles.
Back to form, Colby Wallace who comes in at 6′ 4″, 220 lbs. deposited a ball over the fence in the CBU scrmmage a week prior.
Nushida in Center
Sophomore and Hawai’i native Draven Nushida saw limited playing time as a true freshman last season but that should change in 2024. Nushida started in center field in both Game Ones and showed well. In the UNLV game, Nushida batted lead-off and went 1-for-3 on the day scoring two runs, walking once and did not strikeout.
Defensively, Nushida started in centerfield for both scrimmages and performed well out there in the middle. Moises Guzman could have a battle on his hands in 2024 after playing much of his time in center field last season.
Ethan Munoz on-base machine
One of the bigger surprises of the fall has been Catcher Ethan Munoz. In the second games vs. CBU and UNLV, Munoz just found a way to get on base. It wasn’t flashy but putting together good at-bats and making solid contact, Munoz looks to be a nice addition to the Titans freshman class.
The bigger problem remains that currently the Titans have five catchers on the roster with Max Ortega, Waldie Perez, Jack Vanoncini, Jared Snyder and Munoz all listed at the position. There is no way they carry five catcher in the spring once the roster needs to be trimmed to 35 players. They might carry three and two will be asked to become bullpen catchers.
Of the four transfers the Titans landed out of the Transfer Portal, three of the four have contributed quite a bit in the fall scrimmages.
- Mikiah Negrete out of University of San Diego pitched in both scrimmages and did well. He received two innings of work vs. both CBU and UNLV, leading us to believe he is in the hunt for the potential of a starter’s role. (Both Evan Yates and Christian Rodriguez got multiple innings while projected relievers only got one inning.)
- Nico Regino, the transfer from Charleston Southern saw a lot of time playing both outfield and first base in the scrimmages and looks to contribute in some form or fashion. We have confidence that the coaching staff will find a spot for him somewhere in the line-up.
- Jared Snyder, the recently decamped Dirtbag, has seen time behind the plate in the scrimmages. Snyder is locked in a five-way battle for the catcher role with Max Ortega, Waldie Perez, Jack Vanoncini and Ethan Munoz.
- Seth Sumner, from UC San Diego, has not seen much time in the scrimmages and may have some work to do to see meaningful innings in 2024. Although Sumner’s availability in the scrimmages may have been limited based on the innings he had thrown in the week leading up to the scrimmages.
With only three seniors on the fall ball roster, the Titans are talented but very young and mostly inexperienced. Replacing two weekend starters lost to graduation (Tyler Stultz and Fynn Chester) and the closer to the draft (Jojo Ingrassia) is tough. Adding in the losses of corner outfielders Nate Nankil to the MLB Draft and Carter White to graduation makes the rebuild even tougher. Piled on top of that, Catcher Cole Urman was drafted along with First Baseman Caden Connor and 3rd Baseman Zach Lew graduated, the Titans have plenty of holes to fill in 2024.
The Jason Dietrich led coaching staff has put together solid recruiting classes while returning the Titans to the postseason after a four-year hiatus. Add to that, Deetz enters his third season in the big chair, there are only two players recruited by the Rick Vanderhook regime on the roster. (Christian Rodriguez and Peyton Jones)
That means this team is a team built by Dietrich and his staff and with it comes some growing pains. The 2022 and 2023 recruiting classes have shown they are talented but making the jump to Division 1 can be a rough and bumpy road. We’re hoping that the Titans can make the transition quickly and get back to the postseason in back-to-back seasons.