Stanford baseball coach Mark Marquess know that no matter how good his freshman recruits may be -- and this year they are as strong as usual -- the team's fortunes lie with his juniors and seniors.
That was the case last season when Stanford finished 41-24-2 with a trip to the College World Series. Marquess said the positive chemistry and leadership provided by his older players -- as well as high-level play on the field -- led to the late-season success enjoyed by the Cardinal.
If Stanford is again to reach such heights, it will be due to the intangibles provided by the older players.
"If you're successful at the end of the season your juniors and seniors had their best seasons," Marquess said. "If your juniors and seniors aren't having good years and aren't starting, that affects your chemistry. Everyone feels good now, but how are we going to react if we're playing .500 or seniors aren't starting."
That was the case last year when Jason Castro, Cord Phelps, Sean Ratliff, Jeremy Bleich, Austin Yount and Eric Molina stepped up to lead the Cardinal. All departed through the Major League Baseball draft.
Those are big losses to be sure, but prospects for the upcoming season are bright. Stanford opens on Friday at Sunken Diamond at 5:30 p.m. and continues Saturday with a noon doubleheader. The Cardinal also will play a single game against UC Riverside on Sunday at 1 p.m., but the strong possibility of rain that dayt could wash out that contest.
Eighteen lettermen and six field starters -- Joey August, Toby Gerhart, Zach Jones, Brent Milleville, Jake Schlander and Jeff Whitlow -- return from last season along with three pitchers, highlighted by ace Jeffrey Inman who is a preseason third team All-America and on the Golden Spikes Award Watch List. Also back is sophomore right-hander Drew Storen, who is one of 40 players selected to the initial watch list for the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award.
Stanford is ranked No. 5 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll, the highest-ranked team in the Pac-10, just ahead of No. 6 Arizona State.
Those players will have to provide the much-needed chemistry as well as replace the 49 home runs that graduated from the team.
"Generating offense will be more of a challenge," Marquess said. "We can't sit back. Last year we didn't do a lot of bunting and hitting and running because we had a lot of power. This year we may have to do more of that. Milleville, Gerhart, Whitlow and August all have power, how much is the question. We're not void of power, we just haven't done it. But remember last year Cord Phelps hit 13 homers after not hitting any in his first two years."
Milleville will be the leading power source after slugging 11 homers last season. Gerhart, in the best physical shape of his baseball career, according to Marquess, is expected to improve on his seven homers.
Inman, who last year went 7-2, will be the Friday pitcher. Danny Sandbrink (2-1, 2.81 ERA) will pitch on Saturday and Max Fearnow (2-1, 6.09 era) is scheduled to pitch on Sunday, which could be rained out. Storen (5-3, 8 saves) will be back in the closer role.
Freshman newcomers expected to contribute to the pitching staff are left-handed Brett Mooneyham, a top recruit from Atwater; Scott Snodgrass, another lefty from Yucaipa, and Jordan Pries, a right-hander from Alameda.
"We have outstanding freshman arms, but they're freshman," Marquess said. "They have to get their feet wet."
NOTES: Locals on the team include freshman Peter Abrams (Palo Alto High), who will be the third catcher and a backup in the outfield; sophomore Kellen McColl (Los Altos High), who will compete for bats at DH; freshman Jack Mosbacher (Menlo School), who will redshirt; sophomore Carey Schwartz (Palo Alto High), who will get innings out of the bullpen . . . Stanford hosted the baseball kickoff press conference on Wednesday and had the head coaches from Cal, Santa Clara, USF, San Jose State, St. Mary's and UC Davis in attendance . . . Local preps are playing major roles at many of the schools. Danny Steinstra (St. Francis-Woodside) last season was a freshman All-America for San Jose State after leading the Spartans with a .365 average. He will play first base . . . Santa Clara has a handful of local alumni. Brady Fuerst (St. Francis/Atherton) will start at second base. Matt Long (St. Francis/Los Altos) will start in the outfield and Michael Couch (Bellarmine/Menlo Park) is a back-up catcher . . . Andy Suiter (Menlo School) will be the No. 2 starter at UC Davis. Suiter last season set a Davis record with 30 appearances, striking out 46 batters in 41 innings on the way to six wins. Other Davis locals include pitcher Tim Busbin (St. Francis), Alex Dreyfus (St. Francis), who is recovering from an arm injury, and infielder Eric Johnson (Bellarmine/Mountain View) . . . Alex Schmarzo (Palo Alto) will be the closer at St. Mary's. Freshman Kyle Tachibana (Los Altos) also is a member of the Gaels' pitching staff . . . Menlo-Atherton grad Jon Abramson will start early and mid-week games for USF . . . Freshman Erik Johnson (Los Altos) is being considered as a weekend starter for Cal. Richard Gorman (Bellarmine/Los Altos) was Cal's DH last season, hitting .268 with four homers. This year the switch-hitter is competing for a spot at second base.