Those familiar with the Menlo College baseball program have high hopes and expectations as the Oaks approach the start of the 2013 season.
Menlo comes off the most successful season in school history, which included a trip to the NAIA National Championship. The playoff run was the first of its kind in the history of the Menlo Baseball program and the 2012 Oaks finished the season with a 31-27 overall record.
With the 2013 campaign right around the corner, second year head coach Stefan McGovern believes this year's team has the potential to be as good, if not better, than the team that went deep into the post-season last year.
The journey begins Friday with a doubleheader at Vanguard.
The Oaks feature a number of familiar faces in key roles as well as a 14-player recruiting class that looks to make an immediate impact.
The Oaks lost four starters from last season's squad, including first baseman Will Pierce, catcher Ty Finley, second baseman C.J. Dailey, and right fielder Colin Forgey.
Despite the departures, Head Coach Stefan McGovern expects to see players step up and result in an improved offense this season.
"Our goal is to hit .300 as a team this year and we only hit .255-.260 last year. As an offensive guy, I think we have a good shot at doing that this year," noted McGovern.
If the Oaks are to achieve this goal, they will rely heavily on the middle of their order. The 3, 4, and 5 spots will be occupied by Michael Brandi, Jimmy Bosco, and Daniel Comstock.
Brandi, a senior Third Baseman from Littleton, Colo. hit .284 for the Oaks in 2012 with 4 home runs and 43 RBI. He will be followed by Bosco, a junior outfielder who transferred to Menlo from University of Arkansas.
Bosco hit .262 in 122 at-bats for the Razorbacks and provides much needed pop from the left side of the plate as well as speed on the base paths. Rounding out the middle of the order is freshman catcher, Comstock.
The Petaluma native led the Oaks this fall with a batting average near .400 and will step in to fill the void at catcher a position he did not play in high school.
"In my opinion he's a Division I player. Very solid. He's going to hit in the middle of the order for us as a freshman," McGovern said. "He's really taken over defensively. He didn't catch in high school but he's really put a lot of work in to become a good catcher."
The strength of the team is its pitching staff, which remains largely intact from last season. The staff will be anchored by senior righthander Derek Martinez.
Martinez has been a stalwart of this Oak rotation for the last three seasons, garnering nearly 15 wins in that time.
Menlo also benefits from another season of services from lefthander Joey Webb. The 6-5 senior transferred to the Oaks from University of Nevada before the 2012 season.
Webb started the year as the Oaks closer. Due to a rough start in 2012, McGovern wasn't able to get Webb adequate work in the closer role and decided it was time to make a change.
"He started the year as a closer but we weren't winning any games," McGovern said. "Our starters were struggling and we weren't winning a lot of games so we were wasting him as a closer. I believe third week of conference we turned him into a starter and he finished up 8-1."
That 8-1 record as a starter garnered Webb All-Conference honors and was the catalyst for the exciting run the Oaks made down the stretch.
Also returning on the mound in 2013 is junior right-hander Derek Rodrigues, who started 13 games last season and averaged a nearly 2:1 strike out to walk ratio in 81 1/3 innings of work.
Menlo was tabbed fourth in the NAIA West preseason coach's poll behind Lewis-Clark State, University of British Columbia, and College of Idaho. McGovern expects the conference slate to be difficult, but hopes it translates to a successful season and another post-season run for his Oaks.
"I think it's gonna be a grind. I think we're definitely better this year on paper but that doesn't mean that we're guaranteed to finish up," said McGovern.