Cardinal opens is season Friday at Rice
with top recruiting class and high hopes
Senior Zach Jones and sophomore Kenny Diekroeger both arrived at Stanford as top prospects at other positions from where they played as freshmen.
Jones, a prep All-American as a catcher, had future major-leaguer Jason Castro ahead of him. Diekroeger, Menlo School's record-setting shortstop, had three-time Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year Jake Schlander ahead of him.
After each spent a season at third base, both players returned to their natural positions, and, as a result, the Stanford baseball team has the makings of a championship year.
The Cardinal will open its 2011 season on Friday with a three-game series at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Mark Appel will be the starting pitcher for the Cardinal.
The pitching rotation is topped by returning starters Brett Mooneyham and Jordan Pries, while Jones and Diekroeger are two of five returning starting position players.
Stanford's recruiting class has been rated among the top in the nation the past two years and that's visible in a starting lineup that could feature six sophomores and two freshmen to go with Jones.
The Cardinal (31-25 last year with an appearance in an NCAA regional) starts the season ranked 10th in Baseball America's preseason poll. Stanford was picked to finish second behind UCLA in the Pac-10.
"It's always been a pitching-oriented conference," Jones said. "We have good offensive players and we have to be productive with our pitching. When they are performing, I feel our pitchers are the best."
Mooneyham and Pries enter their third season as the team's top starters, and are backed by 10 pitchers (11 if Stephen Piscotty is included) who combined for an 18-9 record with six saves last season.
Jones likes junior left-hander Chris Reed as the top surprise of the season.
"He's a big, strong kid who will be a big story this year," Jones said. "I'd bet money that he's going to be the first guy drafted off this team."
Danny Sandbrink returned for his senior season, while juniors Scott Snodgress, Brian Busick and Elliott Byers and sophomores Sahil Bloom, Dean McArdle, Appel, Garrett Hughes and Chris Jenkins are all returning pitchers. McArdle and Busick each won five games, tops among all returning pitchers.
"Our third starter, middle relief and closer are to be determined," said Stanford coach Mark Marquess, entering his 35th season with the Cardinal. "I'm high on several pitchers, like Mark Appel, Scott Snodgress, Dean McArdle."
In addition to Jones, Diekroeger and Piscotty, sophomore outfielders Jake Stewart and Tyler Gaffney are also returning starters.
Of the 17 players who received at least two at bats last season, 12 return this year, including Ben Clowe, Eric Smith, Scott Colton, Dave Guiliani, Christian Griffiths, Justin Ringo and Kellen McColl. Smith is expected to take over the second base job.
Several of the 11 freshmen are expected to contribute immediately, with right-hander A.J. Vanegas a candidate for the third starting spot. Austin Wilson and Brian Ragira could likely start in the outfield and third base, respectively.
Menlo School grad Danny Diekroeger and Tommy Colton each joins his older brother, along with Brant Whiting, Lonnie Kauppila, Brett Michael Doran, Brian Guymon, Sam Lindquist and Zach Yohannes.
Other local products on the roster are Menlo School grad Jack Mosbacher and Sacred Heart Prep grad Ryan Sakowski, whose father, Vince, also played at Stanford.
Kenny Diekroeger led Stanford with his .356 batting average last year. The preseason All-American pick also hit five home runs and drove in a team-high 41 runs. He led the team with 77 hits and scored 42 runs, second (with Gaffney) to Piscotty's 45.
Diekroeger, Clowe, Gaffney and Piscotty each hit .328 or higher.
Jones led the Cardinal with 10 stolen bases, while Clowe, Piscotty and Stewart each added five.
With Schlander gone, Jones said it's up to Diekroeger to take charge of the infield.
"I knew anything up the middle it was always caught by Schlander," Jones said. "That's what Kenny needs to step into. That's the biggest adjustment for him. He'll do a great job if he can do that and if he can be the leader."
Jones and Diekroeger each had problems when they assumed third base and the two have shared tips.
"I think most of us had to play a different position." Jones said. "I know I worked out at a lot of places, but mainly at third. It's a different throw and the ball comes at you much faster. I told Kenny the things I learned. Most infielders have been high school shortstops, so you are always making adjustments."
The Cardinal plays nine of its first 11 games on the road, with trips to Vanderbilt and Texas before playing six of eight at home.
"If it doesn't kill us, we'll be better," Marquess said. "UCLA is strong and has the best two college pitchers in the country on the same staff."
Eight of the 10 teams reached the postseason last year, the Pac-10's best showing.
"We're not going to be intimidated by anybody," Jones said. "At the same time we're certainly going to know a lot about ourselves. You look at the freshmen and they all played on top teams either with the U.S. national program or All-American teams. The rest of us have been there, even as young as we are."
With a differently composed bat introduced this season, pitchers will have more of an advantage, something they've lacked since the introduction of aluminum bats. This year's models will look like aluminum, but are filled with a material that will slow the speed ratio of the ball off the bat. The sound resembles a wooden bat being broken.
The statistical gurus will have fun with comparisons since there will be a dramatic change in the game.