Sports

Esquer's return to Stanford baseball signals a new era

 
Nico Hoerner is the cornerstone of a solid defensive infield. Photo by Bob Drebin/isiphotos.com.

David Esquer has seen a lot of changes over the years at Stanford's Sunken Diamond, where he roamed the infield while playing for the Cardinal's first College World Series championship in 1987.

This season, Esquer represents the biggest change at Stanford since Mark Marquess stepped unto the Stanford campus in 1965 as a football-baseball player.


For the first time since before Jimmy Carter was the United States President, the Cardinal has a new head baseball coach.

The new era begins with Friday's 6:05 p.m. contest with visiting Cal State Fullerton, the opener of a three-game series with the Titans.

Stanford plays 11 of its first 12 games at home with Rice coming in for four games next weekend and Michigan arriving the first weekend in march, also for four games.

After a four-game trip to Texas, the Cardinal (42-16, 21-9 last year) returns home for another eight-game homestand.

"When I look around in the Bay Area, the Bay Area is in good hands with the coaches who are out there," Esquer said. "I look at it as six degrees of separation of Mark Marquess. Everyone has a little tie to Mark Marquess. So he's not forgotten at all in Bay Area baseball."

And like Marquess, Esquer emphasized that pitching and defense is the cornerstone of a successful program.

In that case, Esquer inherits a talented front end of the rotation. Mitty High grad Kris Bubic, last year's top starter, returns along with Tristan Beck, Stanford's top starter two years ago. Beck missed all of last season with an injury and is back "throwing well."

Bubic (7-6, 2.79 last year) led the staff with 96 strikeouts in 90 innings. He had a .236 opponents batting average and had a strikeout to walk ratio of 3.2-1.

Beck (6-5, 2.48 in 2016) pitched six scoreless innings in his collegiate debut and never saw his ERA rise above 2.89 and saw it sink to as low as 1.50.

Beck allowed more than three earned runs in a start once among his 14 starts. His strikeout to walk ratio was 2.9-1.

Add Erik Miller to the rotation and it becomes one of the more experienced rotations in a long time.

Miller (5-2, 3.65) gives the Cardinal a deep starting rotation despite losing 30 of last year's 58 starts.

Esquer also said Jack Little (0-0, 23.14) will fill a fourth starter role and at the back end of the bullpen.

"He'll definitely pitch in a prominent role," he said.

Will Matthiessen (3-0, 2.33, 3 saves) steps into the closer's role, taking over for the record-setting Colton Hock. Zach Grech (0-0, 9.00) also figures in late-inning relief.

Esquer, who spent the past 18 years at California, which included a year (2011) of turbulence in which the program was in danger of being slashed out of existence and eventually qualified for the College World Series. He was named National Coach of the Year.

Esquer also has strong ties to Stanford, from where he graduated in 1987. He spent six seasons as an assistant to Marquess before establishing himself as a top coach. That made the transition a little easier.

"There aren't really any challenges," Esquer said. "Coach Marquess left things in good shape in the sense that the kids know how to work hard, they're used to discipline and they've already played at a high level. It's about getting comfortable with the personnel and really trying to add value."

Defensively and offensively, it all starts with shortstop Nico Hoerner who hit .307 last year and had a fielding percentage of .970.

Duke Kinamon returns to play second base, where he made a mere four errors in 305 chances. He also hit .284 and led the team with 15 stolen bases, in 17 attempts.

"They make up among the best, if not the best, middle infield in the country," Esquer said.

Sacred Heart Prep grad Andrew Daschbach figures to start at first base and Jesse Kuet will handle third base.

"Duke is the best second baseman I've ever played with," Hoerner said. "He's a special player."

Maverick Hundley returns to catching duties. Brandon Wulff will anchor the outfield, with several possibilities in center and left field. Alec Wilson, Tim Tawa and Daniel Bakst are candidates for those spots.

The designated hitter spot will likely be rotated, with Matt Decker and Bryce Carter at the top of the list.

Stanford lost to Cal State Fullerton in last year's regional and expects to compete for berth in the College World Series.

"We had the personnel and just came up short last year," Hoerner said. "We think about the College World Series and Omaha all the time. But we have to do the daily work that gets us into position."

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