A season of transitions for Cardinal | February 14, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - February 14, 2014

A season of transitions for Cardinal

by Rick Eymer

Danny Diekroeger feels like he can play any position, so when first base became a possibility he made himself at home.

The Menlo School grad has played every position on the field at some point and feels comfortable wherever he's been placed, as long as it's on a baseball field.

"I feel I can play anywhere and it just happens that first base could be the best possible situation for us as a group," said Diekroeger, a senior. "I've had to play there at some point and coming from second base it was easy to pick up."

Being on the same side of the infield makes it an easier transition. Having a coach like Stanford grad Ryan Garko, who played his share of first during a five-year major league baseball career, is also helpful.

"I am still learning a lot," Diekroeger said. "I want to become as good as I can possibly be and coach Garko has taught me a lot."

Stanford (32-22 last year) opens its season Friday with a 4:30 p.m. game against visiting Rice, a game to be televised on the Pac-12 Networks. The Cardinal and Owls also play Saturday at 2 p.m. and noon Sunday.

Garko, in his first year as an assistant coach, takes over for Dean Stotz, who had been with coach Mark Marquess through the previous 36 seasons. It took a while, but the Stanford coaching staff has finally turned over.

"He's a great addition," Marquess said of Garko "It's tough to replace coach Stotz but Ryan played at Stanford, he knows the system and he played in the major leagues."

Diekroeger was too young to remember Garko as a player at Stanford, though he's sure he's seen Garko play at Sunken Stadium.

"It was just about the time I started coming to games here," he said.

Diekroeger is one of seven position players returning who started at least 23 games last year. He hit .299 with a pair of home runs and 28 RBI and led the team with 23 multi-hit games.

Palo Alto resident Alex Blandino, a preseason All-American, returns after hitting .268 with seven homers and 32 RBI. He was third on the team with nine multi-RBI games last year.

"I looking forward to working with Danny, Austin and Wayne to help carry this team," said Blandino, a junior. "We'll take more of a leadership role."

Diekroeger, Blandino, outfielder Austin Slater (.269-3-32), catcher Wayne Taylor (.270-3-21) and catcher Brant Whiting (.344-1-9) make up the bulk of the returning players. All of them will be in the starting lineup on Friday.

Slater enters the year on a three-game hitting streak. He reached base in each of his final seven games.

Blandino has become a fixture at third base, while whomever does not catch between Taylor and Whiting will either serve as a designated hitter or play in the outfield. Slater will handle center field while Diekroeger will probably start at first base, though he could still wind up at second.

Shortstop Drew Jackson (.207-0-4) and outfielder Dominic Jose (.237-0-6) also return and will probably find themselves in the starting lineup. Jose's father, Felix, played in the big leagues.

Senior Brett Michael Doran and freshman Tommy Edman are the leading candidates at second base. If Diekroeger ends up at second, sophomore Austin Barr can take over at first.

"Watch out for Austin," Diekroeger said. "The guy hasn't played much but he's been swinging the bat well."

Other possibilities in the outfield include sophomores Zach Hoffpauir and Jonny Locher and freshmen Alex Dunlap and Jeff Klein.

John Hochstatter (3-3, 3.88), Bobby Zarubin (3-3, 2.16), Logan James (3-3, 4.56) and Sam Lindquist (2-2, 3.46, 5 saves) return as the most experienced members of the pitching staff.

Four others pitched at least 20 innings a year ago: Garrett Hughes (2-2, 2.08, 4 saves), Marcus Brakeman (0-0, 3.60), David Schmidt (3-0, 3.68) and Daniel Starwalt (2-1, 4.44).

A.J. Vanegas (1-1, 3.12, 4 saves in 8 games) emerged as the team's closer in 2012 but missed most of last year due to back surgery. He's expected to return to action by the Pac-12 season, although there's a chance he could make the trip to Texas next weekend.

Sahil Bloom (0-0, 0.00), Spenser Linney (0-0, 10.12) and Menlo School grad Freddy Avis (0-0, 0.00) also appeared in at least one game last year. Avis, however, missed most of last season with a small tear in his right (throwing) shoulder and could redshirt his sophomore season.

Overall, Stanford returns 305 of last year's 482 innings, roughly 63 percent, and all 13 saves and 32 of the 54 starts. Gone, of course, is ace Mark Appel to the big leagues. He was responsible for nearly 105 innings and 10 wins.

Hochstatter started 13 games and Zarubin started 10 last year but no other returning pitcher started more than three.

Marquess said he'll rely on the freshman class for depth, emphasizing four of them as likely to contribute right away, including 6-foot-9 Chris Viall out of Soquel High.

Cal Quantrill, who played for the Canadian National Team, is the son of former major leaguer Paul Quantrill, who spent most of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Tyler Thorne and Brett Hanewich are the other two highly regarded pitching prospects for the Cardinal.

Other pitchers include Griffin Weir, Jordan Kutzer, Gabe Creamer, Andrew McCormack, Chris Castellanos, Joey Starling, Conor Cuse and Tyler Maxwell.

Other position players include Palo Alto resident Jacob Hoffman, out of Harker School, Geo Saba, Matt Decker, Brian Higgins, Luke Pappas and Chase Brandon.

Stanford missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years and was picked to finish sixth in the conference by Pac-12 coaches.

"That just adds more fuel to the fire," Diekroeger said. "It would have been nice to make it last year but we didn't deserve to get in. We had plenty of chances at the beginning of last year."

He wants to make the most of those chances this time around.


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