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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, January 24, 2003

Stanford plans are big again Stanford plans are big again (January 24, 2003)

Despite question marks, expectations high entering season opener

by Rick Eymer

It won't be easy for the Stanford baseball team to repeat its success of the previous nine years, but that hasn't stopped the Cardinal players from thinking big.

"It's almost as though we expect to do more than win a Pac-10 title," said Stanford senior catcher Ryan Garko. "We expect to make it back to the World Series. If we don't get there, it's disappointing."

Stanford opens its quest for a fifth straight trip to Omaha - and a 10th consecutive visit to the postseason - on Saturday when it visits Santa Clara for a 1 p.m.

The same two teams meet at Sunken Diamond on Sunday at 1 p.m.

What makes this season more interesting is that Stanford (16-8 in the Pac-10, 47-18 overall last year) will be playing with a new infield, at least one new starter and a new outfielder.

The last time Stanford faced such uncertainty, two years ago, it made it back to the national championship game in Omaha. That's because Jeremy Guthrie emerged as a solid No. 1 starter and the inexperienced players produced beyond coach Mark Marquess' expectations.

"It will be a little different," Marquess said. "Last year was the best defensive infield I ever had. This year we've got some experience but there are question marks."

Garko is one of the strengths for the Cardinal. He carries a career .322 average with 21 home runs and 99 RBI into his final season and took care of a pitching staff that was among the nation's best last year.

With juniors Sam Fuld and Carlos Quentin back in the outfield, it gives Stanford some experience there. Both players earned all-Pac-10 honors last season.

"They are definitely two of the top outfielders in collegiate baseball," said Marquess. "Their talent and experience are crucial to the success of our team."

Fuld led the Pac-10 in hits (110) and ranked third with a .375 batting average. Quentin hit 12 homers and drove in 54 runs last year.

Left-handed senior Tim Cunningham, right-handed junior John Hudgins and right-handed senior Ryan McCally will anchor a pitching staff that is relatively young and untested.

Cunningham and Hudgins figure to be the top two pitchers for Stanford, with McCally serving as the closer, though he may also start.

"After that it's anybody's guess," said Marquess.

Right-handed junior Drew Ehrlich appeared in 20 games last year, recording a pair of saves, and should also be counted upon to bolster the pitching corps. Sophomore Mark Jecmen and junior David O'Hagan also appeared on the mound for the Cardinal last season.

Danny Putnam, who started 11 games last year, is scheduled to join Fuld and Quentin in the outfield.

There are familiar names in the infield, though little experience. Senior Tobin Swope will start at shortstop after seeing action in 58 games, six starts, in his first three seasons.

Brian Hall, who has spent most of his previous two seasons in the outfield, gets the nod at third base. He's a career .275 hitter with five homers and 56 RBI while stealing 21 bases in 21 attempts.

Jonny Ash started 25 games as a freshman but was regulated to the bench for most of last year. He's back at second base this season. He hit .327 as a freshman but then faltered to .250 last year in just 24 at bats.

Freshman John Mayberry, Jr. will get the first chance at first base. He was drafted in the first round by the Seattle Mariners last June, but chose to attend Stanford. His father, John Sr., played 15 years in the major leagues and was named to two all-star teams.

"We're very talented, but we haven't done it yet," said Marquess.

Marquess pointed to three freshmen - Chris Lewis, Jed Lowrie and Jeff Gilmore - who likely will see action in utility roles.

Sophomore Donny Lucy and freshman John Hester give Stanford its best depth at catcher. Lucy will probably see more action catching this season as the plan is to move Garko to first base and use him as a designated hitter to spell him more.

"My mindset is to catch every game but getting a break may help offensively and defensively," said Garko.

Garko likes Stanford's pitching staff and thinks freshman Mark Romanczuk may be the next surprise ace for the Cardinal.

Cunningham, Hudgins and McCally are the anchors, but Stanford will need one or two other pitchers to step up.

"Everybody will get a chance to pitch in the first few weeks," said Marquess.

Stanford, ranked third in the nation by Baseball America, was picked to finish third in the Pac-10 by the coaches behind USC and Arizona State.

A number of local players, meanwhile, will be seeing Pac-10 action:

After appearing in 22 games as a freshman for Santa Clara, Gunn grad Anthony Rea redshirted last year with a shoulder injury.

"Rea has been spectacular for us," said Broncos' coach Mark O'Brien, a former Stanford assistant. "He has a breaking ball he can throw for strikes and he fields his position."

O'Brien said Rea will work out of the bullpen this season. Rea had two saves and started two games as a freshman in 2001.

Atherton resident Jim Holder, who graduated from Bellarmine, hopes to regain his starting position at first base for California after spending last year on the injured list with a separated shoulder.

Holder hit a home run in his only game last season. He injured himself sliding back into first on a pickoff attempt. Holder has appeared in 12 games with the Bears in his first two years. He's also been used as a pitcher.

Menlo School grad Jeff Cunningham returns to St. Mary's for his senior season. Cunningham started 26 games last year in the outfield, batting .289 with one home run and 18 RBI.


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