Feb 3, 2014 8:19 PM by Bill Halter
The Cal Poly baseball team is becoming the Mustangs preeminent program. Larry Lee's club is still a long ways away from competing for a national championship but after being on the bubble for the 2012 national playoffs and making last year's tournament, the team is further along than the rest of the athletic department.
Optimism abounds in Cal Poly's clubhouse going into the 2014 campaign. 19 letter winners return from last seasons 40-19 team that won the programs first ever NCAA Regional game. "On paper I think we're a much better offensive team, we have the ability to be pretty physical, hit with some average. Defensively I think we put a better defensive team on the field than we did last year" said Lee.
Third baseman Jimmy Allen (.299, 39 RBI) and junior relief pitcher Reed Reilly (2.29 ERA, 14 saves) are back, both were drafted by Major League teams last June but chose to return to Cal Poly. "It's one of the best decisions I've ever made, to come back this year. Being at Regionals last year and just experiencing that whole opportunity that we had, I know I want to get there again and leave a good mark going out as a senior" said Allen.
Last years Friday night starter, Joey Wagman (13-3, 2.96 ERA) is in the Chicago White Sox organization now. Junior, Matt Imhof will be the top starter this season. Last year the lefty was 7-3 with a 2.74 ERA while striking out 95 batters in 101 2/3 innings. Imhof pitched for USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team last summer. "He has a lot of fire to play this game, he has a lot of confidence, which is great" said Allen about Imhof.
Coach Lee plans to start sophomore right-hander Casey Bloomquist on Sunday's. Lee likes to have Bloomquist pitch during the Sunday afternoon games because he's a sinker ball pitcher. Lee believes the ball travels more during the day and so he likes a pitcher who will induce ground balls to pitch in afternoon games. Bloomquist was 6-2 with a 5.02 ERA last season, he allowed three runs in three innings as the starter for Cal Poly's third and final playoff game.
True freshman right-handers Justin Calomeni and Slater Lee are the front-runners to be the Saturday and Tuesday night starters. Calomeni was 8-1 with a 1.07 ERA and six complete games en route to all-state honors as a senior at Bellarmine Prep last spring. Lee, from Carlsbad High School, was 11-2 with a 1.34 ERA and five shutouts in his final prep season.
The bullpen will be anchored by Reilly, the right-handed junior was 14th in the nation in saves last season. Left-handed junior Taylor Chris (1-0, 2.55 ERA) and right-handed junior Danny Zandona (2-1, 4.50 ERA) will also be expected to get late inning outs.
The Mustangs will replace second baseman Denver Chavez with either Mark Mathias or John Schuknecht. Mathias and Schuknecht were bench players last season while Chavez led the team with a .357 average and 17 steals.
Last years starting left fielder, David Armendariz (.271, 3-HR, 23-RBI) transferred to Cal Poly Pomona. His spot will likely be filled by Zach Zehner. Zehner transferred in after playing two seasons at Santa Barbara City College. The 6'4", 215-pound right-handed hitter led the Vaqueros with a .358 average last season.
Catcher Elliot Stewart is the other prominent bat from last season that is no longer with the team. Stewart graduated after batting .224 with 8 home runs and 30-RBI last season. Senior Chris Hoo (.194) will take over full-time after starting 23 games behind the plate last season. Hoo, known for his defense, was the Big West's first team catcher selection in 2012.
Designated hitter Brian Mundell swatted 11 home runs as a freshman last season. He'll be back in that role after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery in July. Mundell has been swinging a bat since late January but won't play the field this season while still recovering from the surgery.
Cal Poly was picked by the Big West coaches to finish second, behind only Cal State Fullerton. It's the teams highest preseason ranking ever. The Mustang players are similarly optimistic. "We're very confident about what's in store for us. I think we have more talent than we did last year or any year that I've been here" said junior right fielder Nick Torres.
Torres added some muscle during the offseason and will bat third after leading the team with 49 RBI last season. Torres batted .333 with 7 home runs. This might be his final season at Cal Poly as professional baseball will likely be an option afterward.
Lee, in his 12th season as Cal Poly's head coach thinks it's important to get back to the playoffs if the Mustangs want to take the program to another level. "What you want to do to build a program is to get back as soon as possible and try and be a perennial playoff team. Easier said than done but we're hoping this year that we can accomplish that, we have a lot of returning players from last year" said Lee.
Cal Poly starts the season at home on Friday, February 14 against 21st ranked Kansas State. After three games against the Wildcats the Mustangs will play three games at defending national champion, UCLA. Cal Poly will play ten games against Pac-12 schools.
The Mustangs are ranked in the high 20's of three major national polls but will have a chance to make a quick jump with their difficult early season schedule. Cal State Fullerton is ranked number one in some preseason polls.
Projected starting lineup:
Catcher: Chris Hoo (SR, bats right-handed)
1st Base: Tim Wise (SR, bats right)
2nd Base: John Schuknecht (SO, bats right)
Shortstop: Peter Van Gansen (SO, bats left)
3rd Baseman: Jimmy Allen (SR, bats right)
RF: Nick Torres (JR, bats right)
CF: Jordan Ellis (JR, bats left)
LF: Zach Zehner (JR, bats right)
DH: Brian Mundell (SO, bats right)
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