College Weekend Preview: Feb. 2-4
|Tennessee at Florida State
Tennessee's three-game series at Florida State is more than just the premier matchup of the weekend. It's a homecoming of sorts for Volunteers coach Rod Delmonico, who served as an assistant under Seminoles coach Mike Martin from 1984-89. That connection adds an interesting wrinkle to a series that already has plenty of intrigue.
"Tennessee is highly ranked and presents a challenge for us, but it's a little different with this being Rod," Martin said. "The fact that it's Rod, it's important but yet it's not like another program that you're not that familiar with. We're probably going to be seeing a lot of things that we see in practice, and vise versa."
|Mercer at No. 2 Miami
San Diego at
No. 4 Texas
No. 7 Arkansas at Louisiana Tech
Tennessee at No. 18 Florida State
No. 23 Winthrop at No. 13
Stanford at No. 14 Cal State Fullerton
Pepperdine at Nevada-Las Vegas
Southern Utah at No. 20 Arizona
|Long Beach State at Southern
UC Irvine at California
San Francisco at
San Diego State at Cal Poly
Nevada at UC
This will be Delmonico's first trip back to Tallahassee since he left for the Tennessee head coaching job 17 years ago. But distance has not separated Delmonico and Martin, who talk weekly throughout the year—about baseball, family and everything in between.
"He's always been my mentor, one of the guys I lean to for advice, about my team, about life," Delmonico said. "I bounce ideas off him, we always talk baseball, exchange ideas. I continue to learn from him even 18 years down the road. I owe him a lot for where I am today—if it wasn't for him I probably wouldn't be here. I love talking baseball with him. He's someone I can trust."
Martin said he learned things from Delmonico, as well. In particular, Martin said, Delmonico made him more conscious of the running game. Delmonico loves to put runners in motion and put pressure on the defense with speed.
This weekend, Tennessee's best basestealer, first-team preseason All-American center fielder Julio Borbon, is out of commission with a broken ankle. That means Florida State catcher Buster Posey, who is making the transition from shortstop, will be spared a major basestealing test in his first game as a backstop. Martin said Posey has made a lot of progress with his receiving skills, and his strong arm plays very well behind the plate.
The Seminoles will also use Posey as their closer while senior Luke Tucker works his way back from a tired shoulder that is expected to keep him out for another three weeks. Posey's best offering is a fastball that touches 92-93 mph, but his secondary stuff is coming along.
"(Posey)'s got a much better curveball than I thought originally," Martin said. "The changeup is coming, but Buster Posey is a great competitor. He spots his fastball well; he's just a guy that you're very comfortable with when he's on the mound."
Posey isn't the biggest surprise out of Seminole camp, however. Martin said freshman center fielder D'Vontrey Richardson has been one of the most pleasant surprises he's had in recent years. Richardson, a reserve quarterback for the Florida State football team, flashes all five tools, though he's raw in the field and on the basepaths. He could get some playing time in center field this weekend against the Volunteers, though sophomore Ruairi O'Connor is expected to start Friday.
As for Tennessee's rather large hole in center field, sophomore Jarred Frazier will attempt to fill it. Frazier might have just as much speed as Borbon, which allows him to cover plenty of ground in center, but before he can put his speed to use on the basepaths he'll need to find a way to get on base. He posted just a .339 on-base percentage in 53 games last year.
Fortunately, Frazier won't be asked to fill Borbon's leadoff spot in the lineup. Delmonico plans to slide sophomore shortstop Tony Delmonico (his son) to the leadoff spot and put All-American catcher J.P. Arencibia in the two-hole. Once junior college transfer Andy Simunic gets a few Division I at-bats under his belt, the Vols hope to move the second baseman to the leadoff spot. Simunic stole 52 bases for Chattanooga (Tenn.) State Community College last year.
All the new faces for both teams will get quite a test in this season-opening series. So will the coaches, who will put aside their friendship once the first pitch is thrown. But Delmonico did make one request when he spoke with Martin on the phone earlier this week.
"I just asked him to take it easy on me, and we'll try to be competitive and give them a good game," Delmonico said. "I'm hoping he'll take it easy on a former assistant."
|Nolan Gallagher vs. Wes Roemer
The annual Stanford-Cal State Fullerton series will open with a showdown between two of the top pitchers on the West Coast. Gallagher, the No. 28 prospect in the junior class, will start for the Cardinal against Roemer, a first-team preseason All-American and the 18th-ranked prospect in the junior class. Roemer is a known commodity, having gone 13-2, 2.38 as a sophomore while leading the Titans to the College World Series. Command is his calling card, but so is his competitive nature—he hit 23 batters a year ago, but one major league scouting director swears that 80 percent of them were intentional, because he can locate wherever he wants. With fringe-average stuff across the board, Roemer won't overpower, and Stanford's hitters could have success against him if they stay back and dump pitches on the outside corner into the opposite field. Gallagher, meanwhile, could be this year's version of Brandon Morrow—a Pacific-10 pitcher with projection and good stuff who could jump into the first round if he shows better command. With an 88-91 mph fastball that has touched 93-94 in the past and a quality curveball and changeup, Gallagher's repertoire is solid, and he throws strikes. He'll need to challenge Fullerton's hitters with his fastball and avoid picking at the corners. The Titans' lineup is depleted, so if ever there were a time to challenge them, it's now.
|Winthrop over UCLA
The plucky Eagles aren't a huge underdog; they are opening the year in the top 25, and they have more experience on the mound than the Bruins do. But traveling across the country and facing a top-15 team in a season-opening series is no easy task. Expect sophomore ace Alex Wilson to subdue UCLA's talented lineup on Friday night, and the veteran Winthrop lineup could give UCLA freshman lefthander Gavin Brooks trouble in his debut Sunday. The Bruins will be without freshman righty Charles Brewer, who was slated to be their Saturday starter but is out indefinitely with an illness. Senior lefty Paul Schmidt will start in his place. The Eagles went into Miami to open 2006 and won two out of three; they could do the same against UCLA this weekend.
|Jericho Jones, of/rhp, Louisiana Tech
Our preseason pick for player of the year in the Western Athletic Conference, Jones might be the best player you've never heard of. He hits for power and average in the middle of a solid Louisiana Tech lineup, and he takes his quality arm to the mound Saturday against No. 7 Arkansas. The Bulldogs won't be an easy opponent for the Hogs, with Jones throwing Saturday and preseason pitcher of the year Luke Burnett (a 6-foot-8, 260-pound righthander who has hit 94 mph with his fastball) going Friday against Nick Schmidt in an under-the-radar pitching matchup.
|Kris Sanchez, 1b, Hawaii
Through four games, Sanchez is 9-for-16 (.563) with three doubles and six RBIs. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Sanchez is already more than halfway to his 2006 RBI total of 11. A senior who transferred from Central Arizona CC after his sophomore year, Sanchez will try to keep his hot streak going against Georgia Southern this weekend, and went 2-for-5 with three RBIs in Thursday night's 13-11 loss to the Eagles.
The Mustangs are off to an 0-4 start after getting swept by San Diego last weekend and dropping a midweek game against Southern California this week. They'll be hungry for a win against San Diego State.
Texas' record against San Diego in 2006, when the Toreros swept the Longhorns in a season-opening series at USD. Chances are the Longhorns haven't forgotten that as they prepare to open their season at home against San Diego this weekend.
|Brian Matusz, lhp, San Diego
An unsigned fourth-round pick in 2005 (Angels), Matusz started his season with a bang, striking out 13 against Cal Poly last weekend. He has been in the spotlight since he arrived at USD—he ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the freshman class in our 2005 College Preview, and he now ranks as the No. 8 prospect in the sophomore class. This week Matusz faces a major test in No. 4 Texas. The Longhorns' pitching staff is a little banged up right now, as injuries to Adrian Alaniz and Riley Boening have delayed their preparation for the season, opening likely rotation spots for James Russell and Kyle Walker. But senior righthander Randy Boone is healthy and presents an excellent matchup for Matusz on Friday night. Texas also has a dangerous and healthy lineup with four lefthanded hitters, four righthanded hitters and a switch-hitter in Brad Suttle. But Matusz has impressed scouts in practice and in his first start. Here's how one National League scout broke down Matusz:
San Diego's Brian Matusz
He's got three above-average pitches. He's got a very good changeup, a very good curveball, and an above-average fastball. He's lefthanded, 6-foot-4 with projection—his frame's gonna fill up. He gets you excited. Hopefully I don't have a shot at him next year, because that means we didn't have a very good year. There are some things he can work on and improve, but his arm works. There's a couple of things, they've cleaned him up a little bit, but he's really good. I've seen him up to 94 (mph). He's 91-94, with movement and late life. He'll drive (his fastball) in on a hitter real hard. It sets up everything else, because he's got a very, very good changeup and a very good curveball too. He's got it all together.
No. 2 Miami enters the season with far higher expectations than it did a year ago, when the Hurricanes were unranked and proceeded to drop a home series to Winthrop in their first action of the year. That team ended up going to Omaha, and this year's team is expected to do the same. The Hurricanes begin their quest to return to the CWS with a home series against Mercer, and don't expect a repeat of last year's season-opening jitters. Sophomore second baseman Jemile Weeks said the Hurricanes are feeling comfident and excited, even though ace lefthander Scott Maine isn't expected to start this weekend due to a violation of team rules. Senior Manny Miguelez gets the nod in his place on Friday. In this week's "In The Dugout," Weeks talked about his exciting freshman year, expectations for 2007 and his relationship with older brother Rickie, the Milwaukee Brewers' starting second baseman.
Q:You obviously had a whirlwind freshman year, going to the College World Series and then starring for Team USA and winning a gold medal down in Cuba. Did you get any time to unwind in the offseason?
Miami's Jemile Weeks
Not really. My season started off in February, and I went all the way through the month of August. By the time I got back, I got about three days off, then I was right back here in Miami. (During winter break) I took a step back and gave my body some time to rest so I'd be fresh to start the season.
Q: Did you see Rickie at all over the offseason?
I spent a lot of time with him over the offseason; he was injured, didn't get to be on the field, but we worked out. Usually when we meet up, it's usually a family type thing, going out as a family, enjoying each other. We don't see each other too often. Every now and then, it's something to do with baseball.
Q: What kind of relationship do you have—is there a sibling rivalry?
Not any more. We used to when we were younger. I held my own actually. He had some years on me, but I was up there competing.
OK, I'm going to put you on the spot. Out of the two of you, who's faster?
I would have to say, we'll give it a tie, but I feel like I may have the edge.
Q: Who's the better hitter?
Right now I'd have to say he is, he's more proven than me. He's got the power.
Q: Who's the better second baseman?
Ooh, I think I am.
Q: You surprised some people last year with your power production. Do you consider the longball an important part of your game, or is it more speed and disruption?
The speed, disruption, that's the main part of my game that I'm going to stick with for the rest of my careeer. Home runs are just extras.
Q: Your run to Omaha last year was pretty unexpected, but this year you won't be sneaking up on anyone. How does that change things?
I think that pressure is more on the outside world, because on the baseball field, we're not really focused on the rankings, we're focused on winning every game possible. We're very optimistic, we've got Dennis Raben, Yonder Alonso, Blake Tekotte—the core freshman guys coming back from last year. And I feel pretty good about our pitching staff. We have more depth this year, that's a positive thing to do what we have to do to win a national championship.