College Preview Capsules: No. 22 Cal State Fullerton

No. 22 Cal State Fullertoncalstatefullerton
2015 Record (Ranking): 39-25 (9). RPI: 19.
Coach (Record at school): Rick Vanderhook (160-80, 4 years).
Postseason History: 37 regionals (active streak: 24), 17 CWS trips (active streak: 1), 4 national titles (last in 2004).

Rick Vanderhook has never had a Cal State Fullerton team this old, with so many veterans packed onto a tight roster.

While Vanderhook said he’s not sure he has a superstar, he does have a group that gutted through a challenging road schedule last year, that surprised many with a strong closing run to the College World Series that included a super regional win at Louisville, and a group that has grown even closer after an offseason trip to South Korea.

2016 Lineup
C Chris Hudgins, So. .204 .302 .259 0 8 0
1B Tanner Pinkston, Sr. .256 .316 .331 0 18 5
2B Tristan Hildebrandt, So. .136 .208 .205 0 3 1
3B Taylor Bryant, Jr. .193 .333 .266 2 12 0
SS Timmy Richards, Jr. .229 .375 .309 1 26 8
LF Tyler Stieb, R-Sr. .297 .372 .362 0 23 12
CF Scott Hurst, So. .250 .356 .347 0 14 5
RF Ruben Cardenas, Fr. HS—Mission Hills, Calif.
DH Jerrod Bravo, Sr. .318 .451 .405 0 25 5
Pos. Name, Year W L ERA IP SO SV
LHP John Gavin, So. 7 3 3.66 86 67 0
RHP Connor Seabold, So. 5 4 3.26 69 76 0
RHP Colton Eastman, Fr. HS—Fresno, Calif.
RP Chad Hockin, Jr. 0 0 2.95 18 17 0

That kind of team comes with some perks.

“It’s the most unique group, because I haven’t had to punish a guy for anything yet,” Vanderhook said. “They punish each other, and I’m talking personally. So if somebody does something wrong, they come into my office and tell me what punishment they’re going to dictate to themselves, and I’m like, ‘Sweet!’

“I think that’s good.”

The Titans return their entire infield and outfield from a year ago. Offensively, they’ll miss DH David Olmedo-Barrera, who hit 10 of the team’s 20 homers a season ago. And on the mound, they’ll have try to replace three-year ace righthander Thomas Eshelman, who went 8-5, 1.58 in 137 innings as a junior and struck out 139 batters to just seven walks. The loss of righthander Justin Garza, who missed the end of last season with Tommy John surgery, doesn’t help, either.

But the Titans have options to turn to in the rotation. Lefthander John Gavin and righthander Connor Seabold both pitched in big games as freshmen a year ago and have both taken strides in the fall, particularly Gavin, who’s added a couple of ticks to his high-80s fastball.

With his competitiveness and quality curveball, freshman righthander Colton Eastman reminds Vanderhook of former Titan Adam Johnson—the second overall pick in the 2000 draft—and he’ll be a Sunday starter candidate along with Fresno State transfer Blake Quinn. In the bullpen, junior righthander Chad Hockin will assume closer’s duties in place of Tyler Peitzmeier, bringing more of a power look that worked well for Yarmouth-Dennis in the Cape Cod League last summer (19 SO in 13 IP).

Offensively, Vanderhook is banking on the improvements of his returners. Sure-handed shortstop Timmy Richards weighs 197 pounds after coming in at 170 pounds as a freshman and could provide more power. Veterans such as Tanner Pinkston and Tyler Stieb both showed improvement throughout the course of last year, Vanderhook said.

The Titans have long been known to be a gritty, defensively sound, pitching-first program, and little should change in that regard this season.

“I think the experience factor will help us a lot,” Vanderhook said. “We return our whole infield and our whole outfield. You talk about expectations, here’s your expectations: field .980. (Last year the Titans fielded .969.)

“Let’s set the bar pretty high at what we field. And if we field .980, then the pitchers will pitch well . . . and we’ll figure out how to score runs.”

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