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2011 Stanford Baseball Preview

With the No. 16/No. 13 Stanford baseball team set to open its season today at Rice, here's a brief preview of what to expect from the Cardinal in 2011.

2010 Recap

Stanford returned to the postseason in 2010 after a one-year absence, but didn't stay long, getting swept out of the NCAA first round regional for just the second time in Mark Marquess’ 34 years on the Farm. The Cardinal finished 31-25 overall and 14-13 in the grueling Pac-10, which sent a record eight teams to the postseason.

Key Losses

  • IF Jonathan Kaskow (.328/.452/.433)
  • IF Colin Walsh (.317/.428/.493)
  • IF Jake Schlander (.257/.355/.363)
  • RP Alex Pracher (6-4, 3.15 ERA)

Key Returnees

  • SS Kenny Diekroeger: The 2010 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, who started at third base and led the Cardinal in average (.356) and RBI (41), will slide over to his natural position in the infield following Schlander's departure. Diekroeger, who is expected to provide more pop after hitting 5 home runs last season, was named a first-team preseason All-America.
  • IF Stephen Piscotty: The sophomore and honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection will start the season at third base after hitting .326 with 4 home runs and 36 RBI.
  • OF Tyler Gaffney: The two-sport standout can only hope that Stanford enjoys as much success on the baseball diamond as it did on the football field last fall. One of the speedier players on a roster that didn't steal a lot of bases last season, Gaffney hit .326 with 3 home runs as a freshman.
  • C Zach Jones: A three-year starter behind the plate, Jones is the lone Stanford senior projected to receive significant playing time.
  • LHP Brett Mooneyham: The junior went 3-7 with a 5.07 ERA, but led the Cardinal with 99 strikeouts in 62 innings.

Key Additions

  • OF Austin Wilson: The 6-foot-4 Harvard-Westlake graduate, whose mom went to Stanford and dad went to MIT, is a five-tool talent and headlines Stanford's top-ranked 2011 freshman class. Wilson was named a third-team preseason All-America by Baseball America.
  • IF Brian Ragira: A 30th-round pick by his hometown Texas Rangers, the 6-foot-2 son of Kenyan parents is projected to share time at first base with sophomore Justin Ringo.
  • RHP AJ Vanegas: Baseball America's Aaron Fitt picked Vanegas as his 2011 Freshman of the Year. A 7th-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres in 2010, Vanegas' arsenal features four pitches, including a 91-94 mph fastball.

Hitting Overview

Led by Diekroeger, Stanford's offense should be better this season after the Cardinal finished eighth in the conference in runs scored and 10th in on-base percentage last year. Just how much better could depend on how soon Wilson and Ragira find their groove. Marquess says that Wilson has the most power of any hitter he's ever had, so don't expect the Cardinal to go another season without a player who reaches double-digits in home runs. (Colin Walsh led Stanford in homers in 2010 with 7.) Stanford may take more advantage of its team speed to manufacture runs after ranking ninth in the conference with only 38 stolen bases last year.

Pitching Overview

Danny Sandbrink , who appeared in 18 games last season, is the only senior on the Cardinal's young staff. Mooneyham and fellow junior Jordan Pries have two years of experience as weekend starters and the rotation will be bolstered by the addition of Vanegas. Sophomore Mark Appel, who made three spot starts as a freshman, is expected to contribute as well after dominating the New England Collegiate Baseball League last summer. Appel, who worked a lot on his offspeed pitchers during the offseason, was named a second team preseason All-America and will start today's game at Rice. As a team, Stanford will look to cut down on its walks. While Cardinal pitchers allowed the fewest hits in the conference, they also issued the most free passes (267).

Fielding Overview

Diekroeger will anchor a young infield at shortstop with fellow sophomore Eric Smith and freshmen Lonnie Kauppilla and Danny Diekroeger, Kenny's younger brother, expected to compete for time at second base. Stanford, which ranked third in the Pac-10 in fielding percentage last season, is solid defensively in the outfield. Sophomore Jake Stewart can cover a lot of ground in center and Gaffney didn't commit an error last season while playing mostly in right. Gaffney will move to left in 2011, with Wilson, who Marquess says might have the strongest arm of the Cardinal's outfielders, opening the season in right.

The Schedule

A lot has been made of Stanford's brutal early-season schedule and for good reason. The Cardinal will play 9 of its first 11 games away from Sunken Diamond, including trips to No. 17 Rice, No. 4 Vanderbilt, and No. 7 Texas. Wins on the road were hard to come by for last year's team. The Cardinal finished the season 20-10 at Sunken Diamond, but only 11-13 away from home.

What They're Saying About the Cardinal

  • Manager Mark Marquess: "The pitching is critical and I think the San Francisco Giants proved that. I think having the junior pitchers, our three starters are back, I think that's a huge advantage. The only thing is, as far as the conference is concerned, the two best pitchers in college baseball are juniors at UCLA." (For an in-depth look at the conference, be sure to check out Ryan Rosenblatt's Pac-10 baseball preview.)
  • The Other Pac-10 Coaches: Stanford was picked to finish second behind UCLA in the Pac-10 preseason coaches' poll. The Cardinal received two first-place votes.
  • Baseball America: "After bringing in recruiting classes that ranked No. 2 and No. 1 in the nation, respectively, over the past two years, Stanford is a leading candidate to find itself atop the 2012 preseason rankings. Whether the young Cardinal can reach Omaha a year early is uncertain, but few teams in the nation will be more exciting to watch."
  • Daniel Bohm, The Stanford Daily: "With all the hype surrounding the program–which was commonplace in the 1980s through the early-2000s–this is a big year for head coach Mark Marquess to show he can put a juggernaut of a team together and not just a group of uber-talented recruits. Year-in and year-out, Stanford has just about as much talent as any program in the country; whether or not that talent translates into wins depends on the season."