The Pacific baseball team opens the 2012 season retooled for head coach Ed Sprague's ninth season. The Tigers return the bulk of a potent offense and add an influx of new arms to the pitching staff.
Despite returning seven starters on offense Sprague intents to utilize a variety of players as opposed to relying on the same starting lineup every day.
"We have a lot more flexibility," Sprague said. "There's 14 or 15 position players that are going to be getting playing time. I don't foresee a situation where you're going to have the same nine guys going out there every day."
Pacific has seven starters back on offense, including reigning Big West batting champion Dustin Torchio. The 5-10 junior third-baseman hit .369 last season with a .419 on-base percentage, 11 doubles, a home run, 17 runs batted in and 35 runs scored. Torchio turned in a torrid second-half of the season after moving from second base to third, hitting .477 in conference play with a .495 batting average. He recorded 26 multi-hit games, including four games with three hits, and a pair of four-hit ballgames, both coming against ranked teams.
"Dustin Torchio was our MVP last year," said Sprague. "He's the veteran guy in the infield, even though he's only a junior. He had a great year last year, and is now healthy. We're excited to have him back in the lineup."
Torchio teamed with 6-0 redshirt junior infielder Tyger Pederson to form a potent one-two punch at the top of the Tigers' lineup. Inserted into the starting role at second base with Torchio sliding over to third, Pederson and Torchio combined to go nine-for-10 to lead Pacific to a win at No. 13 Cal. Pederson finished the year with a .285 average and a .354 on-base percentage. He scored 26 runs while driving in 13 in 33 starts, mostly at second base. Pederson may also see some time at first base in 2012.
Redshirt freshman Erik Lockwood will take over at first base following the graduation of four-year letter-winner Brian Martin. The first baseman/left-hand pitcher appeared in four games last season, reaching base twice in five plate appearances. He also logged 1.2 innings in one relief appearance.
Junior John Haberman will take on more pitching responsibilities in 2012, but will also see time on offense at DH and provide depth at first. He earned Freshman All-America honors two seasons ago and started 16 games last season on offense, mostly at designated hitter.
"You may see Peter Miller get some at bats and play first from time to time, or Daniel Johnston. Maybe even Tyger Pederson, so we have a few options there," Sprague said of the position.
"At second base, Curtis Gomez is looking like he won the starting position. After limited playing time as a freshman, he's moved into a more comfortable role and is swinging the bat well and playing good defense," Sprague continued."
The sophomore Gomez received starts at four positions last season, at shortstop, second base, centerfield and designated hitter. He tied for the team lead in pinch-hits last season, and provided pop off the bench, highlighted by a three-run pinch hit home run in the eighth inning against San Francisco to provide all the Tigers' offense in a win over the Dons.
"At shortstop, you'll see Josh Simms, who played there all last year. Josh has the ability to move to the outfield. If he does do that, you'll see Garrett Borba at short. But as we start the season, you're going to see Josh Simms as the every day shortstop with Borba getting in to play some games at second, short and possibly third."
Simms, a senior, started 45 games last season, and hit .263 in Big West play, including a triple and a home run, while doing most of his damage off left-handed pitching. Simms turned it on late in the season, putting together a 15-game hitting streak that tied for the longest in the Big West at the time (later surpassed).
Fellow senior Garrett Borba was limited to 12 games last season. The Tigers also added freshmen infielders Anthony Malgieri, Robby Mansfield and Taylor Murphy.
Murphy, a 6-2 third baseman, was drafted out of high school by the San Diego Padres after hitting .345 as a senior with a .394 on-base percentage. He collected 10 doubles with a pair of home runs and 24 runs batted in as a senior at Torrey Pines High School.
Malgieri was named All-Front Range League and all-region as both a junior and senior at Mountain Range High School in Thornton, Colorado. The 5-9 right-handed hitter posted an average of .403 as a senior with seven doubles and a triple while driving in 18. On the basepaths, he stole 16 bases in 16 attempts.
Mansfield, a righty-hand hitting freshman, was a two-year letter-winner for head coach Eric Borba's Orange Lutheran Lancers in Irvine, Calif. In 18 games as a senior, the 6-1 infielder drove in five runs with a pair of doubles and sevens run scored.
Sophomore Jason Taasaas was part of a platoon at catcher last season, making 29 starts. His offense picked up at the end of last season as he hit .292 in his final 12 games with a pair of home runs. His five-hit day at Cal State Northridge included his first career homer, and he added another at San Jose State. For the season, he drove in 17 runs and walked 12 times for a .337 on-base percentage.
Fellow sophomore Peter Miller moves behind the dish in 2012 for the Tigers. He started four games at third base and one at designated hitter last season, picking up a pair of hits including a double.
Another versatile player providing depth for Pacific is sophomore Riley Drongesen, who appeared in eight games last season, making two starts, one at second and one at catcher. A utility man last season, Drongesen will take on a catching role after impressing in a spot start at Nevada. He handled all 12 chances behind the plate last season without a miscue.
Freshman Dallas Correa also joins the catching ranks. The 5-9 product of Saint Louis High in Kauai, Hawaii, was a Second Team All-State, and Second Team All-Interschlastic League of Honolulu selection as a junior and an All-ILH Honorable Mention pick as a senior. He threw out 12 of 16 base-stealers last season, while hitting .375 as a senior.
"Jason Taasaas will carry the majority of the load behind the plate," said Sprague. "Peter Miller will spell him a little bit back there, but Taasaas will get most the reps. He's really quite improved behind the plate. His throwing has improved, his blocking has improved and I think offensively, he's going to have a much better year."
Last season's starting outfielders Brett Christopher, Daniel Johnston and Allen Riley all return for their senior seasons.
Christopher started 45 games and finished tied for fifth in the Big West with 15 stolen bases. He hit .211 with seven doubles and a home run and enters 2012 looking for a return to his 2010 form, when the switch-hitter posted a .312 average with .368 on-base percentage and had 20 multi-hit games.
Johnston, started 50 games last season. He opened the season at third and settled into a starting role at designated hitter and left field. He also made five starts in centerfield. Johnston tied with Christopher for the team lead in stolen bases with 15, while hitting .264 with 15 doubles and four home runs. His four longballs tied for the team lead and ranked eighth in the Big West.
In his first year as a starter, Riley led the Tigers with 10 multi-RBI games, driving in two in a game on five occasions and plating three runs in a contest five times. The Fresno native was sixth in the Big West in runs batted in with a team-leading 38, and tied for the team lead with four home runs. He also tripled three times and racked up 14 doubles.
Outfielder Brian Essig also returns. The two-year varsity starter and three-year letter winner at Brighton High School in Salt Lake City, Utah, red-shirted his freshman season last year.
Also in the mix for playing time in the outfield will be junior college transfer Jacob Goulder from Chandler Gilbert Community College and freshman Tyler Sullivan. Goulder hit .361 as a sophomore with a pair of home runs, earning second team all-region honors. In 21 games, he posted a pair of doubles and 10 runs batted in to go with a .443 on-base percentage. One of four brothers to play Division I baseball, Goulder struck out just five times in 74 plate appearances last season.
Sullivan earned three letters at Lincoln High in Stockton and was named All-League as a sophomore and junior before missing his senior season due to injury.
"In the outfield, we have five or six guys who are going to get some playing time," Sprague said. "Brett Christopher played centerfield last year, he'll see some time in left along with Tyger Pederson and maybe Daniel Johnston. In centerfield, you see a little bit of Tyler Sullivan, Johnston and possibly Christopher, or maybe even Simms. In right field, Allen Riley will see most of the time. He may be spelled by Jacob Goulder. A lot of those guys will also play at DH."
Overall, on the offensive side, coach Sprague will use all the options at his disposal to form a well-rounded club.
"You'll see a lot of different guys getting at bats. I think we have more depth, and I think we're faster this season. We're much improved defensively, which is going to be important for our pitching staff, which is really a pitch to contact staff."
With six newcomers joining seven returnees, the Tigers have a revamped pitching staff for 2012. The Tigers will be bolstered in the back-end with the return of right-hander Thomas Berolzheimer after the redshirt senior missed last season following elbow surgery. Fellow seniors Chris Larsen, John Prato Matthews and Jared Wagner return as right-handed pitchers, along with junior John Haberman, sophomores Paul Moeller and Kyle Crawford throwing from the left side.
Berolzheimer is back healthy after fine-tuning his four-pitch arsenal in fall ball. The 6-0 righty owns nine career saves. As a junior two seasons ago, he struck out nine in 9.2 innings, with scoreless outings in nine of 13 appearances.
Larsen posted five saves last year, leading the team and ranking sixth in the Big West. The 6-3 righty turned in a 4.58 ERA last season and made a pair of starts in 17 appearances. He earned the save in the Tigers' win over No. 10 Fullerton and struck out 13 against seven walks in 39.1 innings of work.
Senior right-hander John Prato Matthews turned in a strong finish to his junior season, tossing five-straight shutout innings in May out of the Tigers bullpen. He appeared in 11 games with four starts, including a spot start at No. 10 Cal State Fullerton, keeping Pacific in the ballgame through four and two thirds. The 6-6 Davis native struck out 14 in 25.2 innings pitched.
Fellow senior righty Jared Wagner also finished 2011 on a positive note, with back-to-back shutout appearances totaling three innings. The 6-3 junior college transfer from Seward Community College came out of the pen in 19 games, while starting two in his first season at Pacific. He recorded 20 punchouts in 37.1 innings of action.
From the left side, junior John Haberman, sophomores Paul Moeller and Kyle Crawford also return.
Haberman posted four scoreless innings last season in seven games. The 6-1 lefty struck out 10 in 12 innings of work, with an 0-1 record and an ERA of 6.00.
Moeller, a 6-3 southpaw, appeared in eight games, with two starts. He finished 0-1 in 15 innings of work. He made his Tiger debut on Feb. 19 against Kansas State, coming out of the bullpen for three innings, allowing one earned with a pair of strikeouts. Took the hill for his first start on Feb. 26 against Kansas State, lasting five and a third innings, while allowing three hits.
Crawford turned in a solid debut in his freshman season with the Tigers, tossing 18 innings in 15 appearances with three starts. The 5-10 lefty recorded shutout performances in eight of his 12 appearances out of the bullpen and retired 10 consecutive hitters over a three-outing span. In his first start, at Sacramento State, he put down all six he faced on a mere 18 pitches.
Six newcomers join the pitching ranks for 2012, three via transfer and three freshmen.
"We have a number of new faces," Sprague explained. "Travis Lumby will pitch on Friday night, Michael Hager on Saturday and John Haberman on Sunday. At least that's the first weekend."
The Tigers will move away from the traditional Friday-Saturday-Sunday starter model this year.
"We'll do a tandem starting rotation which will flip-flop every week. It's more of a team concept and we're excited about that. Kyle Crawford will see some time as a start, as will Michael Benson."
Senior lefty Joe Spizzirri comes to Pacific to complete his eligibility after graduating from Notre Dame. The 6-2 San Juan Capistrano, Calif., native pitched 1.2 innings for the Fighting Irish last season and recorded four shutout stints in six outings as a junior.
Junior lefty Travis Lumby joins the Tigers from Chandler Gilbert Community College, where the 6-1 native of Chandler, Arizona, struck out 17 in 20.1 innings of work, going 1-1 with a 5.31 earned run average.
Kyle Shaver is a junior college transfer from Grossmont. The 6-6 four-pitch right-hander appeared in 17 games, starting seven last season. He compiled a 3-3 record with a 2.56 earned run average in 59.2 innings pitched. Shaver struck out 48 batters while walking just 18 as opponents hit .248 off him last year.
The Tigers also add three freshmen to the pitching corps: right-handers Michael Benson, Michael Hager and Bryce Lombardi.
Benson, a 6-4 righty from Placentia, Calif., posted a 0.45 earned run average in 31 innings last season, while striking out 48 batters against just two walks pitching for Sauguro High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Second Team All-Desert Sky Region selection also tossed a no-hitter over McClintock High School, helping the Sabercats to a 34-4 record in 2011, winning the Division 4A State Championship and earning a No. 10 national ranking.
Lombardi was a 2011 All-Monticello Empire League Honorable Mention selection for the Napa Indians last year. The 6-3 righty posted a 3.76 ERA in 57.2 innings pitched with 49 strikeouts and a 1-0 record.
"It's a unique group," Sprague concluded. "I think we're an improved pitching staff. In the non-conference season, you're going to see a lot of guys log innings. And we'll see where we stand and maybe go to more of a traditional rotation once league starts. But we want to keep our pitch counts down and so we can stay strong and healthy as we move into conference."
SCHEDULE & OUTLOOK
"This year's schedule is going to be challenging once again," Sprague said. "We like to play a good non-conference schedule and our first five games are against Pac-12 teams. Our non-conference schedule is going to be a good test for us as we move into the Big West conference schedule, which is going to be as tough as ever."
This season, the Tigers will open with a three-game series against Cal (two in Berkeley, one at Klein Family Field). Pacific will play host to Creighton and Brown in weekend series, and have single home dates against Sacramento State, Nevada, Stanford, San Francisco and Santa Clara. The Tigers have a split-site series with San Jose State as well.
The Tigers will take on Oregon State, San Diego and San Diego State in San Diego, visit Kansas State and Gonzaga for three-game series, and play mid-week contests at Sacramento State, San Francisco, Nevada and Stanford.
As Pacific gears up for the season opener, the Tigers are collectively committed to returning to the level of play that saw Pacific earn 31 victories in 2010.
"Overall, I think this team is close knit. I think they're buying into the team concept. They understand that it's going to take all 32 guys to be where we want to be at the end of the year. I see this team as getting better and better as we go along," said Sprague.
"But I don't think I've had a team that's been closer, and had more depth than this team. We may not have the superstars that we've had in the past with the Longmire's and Walkers, like when we had five or six guys get drafted. But overall, we have a much higher level of ability," Sprague finished. "I like this group and we're ready to go."