In case the weather was not enough of a sign, baseball is coming back to the Farm. The team that returns, however, will look a lot different from the one that went 45-14 and was sent off to a super regional in Starkville after an instant-classic regional final win.
Stanford saw its top six hitters, two-thirds of the weekend rotation and the program all-time saves leader drafted.
“We’ve got big shoes and holes to fill,” said Stanford head coach David Esquer ’87 at Bay Area Media Day.
No. 17 Stanford (0-0, 0-0 Pac-12) welcomes its nemesis Cal State Fullerton (0-0, 0-0 Big West) to Sunken Diamond for a three-game opening set beginning Friday. The Titans cut short 41-year head coach Mark Marquess’ final season in 2017, then a year later upset second-seeded Stanford in the same regional stage.
2008, the most recent College World Series berth, is drifting farther away in the rearview mirror after multiple years in contention for a national title, yet never making it past the super regional, and most recently dropping to Mississippi State.
On offense, Stanford will be replacing Andrew Daschbach, Maverick Handley, Duke Kinamon, Will Matthiessen, Kyle Stowers and Brandon Wulff. Power will be down, and this time it will not be fixed by lowering the outfield fence. Those six players accounted for 68 of the team’s 88 home runs last season. Who might fill that role?
“None on paper so far, but we do [have power],” Esquer said. “Henry Gargus, Brett Barrera, Kody Huff. Those are some freshman names that will develop into power.”
In terms of a lineup, junior outfielder Christian Robinson, senior third baseman Nick Bellafronto, junior first baseman Nick Brueser, redshirt senior catcher Christian Molfetta and junior Tim Tawa appear to be set. Tawa may play shortstop, where he featured most last season, or move to center field, which would push Robinson to a corner outfield spot.
Esquer expects Tawa, an All-Pac-12 honorable mention last year and All-Regional shortstop, to be the centerpiece of the offense. After a breakout 2019 campaign and an All-Defensive honorable mention, Bellafronto figures he will be in that conversation as well. Now in his fifth year at Stanford, Esquer expects Molfetta to have his best season this year.
Outside of those relative guarantees, there’s a lot up in the air.
“We don’t have a first team or a second team — I say we have a first look and a second look,” Esquer said. “If we do go with some youth, we’ll have to let them go out there and play and fail some.”
As such, the team will likely hang its Cardinal hat on pitching and defense once again, and both are expected to play above average, despite losing the contributions of Little, Miller and Matthiessen. Junior Brendan Beck took the summer off and focused on weight training, but resumed throwing upon returning to campus and will press play on his Friday night role. Freshman Quinn Matthews was announced as the Saturday starter.
Sophomore Alex Williams, whose 2.56 ERA and staff-low 0.97 WHIP was worthy of Freshman All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, NCBWA and Perfect Game, will see his first extended opportunity in a weekend role. At media day, both Beck and Grech also emphasized the improvement of junior Carson Rudd, who they expect to make strides in 2020.
“The experience we have is in our pitching staff and our relief corps — on our pitching and defense and we’ll probably have to grow into our offense,” Esquer said.
The midweek starter has not been decided, but Rice graduate transfer Jackson Parthasarathy may be an optimal choice. Parthasarathy, the Sunday starter with the Owls, was admitted to graduate school at Stanford when he called up the program with an interest to use his final year of eligibility.
Senior Zach Grech, who led the team in appearances in each of the past two years, will once again be a major factor.
“Going into my last year, I put a lot of hard work in this summer,” Grech said. “I really want to give myself the best chance to help this team win and pitch as much as possible in as many games.”
One final change from a year ago was the departure of assistant coach Jack Marder for Oregon and the corresponding hiring of Steve Rodriguez from his alma mater UCLA, where he was the Director of Baseball Operations.
On Friday, Beck will start opposite Fullerton’s Tanner Bibee. Beck won the matchup at Goodwin Field last season, and the Cardinal took the second game as well before faltering in the finale.
First pitch from Sunken Diamond is at 6:05 p.m. PT.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.