FULLERTON, Calif. – The four-time national champion Cal State Fullerton baseball program wrapped up its fall ball season on Saturday, Nov. 16, following an intrasquad scrimmage at Goodwin Field.
FullertonTitans.com caught up with third-year head coach Rick Vanderhook to get his analysis of the 2014 squad.
The Titans, returning to the field following a Super Regional run during 2013, open the season on Friday, Feb. 14, hosting Washington State in a three-game series. Prior to the season, Cal State Fullerton will hold its annual Dinner with the Titans event on Saturday, Jan. 11, and will host its annual alumni game on Saturday, Jan. 25.
Season tickets, which offer a 36 percent savings for Titan fans, are currently on sale and can be purchased online, in person at the Cal State Fullerton Athletics Ticket Office or by calling (657) 278-2783 from the hours of 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
FullertonTitans.com: Can you tell Titan fans about your expectations for the fall, and what the team was able to accomplish?
Vanderhook: We started the fall very slow, and we had some guys that were banged up. We were minus Matt Chapman (finger) and Greg Velazquez (sore hamstring). Koby Gauna, Tyler Peitzmeier and Justin Graza weren't ready to pitch, so there was a lot of patchwork, and we had to change things daily. We just didn't start off very well, and it was below average on how we did things - a little bit of going through the motions.
We went to UNLV and played two games at what I consider to be below average performances. We had a few decent individual performances, but we didn't handle the ball defensively very well. We didn't hit particularly well with he exception of Clay Williamson. We were undermanned without Chapman and Velazquez, and we were playing a few new players that were a little bit on awe of their first games as Titans. We lost 5-3 and 5-4, and I thought they whipped us.
When we got home I think the team woke up a little bit - it didn't hurt that Chapman was inserted on the field to play some defense. Chapman's return gave us a spark and leadership, and we moved Keegan Dale to third. I thought from that point on we were very efficient. Everything we did, we did with efficiency and we executed very well to the point that it was better every day, and I think we finished the fall in that fashion. I'd rather start not as good and finish strong than vice versa.
FullertonTitans.com: Cal State Fullerton lost several position players from the 2013 squad due to the Major League Baseball Draft and graduation. Can you tell Titan fans which players you are expecting to fill the voids.
Vanderhook: Senior Jared Deacon and sophomore A.J. Kennedy both had respectable falls. Deacon played well offensively and defensively, and A.J. has really started to slow the game down. He finally has the game under control speed wise, and is really good at catching and throwing. They both swung the bat well. I feel very good with both of them.
Vanderhook: Sophomore Tanner Pinkston really hit well during the fall, and he is getting better defensively. Greg Velazquez has played at first as well as right field, but was hampered with a sore hamstring.
Vanderhook: Matt Chapman will most likely fill this role. Freshman Timmy Richards is a very talented fielder.
Vanderhook: Juniors Clay Williamson and Austin Diemer have played very well. J.D. Davis and Greg Velazquez have also played in the outfield. Right now we are just trying to find the right mix.
FullertonTitans.com: The Titans return a very accomplished pitching staff from last year, but can you give Titan fans an evaluation of their performance through the fall?
Vanderhook: Thomas Eshelman has really worked hard on throwing a split. I think that will be his No. 1 out pitch. He is a little firmer on the mound. Grahamm Wiest has added a little zip on his fastball and has been firmer on the mound.
Justin Garza is a full go now and he's been throwing well. Koby Gauna has been injured, but he is very close and is expected to be ready in January. Phil Bickford threw the ball well during the fall. He throws strikes and his fastball has been good, and his change is pretty good as well.
Chad Hockin has come along the most, his fastball command has improved and he is working on a change. His slider is also a good pitch. Ryan Kayoda threw well when he pitched. He holds runners well and commands all three pitches out of the stretch. He only issued one walk during the fall.
Willie Kuhl had a solid fall, improving his fastball command and his change is getting better. Bryan Conant was the most improved pitcher of the fall. He came back from summer a new young man after being told the right thing to do a few times last year. He had a great fall, and if he continues to improve, he will make us better in the spring.
No one is set for our closer yet. We will try Gauna, Chapman and Davis through January.
FullertonTitans.com: What was a surprise or unexpected during the fall?
Vanderhook: As I said before, Tanner Pinkston was just outstanding as well as Clay Williamson. It was expected for them to be good, but I don't know if it was expected for them to be that good. Clay and Tanner played beyond expectations – offensively and defensively. Austin Dimer also has a solid fall playing well defensively and offensively. Keegan also had a good fall defensively at third.