Jan. 26, 2009
Fullerotn, Calif. - After a whirlwind cross-county move to take over the tradition-rich Cal State Fullerton program, second-year Head Coach Dave Serrano is looking forward to getting back into the rhythm of a normal baseball season and the usual challenges of returning the Titans to Omaha.
"It seems more comfortable for me and my coaching staff along with the players," said Serrano. "When I first got here there was a lot of turmoil surrounding the program because of Coach (George) Horton's leaving for the University of Oregon and my leaving a program that had just gone to Omaha.
"Last year we grew up, together, as a team and a program. They got acquainted with the new coaching staff and we got acquainted with the players who are back. We learned some of the adjustments we need to make to take the next step and get past the Super Regionals. We were happy with the results but not satisfied with where we finished - for the program we are in, getting to the Super Regionals isn't good enough."
In a nutshell, the 2009 Titans will feature a young but even internationally-experienced batting order, a typically solid Fullerton defense and an inexperienced but potentially outstanding pitching staff. An always heavyweight non-conference schedule featuring an 11-day road trip has been aligned to prepare for the rigors of the Big West Conference slate.
Some of the excitement and buzz surrounding the 2009 squad is stemming from the fact that three Titans earned gold medals in Europe for Team USA last Summer. Josh Fellhauer, Christian Colon and Jared Clark each made significant contributions to the National Team that went a perfect 24-0, even defeating Cuba's traditionally dominant Olympic team twice.
"I think [having Fellhauer, Colon and Clark's experience] is going to bode well for our team's success. They got some international experience and exposure and, hopefully, the leadership that they will bring back with them of winning a gold and what it takes to get to the top and finish the job will carry over to their teammates."
Along with a core of returning players, Serrano is very pleased with the recruiting efforts of Sergio Brown, Greg Bergeron and Brett Lindgren in their effort to fill the holes left by the draft, free-agent signings and extinguished eligibility. In the fall, the team's recruiting efforts were recognized with a pair of preseason Top 15 rankings by both Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball.
"Hats off to my staff for a very fine recruiting class. They brought in some great people, which is important to me and this coaching staff."
Kyle Witten, a right-handed pitcher and transfer from Bakersfield Junior College, leads the charge, and will compete for the Friday or Saturday night slot in the pitching rotation. Serrano feels the Titans are very fortunate to have him after he bypassed the draft in June and enrolled at Cal State Fullerton.
Freshman Tyler Pill, the younger brother of former Titan first baseman, Brett, is another top recruit Serrano is pleased to welcome aboard. Pill, a right-handed pitcher and a left-handed batter, comes to Fullerton from Covina High School and will get a chance to be a rare two-way player in the Titan line-up.
Southpaw Nick Ramirez, the Empire League's Most Valuable Player in 2008, will join Pill as a two-way player that should make an impact this season.
If the season started today, Serrano would have no trouble putting together a starting nine. Many of the names would be familiar to a lot of people, as many of them had significant playing time in 2008.
1. Gary Brown, 3B
"He brings a lot of energy and excitement to the lineup. Many Titan fans started to see his ability come out late in the season last year as we made our run in the Big West Conference"
2. Josh Fellhauer, CF
"We're thinking of him in the No. 2 hole. We expect great things with two of our best hitters as table setters and wreaking havoc on other teams"
3. Christian Colon, SS
"He did a great job as a freshman driving in runs when they counted"
4. Jared Clark, 1B
"It's great to have his leadership, power and run production in the middle of the lineup... he's the perfect guy to fill the No. 4 spot"
5. Designated Hitter
"Corey Jones is recovering from an ankle injury and may be a little slowed, but he has as nice a swing as anyone in the program; Billy Marcoe had a great Fall and also will spell Dustin Garneau; Tony Harkey has an abundance of talent and came into his own in the Fall; freshmen Nick Ramirez and Tyler Pill are two bats that will be tough to keep out of the lineup"
6. Khris Davis, RF
"We're hoping for this program and his own sake that he comes into his own this season... he probably has the most upside of anyone in the program, but his opportunities have been limited because his performance hasn't been as consistent as he and we would like; we hope to let him grow up and get enough at bats to get comfortable"
7. Dustin Garneau, C
"He will be our everyday catcher. With his great leadership and defensive abilities, any offense he can give us will be nothing but a bonus. He showed tremendous leadership throughout the Fall, which is what I like to see from our catcher, especially with a young and inexperienced pitching staff"
8. Joe Scott, 2B
"He's a true Titan and a great leader... he solidified our defense last year when we put him at second base. He had a tremendous year offensively in the Fall"
9. Jeff Newman, LF
"He played sparingly last year in a platoon role... we think Jeff brings a great dimension because he can run the bases, he can play the inside game and he's a tough little out from the left side"
"Our challenge as the coaching staff is to find the best nine players to start every day and then find the best role guys to come off the bench in certain situations. I like the way our lineup sets up and we have good depth. We will have some good players on the bench this year, which is unfortunate for those young men, but it's great for our program.
"Our options off the bench show a good mixture of left and right handed hitters... Pill and Ramirez... or Matt Fahey, who we trust coming off the bench; or catcher Wes Borba, who reminds me of P. J. Pilittere - his swing is not the prettiest but he gets the barrel of the bat on the ball every single time."
The pitching staff will have its work cut out for itself, as it must replace three workhorses in Jeff Kaplan, Cory Arbiso and Adam Jorgenson, who combined for 25 wins, 12 saves and 265 innings last season.
"I like how the pitching staff is coming together. It could start out a little slow because I'm not sure of their roles yet. I just want to have them set by the time we get to conference play. There's not a big difference between our No. 1 guy and our No. 12 guy. I think we will see a lot of consistency.
"[Kaplan, Arbiso and Jorgenson] will be tough to replace," said Serrano, who doubles as pitching coach. "We expect Daniel Renken to step forward and I really like what I've seen of Michael Morrison. Kyle Witten looks like a Friday or Saturday type guy. He's got that kind of stuff - we're fortunate to have him for at least a year. We hope to reap the benefits of what he brings us this year. I've been very pleased with how Travis Kelly developed over the Fall and Ryan Ackland had another great Fall - we expect him to come out of the bullpen and get outs and ground balls."
The Titans also have newcomers in Kyle Mertins and Pill, Nick Ramirez and Noe Ramirez, who figure to see a lot of action in 2009 on the hill. Another returner who Serrano sees getting significant time, possibly as a starter, is southpaw Jason Dovel. Serrano is hoping that Dovel will use the experience he received as a true freshman and carry it over into his sophomore campaign.
Also figuring somewhere in the middle of the staff are big sophomore lefty Kevin Rath and redshirt freshman R.J. Hively.
"Kevin Rath who pitched sparingly, and late in the season last year, has a huge upside...huge potential. It's just about him becoming more consistent on a daily basis," said Serrano. "R.J. Hively had a rough Fall but in his workouts over the break he has really made strides. I'm excited. He's got good stuff. He just needs to take it out on the field each and every day.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see both of those young men make contributions to this year's team - maybe not early - but as the season goes, they'll continue to develop. I see some bright things out of both those young men."
The unusual extended road trip in early March will take the Titans to Southern Mississippi for a 3-game series, a single game at Baseball America's No. 1-ranked Texas A&M and a 4-game tourney in Stillwater, Oklahoma, with host Oklahoma State and Rhode Island.
"We want to challenge this team as much as possible going into the Big West schedule, said Serrano. "I've never taken a team on an 11-day road trip, which will be challenging in many ways. It should be a team building experience and a lot of fun and could bring the team together.
"If you look at our 56-game schedule, you don't see one team that looks like a cupcake. We might take our lumps early, but we want to play our best baseball in May and June when it really counts."
A video featuring the entire 20-minute conversation with Dave Serrano will soon be available. Details will be forthcoming.