The 2017 baseball season was a roller coaster year for the Titans.
The team seemed to be set-up for success early on, ranking in the top five in some national polls and even winning 11 of 12 games during one stretch. However, an early season injury to star pitcher Colton Eastman removed him from the lineup for many months and the bats for the Titans seemed to quiet as the season progressed.
Despite finishing in third place for the Big West title, the team kept on with tradition and moved onto the NCAA Tournament. The team came alive and swept through Regionals at Stanford and upset the Big West champions Cal State Long Beach in front of their hostile home crowd, punching their 18th trip to Omaha. The 2017 team proved to be fighters and despite an early exit at the College World Series, the season was largely a success.
However, with graduations and the MLB draft, much of the starting lineup is now gone.
Check out some of the notable names of those who have departed:
- Scott Hurst, (CF, Drafted in the 3rd Round by the St. Louis Cardinals)
- Connor Seabold, (SP, Drafted in the 3rd Round by the Philadelphia Phillies)
- Jon Gavin, (SP, Drafted in the 8th Round by the San Francisco Giants)
- Chris Hudgins, (C, Drafted in the 16th Round by the Kansas City Royals)
- Dillon Persinger, (1B, UT, Drafted in the 18th Round by the Cleveland Indians)
- Taylor Bryant, (3B, Drafted in the 33rd Round by the St. Louis Cardinals)
- Timmy Richards, (SS, Graduated and Drafted in the 24th Round by the Washington Nationals)
- Hunter Cullen, (RF, Graduated)
With most teams, they would consider this a rebuilding year, but not for Head Coach Rick Vanderhook and the Titans. He’s prepared the team well enough that everyone has them ranked in the top 25 of every major national poll, most recently at number 11 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
With the alumni game this weekend and the regular season starting next month, here are five players we’re looking to watch this season.
1. Sahid Valenzuela
The Scorpion had as good of a year as any freshman could have had. Impressing Coach Vanderhook early in the season after subbing in for an injured Richards, Valenzuela solidified his place at second base with his flashy defense and his ability to get on-base. Judging by his numbers, you couldn’t tell it was his first time playing in a demanding Titans schedule. Valenzuela capped off his freshman campaign with a .314 average, an OBP of .366 and a fielding percentage of 98 percent. Not bad.
This season, Valenzuela becomes the Titans’ everyday shortstop with Richards’ graduation, and hopes to build off his stellar season where he earned All-Conference honors and was tabbed Freshman of the Year. Despite being recognized by the Big West for his play, Valenzuela seemed to have been overlooked by many of the national publications. Look for Valenzuela to put up better numbers, and maybe even play with a chip on his shoulder this year.
2. Daniel Cope
Cope enters the 2018 season as the Titans’ new starting catcher. With Hudgins leaving the team after getting drafted by the Royals, Cope will be giving the signs behind the plate. The sophomore had a decent freshman campaign, appearing in just 19 games and hitting .276, but the offensive numbers should go up as he gets more plate appearances. In his few chances at the plate, Cope did show off a little pop, as he had a handful of extra-base hits and one home run. Cope then took what he learned at Fullerton and translated it into a solid offseason. The San Diego native traveled north to Washington to play for the Yakima Valley Pippins last summer, where he earned himself an All-Star nod. It should be interesting to see how well his summer success transfers over to the regular season and to also see how well he handles the staff now that he’s the main man behind the plate.
3. Mitch Berryhill
Berryhill has perhaps one of the biggest shoes to fill, but as we mentioned earlier, we believe he can do it. No one expects him to come in and put up the same types of numbers that Hurst did last season (especially the four home runs in a game versus Northridge). Their styles are much different. Berryhill won’t put up the power numbers, but where we do see him excelling is in his ability to get on base often and to cause some havoc on the base paths with his speed. And it’s also with that speed that we should be able to see him cover some grass out there in centerfield. We caught a brief glimpse of him during the exhibition against UNLV a few months back and we’re excited for his potential this year.
4. Andrew Quezada
We don’t know much about Quezada, but from what we do know, we like him. The junior transfer from Cypress College put up great numbers for his team last season, going 9-2 with a 1.17 ERA. Good enough for Tampa Bay to draft him last summer in the 20th round. However, Quezada decided to instead honor his commitment to Fullerton and is the perfect player to fill the Saturday night slot left open by the recently drafted Gavin. Like, Colton Eastman, Quezada is on numerous draft prospects list and should only increase his stock value with another dominant season. If he can dominate like he did at Cypress, another trip to Omaha is very promising.
5. Colton Eastman
Eastman is good. Real good. There’s no question about that. He’s no doubt the Friday night starter and is on numerous preseason draft boards and All-American lists. However, Eastman only made nine appearances last year due to injury, and his last outing of the year against Oregon State was rough. This I’m sure has left a bitter taste in his mouth, and he can’t wait to show everyone that that outing was just a fluke by dishing out his revenge against the Beavers in March… and on their home field. We’re eager to see how Eastman bounces back this year. Last year was long for him, as he rehabbed through his injury and had to wait until the end of the season to really get back into rhythm. Eastman plays with intensity and, if he stays healthy for the entire season, we don’t see why Eastman can’t be one of the most dominate pitchers in the country. Hands down. If he plays up to his potential, we don’t see why he can’t solidify himself as an early draft pick this summer.
And with a solid 1-2 punch of Eastman and Quezada, the rest of the country should be very concerned.