The Titans have a big vacancy up the middle.
By up the middle, we mean shortstop.
With Timmy Richards graduating this past summer, Fullerton’s unspoken leader of the team leaves a big hole open at short and in the lineup. The four year veteran from Long Beach hit mostly from the three spot all year, even while battling an annoying groin injury.
And let’s not forget his unbelievable performance in Omaha, where he clubbed two home runs in the Titans’ only two games.
But as with all college sports, Richards’ tenure has come to an end and now the Titans are tasked with finding his heir apparent.
The obvious choice is returning sophomore second baseman, Sahid Valenzuela.
Valenzuela had an award filled freshman campaign where he won a lot of hardware, highlighted by his first team All-Conference selection and also being named the Big West’s Freshman of the Year.
Right now, there’s no better person to take Richards’ spot on the field. Prior to the MLB Draft, there was some thought that high school senior, Jacob Amaya may challenge for the shortstop position. However, the South Hills product opted to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers after being selected in the 11th round.
Although he may be a bit undersized, Valenzuela can get the job done. His experience and poise are what’s most important. And with his .314 average, he’s more than likely going to resume at the second spot in the order, or maybe even bat leadoff. That remains to be seen. Either way, Valenzuela is best to be used at short.
By moving Valenzuela over to his right, that now leaves second base open.
The Titans have quite a few players to choose from in their arsenal.
Tristan Hildebrandt, Hank LoForte and incoming freshman Jacob Dominguez could all battle for the spot.
But that spot should go to junior Hank LoForte.
Hildebrandt didn’t produce much at the plate last season and Dominguez is still an unknown, so the role naturally falls to LoForte.
LoForte cemented himself as the Titans’ designated hitter during the playoffs, driving in key runs in the Super Regional against Stanford. His natural position is second base, but there was no way he would oust Valenzuela from that position.
LoForte has a bit of speed and is a good contact hitter. Picking up towards the end of the season, he finished the year with a .247 average. I know that doesn’t look like much, but compared with the other infielders on the bench, that average is far from the rest.
In addition, LoForte had been playing summer ball for the Santa Barbara Foresters. In 16 of 26 games, LoForte hit .292 and crossed the plate 10 times, even hitting one home run.
The season is still a long ways out, so the Titans have time to mold the middle of the infield. With a promising freshman in Dominguez coming to the team, and some returning veterans hoping to crack the lineup, the Titans have pieces to choose from.
But for now, look to see Valenzuela and LoForte turning-two.