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TEAM PROFILE: Cal State Fullerton Titans
2011 record: 41-17 (NCAA Regional)
Final 2011 PG ranking: No. 22
Top returning players: OF Michael Lorenzen, OF Carlos Lopez, SS Richy Pedroza, INF Anthony Trajano, OF Austin Kingsolver, OF Ivory Thomas, P Dylan Floro,
Notable departures:1B/P Nick Ramirez, P Tyler Pill, P Noe Ramirez, P Jake Floethe, P Colin O’Connell, P Chris Devenski, P David Hurlbut, 3B Joe Terry, P Ray Hernandez
Areas of concern: The Titans know what must improve between now and the spring. Fullerton should have a productive offense in 2012, as it returns four of its top five hitters from last year’s club. The pitching staff is the major concern as fall workouts continue. The Titans lost impressive starting pitchers Noe Ramirez, Tyler Pill, Jake Floethe and Colin O’Connell to the MLB draft this past summer. Their departures mean the Titans must find a way to adequately replace 88 percent of the starts (51 of 58) from last season. The pitching staff will continue to be under the microscope leading up to February.
What we think: The Titans have entered the past few seasons with incredibly high expectations. But for once, and primarily because the pitching staff is such a concern, they won’t enter a campaign expected to reach the College World Series. First-year coach Rick Vanderhook will have a tough chore on his hands in 2012, but this team is still expected to reach the NCAA postseason. The Titans welcome back some solid hitters, such as stud outfielder Michael Lorenzen and hard-hitting Carlos Lopez. On the mound, the Titans have a legitimate ace pitcher in junior right-hander Dylan Floro. Otherwise, they need several inexperienced arms to rise to the occasion. Fullerton will make some serious noise in Vanderhook’s inaugural campaign if its pitching staff blossoms.
What they’re saying:“Our offense is ahead of our pitching right now, and it’s usually the opposite this time of year. Figuring out our pitching and catching situations is the biggest concern between now and the spring.” – Cal State Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook.
CB TICKET: More inside scoop on Fullerton
Cal State Fullerton has plenty of work to do to become a College World Series type of club between now and February, but one thing is for sure, and that’s the Titans couldn’t have made a better hire than Rick Vanderhook.
The Titans have dealt with some adversity at the head coaching position over the years. Surprising, we know, especially considering Fullerton is one of the nation’s elite programs. But the carousel began with long-time head coach George Horton moving to Oregon a few seasons ago. It continued this past summer when Dave Serrano, who spent four seasons with the Titans, decided he wanted to coach in the SEC, thus taking Tennessee’s head post.
Both Horton and Serrano had their legitimate reasons for leaving. Horton looked forward to taking over a brand new program and a fresh challenge. He also couldn’t turn down the paycheck the Ducks were willing to provide. Meanwhile, Serrano long said Tennessee was a dream job since his days as an assistant at the university. His move to the SEC was anything but a surprise.
Vanderhook might shock everyone someday and leave Fullerton, but the good money – if you’re a betting person – is he’ll stay put for as long as athletic director Brian Quinn and the Titans will have him.
Many say Rick Vanderhook is Mr. Titan. Now, as fall workouts continue, we’ll see if the coach, who has tripped to the CWS on 11 occasions, can guide the Titans to a magical run in 2012.
Like many teams, the Titans have some serious work to do the rest of the fall. They welcome back some talented hitters in outfielder Michael Lorenzen and power hitter Carlos Lopez, among others, this fall. The pitching staff is a different story.
Fullerton had one of the nation’s better pitching staffs last season. It had a solid weekend rotation with stud starters Tyler Pill and Noe Ramirez leading the way. It also had a solid bullpen with imposing Nick Ramirez in charge.
That production and those key leaders are now gone. The Titans must find a way to adequately replace 53 of 58 starts from last season, with junior right-hander Dylan Floro the lone returning starter.
“Getting the pitching staff and catcher position settled. Those are the main concerns as fall workouts continue,” Vanderhook said. “We still have a ways to go in both of those areas. We’ll see how things look in February.”
Vanderhook got the first peek of his new squad in live game action a couple of weeks ago when they hit the road to face ultra talented Vanderbilt in a two-game weekend exhibition series.
The Titans offense, and the pitching staff to an extent, surprised and impressed Vanderhook. The offense scored 19 runs in two wins over Vandy. Meanwhile, the pitching staff allowed 11 runs in two games.
“Going into that series, we had only practiced for 10 days, so I wasn’t real sure what to expect. I didn’t see these guys much last season, so I didn’t have much to go off of in live competition,” he said. “You can’t take everything from a series like that, but I thought we showed our competitive nature. They’re farther along in that area than I expected. They showed character and the ability to respond to adversity.”
Pitching-wise, the Titans have some arms that impressed in the series against the Commodores, and have continued to do so throughout fall workouts.
Veteran right-hander Dylan Floro is having a strong fall and is consistently 91-92 with his fastball. Meanwhile, freshman right-hander Koby Gauna is leaving his mark, while redshirt freshman Grahamm Wiest, who sat out last season because of an injury, threw well against the Commodores and is making significant strides this fall.
“Gauna is pounding the strike zone with his fastball and slider. He has a good demeanor and is the type of guy who just looks like he belongs,” he said. “I thought Wiest was phenomenal against Vanderbilt. He doesn’t throw very hard, but has a very solid splitter and breaking ball. He has good composure and command of the strike zone.”
Though they didn’t perform at an incredibly high level against Vanderbilt, the Titans continue to have high hopes for talented freshmen J.D. Davis and Kenny Mathews. Davis turned down overtures from the Tampa Bay Rays as a fifth-round selection this past summer, while Matthews turned down overtures from the New York Mets as a 12th-round pick.
“Davis and Matthews have gotten into some trouble on the mound at times, but it’s difficult to get off to a hot start as a true freshman,” he said. “Getting more comfortable is exactly what fall workouts are all about.”
While the pitching staff is a work in progress, the Titans are putting together a formidable offensive attack.
They welcome back Lorenzen, Lopez, shortstop Richy Pedroza, and Anthony Trajano and Ivory Thomas. Additionally, they have high hopes for Austin Kingsolver, Greg Velazquez, Derek Legg and freshman Matt Chapman.
Kingsolver, Velazquez and Chapman are making the biggest statements this fall.
“I thought Kingsolver played great against Vanderbilt. He had some big hits and played fantastic defense,” he said. “Velazquez is playing extremely well as a brand new member of the outfield and Chapman is showing us he belongs in Division I Baseball. He honestly has been a very pleasant surprise thus far.”
“There’s also Lopez. He showed me he’s a complete hitter. He’s hitting balls all over the field right now against left-handed and right-handed pitching. I’m really pleased.”
Overall, the Titans continue fall workouts with some uncertainty surrounding the pitching staff. Otherwise, they’re in satisfactory shape.
Fullerton administrators made the Titan nation happy this past summer when they finally gave Vanderhook an opportunity to be head coach.
Now it’s his show, and he’s not leaving anytime soon.
Kendall Rogers is the college baseball managing editor for Perfect Game USA and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org