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Cal Baseball Preview: Bears Have Some Big Holes to Fill

February 11, 2020

Cal’s baseball team begins a new season and a new era Friday when it plays at Long Beach State. 

This will be the beginning of “LAV” for the Bears, “Life After Vaughn”. 

Andrew Vaughn, the slugging first baseman who last year concluded one of the great careers in Cal history, has moved on to the Chicago White Sox. He left a big hole in the Bears’ lineup.

“You are talking about maybe the best player in the history of our program,” head coach Mike Neu (above left) said last week. “ You’re not going to replace him. We do have two guys at first base who we feel really good about with [sophomore] Grant Holman, who was our designated hitter as a freshman and an incoming freshman, Nathan Martorella, who can really hit. We feel good about that. Again, you’re never going to replace a guy like Vaughn, but we feel good about the guys we have in that role. They have the chance to be great players in their own right.”

Holman, who also will be a starting pitcher, hit .277 with four home runs and 24 RBIs in 114 at-bats last year. Martorella was drafted by the Red Sox in the 30th round last June out of Salinas HIgh but chose to honor his commitment to Cal.

“Holman is a right-handed hitter with some power, had a good year as a freshman last year, definitely is going to continue to get better,” Neu said. “Martorella hasn’t obviously played at this level but he is a left-handed hitter with a lot of power. He has great makeup.

“Both guys work extremely hard, love the game want to get better, really love being part of the program. I just think all those factors come into play, keep us solid there for years to come, . Even though Vaughn is a generational player, we feel good about the future there with those guys.”

It will not be a strict platoon situation since Holman has other duties. He is penciled in as the Saturday (No. 2) starting pitcher. 

“We have to manage that part of his game, pitching, playing first base and DHing,” Neu said. “And Martorella filling in at first and maybe DHing as well. I think the first few weeks we will see how things fall into place and how we can manage it best. 

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Darren Baker

“I think we plan on starting him (Holman) on Saturdays. How we manage him on the two other days, I think we will figure it out,” Neu said. “We have been monitoring how his body is each week when we pitch him in our intrasquad games. We will check his arm and make sure he is healthy the whole year.”

The Bears lost other players besides Vaughn who were big contributors to last year’s 30-22 team that made the NCAA Tournament. Seven were taken in the draft and six of them signed. That is quite a bit right off the top.

Catcher Korey Lee (above right) who turned into an outstanding hitter during his junior, was chosen in the first round by Houston. Neu feels he might have a Lee in the making in sophomore Cole Elvis. 

“He caught for us on Tuesdays last year,” Neu said. “He has been working really hard. He is a converted catcher who played a lot of third base in high school. He has done an outstanding job. He has a big arm, works well with the pitchers. We hope the bat comes along the way Kory’s did.

“Cole has a chance, he’s got some big raw power. We also have a freshman there Ethan Cloyd, who has done a nice job this fall. He can fill in for some of those games.

Cameron Eden, who split time between center and left field, is also moving on having gone in the sixth round to Toronto. Former football quarterback Brandon McIlwain, who is now a full-time baseball player, will get the first crack at center He played quite a bit early last year until he sustained an injury. “He’s healthy and hopefully he can play the whole year,” Neu said. 

“Max Flower will again be in right. This is his third year playing full time so we expect him to have a really big year.”

Leftfield is something of a question mark. “We will platoon John Lagattuta and Connor Mack to start,” Neu said, “They’re both juniors, they haven’t played a lot but they do have some experience. We really hope one of those guys can emerge. We also have some really talented freshmen. We are going to try those guys some opportunities as the season goes along.” We are going to try to get those guys into some games.”

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Brandom McIlwain

Neu didn’t think he would have to worry about shortstop as Sam Wezniak was returning. “It looks like he is going to miss the whole year with an injury,” Neu said. “We have a freshman Keshawn Ogans and a junior Hance Smith who can both fill in at that position. We are excited about those two guys getting an opportunity, but it will be a new shortstop there.”

Nothing new at second and third and that’s good news. Third baseman Quentin Selma, who hit .311 with ten homers, earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors as a sophomore. Neu said not only is Selma an outstanding player, but also a leader in the locker room.

Darren Baker is set for a big year at second base. The two-year starter was an All-Pac-12 Defensive Team selection last year and hit .347 in the Cape Cod League this summer. His father, big-league player and manager Dusty Baker, was a regular at Evans Diamond for the last two years. Having taken over as manager of the Houston Astros, he won’t be around this year. Neu has mixed feelings about that. Disappointed for himself but happy for Baker.

“It’s been awesome to see him be around Darren every day. And even giving our coaching staff availability to him has been amazing,” Neu said. “His insight…just having access to that has been awesome. But for him to get this chance, we’re just really excited for him. It’s such a great opportunity and great team (in Houston).”

The pitching staff was also hit hard by departures,. “We are replacing our top four pitchers. We have a lot of those innings to fill,” Neu said. “But we have a lot of guys who pitched last year and some freshmen who we will bring along.”

Sophomore Sam Stoutenberough, who had an 8-5 record and a 4.52 ERA in 15 games (five starts) a year ago, comes in as the top starter. He figures to be followed by Holman (3-3, 4.52). and Sean Selma (2-1, 5.68), who is coming off a back injury.

“Those guys will have most of the starting innings,” said Neu.  

Sophomore Ian Villers will probably get the first crack at closing. “He didn’t pitch a lot last year, but he’s had a real good fall and spring. He’s got a big arm and can be at the back end of the bullpen.

“We are going to be feeling it out the first few weeks, but we have a lot of options with our depth in general,” Neu said. “We’re still trying to figure out what the roles are going to be. In general, there’s a lot of opportunity and we have a lot of guys who are really excited about getting a chance.”

The Bears play three against Long Beach this weekend, make their way up the coast for a game at UCSB on Monday. The home-opening series, a three-game set against Stl. John’s, starts Feb. 21. 

Neu will not treat these early games as exhibitions, he will try to win every one of them. But he also wants to get a look at his young players in real competition.

“We are going to do whatever we can to put whoever we feel right now is best in the biggest spots,” he said. “But we don’t know yet.  We play four games in four days. I would imagine we are going to use anywhere from 11 or l2 to maybe 14 pitchers in those four games

“Number one, we are going to build them up the right way and keep them healthy. Number two, we want to see guys play and give those guys opportunities and see how they do. I think in some ways it will be a little bit like spring training, but we are going to sell out to win.” 





Cal Baseball Preview: Bears Have Some Big Holes to Fill

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