Even for head coach Mark Marquess, who is entering his 39th season at the helm of Stanford’s baseball program, something is different about this upcoming season.
In Monday’s Bay Area Baseball Media Day, the man known colloquially as Nine noted that the outlook for this year’s No. 22 Cardinal, as ranked by the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, is unique for two reasons: the abundance of returning pitchers and the dearth of returning hitters.
Essentially the entire pitching staff that gelled and spurred the Cardinal to an NCAA Super Regional run late last season will be retained this year.
“I’ve never had that happen before,” Marquess said. “If there’s a strength to this year’s team, it should be the pitching staff.”
The entire starting rotation will be made up of veterans, with sophomore Cal Quantrill unsurprisingly slated as the Friday starter, followed by senior left-hander John Hochstatter, junior southpaw Logan James and junior right-hander Marcus Brakeman.
Quantrill is expected to have a monster season. After he gained better control of his secondary pitches towards the end of last year, he ground his way to a 2.68 ERA and dealt 98 strikeouts — the most on the team by a factor of two. With a full offseason of collegiate conditioning and practice under his belt, he was named to four preseason All-America teams and will look to improve on his already-fantastic numbers.
Hochstatter will enter his fourth season as a regular starter for the team. He had a dominant stretch toward the middle to end of last season in which he amassed most of his 10 wins and led the team with a 10-3 record. His 3.36 ERA was also a career-best, and he will bring a 16-9 career record and a 3.81 ERA into his final season.
The final two starters didn’t really fall into place until late last season, but both James and Brakeman played key roles in Stanford’s run through the national playoff bracket — James as the Sunday starter, a role which he will reprise this year, and Brakeman as the stellar long and middle reliever that kept Stanford’s season alive throughout the tournament.
The bullpen is still in flux — Marquess noted that he hasn’t decided who will be his setup man or his closer yet due to the volatility of pitching closer to the start of the season.
“We’re really not sure of who those people are going to be, but the good thing is that we’ve got a lot of different arms that can compete for those roles,” Marquess said.
The flipside of the abundance of pitching, however, is that Stanford will return only three starters from last season in the field, which Marquess noted is among the worst attrition he has seen in his tenure at Stanford.
Edman at second base, Hoffpauir in right field and junior Drew Jackson at shortstop are those three returners. Although Jackson missed some time last season with a broken finger, all three prominently figured into the conversation and will continue to do so as the veterans in the fold.
“It’s nice because you know you have more opportunities, but you don’t get complacent, because you have to perform at all times,” Hoffpauir said. “It is nice not having to worry about, ‘Oh, am I going to play today?’ or stuff like that, but I’m still preparing as hard as I can to do anything to help my team win.”
Outside of those three, Marquess noted that there is still significant uncertainty and the positions are still largely “up for grabs,” with pitching matchups and lineup considerations largely constituting what he’ll do at those positions moving forward.
Junior Jonny Locher, sophomore Jack Klein, junior Austin Barr and sophomore Alex Dunlap will be the returners from last year’s team that have played backup roles in the past but will break into the starting lineup this year. Locher and Klein will man left and center field, respectively, while Barr and Dunlap will split time at first base, designated hitter and occasionally catcher.
There will also be opportunities for the team’s freshmen to make an impact, particularly at catcher and third base. A familiar name will grace the Cardinal’s lineup at third base, as the third of the Diekroeger brothers — Mikey — will look to carve his own legacy on the Farm. He will split time with fellow freshmen Jesse Kuet and Beau Branton, while junior infielder-turned-pitcher-turned-infielder Bobby Zarubin will also join the fray once he recovers from an injury.
“I think the new guys have been really good,” Hoffpauir said. “Really disciplined. The young guys are really mature for their age, hitting-wise. They don’t strike out a lot and put the bat on the ball a lot. I think we’re going to be pretty good.”
It’s also fortunate for Stanford that the pitching staff is made up of veterans because the Cardinal will be in the unenviable position of replacing not one, but two catchers departing to the pros in Brant Whiting and Wayne Taylor. There will be two players slotted into the lineup in a primary platoon at catcher: Matt Decker and Bryce Carter. Marquess noted that Barr and Dunlap at first base are also capable of playing catcher, and all four of those players could figure into the equation there and at first base as well.
Stanford will open the season against familiar foe Indiana, which it stunned in Bloomington last season in the NCAA Regional, for a three-game set this weekend before also welcoming Cal for one game on Monday.
(For a graphic of Stanford’s probable Opening Day starters, click here.)
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.