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Talented Stanford team aims for postseason in 9's last season

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Mark Marquess instructs the team last season before a game.
Bob Drebin, stanfordphoto.com

Season No. 41 will be the last for No. 9 at Stanford. Mark Marquess' career at Stanford established him as one of the all-time great college baseball coaches and he talked about the upcoming season -- which is scheduled to start Friday at Cal State Fullerton -- with media Tuesday at the Bay Area Baseball Media Day.

“I’m excited,” he said. “One of the things that I wanted to make sure I did was whenever I did decide to retire I wanted to make sure I hadn’t slipped as far as my energy and drive. I don’t think I’ve done that, yet. Maybe it will disappear, but right now it’s there.”

Marquess need only look at his roster for reasons to feel energized about the season. The Cardinal have been picked to finish second in the Pac-12 after Stanford struggled to a 31-23 (15-15 Pac-12) record last season.

The Cardinal are experienced and confident with almost the entire pitching staff and lineup returning. They have been joined by a talented group of freshmen who are expected to strengthen certain positions.

But, unlike the past two seasons, underclassmen won’t be counted on to carry the load: “I haven’t said this for a number of years, but really we’re a veteran team,” Marquess said.

It’s a notable change for a program that is two years removed from a postseason appearance. The Cardinal reached a Super Regional in 2014 when senior Jack Klein was a freshman. Klein and All-American junior closer Colton Hock joined Marquess at the media day.

“When you go through that highest of high and lowest of lows it builds that character and we play with a chip on our shoulder” Hock said. “It’s one of the most competitive groups I’ve been a part of in my entire life. I’m ready to go out there, embrace 9’s last year and be a special part of it."

Stanford returns Tristan Beck to start Fridays after his Freshman All-American season. Beck will miss the first couple starts with a sore back, Marquess said. The Cardinal have the luxury of covering for Beck’s absence with a host of experienced arms from statistically the conference’s best staff in 2016.

Stanford led the Pac-12 in ERA (3.17), fewest hits allowed, fewest runs allowed and fewest home runs allowed. Simply put, it was difficult to get good contact on last year’s group. Senior lefty Chris Castellanos was 8-2 and will be the Saturday starter when Beck returns. Senior right-hander Brett Hanewich is the No. 3 starter.

Kris Bubic (3.23 ERA with six starts in 2016) will get the nod on many Tuesday games and freshman Erik Miller, a top-25 recruit, also is expected to get some starts.

The staff has so much depth that Andrew Summerville -- who was 5-2 with a 2.90 ERA last season in spot starts and relief -- is in the bullpen. Summerville and Tyler Thorne are expected to be the second and third legs in the relay to get the ball to Hock with a lead.

“That’s the bulk of the pitching staff and hopefully they can do most of the pitching all year,” Marquess said. “They’re very talented and experienced.”

“There is a lot of confidence there,” Hock added about the pitching staff. “The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that this year through the fall and winter that the inter-squad (games) have been really competitive. They’ve been incredible.”

Last year Stanford’s defense committed only 35 errors, besting the previous program best of 49. The combination of sure hands around the mound and an elite pitching staff normally results in more wins, but the lineup struggled mightily with a team batting average of .252 and no regular starter at .300 or better.

Don’t expect the Cardinal to bomb balls over the fence to resurrect the offense. Klein said the Cardinal have worked non-stop to cross home plate with much greater consistency this season.

“For the most part it’s the same crew, so we know our responsibilities and the role we play in the lineup,” he said. “The biggest thing we stressed is how we’re going to get on base, how we’re going to move guys over, and how we’re going to score. And this fall and winter -- the number of times we talked about base running at seven in the morning for 30 minutes, just practicing how to make a tighter turn to save two steps on a double to turn it into a triple. All we’re trying to do is keep getting bases because bases turn into runs. Nine has been all over us on that and it’s been great.”

Three freshmen are in a position to play potentially significant roles in the lineup: infielder Daniel Bakst (New York State player of the year), and outfielders Andrew Daschbach and Kyle Stowers.

“I’m very proud of this team and the work ethic in the fall and early workouts,” Marquess said. “I think that has a lot to do with the senior leaders. We have tremendous leaders. The work ethic and determination is as good as any team I’ve had. I’m excited about that.”

Tentative depth chart as of Tuesday

Table Name
Column 1 Column 2 Column 3

Catcher

Alex Dunlap

Bryce Carter

First base

Matt Winaker

Second base

Duke Kinamon

Daniel Bakst

Shortstop

Nico Hoerner

Third base

Mikey Diekroeger

Daniel Bakst

Left field

Alec Wilson

Brandon Wulff

Center field

Jack Klein

Right field

Quinn Brodey

Outfield

Andrew Daschbach

Kyle Stowers

DH

Alec Wilson

Brandon Wulff

Certain players are locked into their positions, such as Dunlap and Winaker. Dunlap was the team's leading hitter last season and will start most games at catcher. Marquess said Winaker is one of the best defensive first basemen he's ever had.

Quinn Brodey and Jack Klein will consistently be in their listed positions, but Wilson, Wulff, Daschbach and Stowers will move around the outfield and fill in at DH. When Carter catches then Dunlap will likely be the DH.

Bakst "will battle to play second or third," Marquess said, and has the ability to push for time at either spot.

Mikey Diekroeger is the third and final brother from that family to play for Marquess: "I’m sorry there aren’t more Diekroegers," he said, smiling.

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