Baseball Season Is Upon Us
Big West Baseball Release - Week 1
This Week In The Big West
• The Cal State Fullerton Titans have been tabbed the team to beat in 2016 as they begin their quest to defend the Big West Conference title, according to the nine conference coaches that voted on the 2016 Big West baseball preseason poll. The Titans earned four first-place votes en route to a total of 71 points while UC Irvine, who received one first-place vote, holds the second spot with 65 points. Long Beach State secured the third slot after earning three first-place votes for a total of 62 points and the Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara picked up the final first-place vote and tallied 60 points to finish fourth.
With 44 total points, CSUN clinched the fifth spot and Cal Poly, who captured its first-ever title in 2014, landed sixth with 43 points. Hawai’i ranked seventh with 27 points and was followed by UC Riverside (17) and UC Davis (16).
• Last fall Collegiate Baseball announced its annual evaluation of the NCAA Division I recruiting classes and Cal State Fullerton and UC Santa Barbara landed a spot on the list. The Titans secured the 24th spot while the Gauchos grabbed the 36th slot. Other Big West teams recognized as having notable recruiting classes were UC Riverside, UC Irvine, Cal Poly and Long Beach State. The CBN’s ranking uses only players who joined their respective programs for the 2015-16 school year and excludes all signees who decided to sign a professional contract.
• A trio of Big West Conference players were among the 70 players named to the initial watch list for the 12th annual National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) Stopper of the Year Award, given to the top relief pitcher in NCAA Division I baseball, the association announced Monday. Making up the trio are Cal State Fullerton’s Chad Hockin, CSUN’s Conner O’Neil and Long Beach State Ty Provencher.
• USA Baseball announced its 50-player preseason Golden Spikes Award watch list, an honor given to the top amateur baseball player in the country, and UC Irvine’s Keston Hiura made the elite list. Hiura, the 2015 Big West Freshman Player of the Year, earned a First-Team All-America nod from the NCBWA. The Valencia, Calif., native concluded his freshman campaign ranked seventh in the Big West in batting at .330 and fifth with a .520 slugging percentage. He tied for second with 75 hits and ninth with 40 runs scored. Hiura boasted seven home runs, setting a UCI freshman record. The outfielder played both the center and the left-field positions, posting a .975 fielding percentage. Hiura has received multiple preseason All-America accolades.
• A selection of Big West baseball games will be carried on ESPN3 this season with all games originating from Southern California member institutions Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, UC Irvine and UC Riverside. Every Big West team will make an appearance on the televised baseball schedule.
Through the Big West’s new mobile production facility, each game will be produced by the Conference utilizing full ESPN production standards, including graphics, replay and on-air crew. It is the first fully operational mobile production unit of its kind that expands upon what ESPN Emerging Technology has already done at the institutional level.
Every game on ESPN’s platforms is available through WatchESPN, accessible online at WatchESPN.com, on smartphones and tablets via the WatchESPN app, through ESPN on Xbox LIVE to Gold members, on Apple TV and Roku to fans who receive their video subscription from an affiliated provider.
Fighting For Position: Cal Poly returns just two position players and eight pitchers off a team that finished 27-27 overall a year ago, placing fourth in the Big West at 14-10. The Mustangs are led by junior catcher/first baseman Brett Barbier, who hit .253 with nine doubles, four triples and three home runs.
Home Sweet Home: Cal Poly kicks off the new year with a season-opening, 12-game homestand. The Mustangs produced a 17-11 record at home in 2015.
CAL STATE FULLERTON
Preseason Love: Cal State Fullerton begins 2016 ranked in a variety of publications’ top 25, with its highest ranking of 12th coming from Collegiate Baseball.
Offensive Spark Plugs Return: The Titans welcome back All-Big West First Team members Josh Vargas and Jerrod Bravo. In 2015, Vargas led the team in hitting, posting a .332 batting average in 199 at-bats. Bravo hit .318, finishing third on the team and posted a team-best .451 on-base percentage.
Familiar Faces: The Matadors return 16 letterwinners including a majority of their starters from last season, which includes All-Big West Honorable Mention members William Colantono and Conner O’Neil and Angel Rodriguez.
Shutting Things Down: Junior Conner O’Neil returns after a stellar season as the Matadors’ closer. O’Neil (3-2) set the school’s all-time single season save mark with 12 while posting a microscopic 1.89 ERA in his first season with the team.
LONG BEACH STATE
A New Home...Sorta: The initial phase of renovations for Blair Field took place in the offseason and the result is a more hitter-friendly park as the outfield fence was brought in. The move is expected to yield more offensive production from a venue which allowed just four combined home runs in 2015. Fans will get a taste of the new park right out of the gates as LBSU opens 2016 hosting a weekend series against Holy Cross.
Welcome Back: This season the Dirtbags will be led by 2016 Preseason All-Americans short stop Garrett Hampson and pitcher Chris Mathewson.
Veteran Team Returns: UC Davis returns 18 letter winners and a pair of position starters off of last year’s squad, led by senior outfielder Tanner Bily, who hit .255 with 32 runs scored and 20 RBI, and sophomore infielder Brad Pluschkell, who was solid at the “hot corner” with a .973 fielding percentage during his Division I debut season.
Aggies Open At Home: The Aggies open the 2016 season with a five-game homestand that begins this weekend with a weekend series against Portland.
Power Duo: UC Irvine welcomes back a pair of All-Big West First Team recipients in Keston Hiura and Mikey Duarte. In 2015 Hiura, the 2015 Big West Freshman Player of the Year, ranked seventh in the Big West in batting at .330 and fifth with a .520 slugging percentage. He tied for second with 75 hits and ninth with 40 runs scored. Duarte was the conference’s leader in hits with 77, while finishing fifth with a .341 batting average and tied for second with 43 runs scored. Duarte was stellar defensively, committing just six errors for a .978 fielding percentage at shortstop.
New Face On Campus: The Highlanders kick off 2016 with back-to-back, four-game weekend series at the UC Riverside Sports Complex. Kansas State visits this weekend and Washington heads to SoCal the following week.
All-Big West Standout: All-Big West Second Team outfielder Vince Fernandez returns to the Highlander lineup this season. Fernandez had a breakout year for the Highlanders, finishing 10th in the league during the regular season in batting average (.316), ninth in hits (65), fourth in home runs (7), fourth in slugging percentage (.524), sixth in triples (3), seventh in RBIs (34) and 15th in stolen bases (9).
UC SANTA BARBARA
A Look Back: The Gauchos are coming off a historic 2015 season in which they set a program record for wins against DI opponents (40) while hosting an NCAA Regional for the first time.
A Look Back: UCSB welcomes back a healthy crop returners, highlighted by outfielder Andrew Calica and pitchers Shane Bieber and Kyle Nelson. Calica is a career .321 hitter at the Division I level. Bieber earned a All-Big West Second Team nod after recording an 8-4 mark and a 2.24 ERA, co-leading the Big West in wins. In his rookie season, Nelson went 3-1 with a 0.75 ERA out of the bullpen to earn Freshman All-America honors.
UH Opened Season With 1-1 Record: Hawai’i kicked off the 2016 season a week earlier than the rest of the nation as it visited UH-Hilo, for the Rainbow Warriors first season-opening road contest since 1994. Hawai’i dropped its first contest, 0-1, before rebounding to an 11-9 victory on day two.
Flashback: The Rainbow Warriors are coming off their best Big West finish (12-12) since joining the league in 2013, coming in fifth in the conference standings and generating a 21-32 overall record.