Almost one year after their 2020 season was cut short after 16 games, Cal Poly Baseball is gearing up for a full season in 2021.
“Our players and coaches are looking forward to competing and playing as many games as possible,” Head Coach Larry Lee said.
Their season kicks off on Friday, Feb. 19 against Nevada inside Baggett Stadium.
The biggest storyline for Mustang Baseball over the past calendar year has been how the team navigated an offseason full of restrictions and guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The team’s 2020 season was cancelled prior to a four game series against the University of Oklahoma on March 12, 2020. Since then, the majority of the team has not seen any game action, including redshirt senior catcher Myles Emmerson.
“The long offseason was definitely hard because we had to go so long without seeing any pitching,” Emmerson said. “But we’re planning on taking it one game at a time and everything should fall into place if we do that.”
Emmerson, who was one of two Mustangs to be named to the Big West Preseason All-Conference Team by Perfect Game, will be looking to build off of a very hot start in last year’s shortened season. He was the lone senior of the five last season to return, using his extra year of eligibility granted due to his senior season being cut short.
“I think I proved last season that I am one of the best hitters in this conference and that I can bring a lot to the table,” Emmerson said.
In 2020, Emmerson led the Mustang offense by hitting .317 with 20 hits to go along with five RBIs and stellar defense behind the plate. Along with his impact offensively, Lee said he thinks Emmerson will have a major effect on the defensive side of the ball.
“[Emmerson] is a very high end player with an impact on offense and defense,” Lee said. “He is very knowledgeable about the game and he makes our pitchers better when he is behind the plate.”
The other Mustang who was named to the Big West Preseason All Conference Team is redshirt freshman shortstop Brooks Lee. Brooks, who recorded just two plate appearances due to an injury last season, was also projected by Perfect Game to end the season as the Big West’s Player of the Year.
“It feels great to be back out here,” Brooks said. “I’m super excited to get out there and showcase my abilities and what I can offer to the team.”
Despite it being a long offseason full of uncertainty, Larry said that the team “hasn’t missed a beat this fall and winter.”
“We’ve had very few setbacks and none of our players have tested positive since we’ve been in school in the fall,” Larry said. “[The players] used the down time to their advantage and it’s very evident in their strength and power now compared to last year.”
With Brooks and Emmerson looking to lead the offensive attack after the strenuous offseason this year for the Mustangs, the Cal Poly pitching staff will hope to improve from last season as well.
Emmerson, Brooks and Larry Lee each highlighted the pitching when asked about the strengths of their program compared to last season.
“Starting pitching is definitely a strength and when we start playing four-game series in conference that’s going to help a lot,” Larry said. “I think we have five capable starters going into the season.”
Emmerson, who has been with the Mustangs for five seasons, compared this year’s pitching staff to that of years prior.
“This is the first year I’ve been here where we have a handful of guys that can come out of the bullpen,” Emmerson said. “We have a really good staple of arms to use this season.”
Despite losing starting pitcher Taylor Dollard to the MLB Draft after last season, the team remains confident in their pitching this year. One of the biggest reasons for this confidence is the breakout of redshirt freshman Drew Thorpe last season. Thorpe, who made four starts in his debut season, ended 2020 with a record of 1-1 and a 3.21 ERA, including dominant performances against Vanderbilt, BYU and Baylor.
Thorpe will lead a rotation that will hope to succeed in a Big West Conference full of powerful offenses, including newly added UC San Diego and CSU Bakersfield.
One of the biggest roadblocks when preparing for a season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is scheduling and making sure all players are as safe as possible throughout the season. There was some uncertainty as to whether or not the baseball season would include non-conference play this season or if the Big West would opt to only have games be played within the conference.
However, the Mustangs will play in four non-conference series against Nevada, USC, Utah Valley and UCLA.
Playing a highly ranked team like UCLA, which is ranked No. 2 in Baseball America’s Preseason Top 25, is important for the team during non-conference play according to Larry.
“Each and every year we want to play the strongest non-conference schedule possible,” Larry said. “It prepares us for Big West play and it’s always good to challenge yourself before you get into conference play so you can measure your strength as a team.”
Larry also mentioned that conference games will be played in four-game series, giving the Mustangs 56 games on their schedule, which is the maximum allowed at the moment.
Despite the questionable nature of scheduling during a pandemic, the players said they are not worried about who they will be playing this season.
“We are just trying to win as many games as possible and take advantage of the time that we have this year,” Brooks said. “It’s all about winning our conference and hopefully hosting a regional to bring a better atmosphere to Cal Poly.”
From making their way through a confusing offseason to trying to bounce back from a canceled season in 2020, Cal Poly Baseball is looking for success in 2021.
“The culture with this team is there,” Emmerson said. “I definitely think we can make it to Omaha this year.”