Winning. That is what is expected of the Cal Poly baseball team every season. Even with six players from last year’s team signing Major League Baseball (MLB) contracts, head coach Larry Lee said he expects to field the same type of competitive team next season.
“The goal every year is to compete for league championships, earn regional berths and advance in the tournament,” Lee said.
In order for Cal Poly to compete for a Big West Championship and improve upon its 27-26 record, the team will have to successfully replace a pitching staff that was one of the best in the conference.
Ace Mason Radeke, who went 8-4 last season with a 3.07 ERA, and closer Jeff Johnson, who racked up 40 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings, are now pitching in the Cleveland Indians’ organization and Saturday starter Steven Fischback graduated.
Junior pitcher Joey Wagman is expected to compete for a spot in the rotation. After pitching 64 2/3 innings last season, he spent his summer playing for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters.
Wagman started seven games last season and boasted a 3.62 ERA. He said he hopes the play time he got in Wisconsin will help him to develop a cutter and improve his fastball’s command to better those numbers.
“It’s great (in Wisconsin),” Wagman said. “I love the atmosphere, and since it’s a small town and there is not a lot to do, we get great crowds.”
Wagman, Chase Johnson and Kyle Anderson are the only other pitchers returning with starting experience. And for Johnson, expectations will be high next spring. The highly recruited right-hander from San Diego chose Cal Poly over UCLA and Stanford, and tallied 34 strikeouts in 49 innings as a freshman.
Lee said he is encouraged that players such as Johnson, Wagman and other Mustangs, are playing summer baseball.
“Summertime allows players to work on the fundamentals like defense and base running,” Lee said. “And they don’t have to hear our voices, which is a good thing.”
Summer baseball will help prepare the Mustangs for the challenges they will face in the Big West.
In recent seasons, the Big West has emerged as one of the better baseball conferences on the West Coast. Cal State Fullerton won the national championship in 2004, and UC Irvine is an annual contender for Super Regional berths.
“The entire Big West is competitive and one of the best conferences in the country,” Lee said. “This season we expect Long Beach State to be improved.”
Increased offensive production will also be needed to offset the losses to the pitching staff. The Mustangs’ lineup will have to compensate for the loss of two of their best hitters to the MLB draft. Standout outfielder Bobby Crocker, who led the team with a .339 average last season, is taking his talents to the Oakland Athletics, and the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted second baseman Matt Jensen, who hit .209 last season in the 31st round.
Assistant coach Jason Kelly said it will take a collective effort to replace the production of Crocker and Jensen.
“We are going to have to work hard to manufacture runs this season without Crocker in the lineup,” Kelly said. “We are going to play more small ball this season.”
The Mustangs will count on former Big West Freshman of the Year Mitch Haniger to be a threat in the middle of the lineup, while junior Denver Chavez is poised to have his best offensive year since coming to Cal Poly.
“We struggled offensively, and that’s a concern, but we expect an incoming position player or two to compete for,” Lee said.
Cal Poly will field a young team next spring. But if Lee has a say in how his team performs next season, he will make sure they continue winning.