Despite finishing one game short of a Big West title in 2019, Cal Poly Baseball had its worst offensive season in 25 years of Division I baseball. This season, the team is looking to combine a group of veterans with a strong 2019 recruiting class to improve on last year’s performance.
“Although there’s 10 of 11 [players who started 20 games] returning, it’s still a different team than it was last year,” junior infielder Tate Samuelson said. “So I think having new guys and having a new approach at the plate, put those two together, and I think we’ll flip things around.”
In 2019, Cal Poly posted the lowest batting average (.260), on-base percentage (.341) and slugging percentage (.332) since joining Division I. The Mustangs also recorded the fewest home runs (13), runs scored (247), RBIs (217) and doubles (76) in the same time period.
Head coach Larry Lee was not shy about acknowledging the team’s struggles at the plate last year and emphasized the 2019 recruiting class as a spark-plug for this year’s offense.
“We hit .260 as a team last year, and since I’ve been here it’s the weakest offense that we’ve had,” Lee said. “So we brought in a good group of young players, and those guys will play.”
The 2019 recruiting class was headlined by freshman shortstop Brooks Lee, who hit .405 as a senior at San Luis Obispo High School and was named a Collegiate Baseball High School All-American. Although an injury is keeping him on the bench for the start of the season, Brooks is expected to start at shortstop upon his return. The class also includes offensive powerhouses in sophomore second baseman Taison Corio, freshman third baseman Nick Marinconz and freshman outfielder Kyle Ashworth. Together, the four players combined for a .397 batting average in their senior years of high school.
Samuelson and senior outfielder Bradlee Beesley were quick to point out the young class’s potential contributions to the upcoming season.
“We have a good group of freshmen who are going to come in and contribute quite a bit,” Samuelson said. “With the experience [of our veterans] and the talent level of our freshmen, I think we’re set up for a pretty strong lineup this year.”
“This year we’re going to have a dynamic offense, and we’re also adding a few key pieces, some newcomers who can really thump it,” Beesley said.
While the 2019 recruiting class has talent, it remains to be seen how they are going to perform in a regular season setting.
“We think with this class that we just brought in, we’re much better,” Lee said. “But in saying that, they’re young, they’re first-time players. They have the talent, now it’s just, can they mentally handle the perceived pressure that’s put on them … you don’t know how guys are going to react when lights go on for real,” Lee added.
Along with Samuelson and Beesley, other offensive contributors include junior outfielder Elijah Greene and sophomore second baseman Connor Gurnik. Samuelson led this year’s returning players in batting average, runs scored, slugging percentage and home runs in 2019. Beesley hit .283 last season, good enough for third highest on the team, while Greene followed with a .274 batting average. Among returning players, Gurnik hit a team-leading .310 in home games last season as a redshirt freshman.
The veteran presence put forth by the upperclassmen will have an impact on the performance of the younger players, according to Beesley and Samuelson.
“Our practices are really sharp and clean, everyone knows what’s expected of [the upperclassmen] and we come out every single day with a good mentality,” Beesley said. “And for the new guys, it’s good seeing a bunch of older guys lead the way so we can set the tone for the program for today and in the future.”
While Cal Poly’s offensive performance will remain an unknown until the 2020 campaign begins, the combination of an exciting new group of position players with established leaders is a clear positive for the Mustangs.
“From an offensive standpoint, we’re going to run up against some of the best pitching in the country,” Lee said. “We’ll see. You’re always cautiously optimistic … as long as we play to our capabilities, that’s all you can ask.”