The roster Cal Poly Baseball has put together for the 2023 season looks very different from the 2022 team. There were many departures, including superstar shortstop Brooks Lee and right-handed ace Drew Thorpe.
While there are some returning starters to the lineup and pitching rotation, there are many more new faces all throughout with transfers and freshmen.
11 of the 17 newcomers on the roster are freshmen, and six of those freshmen have seen playing time so far this season, with one-third of the starting lineup consisting of first years.
The freshmen in the starting lineup include third baseman Tate Shimao, outfielder Wyatt King and first baseman/designated hitter Evan Cloyd while right-handed pitcher Freddy Rodriguez is seeing consistent time out of the bullpen.
The three position players have started every game they’ve played in and combined for 45 total starts so far this season, as of March 18.
“They got thrown into the fire early on, and they did well,” head coach Larry Lee said.
Why Cal Poly?
Making a decision as to where you’re going to play baseball for the next four years along with earning your degree isn’t an easy one to make. So, what attracted these players to play for Cal Poly in the first place?
Well, the players shared a lot of the same reasons.
“I was really looking forward to playing for Coach Lee and playing in this program with the past success they’ve had,” Rodriguez said.
Cloyd also cited Lee as one of the key factors in deciding to join the Mustangs.
“Coach Lee is the best coach in the country, in my opinion, bar none,” Cloyd said. “Especially the best hitting coach in the country.”
Along with making a decision like this, the transition from high school to college isn’t an easy one and the players have had plenty to adjust to.
“You can’t really take a pitch off, you can’t slack off in really any aspect when you’re on the field,” Rodriguez said.
It’s already hard enough moving away from home and getting used to a new environment, but these players also have to adjust to a whole new level of difficulty in the game they play.
“For me, it’s been the pace of the game, how fast it is and how much more work and time you’re putting in,” King said.
A Game of Firsts
All of these players made their collegiate debuts in the first game of the season against Missouri State, and they all made their mark.
Shimao went 1-for-6 with three RBIs, Cloyd went 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs, King went 1-for-2 with a walk and Rodriguez pitched a one-run inning and struck out two.
From the hitters’ perspective, King and Shimao recorded their first collegiate hits and Cloyd blasted his first home run.
“First at-bat, I got an earful from Coach Lee because I swung at the first pitch,” Cloyd said. “So the next at-bat, I got myself into a good count, sat on a pitch and put a good swing on it.”
Meanwhile, Rodriguez picked up his first strikeouts en route to the 15-5 win.
“The first strikeout was a big eye opener in that it’s just a baseball game,” Rodriguez said. “It’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. It was a good feeling.”
Pre-game nerves are something that tends to rattle some players going into their first few games, but these players didn’t let it get to them, and Cloyd mentioned the help of a veteran on the team.
“I wouldn’t call it nervous, I was more excited,” Cloyd said. “What made me not nervous was Joe [Yorke] telling me that nervousness and excitement are the same feeling, it’s just how you interpret that feeling.”
Junior first baseman Joe Yorke has been acknowledged by the newcomers as someone they can go to whenever they need advice or baseball knowledge and is someone that keeps everyone together.
“He’s kind of like the team parent,” King said. “He’s honestly taught me a lot about the program and what it’s about.”
Coming Into Their Own
While it’s still early in the season, these players are quickly coming into their own and establishing a presence on this team.
“They’re all very, very hard workers and you hope that the experience they’re getting in real game situations will pay off soon,” Lee said.
With the injuries of Yorke and junior outfielder Jake Steels earlier this season, Cloyd and King had to step into those respective roles and haven’t had a hard time taking over.
In the time Steels and Yorke were out, King recorded a .450 on-base percentage while Cloyd, although wasn’t all too stellar with his bat, filled in great on defense.
“Coach Lee has really prepared me in every aspect, making practice and intersquads harder than the games,” Cloyd said. “So everything is a lot slower and, in my opinion, a lot easier”
Making their debuts together and being thrust into the action so early has brought them closer together in a way, as it’s rare that this amount of freshmen are starting together at the same time.
“We’ve spent every day together for the past seven or eight months, so it’s made us a really cohesive group and closer together,” King said.
One aspect of this togetherness, according to Shimao, stems from shared hardships.
“I feel like whenever you struggle or do something difficult together it definitely brings you together,” Shimao said.
While the Mustangs are off to a shaky start this season, it hasn’t affected their drive to compete and continue improving, highlighting the strong mindset of these freshmen in a sport where mindset is key.
“We’re just looking to get better every day,” Rodriguez said. “Reset every day and try to get a win and try to build up a consistent pace with the team.”
With this mindset in place, King and the rest of the contributing freshmen see improvement on the horizon.
“Every single game is a step towards improvement for us and it’s definitely difficult, but we’re all going through it together,” King said. “We can only go up from here.”