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SoCal Opening Weekend Preview

The season begins today! To get you ready for the opening weekend of Southern California baseball action, we’ve got where the teams will be playing along with an Around the Horn preview of series to watch. In this opening weekend preview, I also give you the preseason version of Shotgun’s SoCal Squad, your All-Southern California Team.

Teams wil be trying to start strong to open the season and there is an opportunity for teams to makes some noise. Long Beach State travels to Nashville, Tenn. to take on the second-ranked Commodores of Vanderbilt.

USC and Cal State Fullerton will start the SoCal interstitial matchups with an Opening Day battle that will see coach Dan Hubbs managing as a head coach for the first time. USC and Fullerton will then split the remainder of the weekend against Cal State Bakersfield and B1G member Nebraska.

The toughest test in the SoCal area will be for UC Riverside, which is participating in Oregon State’s Palm Springs Tournament along with the Beavers, Gonzaga and Utah Valley. UC Irvine, UCLA and Pepperdien all welcome foes from halfway across the country while Loyola Marymount will welcome the Pac-12’s cellar dweller, Utah.

Where They’ll Be This Weekend:

In SoCal:
USC, Nebraska (DH) at #22 Cal State Fullerton (Fri, Sat)
St. Mary’s at Cal State Northridge
Utah at Loyola Marymount
Western Michigan at Pepperdine
San Diego State at #25 San Diego
Baylor at UC Irvine
Minnesota at #7 UCLA
Nebraska at USC (Sun only)
UC Riverside at Palm Springs Tournament (Gonzaga, Utah Valley, Oregon State, Oregon State)

On the Road:
#22 Cal State Fullerton at Cal State Bakersfield (Sun only)
USC at Cal State Bakersfield (Sat)
Long Beach State at #2 Vanderbilt

All Eyes On:

Christening the New Park – It’s going to be a weekend of firsts for San Diego. The Toreros will officially open Fowler Park — their brand new $13.8 million ballpark that comes complete with bright lights and a nice big scoreboard. Gone are the metal bleachers and steep staircase with no handrails. Now the field features 1,700 permanent chair-back seats with a capacity that can be increased to 3,000 if/when San Diego hosts postseason play.

Dylan Covey will throw the first pitch at Fowler Park..

For the first ever games on Cunningham Field at Fowler Park and the program’s first-ever home night games, what better opponent than crosstown rival San Diego State? Tickets for the opening weekend series are already sold out. All eyes will be on the rivals as the first two games, Friday and Saturday night, will be televised on FOX Sports San Diego.

Junior Dylan Covey will get the start for San Diego and face off against Aztecs’ flame throwing sophomore Michael Cederoth, who has garnered some comparisons to former No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg due to Cederoth’s size and triple-digit potential fastball. San Diego’s Michael Wagner, who led the country in saves for the majority of last season, moves into the starting rotation on a full-time basis after starting games at the end of the season.

San Diego State’s veteran rotation will be filled out by junior Philip Walby and senior Ryan Doran. They’ll face a potent Toreros lineup led by All-American 3B/OF Kris Bryant. If the 6-foot-5 slugger can put up another .366/.483/.671 slash line and 14 home runs, he’ll be a first round pick, if not the first college bat off the board.

Around the Horn:

1st Base: Taking Over – On Wednesday, USC announced the firing of Frank Cruz as head coach for “knowingly violating” NCAA CARA rules. Without much thought, the university then handed over the reigns of the most successful program in the history of college baseball to associate head coach/pitching coach Dan Hubbs.

The 42-year-old Hubbs has never been the leader of a program. He is a strong pitching coach as evidenced by his track record at Cal, but how will he be as the head man. Hubbs lineups and decision-making will be something to keep an eye on all weekend. The Trojans will play at No. 22 Cal State Fullerton to open the season on Friday followed by a trip up to Cal State Bakersfield before completing the weekend against visiting Nebraska.

Hubbs will likely send out a pair of southpaws in junior Bob Wheatley and freshman Kyle Twomey, sandwiching righty Saturday starter Wyatt Strahan. USC will need freshmen outfielders Timmy Robinson and Vahn Bosoian and senior transfer Greg Zebrack to knock the ball around after the offensively challenged Trojans lost three of their top five hitters from last season.

Andrew Thurman will anchor the Irvine staff.

2nd Base: Health Packs – Have the Anteaters stocked up on health packs throughout the level (preseason) to make sure they can defeat the difficult end-of-level boss that is the season? Last season, UC Irvine was decimated by injuries, particularly in the starting rotation. This season, coach Mike Gillespie gets lefty Matt Whitehouse (4-0, 2.12 ERA in 2011) back with Andrew Thurman, who emerged as an ace last season. Evan Brock will join the rotation after compiling a 2.12 ERA in 18 appearances (2 starts) last season.

Kyle Hooper is also back after compiling a 1.30 ERA in 27 2/3 innings before being sidelined for the majority of last season with a fractured elbow. Just as important is the return of senior catcher Ronnie Shaeffer behind the dish. His veteran leadership should make a pitching staff that finished with a 3.25 ERA, despite multiple injuries, even that much better.

But the question will be who is going to get hits after four of the top five hitters graduated? Against Baylor this weekend, expect some low-scoring affairs. Whoever can manufacture a run or two may take the series.

3rd Base: Aces Up – One of the best pitching matchups in the country this weekend will take place Friday night at Jackie Robinson Stadium. UCLA junior Adam Plutko will face off with Minnesota left-hander Tom Windle, who was one of the top southpaws in the Cape Cod League this summer. Bruins ace Plutko features a low 90s fastball with decent movement, a solid slider and an above-average changeup. After being the Sunday starter behind Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer his freshman year, the preseason All-American enters his second year as the staff ace.

Windle is a potential first round pick this year, measuring in at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds. A shoulder injury limited his 2012 season, but he was healthy by the summer when he showed a 90-93 mph fastball. His freshman season he used a slider as his go to off-speed, but worked a curveball-changeup combo more in 2012. After Windle, Minnesota is likely to struggle with a pair of expected starters recovering from injuries to begin the season.

Last season, UCLA struggled opening weekend, losing a series to Maryland at home. Will this season’s Bruins be able to find some offense after losing their top two catchers and entire outfield to the MLB Draft?

Grahamm Wiest is the old man of the rotation.

Home: Fullerton Freshmen – With five games in five days, Cal State Fullerton is going to rely on a young pitching staff to contribute early. But that’s nothing new. Last season, the Titans broke in an entirely new weekend rotation and only had two significant returning players, but the staff finished with a 3.18 ERA helped by a 1.8 walks per nine innings rate.

Freshman Thomas Eshelman will get the start on Friday night against USC after a strong spring. Veteran Grahamm Wiest will take the ball in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader with Nebraska, but it will be another freshman, Justin Garza, starting the second game of the day. Many people are high on Garza. Despite his smaller frame (5-foot-11, 160 pounds), Garza can run his fastball up to 94-95 mph. Another young pitcher, sophomore J.D. Davis is likely to get the ball on Sunday.

The Titans do return some experience at the backend of the bullpen, highlighted by preseason All-American Michael Lorenzen. Fullerton’s offense should be stellar with the entire core returning led by Lorenzen, Carlos Lopez, Richy Pedroza and Matt Chapman.

Preseason Shotgun’s SoCal Squad:

First Team

C – Colton Plaia (Loyola Marymount)
1B – Sam Meyer (Pepperdine)
2B – Kevin Williams (UCLA)
SS – Richy Pedroza (Fullerton)
3B – Kris Bryant (San Diego)
OF – Michael Lorenzen (Fullerton)
OF – Greg Zebrack (USC)
OF – Matt Lowenstein (Loyola Marymount)
DH – Carlos Lopez (Fullerton)

SP – Adam Plutko (UCLA)
SP – Jerry Keel (Northridge)
SP – Michael Wagner (San Diego)
SP – Andrew Thurman (Irvine)
RP – David Berg (UCLA)
CL – Race Parmenter (Irvine)

Second Team

C – Clayton Prestridge (Riverside)
1B – Ryan Muno (San Diego St.)
2B – Adam Landecker (USC)
SS – Andrew Daniel (San Diego)
3B – Matt Chapman (Fullerton)
OF – Aaron Brown (Pepperdine)
OF – Louie Lechich (San Diego)
OF – Greg Allen (San Diego St.)
DH – Cody Regis (UCLA)

SP – Michael Cederoth (San Diego St.)
SP – Nick Vander Tuig (UCLA)
SP – Trevor Megill (Loyola Marymount)
SP – Scott Frazier (Pepperdine)
RP – Justin Hepner (San Diego St.)
CL – Bret Dahlson (Loyola Marymount)

– Freshmen were not included.
– UCLA had the most players total (5) and was tied with Fullerton for the most First Team members (3).
– Loyola Marymount, Fullerton, San Diego & San Diego State each had four selections.
– Long Beach State is the only school not represented.

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