Cal baseball looks to establish itself after offseason departures

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A year ago today, the Cal baseball team was preparing for a season with a lot to look forward to. The Bears were packed with pro talent and were looking to legitimize themselves as a top Pac-12 contender. Seven MLB draft picks and 11 graduating seniors later, the Bears are now a team in repair.

A helm of fresh faces will walk onto the field as day-one starters. Cal is so inexperienced that junior shortstop Preston Grand Pre is the only veteran returning who has played more than 30 games last year.

“I think we’re going to have to establish ourselves in order to score some runs,” said Cal head coach David Esquer. “We’re going to need to be good at the little things in the game in order to create some offense, and in the midst of that, hopefully we’ll find some big gap power.”

Still, despite all of this, infield players like junior Denis Karas will look to have a big season. In 2016 Karas appeared in 29 games, posting a .319 batting average with a .402 on-base percentage. His best games of the year came May 15 and May 23, acquiring three hits off Northwestern and Utah, respectively.

Sophomore Ripken Reyes is another infielder the Bears will need to rely on if they wish to have a successful season. As a freshman, Reyes appeared in only 16 games, hitting a .250 batting average and a .455 OBP.

The outfield this season will begin with even less experience, as two Bears will return for their sophomore seasons. Jeffrey Mitchell, Jr., who appeared in 25 games last year, will lead the helm despite lacking significant production at the plate. His inability to get on base was shadowed by a .154 batting average.

The mound will be one of the more exciting areas of the Bears to look out for. Junior Erik Martinez will be one of Cal’s most reliable options in the bullpen, having saved eight games for the Bears in 2016. He was recently named by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association as one of the premier relievers in the nation. This was definitely earned after he accumulated a 3.13 ERA last year, finishing with a 3-2 record. He also struck out 45 batters in just 24 appearances.

Opposite of the mound, and catching for the Bears, will be sophomores Tyrus Greene and junior Matt Ruff. Greene has the most experience of the pair, appearing in 15 games and going 3-5.

But there will be no time to rest, as Cal will be competing against powerful contenders right off the bat.

The Bears will enter 2017 with a fresh face, so they will need to play at their absolute best if they want to make an impact this season.

“We need to start with pitching and defense or we won’t be competitive,” Esquer said. “I like our depth on the mound and our ability to throw the ball, we just need to support our pitching. I’ve always said that good pitching and poor defense will always look like poor pitching.”

Alex Quintana covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].