If there’s one thing Stanford has done the past couple of seasons, it has restored order in terms of making the NCAA tournament. And this year shouldn't be different, as the Cardinal enter the season ranked No. 17 in D1Baseball.com's preseason top 25.
Below are a few facts to consider when breaking down the 2020 Stanford team:
2019 record: 45-14 (22-7 Pac 12)
Coach (record at school): Dave Esquer (91–26 in 2 seasons)
Ballpark: Sunken Diamond (4,000)
Postseason history: 34 regionals (active streak: 3), 16 CWS trips (last in 2008), 2 national titles
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In this preview of Stanford's 2020 season, we've graded the Cardinal in each characteristic of the game: Hitting, power, speed, defense, starting pitching, bullpen and experience/intangibles. But before we begin, let's present our projected lineup for Stanford in 2020.
Stanford's projected lineup
|C||Christian Molfetta, RS-Sr.||.167/.231/.417||0||1||0|
|1B||Nick Brueser, Jr.||.224/.355/.365||2||16||2|
|2B||Brandon Dieter, So.||.208/.284/.278||1||12||0|
|3B||Nick Bellafronto, RS-Sr.||.258/.383/.492||6||32||1|
|SS||Tim Tawa, Jr.||.253/.284/.410||8||37||6|
|LF||Brock Jones, Fr.||FR--Clovis, Calif. (Buchanan)|
|CF||Christian Robinson, Jr.||.287/.386/.370||0||15||8|
|RF||Henry Gargus, Fr.||FR--Yakima, Wash. (Davis)|
|DH||Kody Huff, Fr.||FR--Scottsdale, Ariz. (Horizon)|
Stanford's weekend rotation/closer
|SP #1||Brendan Beck, Jr.||5-4||3.63||91.2||83||25||0|
|SP #2||Jacob Palisch, Jr.||5-2||4.79||56.1||48||21||0|
|SP #3||Alex Williams, So.||8-1||2.56||63.1||43||8||0|
|Closer||Cody Jensen, So.||1-0||3.55||33||32||11||1|
Grading the Cardinal: Just as scouts grade prospects using the 20-80 scouting scale, we use a 20-80 scale to evaluate teams in our top 25. A score of 50 in each category is average, relative to a typical NCAA tournament team; 55 is slightly above-average; 60 is above-average (plus); 70 is well above-average (plus-plus); 80 is top of the scale, historically strong. Accordingly, 45 is fringe-average or slightly below-average; 40 is below-average; 30 is well below-average; and 20 is the extreme in that direction.
There’s no doubt the Cardinal will need several guys to step up for this team to be highly productive from an offensive standpoint. After all, they’re replacing their top five hitters. But there’s some potential with the returning cast and the additions to the roster.
Christian Molfetta had a terrific fall from an offensive standpoint and is ready for a breakout campaign, Brandon Dieter did some special things in the fall offensively after hitting .208 last season and Nick Brueser, Christian Robinson and Nick Bellafronto each had good falls from an offensive standpoint.
Stanford also has a wealth of confidence in junior utility player Tim Tawa, who has hit his first two seasons with the program, while also generating some power production.
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In terms of newcomers, Henry Gargus is a powerful left-handed bat with big-time juice on the barrel. He arrived at Stanford with a torn hamstring, so he is just now healthy and showing off his stuff. But he’s now healthy and is pushing for a starting job. Meanwhile, Jones is a really good runner and can make things happen a variety of ways. There’s also freshman Kody Huff, who will serve as the backup catcher and likely will start at DH to begin the season. He had a solid fall at the plate as well.
Stanford’s offense is far from a finished product, but there’s definite potential.
Generating home run power could be a chore for this team.
The Cardinal had one of the nation’s better home run hitting teams last season. And get this, the Cardinal must replace a whopping 68 home runs from 2019. Not easy to do.
With that said, there are some power options.
Bellafronto and Tawa had six and eight home runs, respectively, last season, and it’s conceivable to think they’ll increase production this season.
Nick Brueser also has some gap power, Dieter showed immense improvement with the bat in the fall and Henry Gargus should be an immediate impact young bat for the Cardinals. He has shown impressive power since missing the fall while rehabbing a hamstring injury.
The Cardinal isn’t totally void of speed, but this isn’t a team that will blow you away in that department.
How the Cardinal lines up from a speed standpoint will essentially depend on how head coach Dave Esquer wants to construct the lineup.
Robinson is the top returning base stealer with eight last season, while Tawa had six for the Cardinal last season. Robinson can really run and likely will be more aggressive this spring, while freshman Brock Jones, who also plays football, has impressed with his athleticism and speed since joining the baseball team this semester.
Also keep an eye on freshman infielder Owen Cobb. Cobb is an athletic and speedy guy – it’s just a matter of finding a way for him to get into the lineup with the competition across many positions on the field.
Defense should be a strong suit for this club.
Molfetta had a strong fall and should be a stable force behind the plate, while Bellafronto is an experienced guy at the hot corner. The shortstop position will be interesting to watch. The Cardinal has Tawa slated to start there. However, keep an eye on someone like Adam Crampton to potentially start there as well. Crampton reminds some of Arizona State shortstop Drew Swift as a freshman last season. He is still a little light with the bat, but his defensive skill set is spectacular. If Crampton indeed starts at shortstop, that would move Tawa to center field, move Robinson to one of the corner spots and likely knock either Jones or Gargus out of the everyday lineup.
Speaking of the outfield, that unit is in good shape, too, with the athletic Robinson leading the charge.
Starting pitching: 65
The Cardinal might have some question marks on this team, but the starting rotation isn’t one of them with Brenden Beck, Jacob Palisch and Alex Williams leading the charge.
Beck has seen an uptick in velocity since last season and is primed to have yet another strong season. He has excellent command of the zone and will bring a steady presence to the mound. Meanwhile, Palisch struggled at times last season. But the Cardinal feels like last year was an aberration after he put together a solid fall and showed increased velocity. This past summer at the Cape Cod League, Palisch, a talented left hander, sat 88-91 mph with his fastball, along with a quality slider and changeup that sat in the low-80s. He turns over his off-speed well, producing solid arm-side fade, and his slider comes with short, sharp action that mirrors the fastball and changeup well.
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Williams, a right hander, put together a solid 2019 campaign. But he made his biggest statement of all by pitching brilliantly in an elimination game against Fresno State in the Stanford Regional last June. Williams, like Beck, has added a couple of mph to his fastball velocity and is primed to have another strong season.
The midweek starting job is up in the air at this point, but two guys are in the mix for it — graduate transfer Jackson Parthasarathy and freshman left-hander Quinn Mathews.
Parthasarathy has a physical 6-foot-3, 227-pound frame and sat 86-88 mph with his fastball in the fall, along with a slider and feel for a changeup. He didn’t throw the changeup often during his days at Rice, so that’s a new addition to his arsenal. Meanwhile, Mathews is an electric young arm who was anywhere from 88-91 mph with his fastball in the fall, along with a plus changeup and good command. The Cardinal might prefer Parthasarathy as a starter and Mathews as a reliever, but we’ll see what they do come Opening Week.
The Cardinal has several solid options from a bullpen standpoint.
Sophomore right-hander Cody Jensen and senior right-hander Zach Grech are the headliners. Jensen has a unique delivery and can get downhill with the ball very fast. It’s an uncomfortable look and at bat, especially as he continues to improve his secondary stuff. Meanwhile, Grech is an effective reliever who led the team in appearances last season. Grech is a submariner who reminds the coaching staff of Houston Astros reliever Joe Smith with his funk and effectiveness. Last season, Grech put together impressive numbers with just seven walks in 44 innings of work.
Junior right-hander Carson Rudd and lefty Austin Weiermiller are also worth watching. Rudd made 15 appearances last season and certainly will have more work this spring. He was a big improvement in the fall, sitting 91-93 mph with his fastball and showing the ability to get up to 94-95 mph with the offering. He’s more athletic and has been committed to making the necessary changes to become a premier pitcher. Meanwhile, Weiermiller is just a consistent lefty who worked 25 games last season and had a 2.46 ERA in 33 innings, along with 41 strikeouts.
Stanford once again made an NCAA tournament appearance last season, and despite some tough losses, it enters the 2020 campaign with enough experience and personnel to make yet another deep postseason run.
From an offensive standpoint, the Cardinal has a pair of seniors in the lineup with Molfetta and Bellafronto leading the charge, while on the mound, Beck and Palisch have had a high rate of success. Williams is also coming off a mighty impressive freshman season.
The Cardinal also has plenty of experienced options in the bullpen.
Stanford is like most teams at this juncture. There are definitely questions present. However, the pieces are there to do some special things over the next few months.