Season Outlook: 2017 Trojans Are Ready to Go to Work|
Feb. 16, 2017
LOS ANGELES – The 2017 new-look Trojans have a lot of exciting pieces. The team is young, rejuvenated and ready to go to work.
With a relatively inexperienced team compared to last year or the year before, the older guys like Corey Dempster, David Edson, AJ Fritts and Mason Perryman have really tried to learn from what was good and what didn’t work with each of those teams.
According to head coach Dan Hubbs, who is entering his fifth year as the head coach of the Trojans and fourth as the permanent head coach, the past few seasons have seen a lineup that was well-established. Now, there are five guys who have solidified their spot in the lineup and now we have five openings.
“Where that might be a little bit scary at times, I think it is exciting, said Hubbs. “I think we have a lot of opportunity for guys to get into the lineup and see what they can do and play around with it and see what sticks by the time we get to conference.”
On the mound, Hubbs sees much of the same. With the exception of junior Mitch Hart, the rest of the staff is relatively unproven.
“What that means is it is their time to step up,” explained Hubbs. “We have some guys who have been here for a couple of years and now it’s their opportunity to shine. Our success is going to depend on their success.”
“At the end of the day, if we do what we are capable of doing we put ourselves in place to be a regional team and really make a run at it as we mature with this younger team moving forward,” said Hubbs.
“The goal always at USC is to win a national title. We need to concentrate on winning the conference because that gets you into the regionals and once you get into the regionals that gives you an opportunity to do something. The smaller goals that we might have include being the best team on the field that day and focus on just one pitch at a time, one inning at a time, one at-bat at a time. We hope by the end of the game that that is good enough,” exclaimed Hubbs.
“I hope that by the end of the season this team looks entirely different than they do at the start. They will go through growing pains, but they are up for the challenge. I hope each week we improve so that by week 15 we are the team we want to be and hopefully we have won enough games that we put ourselves in a position to compete for a conference title. If that happens and everything falls into place, then we know we are going to a regional and then we have to play well when we get there. I know they are up for the challenge,” said Hubbs. Below is a breakdown of each position entering the season. CATCHER The Trojans have a need at catcher, with the departure of Jeremy Martinez to the 2016 MLB Draft. Martinez, a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award, given to the nation’s top collegiate catcher, is a loss both at the plate as one of the Trojans’ most polished hitters and behind the plate. The Trojan catching core is now filled with six catchers in Kaleb Murphy, Cris Perez, Blake Sabol, AJ Fritts, Zack Sharpley and Daniel Edson. “Kaleb, probably the most athletic of the six catchers possesses a plus arm and has really come on both offensively and defensively after missing most of last year,” explained Coach Hubbs. “Cris Perez is a transfer from Duke, we are excited about his power at the plate and think he can hit in the middle of the lineup. A guy who has hit fourth in the ACC. His receiving, just in the last month has gotten much better and he is really integrating well into the team. Blake Sabol was drafted out of high school, we think he has a great future. He possesses an electric bat and has gotten much better behind the plate. He is versatile in that he can play some first and outfield as well. AJ Fritts has put himself in the mix more as a DH than a catcher, but behind the plate he has really improved behind the plate and has taken some of the better at bats that we have seen all fall. We are excited about what he can do as a right-handed hitter in the middle of the order. Providing more depth are sophomore Sharpley and freshman Da. Edson.
INFIELD Overall the Trojans return 3 of the four infield starters from 2016, with first baseman returnee Dillon Paulson having extensive experience from his freshman season. “At first base, it really is a battle between Dillon Paulson and Austin Russ,” explained Coach Hubbs. “Dillon started quite a bit last year and the things he brings to the table is he is a solid defender who we think has a chance to really hit. Austin Russ provides a lot of power. He is also a left-handed hitter who has really improved defensively and has had a good spring so far. Stephen Dubb, coming off Tommy John surgery has also seen some time at first and in the outfield, and provides a right-handed hitting option at first base as well. He has really taken to the nuances of the position,” said Hubbs. “At second base, we return Frankie Rios, who was the starter at that position last year, hitting .323. He has really had a great fall and spring in terms of at bats and defense,” said Hubbs. “He will back up Brandon Perez at shortstop but will be the backup second baseman and will hit somewhere 2, 3 in the lineup. Also at second base is freshman Tyler Pritchard, a left-handed hitter who is an exciting athlete with good speed, the ability to skill at the plate and really a very good defender at second base.” “Brandon Perez is the returning starting shortstop and is coming off an outstanding summer in the Northwoods League. He has continued to hit since he has been back and he really stabilized that position for us last year and has shown no signs of slowing down. We are excited about what Brandon brings to the position not just offensively and defensively, but also as a leader,” stated Hubbs. “Backing him up, we have a couple of freshmen, including Jarrett Pico, a native of Miami, who has really good glove skill and has shown the ability to hit. Also John Thomas from Harvard-Westlake HS in Los Angeles has really been a pleasant surprise. He can play anywhere in the infield and has a good chance to play quite a bit this year, whether it is off the bench or at second, third or short.” “At third base, Adalberto Carrillo returns to the position. We think he will hit somewhere in the middle of the order and think he is the best third baseman in the conference, exclaimed Hubbs.” “Carrillo has a big-time arm and possesses big power at the plate as our returning home run leader. We are excited about what he provides there. Backing him up are Thomas and Tyler Urbach, who had to sit out last season after transferring from Fordham. He has done a really nice job defensively and provides some depth to that spot.”
OUTFIELD The outfield is probably the most competitive position both offensively and defensively. Corey Dempster is the only returning starting outfielder from 2016. He hit .290 last year, shows power and was drafted last year but elected to come back for his senior year and according to Coach Hubbs is really providing a lot of leadership. Other outfielders are Lars Nootbaar, who will hit somewhere in the middle of the lineup and should play either center field or left field.
On Nootbaar, Hubbs said, “He had an incredible fall and we see him as a potential three hitter this spring.”
David Edson, a fifth-year senior, has had a good fall into spring, a fifth-year senior who has put himself in the mix to play quite a bit. “He will play either corner or designated hitter,” said Hubbs. After those three, the team is full of exciting freshmen playmakers in the position.
“Christian Moya had an outstanding fall,” said Hubbs. “He is an absolute run stopper in center field. He is a plus runner with great baseball instincts and a guy who shows that he is not scared of Division I baseball from the time he stepped on campus. Other guys that have also really stood out. Matthew Acosta had a great fall, along with Brady Shockey, who has come back a totally different player from the fall and has really himself into the mix for a starting role early. He has had great at bats all spring and shown the ability to play very good defense at all three spots in the outfield. So you have those three guys, plus Sabol who can also play out there, along with Dubb.”
DESIGNATED HITTER “At designated hitter, the guys who are in the mix are Fritts, Edson, Shockey, Dubb and Russ are possibilities there,” explained Hubbs. “We have options both right and left-handed. We are excited about what we can do. This team is more athletic overall than the past few years. It doesn’t possess as much power, but it has the ability to skill and do some different things to create a lot of runs.”
PITCHING STAFF “On the mound, the opening rotation looks like Mitch Hart on Friday, Brad Wegman on Saturday and Marrick Crouse on Sunday,” said Hubbs. “All three have experience pitching in our conference and they all are right-handed pitchers, but they all have different stuff and bring different looks to the table. They have been pitching well leading up to the season opener. Other guys pushing them for starting spots are RHP Mason Perryman, RHP Chris Clarke, as well as RHP Solomon Bates.”
“Out of the pen, we are looking at RHP CJ Stubbs, RHP Bryce Dyrda and Bates. They have really shown well leading up to opening day. We feel like we can really rely on them to close out games. Stubbs may eventually work his way into the weekend rotation because he was a solid Tuesday guy for us last year and he has made a jump in velocity which will help him compete in the Pac-12.”
“Left-handers out of the pen are Quentin Longrie who has looked good leading up to opening day. He has a 90 mph fastball with a really good slider and changeup. Freshman Austin Manning had a great fall and spring so far. He is in the upper 80s and has a good curve ball and changeup.”
“A couple other contributors are Connor Lunn, who is an exciting freshman arm. He was a huge winner in high school and is a guy who can push the starters and the guys in the pen. Brock Larson, a fifth-year transfer from USF and Michael Gates, both right-handers round out the pen. They are both a mix type pitcher, mid 80s and can throw the breaking ball and change, keeping hitters off balance. The last pitcher on the staff is lefthander Acosta, and when he gets healthy he is another lefty that reaches the high 80s with a really good breaking ball. He is going to be a dual guy for us, playing some outfield and pitching,” explained Hubbs.