2016 USC Baseball Ready to Build on Last Year’s Strong Finish |
Feb. 17, 2016
After a pair of winning seasons and last year’s third place finish in the competitive Pac-12 Conference followed by the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade, the Trojans are no longer flying under the radar. They have garnered national attention to start the 2016 season, receiving preseason rankings of No. 12 and No. 16 according to D1Baseball.com and Baseball America, respectively. The Trojans boast a veteran ball club that has the experience, tools and depth to surpass the success of last year’s team.
This year’s club will look to build upon last season’s success, but has been quick to form its own identity, behind the leadership of fourth-year head coach Dan Hubbs and upperclassmen Timmy Robinson, Kyle Davis, Marc Huberman and Jeremy Martinez—all of whom realize last year’s postseason appearance does not guarantee a ticket to a regional in 2016.
“We need to focus on this team being a different team,” explained coach Hubbs. “We want to be the best team on the field every day. What happened last year is awesome, and we want to build off of that, but at the same rate, I think the most valuable lesson learned is the guys know what it takes to get there. They are willing to put in the time, know the grind, how hard it is to get there and what you have to do to be successful.”
The 2015 squad finished with a record of 39-21, good for third place in the Pac-12 and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005. After dropping game one of the Lake Elsinore Regional, the Trojans battled all the way to a do-or-die Regional final game against the eventual national champion Virginia Cavaliers.
In 2016, the Trojans return five of nine starters and two-thirds of their weekend rotation. The team is led by senior standouts Timmy Robinson, a first-team All-Pac-12 honoree and ace Kyle Davis. The team also returns Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American starting pitcher Mitch Hart, and All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention honorees Jeremy Martinez and AJ Ramirez.
Martinez, the leading hitter set to return in 2016, batted .296 with 45 RBI as a sophomore in 2015 and will be expected to move from first base to the starting catcher role after the loss of 2015 Johnny Bench Award winner Garrett Stubbs to graduation.
On Martinez, Hubbs said, “We are looking forward to the leadership that he will provide. He has caught quite a bit these first two years and he’s ready to be the everyday guy. Obviously he will hit in the middle of the order like he has the last two years, but we are really excited to have one of our best leaders behind the plate.”
The Trojans will also expect big things from redshirt junior and returning shortstop Reggie Southall, who came on strong to end the 2015 season, who hit .400 in the postseason, earning All-Lake Elsinore Regional honors.
On Southall, Hubbs explained, “We are expecting him to make a jump and play like he’s capable of for a full year. We are expecting the level of play he came with in the regional for the entirety of the year.” Aside from Southall, the infield will have a new look in 2016. Redshirt sophomore Frankie Rios and sophomore Angelo Armenta, along with freshmen Lars Nootbaar and Brandon Perez are competing for the second base slot. Sophomore Adalberto Carrillo, a plus defender, is the frontrunner for the open third base position, with other options being Rios and Armenta. At first base the Trojans are going to look to the left-handed hitting freshman Dillon Paulson, along with Ramirez and freshman Austin Russ.
Robinson, who led the team with 53 RBI this past season, will continue to man center field. Two other returning standout outfielders include right fielder Ramirez, who batted .259 with a team-high nine home runs and designated hitter/outfielder David Oppenheim batted .284 in 2015. Other Trojans expected to step up and potentially earn starting roles in the outfield include junior Corey Dempster, who may potentially take the left field starting position that was vacated by 2015 Third Team All-American Bobby Stahel, who is now in the Colorado Rockies organization. Also in the mix with Dempster and Oppenheim is redshirt junior Turner Clouse.
“Depending on how it plays out, I think one of our strengths will be our outfield defense, led by Robinson, a four-year starter and Ramirez, a two-year starter,” explained Hubbs. Top to bottom, we believe we are a great defensive team.
On the mound, the Trojans have the deepest pitching staff of the Dan Hubbs era. The Trojans return two of their top starting pitchers in Davis and Hart, along with highly experienced senior arm Brent Wheatley and junior left-hander Bernardo Flores. Davis boasted a 4.05 ERA with 20 appearances through 53.1 innings pitched, while Hart had an ERA of 4.07 and a record of 7-3 through 86.1 innings pitched. The Trojans also return top relievers Marc Huberman and Brooks Kriske. The left-handed Huberman had a team-low 2.36 ERA in 2015, with four saves in a team-high 27 appearances. He struck out 48 batters in 49.2 innings pitched. Kriske, a right-hander, had a 2.90 ERA and appeared in 20 games, throwing 31 innings.
“This staff has everything,” explained Hubbs. “There are power arms, guys with pitchability and we have the ability to go at opponents both right and left. We are really excited about this depth.”
The 2016 team also boasts 15 newcomers, including highly touted pitcher Marrick Crouse; infielders Paulson, Russ, Nootbaar and Perez; and pitcher/catcher Stubbs. Crouse, a right-handed pitcher, will be a big part of the 2016 club with starting potential, while Paulson and Nootbaar are vying for starting roles. Junior college transfer and former Cal State Fullerton Titan Joe Navilhon, a right-handed pitcher, brings experience and will bolster a strong Trojan pitching core in 2016.
The Trojans maintain continuity on the coaching staff as well, returning all four coaches for the 2016 campaign, led by head coach Dan Hubbs, who heads into his fourth season at the helm. Assistant coaches Gabe Alvarez and Matt Curtis return for their sixth and third seasons, respectively, and Chris Duffy also returns in 2016. Duffy, known for his aggressiveness as a baserunner during his playing days, coached the Trojans to 94 stolen bases last year, up from 39 bases in 2014—the sixth-highest single-season base stealing mark by any Trojan team.
The Trojans open the 2016 slate Feb. 19 as they welcome the University of North Dakota to Dedeaux Field for a three-game slate. The Trojans open with eight of their first 10 games at home. Overall 26 of their 56 games are against nine different teams that made the 2015 postseason. In addition to the perennially tough Pac-12 slate, this year's schedule includes a three game series at 2015 World Series participant TCU, in addition to a series against ACC member Wake Forest and a visit from perennial powers Oklahoma and Mississippi State for the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic.
“This is an incredibly challenging schedule, but I think our kids are up for it. I think our depth with help us navigate this schedule and I am excited to play a schedule where you are playing the best in the country day in and day out,” said Hubbs. “I think if we perform up to our expectation, it should give us a great baseline going into the postseason.”
“There are a lot of things this team wants to accomplish and they have a chance to make a mark,” said Hubbs. “The expectation of this program is you get to the postseason each and every year and make it further the next year than you did the previous. That is where our focus is whether we take the field for practice or for a game, and this team is as unified as ever in that focus.”