Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part preview, which is broken down by position players and pitchers. Part one focuses on the position players. Part two will run Tuesday.
Dirtbag baseball is almost back, just not most of the guys Long Beach State fans are used to.
The Dirtbags open a three-game series with Southern California starting Friday night at Dedeaux Field at 6:30 p.m. LBSU will host the Trojans in the home opener at Blair Field on Saturday at 5 p.m. The series concludes Sunday at Dedeaux Field at 1 p.m.
Six of nine starters from last year’s co-Big West Conference championship team are gone. Four seniors and the departure of Danny Espinosa and Shane Peterson leaves the Dirtbags with “only two definite answers and very few known positions,” according to head coach Mike Weathers.
The 2009 version of Long Beach State baseball will have a lot of new faces in a lot of new places but with the success of the program under Weathers, the cupboard is far from bare.
When asked if it was a “rebuilding” year, Weathers said yes, but clarified his definition of the term.
“What I consider rebuilding,” he said, “is when you really have the unknown and no absolutes. That also means there’s a lot of competition and a lot of challenges for guys and I like that too.
“So I think our options are greater, I think our all-around talent is equal and our bench is stronger than a year ago, too.”
Here’s a position-by-position look at the new squad just ahead of tomorrow’s opener:
The Infield – Familiar faces, new place
Junior Steve Tinoco will take over at first base replacing Peterson. Tinoco played in the outfield last year but has been working at first since the end of last season.
At second, freshman Derek Legg will be the No. 1 guy.
“He’s probably been the best second baseman as far as defensive turn of the double play since Eric Martens in 1993,” Weathers said. “Just a really smart baseball person as a freshman.”
At shortstop, sophomore Devin Lohman will get the nod replacing Espinosa, despite getting limited action as a freshman.
At third base, senior Rylan Sandoval will get his turn. Weathers said he has come back a much better player.
Taylor Krick is in the mix in the infield for three positions. The versatile junior should see time at first, third and could even be behind the plate. Other options at catcher include John Hill, Kellen Hoime and Kip Masuda.
Hill, a sophomore, was mostly a designated hitter last year and should split time early on with Hoime, also a sophomore, who is a stronger defensive player and has a good throwing arm.
Masuda is a senior and was in line to start with Travis Howell gone but he hurt his hamstring and will be out at least three weeks.
At DH, Krick, T.J. Mittlestaedt, Matt Avery and Hill should all see some at-bats.
The Outfield: Speed to Burn
Sophomore Jonathan Jones returns to center field for the Dirtbags.
With guys like Peterson and Jason Corder in last year’s lineup, Jones hit leadoff in 2008 but may hit more in the middle of the lineup with this group.
In left field, junior transfer Tre Dennis should get the bulk of the starts early on. He has a ton of speed and knows how to steal bases, making him a prime candidate to hit either first or second in the order.
“More team speed in the outfield than we have had since I’ve been here,” Weathers said.
In right , junior Jordan Casas is also a potential leadoff guy and could be a real spark plug for the LBSU offense.
There are three other quality options in the outfield — Mittlestaedt, Avery and Brennan Metzger — making it probably the biggest strength and position of depth for the Dirtbags this season.
The offense will have to sustain itself on quality at-bats and good hitting. The team has little power, with just four home run’s coming back on the roster.
“We’re not going to be built on power,” Weathers said. “We’re going to be built more like we probably should be on speed and defense and pitching.”
Then again, with its spacious confines (387-foot power alleys), this team is built for Blair Field.
“We are really, really fast. Probably going to have one of the fastest teams in the nation,” pitcher Jake Thompson said. “It’s the fastest outfield I have ever played with. I think we are going to surprise everybody.”