This year, talk of Stanford baseball has centered mostly around two top-end talents in Mark Appel and Stephen Piscotty. The first is considered a lock for the first pick on campus, and the second is coveted for his patience and power even if he falls to the second round. Both players played their parts in their schools’ weekend wins this weekend in the College World Series regional, but they weren’t alone. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this Stanford team is the depth that powered them to three straight wins over regional baseball powers Pepperdine and Fresno State.
This is not to denigrate the top-end talent on the Stanford team. Appel kept his 94+ MPH fastball velocity throughout his start against Fresno State Saturday night. He struck out 11 against two walks, four hits and one earned run in a complete game win. Even with the asterisks — he had ten strikeouts through five and then allowed most of his baserunners late in the game, and his slurve and changeup weren’t consistent throughout — he was dominant. After all, he had ten strikeouts through five innings.
Piscotty had four hits and two walks in 15 weekend plate appearances — the walks were a welcome sight after a brief bout of reaching at the plate in the late season — but also impressed on the mound. After starting the season as the third baseman, Piscotty has become the slugging left fielder, number three hitter, and third starter for the Cardinal.
In a way, he points to both depth and top-end talent by himself. He’s a prospect for his bat, but his arm held Fresno State to four earned runs (seven overall) with two strikeouts and a walk in the regional-clinching 8-7 victory on Sunday. He was the number three starter most of the year for Stanford, and he hit 92 with his fastball and coaxed ground balls with his decent changeup and slider. After a first-inning blip (four runs), he settled down and gave the team what they needed. Across the mound, Matt Maurer didn’t hit 87 with his fastball. Eventually Stanford realized that they were going to get mostly changeups, waited on the pitch, and chased Pepperdine’s number three from the game in the third with three earned runs. They didn’t see a pitch over 88 on Sunday.
But there’s depth beyond on this Stanford team. Austin Wilson is the man-child behemoth out in right field. The 6’5″ 250-pound power prospect started the season as the number nine hitter, but settled in finally as the number five hitter after leading the team with nine home runs this season. If he continues his progression, he’ll be a first-round prospect in the 2013 draft. He had a decent weekend in which he stole a base, and collected two hits with five RBI and three walks in 16 plate appearances.
While Wilson loomed over cleanup hitter Brian Ragira as they both prepared to bat — “Rags” is only 6’2″, 200 pounds — it was Ragira that powered the offense over the weekend. Wilson had the first baseman’s body, but Rags had the first baseman’s bat, as he hit .500 with an RBI per game in the regionals. More impressive might have been his home run to dead center, which hit the batting eye, or the fact that he didn’t strike out once, against three hit-by-pitches and four walks. The Sophomore probably won’t get the attention Wilson will get next year, but Stanford wouldn’t be advancing without him.
Shortstop Kenny Diekroeger was already a second-round draft pick, but even after a year that has seen his draft stock slide, he’s been a huge positive for the team. Going into postseason play, he was stuck in a 3-for-33 slump, but he broke out over the weekend. On the basis of his three hits and three RBI, he was put on the Regional All-Tournament Team. That’s hardware the self-professed ‘stat-guy’ and FanGraphs reader can add to his Academic All-American award. Ask him, though, and he probably remembers his two-out double that plated the go-ahead run in a tense Saturday game against Pepperdine — the dugout erupted in pleasure for their embattled teammate, and he beamed back from second base.
The staff ran deep this weekend, too. When lefty (and current draft prospect) Brett Mooneyham fell victim to his inconsistent control on Saturday, the team turned to former weekend starter turned swing man Dean McArdle for rescue. He got two strikeouts in three scoreless innings and gave the ball to the closer and sometimes weekend starter, A.J. Vanegas, for the final 11 outs. Vanegas had pitched over 90 pitches and gotten 14 outs in the 18-inning marathon against Berkeley just two weeks ago, and he had no trouble keeping the Waves scoreless for multiple innings. He struck out eight of the 16 men he saw. In the ninth inning, he struck out the first batter with a 97 MPH fastball, then blew a swinging strike three past the second batter, and got the third batter to 0-2. With the crowd on their feet, he got a swinging strike three on a slider in the dirt. The sophomore could find himself in the rotation and atop draft boards next year.
Though each of these players have, at the very least, an outside chance at a pro career, they each made sacrifices as a member of a deep team with championship aspirations. Kenny Diekroeger didn’t blink when he had to play second base for a while after an injury to Lonnie Kauppila. Dean McArdle took to his new role in the bullpen. Brian Ragira sometimes ceded the spotlight to his more famous teammates. Stephen Piscotty took the ball every weekend despite knowing his future lay in hitting. Former infielder and Regional All-Tournament team member Eric Smith donned the catcher’s mitt because they had a need at the position. The Great Blandino — freshman Alex Blandino — came in as the future shortstop and hadn’t played anywhere else before. He’s now the starting third baseman, and his home run Sunday capped the scoring for the Stanford team.
“Whatever ‘nine’ wants” seems to be the rallying cry for this Cardinal team. Number nine — 36th-year Stanford coach Mark Marquess — has once again built a team with the depth to play far into the College World Series. Doing what he asks is an easy price to pay for that opportunity.