By Peter Castillo
At the start of the 2017 season, the CSU Bakersfield baseball team was projected to finish seventh in the Western Athletic Conference. The team eventually finished third in the regular season standings and fell one game short of clinching a spot in the NCAA Regionals.
This year’s team is also projected to finish seventh in the conference.
CSUB Head Coach Jeremy Beard, who shed his interim role in the offseason, is entering his second season at the helm.
“As soon as [Beard] got the call for the full-time job we were all pumped,” said senior outfielder Andrew Penner. “He’s the right guy to lead the ship and take us where we need to go.”
The Roadrunners will have much to replace on both sides of the ball with 14 freshmen on this season’s roster.
“We have a lot of new guys on this year’s roster,” said Beard. “We brought in some excellent young players and we feel that we have some guys will come in and compete and work within our system.”
On the mound, CSUB is looking for an ace to lead the pitching staff as Max Carter, who was named the WAC Pitcher of the Year in 2017 has graduated.
Sophomore pitchers Aaron Charles and Kenny Johnson, along with junior Isaiah Moten are expected to fill out the starting rotation along with redshirt-junior Kyle King and junior Ben Cutting, a pair of transfers.
“He [Charles] filled a huge role for us in the rotation last year,” said junior catcher Jake Ortega. “He’s going to be relied on heavily in our rotation this season.”
Redshirt-senior Steven Gee, who has been recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery, has been cleared to throw, according to Beard. Gee is expected to compete for a spot in the starting rotation.
The Roadrunners’ bullpen is solidified by senior closer Naithen Dewsnap. Dewsnap set a school record for saves last season with 14.
Beyond that, Beard will see how the rest of his staff takes shape as the season plays out.
“I feel comfortable with the guys we have, they just need to perform,” said Beard. “We’ll see how the staff shapes itself.”
As far as the everyday lineup, CSUB will have to replace its middle infield from last year along with finding depth at catcher and outfield.
Shortstop Ryan Grotjohn, second baseman David Metzgar and catcher Junior Felix, all starters last season at their respective positions, have graduated.
“We have a lot of youth in the middle, it’s going to be difficult to replace guys like that,” said Beard. “We just have to find the guys who can best execute our offense and play defense.”
Sophomore infielder Austyn Tengan is expected to play shortstop this year after playing at both second and third base last season.
Freshmen infielders Evan Burkey, Lewis Dirkes and Trent Anderson are expected to fill in and play middle infield this season.
Ortega is expected to carry the load and lead the pitching staff this season.
Backing him up are junior Ryan Koch, a transfer from San Joaquin Delta College and junior Noah Barba, who transferred from El Camino College. Barba is primarily an outfielder, but he is transitioning to play catcher more often.
“We’re all going to contribute,” said Ortega. “We’re going to be solid behind the plate.”
The Roadrunners’ starting outfield is intact from a year ago as they return seniors Penner, Mark Pena and junior Sergio Robles.
Penner has high expectations for his fellow outfielders this season. “Those two guys [Pena, Robles] are two of the best in the conference,” said Penner. “With them running around and hitting the ball all over the yard, I think we should be alright.”
The Roadrunners’ schedule includes more traveling this year compared to last. Nonconference road dates feature series against the University of California, the University of Portland and the College of Charleston. They also have weekday games on the road against CSU Northridge, Cal Poly, Loyola Marymount University and UC Santa Barbara.
“We have a very difficult road schedule this year,” said Beard. “With a young group, they’re going to be challenged. We expect our guys to have a learning curve but we think they’ll be better from it.”
The nonconference home schedule for CSUB begins with a series against future Big West Conference opponent UC Davis from Friday, Feb. 16 through Sunday, Feb. 18. Dartmouth College of the Ivy League also will make a trip to CSUB for a four-game series. Other weekday games feature games against Saint Mary’s College, UNLV and the University of Hawaii.
“We never get caught up in rankings, we’re the underdogs every time out,” said Beard. “We play with a chip on our shoulder. We don’t care who we’re playing, we’ll play anybody, anywhere.”