February 16, 2011

Baseball Season Preview Day 3: The Infield

Feb. 16, 2011

Heading into UCSB's season-opener this Friday, Feb. 18, UCSBgauchos.com will perform a four-part series to preview the Gauchos.

P>Season seats are still available by clicking here. With each season seat purchased, fans will receive the new Sunday hat.

Also, 45 of the Gauchos' 54 games this year will be broadcast live, beginning with opening weekend. Click here to see the full schedule.

With so much depth on the Gauchos' roster this season, our four-part series has focused on that aspect. First, we began with the team's outfield (click here to see it), then took a look at all of the arms the bullpen has to offer (click here for Day 2).

Today we will go around the horn, looking at the infield - which has a good mix of returning starters and solid incomers - before rounding out the preview on Thursday with a look at the starting pitchers.

Behind the plate, the Gauchos have three solid options in Bryce Tafelski, Dan Camou and Joe Winterburn.

Unfortunately for the Gauchos, Tafelski won't be available until early March, but that allows Camou, a senior, and Winterburn, a freshman, to battle for at-bats, creating a solid competition.

"It's a three-way competition that, unfortunately for the time being, is a two-way competition," Brontsema said. "But, it's just a minor setback."

Camou made four starts last season for the Gauchos - and played in 12 total games - with a .250 average and two RBI.

"Camou has the experience that we hope to have," Brontsema said. "He knows our pitching staff and he has a strong arm."

Winterburn is a well-regarded freshman who may be the Gauchos' opening-day starter. Last year at Glendora High he was a First Team All-Sierra League pick, a First Team All-San Gabriel Valley choice, a First Team All-Los Angeles County selection and a First Team All-CIF pick. Winterburn was also named the MVP of the Tartans and the MVP of the San Gabriel Valley All-Start Game after hitting .415 as a senior with five home runs and 32 RBI.

"He has great upside," Brontsema said. "He receives well, and throws and blocks well. We hope to get him experience in the early part of the season."

Tafelski, who is a junior, will certainly see a lot of playing time when he returns. Last year, in 25 games - 17 starts - he hit .241 with three doubles, 10 runs scored and four RBI.

Trevor Whyte returns for his senior season as the Gauchos' first baseman after leading the team in nearly every offensive category during his junior year. Whyte played in all 54 games and hit .304 with 34 RBI, 86 total bases, five home runs, 12 doubles and a .392 on-base percentage.

"He had a really good fall after a really good junior campaign," Brontsema said. "He is swinging the bat very well and he should see the majority of the time there."

Backing up Whyte will be freshmen Nick Parent and John Vaccaro. Each provides depth as Parent is a right-handed hitter who can also play catcher and Vaccaro is a sweet-swinging lefty who may see time at designated hitter.

At second base the Gauchos return Sean Williams, who played in 53 games with 52 of those being starts. He hit .268 - mainly from the No. 2 spot in the order - and his 31 walks were fourth-most in the conference. Williams also had 15 multi-hit games.

"We're looking for Sean to improve on a solid year last year and help replace some of the offense we lost to the draft and graduation last year," Brontsema said.

At shortstop, the lone sophomore on the team, Steven Moon, will take over for Matt Valaika, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds. Moon is a slick-fielding shortstop who provides great defense for all of the team's groundball pitchers. Moon played in 19 games last year as a freshman, making six starts.

"Steven Moon is really going to be one of the better defensive shortstops in the conference," Brontsema said. "We're counting on him and hoping the strength of our defense will be up the middle with him and Williams."

Incumbent third baseman Ryan Palermo returns for his junior season after starting 44 games for the Gauchos. He hit .245 in his first full season with the team, with nine doubles, three home runs and 25 RBI.

"He was swinging the bat as consistently as anyone we had from the beginning of fall until the end and he has been very good defensively," Brontsema said.

Beck Wheeler provides terrific infield depth as he can play all four infield positions, allowing Brontsema to rest one of his starters or make late-game switches. Wheeler had a solid junior year as he hit .297 in 38 games (29 starts) and had 22 RBI. Adding to his ability to play anywhere, it's possible that Wheeler will also see some time on the mound.

Backing up Williams at second base will be Joe Woodward, a freshman from Glendora High, who was a First Team All-Sierra League selection and an all-city pick. Jeff Miller adds depth to the infield and "is a scrappy player," said Brontsema.

"Woodward is a guy who can play every position and can backup maybe all three," Brontsema said. "Joe finished the fall very strong and he will be pushing for playing time."

Helping back up Moon will be newcomer Brandon Trinkwon, who also provides a left-handed bat off the bench. Trinkwon had a terrific prep career at Beckman High in Tustin where he was an all-state pick as a senior.

"Brandon swung the bat very well in the fall and he looks like he will be a solid bat for us," Brontsema said.

Helping provide depth, mainly at third base, will be Brett Fick, who played in 27 games for the Gauchos last year. He hit .205 but was a key pinch-hitter for the Gauchos and never committed an error last season. Fick, like Wheeler, has also been pitching in fall ball and could see time out of the bullpen.

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