February 17, 2009

Baseball Season Preview Day 1: The Infield

Feb. 17, 2009

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -

The UC Santa Barbara baseball team is receiving a lot of preseason accolades and one of the reasons is that the Gauchos boast a solid corps of infielders.

UCSB has been chosen by Baseball America to play in a Postseason Regional and has been ranked No. 30 in a pair of preseason polls, courtesy of Ping! Baseball and also Collegiate Baseball. Recently, Boyd’s World also tabbed the Gauchos’ schedule as the 18th toughest in the country. And, in a recent Rivals.com story previewing the upcoming season, UCSB is called "the sleeper on the West Coast." To read the full synopsis, click here

Also, to check out all the preseason hype the baseball team is receiving, click here for info on preseason All-Americans and where several of the Gaucho players project nationally

All this following a successful 35-21 overall record last season and a 14-10 third place finish in the Big West. Two large reasons for the preseason hype are seniors Shane Carlson and Eric Oliver, who each earned honors from the Big West last season. However the Gaucho infield is rich with talent and deep to boot.

“It’s our most competitive and deepest, so much so that we moved one of them to an outfield position,” Brontsema said, referring to Gunnar Terhune, who will see time in the outfield and designated hitter roles this season. “We have good experience with three of four positions being returners and coming off solid years. We led the Big West in defense and we’re coming off a year where we played defense very well in the infield and we would hope that would be a strength with this year’s team.”

To open our four-part season preview, we’ll go around the horn and take a peek at UCSB’s probable infield as the Gauchos are set to open the 2009 season on Sunday vs. St. Louis University with the game being played at Cal State Bakersfield. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the catchers.

FIRST BASE

After starting every game last season – one of just four players to do so – Oliver will be back at first base and likely batting third in head coach Bob Brontsema’s lineup. Oliver was a Big West Honorable Mention selection last season after hitting .315 with five home runs and 35 RBI.

“We expect big things from him offensively this year because he has such a great approach at the plate,” Brontsema said of the onetime Orange Coast College transfer. “Traditionally junior college players are better in their second year and he was pretty darn good last year. We’re anticipating him putting up pretty big numbers.”

Backing up Oliver will be College of San Mateo transfer Shane Arslan, who, according to Brontsema, has considerable pop.

“He was a walk-on and he made the team because of his big power potential,” Brontsema said. “He should be a long-ball threat off the bench.”

SECOND BASE

Junior Matt Valaika and senior Steve Cook will compete for time at second base.

“We’ll be very good with either guy,” Brontsema said.

Last season Valaika hit .333 in 18 games to go with a .406 on-base percentage.

“Valaika is coming back from injury and he’s made remarkable progress,” Brontsema said. “In the summer we weren’t counting on him and here he has a good chance to be starting.”

Cook, a onetime transfer from Santa Barbara City College, played in 31 games last season, including 20 starts. A solid presence, Cook batted .250 with three homers and 13 RBI in 80 at-bats last year.

“He is coming off a good summer and a good fall,” Brontsema said of the San Jose, Calif. native. “He brings a baserunning dimension and offensive dimension and we’d like to get him some time.”

SHORTSTOP

Coming off a terrific year in which he was a Second-Team All-Big West selection is senior Shane Carlson, the team’s leading returning hitter. The Stevenson Ranch, Calif. native batted .349 and held the conference’s longest hitting streak at 18 games. Carlson had six homers, 14 doubles and 53 RBI and also started every one of the Gauchos’ games.

“Carlson had an unbelievable year,” Brontsema said. “If we can get anything close to that we’ll be very excited.”

Carlson is slated to hit fifth again this season and his defensive presence certainly helps all the ground ball pitchers UCSB has.

THIRD BASE

Two players that will be battling for starting rights at the hot corner at senior Robby Cummings and junior Ryan Cavan.

“Third base is really up for grabs,” Brontsema said. “One of them could be a DH.”

Cummings, who transferred to UCSB from Illinois Wesleyan University two seasons ago, has shown the hitting potential to possibly bat cleanup for the Gauchos. Last year Cummings hit .295 in 19 games with 11 runs scored and two homers and nine RBI.

“Cummings has shown what we need in this lineup and that’s a power threat,” Brontsema said after losing First-Team All-Big West selection Mike Zuanich, who hit 14 homers last season. “He has legitimate power to all fields and he provides something we need.”

Battling Cummings for the starting job is Cavan, who redshirted last season after coming from Chapman University. In 2007 Cavan started for Chapman at shortstop and led the team with a .394 batting average to go with six home runs, 15 doubles, 42 RBI and a .590 slugging percentage.

“Cavan is a switch-hitter and we think he’ll be a pretty good hitter,” Brontsema said. “He’s also a guy who can play three infield positions (except first base).”

Also in the mix at third base is freshman Ryan Palermo, who was named First Team All-California after setting school records in home runs, RBI and total bases last season at Junipero Serra High.

“He has a bright future in this program,” Brontsema said. “He has great power potential.”

For the first time ever, fans can now purchase baseball season tickets for seats located at Field Level at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium or on the Reserved Level directly behind home plate by clicking here. Every season ticket purchase comes with a free hat and UCSB hosts its home opener vs. Westmont on Feb. 23.

Single-game tickets are available by calling (805) 893-UCSB, visiting the Ticket Office located on campus in the Intercollegiate Athletics Office or by clicking here.

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