Why Cal Poly baseball will make a regional this year

Updated: February 17, 2017

Cal Poly’s opener got rained-out tonight, so I thought I’d finally post something of a Cal Poly baseball preview for this season. 

Last season wasn’t a great year for Cal Poly baseball. Holding a 10-2 record early in the season, the Mustangs lost 9 of 11 games midway through the conference season and fell out of contention for both the Big West title and a regional bid. They finished the season a disappointing 32-25 (12-12 in the Big West). Maybe it says something about Larry Lee’s program that they can have a convincingly winning record in a season that is deemed subpar. 

Erich Uelmen spent the summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League and could contend to be the best pitcher in the Big West this season. By Owen Main

There were many positive signs in 2016 though that could carry into 2017. For starters, the entire starting pitching staff is back, including burgeoning ace Erich Uelmen, Jarred Zill, and lefty Kyle Smith, who was the Mustangs’ Friday guy last season. There is more competition for the final spot in the rotation than there has been in a long time and Cal Poly will decide whether to use Spencer Howard in a weekday starting role or as a relief ace. On a preseason Fansmanship podcast, Larry Lee talked about the emergence of Bobby Ay and Michael Clark. Don’t forget about Cameron Schneider, Austin Dondanville, Thomas Triantos, and Oregon State transfer Trent Shelton, among others. Larry Lee doesn’t have a history of having up to a half-dozen pitchers that he really trusts, but this year’s team may have that many pitchers that Lee and pitching coach Chal Fanning trust.

As a whole, Cal Poly figures to have more pitching depth probably than at any time since I’ve covered the team. 

Can they pick it?

Cal Poly’s big, glaring weakness last season was on defense. The Mustangs made 84 big errors in 2016, the most in a while for a Larry Lee team. Many of them were on the left side of the infield, where freshman Bradlee Beasley will be a defensive upgrade over Kyle Marinconz, who did his best out of position at shortstop for much of last year. Marinconz, a sure-handed second-baseman, will return to his natural position. Throw in a more confident Michael Sanderson at third base, and the Mustangs staff hopes to have a team that doesn’t give away as many runs last season. 

What about the bats?

Cal Poly lost the bats of John Schuknecht and Brett Barbier to professional baseball, but another year of development for Nick Meyer, Sanderson, Marinconz, and center fielder Alex McKenna have fans excited. Even incremental improvements in consistency across the board should make a big impact for the returners. The health factor has been thrown around as a big deal this season as well. Josh George figures to be as healthy as he’s been at this level and McKenna battled injuries for much of last season. 

Nick Meyer behind the plate is someone Lee trusted as a freshman to play nearly every inning last season. His control of the strike zone is really really good. 

So there’s a lot of experience in the veterans on this squad. 

Newcomer Elijah Skipps, who started his collegiate career at Arizona brings some needed power to the lineup and freshmen Scott Ogrin and Jack Kuzma figure to have opportunities for impact. Kevin Morgan is a senior leader with a great approach and above average bat control who will be in the lineup a lot. 

Put it together and here’s what fans are looking at for 2017: a chance for things to fall into place. Yes, Uelmen must be as-advertised. Yes, Zill and Smith must take steps forward. Lee probably needs to use his pitching depth like he never has before. Guys have to hit like they’re capable of hitting. They sure have to field better than last season.  

But the pieces are in place. The culture is there. 

Lee told me that anything that isn’t a regional appearance is a disappointment. That’s the reality of where the Cal Poly baseball program is in 2017. Expect them to be there. 

Photos from the Cal Poly Alumni Game below. Find all the 2017 Alumni Game Photos here.