Baseball Notebook

David O'Hagan

Expectations are high once again for a very successful Cardinal baseball season. I've said numerous times throughout the fall that there is all kinds of depth offensively on the team while they also possess a young, but talented pitching staff. Read now what one national college baseball expert has to say about Stanford's prospects this season plus all the latest news and notes.

You've certainly read about my thoughts concerning the prospects of the 2004 Stanford baseball team over the past couple of months, but what are the experts opinions of this team?  Here is one opinion from John Manuel, a senior writer at Baseball America and their college baseball guru.  Manuel is the chief writer of BA's College Baseball Preview while comes out every January.  These comments were made exclusively to The Bootleg.

"Stanford once again is expected to be a College World Series team, because it has been every year since 1999.  When the Cardinal don't make it to Omaha, that's when I'll start predicting it won't make it.  This year's team resembles the 2003 club in that its calling card will be offense.  A loaded outfield led by senior Sam Fuld, ready to assault the Cardinal record book, should pace another powerful lineup. 
This team has experienced, talented position players all over the field.  As was the case in '03, there's one pitcher with Pac-10 experience in the rotation.  Lefty Mark Romanczuk has to fill the ace role that John Hudgins thrived in last year, and he's coming off a great summer with Team USA, so I expect no sophomore slump from him.  The rest of the pitching staff has talent, but no proven answers, and that's going to give Mark Marquess reason to talk his team down in the preseason.  I think the talent is there for the Cardinal to find the arms to get them to Omaha again."

As for the keys to the season for Stanford, Manuel weighs in with this opinion: "The big questions will be (a) can guys like (Donny) Lucy and (Chris) Carter specifically live up to their potential and (b) can the Cardinal find a consistent defender at short to replace (Tobin) Swope."

SCHEDULE NOTES
The 2004 schedule has been finalized.  The 56-game schedule will feature 30 contests at Sunken Diamond and 26 games on the road.  Three of the first four series' of the season are at home, two of which will be against nationally ranked Cal State Fullerton and Texas.  After the Texas series ends on February 22nd, the Cardinal will only have three home games (Cal Poly series) over the next 7 1/2 weeks.  With four road series' plus two full weeks off for finals, there won't be a lot of action at Sunken Diamond in the middle part of the season. 

But, starting on April 13th, Stanford will play 18 of their remaining 26 games at the friendly confines.  Headlining that portion of the home schedule is a three-game series in mid-April versus the California Golden Bears and back-to-back series' against USC and Arizona State to conclude the regular season.  So, while the team will be away from Sunken for basically the entire month of March and the first half of April, there should plenty of exciting games at the home yard as the weather warms.

The only major change on the schedule this year is the Kansas Jayhawks replacing the Florida State Seminoles on the non-conference docket.  The non-conference schedule sees Stanford play home series' versus Fullerton, Kansas, Texas, and Cal Poly while they'll play road series' versus Fresno State, California, and USC.  The Cardinal will also take on Santa Clara four times, Sacramento State, Saint Mary's, and San Jose State twice, and USF once.  The 24-game conference season begins on April 2nd with a three-game series at UCLA.

Mark your calendars, the opening series of the year is when the Cal State Fullerton Titans visit Sunken Diamond for a three-game set from January 30-February 1.  It's very likely that both teams will be ranked in the top ten when the preseason polls come out.

HUDGINS' REHAB GOING WELL
Former Stanford pitcher John Hudgins had a great spring (with Stanford) and a great fall (he got married this September), but the summer was one to forget.  After pitching in an NCAA-high 165 1/3 innings last season, Hudgins made just one appearance this summer in minor league ball (pitching two scoreless innings of relief) before going down with an injury.  The 2003 All-American was diagnosed with a pinched nerve in his shoulder and was shut down by the Texas Rangers for the remainder of the summer. 

"Basically, it boiled down to me needing rest," Hudgins explains.  "It was never anything serious, but with the number of innings that I threw last year with Stanford, the Rangers immediately shut me down as soon as I started to feel out of sorts."

The situation though has improved tremendously over the past few months.

"I'm back up to full speed now, and feeling 100%," he says.  "Actually, I feel better than I have in a long time.  I haven't had the kind of velocity that I have right now since high school, and I'm feeling much looser and stronger."

Hudgins is currently throwing heavy bullpen sessions and will be ready to go in February when pitchers and catchers meet for spring training.

ANNUAL AWARDS BANQUET
Stanford Baseball held their annual awards banquet last weekend.  All-American catcher Ryan Garko was awarded Team MVP.  Garko became the first Stanford player to hit over .400 in 12 seasons with his .402 batting average last year.  He also clubbed 18 homers while driving home 92 in garnering Pac-10 Player of the Year and First Team All-American Honors.  He also won the Johnny Bench Award as the nation's top catcher.

Other awards handed out included "Most Improved Player" which went to relief pitcher David O'Hagan.  Outfielder Danny Putnam won the award as "Come Through Player."  Carlos Quentin and Tobin Swope shared the "Most Inspirational Player" award.  Mark Romanczuk garnered the award for "Most Valuable Freshman."  The "Bruce R. Cameron Award", which goes to the player with "outstanding proficiency on the field, leadership, and academic performance," went to John Hudgins.  Finally, Ryan Garko took home the "Jack Shepard Award" which goes to the player with the highest batting average.

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