Jan. 5, 2004
The Notre Dame baseball team is listed 19th in the Baseball America magazine preseason poll, joining an exclusive group of seven teams that have been in the Baseball America presason top-20 during each of the past five seasons. The Irish earlier were ranked 10th in the Collegiate Baseball magazine 2004 preseason poll, with the USA Today coaches poll and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers poll both to be released later this month.
Five of Notre Dame’s 2004 opponents were included among Baseball America’s preseason top-50: Arizona (16th), Florida Atlantic (23rd), USC (28th), Minnesota (30th) and Boston College (38th). See complete poll below, in addition to links to all preseason polls and All-America lists that have been released to date.
The other six teams that have been in the Baseball America preseason top-20 every season since 2000 include Rice, LSU, Cal State Fullerton, Georgia Tech, Stanford and Baylor. Notre Dame checked in at 20th in BA’s 2000 preseason poll, followed by 9th in 2001, 5th in ’02 and 12th in ’03.
Notre Dame owns the nation’s No. 6-rated freshman class (per Baseball America) while returning the bulk of its offense and several top pitchers from the 2003 squad that repeated as BIG EAST Tournament champions (first team to do so since 1986), fashioned a 45-18 record and advanced to the final of the NCAA Fullerton Regional. The pitching staff also is set to welcome back Grant Johnson (missed all of ’03 due to shoulder injury) but his fellow junior RHP John Axford will miss the ’04 campaign after undergoing “Tommy John” reconstructive elbow surgery.
The 14 returning position players combined to make 89% of the offensive starts in 2003 while combining for 99% of the stolen bases (83 of 84), 96% of the triples (25 of 26), 90% of the hits (597 of 664) and runs scored (391 of 433), 87% of the walks (178 of 204) and 84% of the home runs (26 of 31) and doubles (97 of 115).
Top returners in the field (the only departed regular is graduated starting CF Kris Billmaier) include: Sollmann (.384, 40 RBI, 4 HR, 38 SB, 67 R, 16 2B), junior 1B/3B Matt Edwards (.376, 69 RBI, 8 HR, 16 2B), sophomore CF/RF Cody Rizzo (.314, 38 RBI, 4 HR, 53 R, 28 HBP), senior C Javi Sanchez (.303, 26 RBI, 1 HR, 42 R) and junior Matt Macri (.294, 35 RBI, 4 HR, 15 2B), who is slated to make the move from shortstop to third base in ’04.
Other probable starters include: junior LF/DH Matt Bransfield (.310, 10 RBI as last-season DH in ’03), sophomore SS Greg Lopez (.250, 26 RBI) and sophomore lefthanded-hitting DH Steve Andres (.269, 22 RBI, 4 HR). The Irish have many other options in the outfield, including sophomore Craig Cooper (.303, 15 RBI, 22 R, 10 SB) and his lefthanded-hitting classmate Brennan Grogan (.299, 25 RBI, 43 R, 15 SB – plus freshman CF prospect Danny Dressman (San Jose, Calif.), a 5-9, 175-pound lefthanded hitter, and his classmate Chris Fournier (Fairfield, Conn.), a 5-11, 200-pound hot-hitting middle infield prospect.
Freshman Mike Dury (Indianapolis, Ind.), a 6-5, 225-pound switch hitter, also could see some time at first base while 6-0, 170-pound freshman catcher Sean Gaston (Brownsburg, Ind.) could showcase his stellar defense and lefthanded bat (Sanchez is the team’s top utility infielder and could make regular shifts to shortstop, second or third). Another lefthanded hitter, senior 1B Joe Thaman (.280, 1 HR, 23 RBI in ’03), also returns but will have a primary role on the mound, in his first college season as a pitcher.
The 2004 staff’s eight returning healthy pitchers (including Johnson, with his ’02 stats) combined for a 3.23 ERA and 28-8 record in their previous season with the Irish, with their other combined stats from the past season including two saves, 290 strikeouts, 115 walks and 318 hits allowed in 334 innings.
Niesel’s All-America 2003 season included a 2.65 ERA and 9-1 record (87 Ks, 18 BB, 86 H, .232 opp. batting avg. in 98.1 IP) while Johnson’s Freshman All-America effort in 2002 featured a 3.46 ERA and 9-5 record (86 Ks, 44 BB, 94 H, .249 avg. in 101.1 IP). Other top returners from ’03 include the lofty sophomore tandem of 7-foot-1 RHP Ryan Doherty (2.20, 2-2, SV, 44 Ks, 11 BB, 21 H, .200 in 28.2 IP) and 6-6 LHP Tom Thornton (1.81, 5-1, 29 Ks, 14 BB, 54 H, .269, 54.2 IP), with Doherty a top candidate to fill the closer role held by 2003 graduate J.P .Gagne. The Irish will be without the services of Axford, who posted a 4.31 ERA and 9-3 record in ’03 (69 Ks, 50 BB, 63 H, .245, 71.0 IP).
Several freshman pitchers are expected to play key roles in 2004, led by a trio of All-Americans – 6-1, 175-pounder Jeff Manship (San Antonio, Texas), 6-2, 205-pound Derik Olvey (Pelham, Ala.) and 6-3, 250-pound two-way threat Chris Vasami (Mamaroneck, N.Y.) – plus two other RHPs in 6-5, 210-pound Dan Kapala (Royal Oak, Mich.) and 6-3, 215-pound Jess Stewart (Manassas, Va.).
Here are links to the preseason polls and All-America teams:
http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/college/top25.html (note that the complete preseason top-50 is included in harcopy editions and also listed below)
Baseball America 2004 Preseason College Top 50
|Team||’03 W-L||’03 Final Rank|
|4.||Cal State Fullerton||50-16||3|
|9.||Long Beach State||41-20||9|
|25.||North Carolina State||45-18||12|