Fresno State baseball is coming off two straight losing seasons — the only sub-.500 seasons in coach Mike Batesole’s 13-year tenure — but the Bulldogs remain optimistic heading into 2015.
“It feels like year one today,” Batesole said Friday at the first official spring practice. “This is a great time today. Everybody’s excited, everybody’s got a chance.”
The difference between his last two teams (Fresno State went 28-29 last year and 23-33 in 2013) and the one that will take the field this season is experience, Batesole said.
“I like that we’re a lot older. Last year we (nearly) had a first-year guy at every position in the infield. Only one senior (Jake Alvarez) on the whole team. Now we’ve got everybody returning on the infield with a very good staff.”
Those infield returnees — each made at least 37 appearances and 24 starts — are sophomore shortstop Ryan Dobson, sophomore second baseman Jesse Medrano, senior third baseman Manny Argomaniz (a JC transfer last year) and junior first baseman Kevin Viers, the only one of the four who had significant experience before 2014.
It’s also part of the reason why senior right-hander Garrett Mundell said he chose to stay at Fresno State. Mundell was one of six Bulldogs selected in the pro baseball draft in June, but the only one who elected to return and suit up for Fresno State.
“The biggest factor was realizing what type of team we had to come back to,” Mundell said. “This is a special team. We had a team kind of like this my freshman year, but I think this team is better. We’re going to win some rings.”
Mundell’s freshman season, by the way, was 2012, when Fresno State finished 31-28, won its seventh straight Western Athletic Conference championship and last qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs’ experienced 2015 roster comes despite losing five starters to the draft: pitchers Jordan Brink and Derick Velazquez, outfielder Jordan Luplow, infielder Chris Mariscal and catcher Trent Woodward.
The draft also did a number on Fresno State’s recruiting class, with Luis Ortiz (Sanger High), Trenton Kemp (Buchanan), Stetson Woods (Liberty-Madera Ranchos), Luke Dykstra (Westlake-Westlake Village) and Gabriel Llanes (Downey) all choosing pro ball over college. Clovis High’s McCarthy Tatum was the only Fresno State-bound draft pick to stick with college ball.
In addition to Mundell, the Bulldogs’ pitching staff will see the return of righties Tim Borst, William Munro and Jake Shull and lefty Casey Rodriguez, who each appeared in at least 17 games last season.
• Williams was a key reliever for the Mustangs, who lost in the state championship to Orange Coast College. The lefty went 2-2 with a save in 23 games including two starts, striking out 20 with a 2.72 ERA in 361/3 innings.
• Lee went 13-1 with the Giants last season, leading California JC pitchers in wins while earning Central Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year and All-State honors as the Giants reached the final four. He struck out 63 and had a 2.34 ERA in 1032/3 innings.
• Topoozian, a former Buchanan High pitcher who went 11-0 and fueled the Bears to a No. 1 national ranking his junior season, was an All-State performer with the Rams in 2013, going 6-3 with a 2.03 ERA and striking out 94 in 102 innings. Last season, he went 6-7 with a 2.64 ERA, striking out 60 in 882/3 innings.
“Instead of one big guy, we’re going to have to get everyone pulling on the same rope,” Mundell said. “There’s something special when you get everyone going in one direction so I’m super excited for the season … I know I made the right choice” in coming back for his senior year.
Added Batesole: “The pitching is what’s going to carry us. Defensively, we’re going to be so much better because we’re so much older on the infield.”
Leading the Bulldogs behind the plate is junior Taylor Ward, who spent the summer playing for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team and was recently named to Louisville Slugger’s 2015 Preseason All-America second team.
As a sophomore, Ward was an All-Mountain West second-teamer and one of three Bulldogs to start all 57 games — 38 at catcher and 19 as the designated hitter. He hit .320 with 29 runs, eight doubles, six home runs and 41 RBIs.
For Ward, the preseason accolade means nothing.
“At the end of the year, that’s when it matters. That’s when it counts,” Ward said. “Being a preseason All-American really doesn’t mean much.”
“The last couple of years we haven’t done that well,” he added. “This year we’re focused on getting that ring, getting that conference championship and moving on.”
The Bulldogs open the season at home Feb. 13 against UC Irvine, which reached last year’s College World Series.
Fresno State baseball 2015 schedule
7 Alumni Game 2:05 p.m.
13 vs. UC Irvine 6:35 p.m.
14 vs. UC Irvine 6:35 p.m.
15 vs. UC Irvine 1:05 p.m.
17 vs. Cal Poly 6:35 p.m.
20 at Nevada* 6 p.m.
21 at Nevada* 6 p.m.
22 at Nevada* 1 p.m.
24 vs. USC 6:35 p.m.
27 vs. UNLV* 6:35 p.m.
28 vs. UNLV* 6:35 p.m.
1 vs. UNLV* 1:05 p.m.
3 vs. Sacramento State 6:35 p.m.
6 at Oregon State 5:35 p.m.
7 at Oregon State (DH) 1:05 p.m.
8 at Oregon State 1:05 p.m.
10 vs. Wagner 6:35 p.m.
11 vs. Wagner 6:35 p.m.
13 vs. UC Davis 6:35 p.m.
14 vs. UC Davis 6:35 p.m.
15 vs. UC Davis 1:05 p.m.
17 at USC 6 p.m.
20 vs. San Jose State* 6:35 p.m.
21 vs. San Jose State* 6:35 p.m.
22 vs. San Jose State* 1:05 p.m.
25 vs. Cal 6:35 p.m.
27 at New Mexico* 5 p.m.
28 at New Mexico* 1 p.m.
29 at New Mexico* noon
1 at UC Santa Barbara 3 p.m.
2 at UC Santa barbara 3 p.m.
3 at UC Santa Barbara 3 p.m.
4 at UC Santa Barbara 2 p.m.
7 vs. Cal 6:35 p.m.
10 vs. Nevada* 6:35 p.m.
11 vs. Nevada* 6:35 p.m.
12 vs. Nevada* 1:05 p.m.
14 at Cal Poly 6 p.m.
17 at Air Force* 2 p.m.
18 at Air Force* noon
19 at Air Force* noon
22 at Sacramento State 6:30 p.m.
24 vs. San Diego State* 6:35 p.m.
25 vs. San Diego State* 6:35 p.m.
26 vs. San Diego State* 1:05 p.m.
28 at Cal 6 p.m.
1 at San Jose State* 6 p.m.
2 at San Jose State* 6 p.m.
3 at San Jose State* 1 p.m.
5 vs. Cal State Northridge 6:35 p.m.
8 at UNLV* 6:05 p.m.
9 at UNLV* 2:05 p.m.
10 at UNLV* 1:05 p.m.
14 vs. New Mexico* 6:35 p.m.
15 vs. New Mexico* 6:35 p.m.
16 vs. New Mexico* 1:05 p.m.