Over the better part of the last five years, the Cal baseball program has lived an interesting life. Just prior to the 2011 season, it was announced that the school was going to drop baseball as a cost-cutting measure.
Undeterred, head coach Dave Esquer and the Cal baseball community rallied throughout the course of the 2011 season and not only got baseball reinstated, but also watched as the team punctuated their season by advancing to the College World Series.
That was an exciting time, but unfortunately, the original news that the program was going away hurt future Cal teams as much as it might have helped to motivate the 2011 squad. It’s tough to recover on the recruiting trail when basically an entire recruiting class and recruiting cycle was put in jeopardy as the team’s fate hung in the balance. That showed over the ensuing three seasons when the Bears were essentially a .500 team.
In 2015, though, Cal came back to life, went 36-21, got into a regional, and put a scare into host Texas A&M once they got there. It was almost perfect symmetry that the first recruits to come to Berkeley after the program was left for dead were seniors on the 2015 team. And better yet, they’ve left the program in as good or better shape than when they arrived.
Heading into 2016, the Bears are on the short list of teams that harbor real aspirations of making a trip to Omaha.
Much of the enthusiasm surrounding Cal is due to the pitching staff they have returning, led by staff ace Daulton Jefferies. Last season, despite missing some time due to injury, Jefferies went 6-5 with a 2.92 ERA. In 80 innings, he struck out 74 and walked just 17. He spent this past summer pitching for Collegiate Team USA, and with a quality 2016 season, he’ll end up high on draft boards come next summer.
He’s far from alone on the mound, though. Other pitchers capable of holding down rotation slots include Ryan Mason (6-3, 2.98), Matt Ladrech (7-4, 2.67), and Jeff Bain (6-2, 2.52). In the bullpen, Erik Martinez and Alex Schick provide a pair of power arms that can handle closing games down. Martinez sported a 1.56 ERA last season and struck out 40 hitters in 34.2 innings. Schick had a 4.21 ERA, but was even more adept at missing bats. In 36.1 innings, he struck out 46.
Offensively, the Bears will miss Chris Paul, who now plays in the Twins organization, and Lucas Erceg, who transferred to Menlo College over the summer.
All is not lost, though, because offensive spark plugs Devin Pearson (.355/.413/.558) and Aaron Knapp (.310/.376/.375) return. Mitchell Kranson (.273, 12 doubles, 6 HR) and Brett Cumberland (.254, 10 doubles, 7 HR) will also be back to provide some punch in the middle of the order. If defensive-minded middle infielders Preston Grand Pre and Robbie Tenerowicz take a step forward at the plate, the Cal offense really has potential.
The Bears will meet significant resistance from the likes of Oregon, Oregon State, and UCLA, among others, in the Pac-12 next season, but Cal has the tools to compete with, and eclipse, any of them.