There is plenty of hype surrounding the Cal Poly baseball team this season.
Not since a pair of 40-win teams in 2013 and 2014 has there been so much attention placed on the Mustangs heading into the start of the season.
Larry Lee, entering his 16th season as head coach, will have the task of managing those expectations when Cal Poly takes the field for the first time in 2018 on Friday for four games at the College Baseball Classic in Surprise, Arizona.
“We are working to get back to where we were in our back-to-back regional seasons a few years ago,” Lee said in a Cal Poly news release referring to the team’s last NCAA playoff appearances. “There is a strong mixture of experience and youth but a talented mixture of experience and youth. We also feel that we shored up a number of areas that were lacking and getting back to where we were in terms of physicality, competitiveness and the quality of our players.”
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Much of the reason for the excitement surrounding the program is a pair of top junior prospects — center fielder Alex McKenna and catcher Nick Meyer.
McKenna had a team-leading .360 batting average, five home runs and 31 RBI last season and was named first-team All-Big West. McKenna, expected to bat leadoff, comes into this season with a handful of preseason honors, including a spot on Baseball America’s preseason All-American third team. McKenna, a former quarterback and a top prospect at Alemany High School in Canyon Country, was a 38th-round pick by the Minnesota Twins as a senior and is expected to be a high draft pick after this season at Cal Poly. He’s listed as the No. 11 college outfielder eligible for the June draft, according to D1Baseball.com.
Meyer made the Top 100 college prospects in the nation for the 2018 MLB Draft, coming in at No. 89. He was the 2016 Big West Conference Freshman Field Player of the Year and a second-team All-Big West selection for the second straight year last season. He hit .255 with 31 RBI.
“We are strong up the middle with Nick Meyer behind the plate, Kyle Marinconz and Scott Ogrin in the middle of the infield and Alex McKenna in center field,” Lee said. “All have lots of game experience and each one of them has improved on the defensive side.”
Junior right-hander Michael Clark (5-0, 11 saves, 2.59 ERA last season), a second-team All-Big West selection, and senior lefty Trent Shelton (1-1, 2.30 ERA last season) are expected to be Cal Poly’s weekend starters.
“We have a lot of options and several quality arms on the mound,” Lee said. “We’re a much better defensive team than a year ago, and we should be a much better offensive team.”
Providing experience will be eight position players who made 25 or more starts last season.
Cal Poly is coming of a second-place finish in the Big West Conference (28-28, 16-8 Big West) but was unable to fully recover from a 2-9 start. The Mustangs will have another difficult preseason schedule, opening against Gonzaga on Friday followed by New Mexico on Saturday, No. 2 Oregon State on Sunday and Gonzaga again on Monday.
In an interesting local connection, it is possible that Gonzaga could put left-handed pitcher Mac Lardner, a Templeton native who grew watching Cal Poly baseball, on the mound at some point against Cal Poly, according to Gonzaga head coach Mark Machtolf.
Cal Poly will also face No. 4 Arkansas in the Tony Gwynn Legacy tournament in San Diego on Feb. 23 before opening the conference season March 29 at CSUN.
Cal Poly will host its first home game at the newly renovated Baggett Stadium against Pacific on March 2, and the Mustangs’ April 20 home game against Long Beach State will be nationally televised on ESPNU.
Listen and Follow
All four games from opening weekend will be broadcast on ESPN Radio 1280. Links for live stats and an audio stream are available on the baseball schedule page at GoPoly.com.