Cal Baseball Season Preview
Cal opens 2022 season vs. Houston on the MLB Network, Friday at Noon PT
In 2021, Cal Baseball had a solid 29-26 season where they also went 15-15 in Pac-12 play, but it was not enough (RPI of only 86 despite some late-season quality wins over UCLA, etc.) to get the Bears into the NCAA Tournament Field of 64.
The Bears then got 4 players drafted in the 2021 MLB Draft - RHP Grant Holman, RHP Sean Sullivan, RHP Ian Villers, and 2B Darren Baker. 3B Quentin Selma also graduated and latched on to the Angels organization as an undrafted free agent. Coming into the new season, Cal would need to find a new table-setter (Baker) and run producer (Selma) in the lineup as well as 2/3 of the weekend rotation (Holman and Sullivan).
On the other hand, Cal might get more national, as well as professional scout, attention this season for having two juniors who are projected to be selected on the first or second day of the draft this summer. Both OF Dylan Beavers and RHP Josh White used a strong 2021 season to get on the USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team over the summer.
Cal Stars to Know
Cal is one of just 8 teams to have multiple players on the Golden Spikes Award watch list of only 55 players long.
OF Dylan Beavers
2021 Stats: Beavers led the Pac-12 with 18 home runs, including 10 during conference play, and slashed .303/.401/.630
Many MLB Prospect sites have Beavers as a mid to late first-round pick going into 2022. The often slow to adjust MLB Pipeline has Beavers 24th overall.
Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 55 | Run: 55 | Arm: 55 | Field: 50 | Overall: 50
The college ranks in northern California have a pair of toolsy, left-handed-hitting outfielders, both with considerable upside. One is Brock Jones from Stanford and the other is Beavers, who hit 18 homers and slugged .630 at Cal in 2021. Many scouts thought Beavers fit in the same conversation as Jones, though a rough summer in the Cape Cod League and with USA Baseball has led to some concerns.
When Beavers is locked in, he’s the proverbial five-tool player. During the spring of 2021, he reminded some scouts of Christian Yelich as a left-handed hitter who makes good swing decisions and hard contact in the strike zone. But using a bit of an unorthodox setup with lower hand positioning, he does have some timing issues and there are some holes in his swing. He was tied up inside at times over the summer. He was streaky in the fall, though he did show some flashes of brilliance, especially getting to his easily plus raw power.
While he’s big at 6-foot-4, Beavers is an above-average runner who has the chance to stay in center field, though his near-plus arm would work just fine in right. He hasn’t received a ton of instruction in terms of making adjustments mechanically at the plate, but there will be teams willing to look past the hit risk and bank on helping him tap into all of his tools at the next level.
As outfielder prospects, Beavers and Stanford’s Brock Jones (who also used to play football at The Farm) are often lumped together. Brock Jones also hit 18 home runs last year but in considerably more games; he hit 5 in the postseason as the David Esquer led Stanford went to the College World Series. Both Beavers and Jones also posted double-digit stolen base totals.
Beavers’ draft stock sank slightly with a pedestrian summer with the USA Collegiate National Team, but many MLB prospect people believe that he can rise to be a possible top-10 pick with another strong collegiate season. The comparison to 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich in the profile above should have pro-teams salivate at the chance to draft him this summer.
Following a bit of that Andrew Vaughn model, Dylan Beavers was also not drafted out of high school before coming to Cal. Beavers did not really have much of a freshman season (played only 12 games before COVID stopped everything) before taking a huge step forward in his sophomore campaign. One would really hope Cal Baseball’s recent track record in producing high draft picks will start to entice higher-profile talent to Berkeley.
RHP Josh White
2021 Stats: White posted the conference's second-lowest ERA (2.79) while striking out 81 batters in 61.1 innings pitched. While he only walked 25 guys, White also had 14 wild pitches and 5 HBP.
Started the season in the bullpen, White slowly but steadily ascended to the role of staff ace (Friday starter) by the end of the season. He had a strong 6 IP, 2 ER, 10 K outing at UCLA in his penultimate start. D1 Baseball really believes in White and ranked him at No.10 out of all of the starting pitchers in the country.
Both Beavers and White joined head coach Mike Neu for the Bay Area Media Day last Tuesday. You can watch the entire interview below.
While a new regular 2nd Baseman is needed to replace Darren Baker, Cal got experiences down the middle of the field with high-power, low-average catcher Cole Elvis and all-glove, no-bat shortstop Keshawn Ogans back to go with Beavers in center field. Outfielders Nathan Manning and Steven Zobac along with 1st baseman Nathan Martorella are other returning position player starters.
Senior RHP Sam Stoutenborough (3.73 ERA, 1.37 WHIP in 2021) is the most experienced pitcher returning. The two-way player Steven Zobac had a team-high 4 saves last season, but Neu implied that he and Joseph King are being transitioned into starters.
The entire college sports world saw a lot of transfers this past year, but I am not sure that is true for Cal. Two graduate students do enter the Cal pitching staff with Henrik Reinertsen from Pacific and Tommy Hannan from MIT (which did not have a season in 2021). With Mike Neu’s pitching pedigree, one does expect pitching talent amongst the incoming freshmen class.
New for 2022 - inaugural Pac-12 Tournament
While Cal was playing well down the stretch, their low RPI numbers made it nearly impossible for the team to dream about making the tournament. That will change starting in 2022 thanks to the brand new Pac-12 tournament where the conference automatic berth will be up for grab. This year’s Pac-12 tournament will take place in Scottsdale, Arizona - the same city where Cal will begin the season this weekend.
Given the unknowns coming off a non-postseason season, people are sleeping on Cal - preseason pick of 6th in the Pac-12 out of 11 teams (Colorado does not have a team). Mike Neu did put together a stronger schedule for the Bears this year to give the team a better shot at the tournament. Cal will open at the MLB4 tournament this weekend, facing off against Houston, No.17 TCU, and San Diego State. Cal will also play a series at No.11 Florida State on top of the strong Pac-12 competition that includes No.6 Stanford, No.15 Arizona, and No.18 Oregon State. If Cal is able to replicate a similar record as last year, that might be enough to punch a ticket to the playoffs.
While I am possibly in the minority as an optimistic baseball fan that believes that the MLB labor dispute will only result in a minimum number of games missed, college baseball does start this weekend. Cal has got the star power to deserve your attention, even if the overall team performance is rather a mystery right now.