“I’ll be very disappointed if we’re not good offensively,” Head Coach Mike Gillespie said last week.
Last season UC Irvine outscored opponents by an average of 1.74 runs in 60 games. Scoring 6.62 times per game, the Anteaters put the bat on the ball and reached base often. At the dish, UCI only struck out 257 times to their opponents’ 483.
They don’t have many burners on the basepaths, managing just 40 stolen bases, but they execute well with hit and runs and sacrifices.
At the top of the order, Gillespie expects to lead off with junior Jordan Fox. Committing zero errors in 60 attempts last season, Fox will split time between first base and tracking down fly balls in the outfield, and is expected to be tested early at the plate. Although he only had 69 at-bats in 2010, Fox proved that he could reach base with regularity, batting .275 while posting an on-base percentage of .381.
The second hitter is often a batter who can see pitches, make contact and advance the leadoff man along — and junior shortstop D.J. Crumlich can do just that. He tied former second baseman Casey Stevenson for the team lead with 10 sacrifices last year, hit .284 with a .396 on-base percentage and struck out just 14 times in 116 at-bats.
“D.J.’s critical,” Gillespie said. “If he came up hurt, that’d be bad news. He’s a perfect leader and he’s an easy guy to root for.”
Batting third is senior third baseman Brian Hernandez. Hernandez hit .322 with a .389 on-base percentage in 57 games last year. The doubles machine scored a team-high 63 runs, hit four home runs and drove in 44 runs.
“I took the summer off to get healthy,” Hernandez said. “I’ve worked on maintaining my swing and getting stronger.”
Junior Jordan Leyland will hit cleanup as the designated hitter, while seeing occasional innings at first base. Playing in just 29 games last season, Leyland’s .326 on-base percentage was unimpressive, but his performance in the NCAA Regional at UCLA caught Coach Gillespie’s attention.
“Leyland had a real good regional with a big home run against UCLA,” Gillespie said. “That vaulted him into the Cape Cod league [over the summer].”
Slotted at fifth, senior Drew Hillman provides an essential bat to the Anteater lineup. Hillman played left field in the UCLA Regional last season, but also has experience in the infield. In 2010, the Orange Coast College transfer hit .352 with four home runs and 19 RBIs, in 91 at-bats.
“Hillman didn’t play early last year, but did well when he played late in the season,” Gillespie said. “He’s an impressive offensive player.”
Gillespie referred to the sixth and seventh spots in the order as interchangeable between junior Ronnie Schaeffer and senior Sean Madigan. Schaeffer has big shoes to fill behind the dish, taking over for graduated Francis Larson. In his apprenticeship role last season, Schaeffer hit .318 and drove in 31 runs in 173 at-bats.
Madigan will start in right field after serving a platoon role between center and right field in 2010. A scrappy hitter, Madigan hit .280 with 29 RBIs and committed just one error in 100 attempts in the outfield.
The eighth hitter brought excitement to Gillespie’s voice. Junior centerfielder Christian Ramirez was ruled ineligible last season after not having enough transferable units. This season he is expected to track balls down in the alleys and put the barrel on the ball with what Gillespie refers to as “a funky batting style.” In 2009, Ramirez hit .383 with three home runs, 23 RBIs and 16 stolen bases at Cypress Junior College.
“Ramirez’s best ability is his hitting,” Gillespie said. “He’s fun and loveable. His bunting is a work in progress, but he can hit and run and he’s a solid .300 hitter.”
Rounding out the order is junior second baseman Tommy Reyes. Taking over for Stevenson, Reyes could potentially have the least solidified spot in the lineup. Although Gillespie firmly stated that Reyes is his starter, his miniscule .229 average in 42 games last season is an area that needs dramatic improvement in order to maintain his position.
Two bench players worth noting are senior Jonathan Hurst and freshman infielder Dillon Moyer. As a useful backup outfielder and catcher, Hurst will provide a handy bat off of the bench. He hit .342 with 12 RBIs in 33 games last year.
Moyer has an athletic pedigree. The son of longtime Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Jamie Moyer and grandson of former Notre Dame basketball coach and current ESPN analyst Digger Phelps, Dillon Moyer is likely to eventually succeed Crumlich at shortstop someday.
“[Moyer is] very talented,” Gillespie said. “He’s the best major league prospect, because of his tools. He runs and throws like a big leaguer. We need his bat to come around, but that will happen and could happen fast. He’s a legit base-stealing threat.”
For now, the lineup seems to be the least of Gillespie’s worries. He banks on his position players continuing where they left off last June.