Jan. 31, 2006
PULLMAN, Wash. - Washington State University enters the 2006 baseball season continuing its youth movement as 21 first-year players join 14 players with just one season on the squad. Despite the relative youth of the Cougars, head coach Donnie Marbut has high expectations as he heads into his second season leading WSU.
"I expect us to be very competitive, no matter who we are playing," said Marbut, who guided WSU to a 21-37 record in his initial campaign. "This team has the makeup and type of student-athletes who will be very competitive with the schedule we have.
"This team wants to bring itself back to respectability and put the program back on the map," he continued. "Obviously it takes wins for that to happen, but I see this team being very competitive no matter where, when or who we are playing."
Marbut begins his second season at the helm of the Cougar squad and third overall in the WSU program. After spending the 2004 season as an assistant coach, Marbut became the 14th head coach in the program's history before the 2005 season. Prior to his arrival, Marbut spent four seasons as head coach at Edmonds Community College, where he amassed a 152-38 record, a winning percentage of 80 percent. Included in that stretch were the 2002 and 2003 Northwest Athletic Association of Community College championships, highlighted by a 43-7 record in 2003, the best mark ever achieved in the NWAACC.
Returning for his second season on staff is associate head coach Travis Jewett, who handles the Cougar hitters while also serving as recruiting coordinator. A 1993 graduate of WSU, Jewett brings a wealth of experience to the program, serving three seasons as an assistant coach at both Washington (2002-04) and Gonzaga (1999-2001) prior to his Cougar appointment.
"Coach Jewett's reputation speaks for itself," said Marbut. "Last year he set a foundation and developed a solid rapport with our hitters. With another year understanding his system, we should see even better results. He's one of the best offensive instructors around and proved he is one of the best recruiting coordinators with the class we signed last November."
Gregg Swenson begins his first season as the Cougar pitching coach, working with a talented, but very young group of hurlers. Swenson arrived at WSU after spending the previous four years as an assistant coach at cross-state rival Washington, where he worked alongside Jewett. Swenson began his collegiate coaching career at Tacoma Community College in 1996, spending five seasons there coaching against Marbut and Edmonds CC.
Matt Dorey begins his first season as the Cougars volunteer assistant coach, though he is no stranger to the Cougar staff. Dorey played one season alongside Marbut when the two were at Portland State for the 1996 season. Dorey arrived at WSU after spending the previous two years as assistant coach at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Ore.
"Both Gregg and Matt are definitely proven winners, proven coaches who have coached in winning programs," said Marbut. "I am excited both have joined are staff and we're fortunate to have them on board.
"This club is hungry and very focused on what it is doing," Marbut added. "They showed that during the fall and winter, which has been the best in my three years here. That is not only a credit to the kids, but to the coaching staff as well."
The outfield is going to center on three-year starter and co-captain Jay Miller, who will solidify the left field spot and hit in the middle of the lineup. A Pac-10 honorable mention selection the last three seasons, Miller needs 81 hits to become just the second Cougar with 300 in his career. "Jay is one of the premier hitters in the Pac-10 who has produced since the day he stepped on campus and will continue to do so this season."
Other returning players who will look for outfield playing time include sophomores Garrett Kimbrel and Scott Suttmeier, along with senior Zach McAngus. Kimbrel hit .264 last season, playing a lot in the latter part of the season, while Suttmeier, who hit .290 in 2005, will move to the outfield after serving as an infielder last year. "Garret is a very talented player who has all the tools, while Suttmeier is a heady player, a real student of the game. Both bring a lot to the field."
McAngus spent the last two seasons at third base, starting 45 games last year, while hitting .287. A move to the outfield might give Marbut more flexibility at the plate. "Zach has had a very productive offensive career and we need to get his bat in the lineup."
Newcomers who could find playing time this season include freshmen Jared Prince, Kyle Hinrichs and Tyler McCallum, along with sophomore transfer Simi Reynolds. "We thought Jared would be more of a pitcher but he really came on with his bat in the fall and we definitely see him as a right-handed hitting option," said Marbut. "Kyle is a good runner who throws and hits well. As he progresses he has a chance to become a very productive Pac-10 player. Tyler is a fine three-sport athlete out of Chehalis High School, while Simi started as a true freshman at Washington in 2003 and brings a lot of speed and athleticism along with a left-handed bat."
Junior Ryan Krauser, a transfer from Lower Columbia College, was projected as the starting center fielder but underwent "Tommy John" surgery in the fall. "Ryan is the type of guy who can really spark us if he can get healthy and back in the lineup," said Marbut.
The infield will center on junior Jeff Miller, who started 57 games at second base last season but could also see time at third in 2006. The All-Pac-10 honorable mention pick in 2005 batted .282 last season, finishing second on the team in RBIs (40) and stolen bases (10). "Jeff is a solid, steady baseball player and his success is very important to our team," said Marbut. "He is the type of guy who leads and people follow him, the type of player we hope to recruit in the future.
At first base two sophomores return who shared time last season. Jim Murphy, who batted .287 as a true freshman in 2005, finished second on the team with seven home runs and third with 28 RBIs. Nick Hall, a switch-hitter, saw action in just 28 games last season but has shown promise with a solid fall season. "Jimmy is a big, imposing presence who provided power and played a solid defensive first base last season," said Marbut. "We slot Nick as playing first, DH-ing and possibly playing some catcher. He's gotten bigger and stronger and we see him being an offensive player who can hit in the middle of the lineup."
At shortstop the Cougars have depth with returning starter Matt Thomas and sophomore transfer Paul Gran. Thomas, a sophomore who started 41 games as a true freshman last season, is a solid defensive player who hit .230 last season. Gran spent the 2005 season at Edmonds Community College where he batted .375 while being named to the NWAACC Northern Region first team and was a member of All-NWAACC Tournament team.
"For us to get better Matt needs to be better with the bat," said Marbut. "He is a very fine defensive player. At times last year we thought was as good defensively as anyone in the conference. Paul Gran is probably the most talented baseball player on the club. He was drafted by the Dodgers after his senior season and decided to turn down the bonus to attend school. He is fast, has a great arm, great range and can hit for power. By the time he leaves WSU he will be one of the more talented players in the Pac-10."
Also finding a spot on the infield is freshman Travis Coulter, a freshman out of Southridge High School in Kennewick, where he set school records for batting average (.531), and hits (67) as a senior. Redshirt sophomore Brian Yates, who saw action in just eight games last season, can play third or first and has improved his defense over the fall. "Travis probably had the best fall of anyone on the club," said Marbut. "He is just the type of player you need on a team to win and I see him as an impact player for us at second base. Brian has become more consistent defensively and is versatile enough to be used at more than one position."
The Cougars will be solid behind the plate with a nice mix of veterans and youth. Senior co-captain Zach Franklin, who started three games at catcher last season while playing behind All-Pac-10 performer Brady Everett, hit a team-high .364 in 66 plate appearances. "Zach is as good with the bat as any player in our program," said Marbut. "He's a great team leader who does everything a coach wants. He's an overachiever who makes the team better."
Freshman Greg Lagreid, a highly-recruited player out of O'Dea High School, turned heads with a strong fall season. "Greg's progressing faster than we thought he would," said Marbut. "He's been great behind the plate and good with the bat. We look for big things from him in the near future."
Junior transfer Mike Gilbert from Edmonds CC and freshman Brian Rittereiser round out the receiving corp. "Mike is the type of player that makes everyone around him better, a true Coug already, which is nice to see," said Marbut. "Brian is a very good catch-and-throw defensive catcher. He has to come along with the bat to get more playing time, but defensively he is as good as any fourth catcher in the conference."
"This is my third year here at WSU and it's the deepest staff since I've been here," said Marbut. "I feel like we have five or six candidates who can start, four or five who can work in the middle and more than one that can close."
Two transfer student-athletes look to make an immediate impact. Junior Mike Wagner, who spent the previous two seasons at Vanderbilt, posted a 3-0 record with 49 strikeouts and a 3.61 ERA in 42. 1 innings last year. After a strong fall season he has solidified himself in the starting rotation. "Off the field, on the field, in the weight room, Mike has made a huge impact already," said Marbut. "He has a chance to be a legitimate front-line starter in the Pac-10."
Another transfer Marbut is high on is Nick Ison, who arrives at WSU following two seasons at Salt Lake Community College. Ison posted an 8-1 record with team-leading 1.62 ERA in 78.0 innings last year, earning conference and region pitcher of the year honors. "Right now we have him as a closer but things can change," said Marbut. "We want to give Nick the ball when the game is important because he is very, very competitive. He has great stuff and has pitched in big games as well."
Junior Wayne Daman returns after posting a 7-6 record last season with a 4.91 ERA. He led the team in wins and was second in ERA, innings pitched (84.1) and strikeouts (44). "Wayne had a solid year last season without a lot of help offensively or defensively behind him," said Marbut. "We expect him to have a good year and turn himself into a quality Pac-10 pitcher."
Left-handed sophomore Jayson Miller returns and will battle for a spot in the rotation after starting numerous Friday night games last season. "Jayson has been very productive, a big-time strike thrower," said Marbut. "It is a real security blanket for our staff knowing you have a left hander who can come in and throw strikes anytime he needs to."
Sophomore Matt Oye will also battle for a starting nod after appearing in 11 games last season, three as a starter. "Matt probably had the best fall of all our pitchers," Marbut said. "He has really matured, physically, mentally and emotionally."
In the middle innings Marbut is going to have a full compliment of youthful pitchers he can go to, depending on the situation. Senior lefty Reese Baker, who threw 11.1 innings in seven appearances last season, and junior lefthander Travis Webb, who saw action in 23 contests in 2005, both had solid fall seasons. "Reese has really developed his secondary stuff and turned himself into a different type of pitcher," Marbut said. "Travis had an outstanding summer, probably the best on the team, and carried that into the fall."
Junior right hander Nick Cebula recorded a 2-3 record last season in 16 appearances, six as a starter. Along with junior transfer Zach Bird, who arrived from Mt. Hood CC where he was an All-NWAACC pitcher, Marbut has two experienced righties coming out of the pen. "Nick pitched a lot last year getting his mechanics cleaned up," said Marbut. "He had a great summer and I look for him to build on his sophomore season. Zach is a lot like Nick Ison, a pitcher with great stuff who we can use as a starter, closer or in relief."
Senior Eric Dingwall returns for his senior year after seeing action in 16 games last season, posting a 1-0 record with 19 strikeouts in 22 innings. "Eric has a chance to be very good out of the pen in short relief," said Marbut. "He had success last year and has made strides towards being more consistent, which is a big factor."
Senior Grant Alexander saw action in 17 games last season as a catcher and three appearances on the mound. "Grant has spent the year focusing on pitching after hitting and pitching for us last season," said Marbut. "He will work as a reliever and is a great teammate who works hard at his craft."
Six freshmen who look to make an impact on the staff are righthanders Jeremy Johnson, David Roberts and Matt Crowe, and lefthanders Adam Dentz, Ross Humes and Matt Way. "Jeremy had a very solid fall and is really poised for an 18-year-old," said Marbut. "David had the best fall of all the freshmen as his velocity jumped up to 92-93. We see a big upside to David. Matt arrives from powerhouse Southridge High School and is coming off "Tommy John" surgery in the fall.
"Ross we see as being a situational lefthander to get people out, which we think he can do," Marbut continued. "Matt and Adam have a chance to be starters in the future once they gain a little more college experience."
The Cougars will be no stranger to the road at the start of the 2006 season. WSU opens its campaign at the Buccaneer Classic, hosted by Charleston Southern, Feb. 10-12. The Cougars will face East Tennessee State, Kennesaw State, Charleston Southern and Missouri. The next weekend WSU heads west for a four-game, three-day series at Hawaii-Hilo, followed by the River City Classic, hosted by Sacramento State, with games against Portland, Brigham Young, UC Davis and San Francisco. The season-opening road swing will encompass 12 games, last 17 days and cover over 11,234 miles.
"February will be a tough stretch for us," said Marbut. "The first three weekends on the road will be good for us, allowing us to pitch more guys, play more players, and hopefully establish some depth."
The Cougars return home to participate in the Banana Belt Tournament where they face Chicago State, Gonzaga and Lewis-Clark State before hosting Chicago State in a three-game series. The final nonconference tuneup will be the Johnny Quik Classic in Fresno, Calif., Mar. 13-18, where they face Binghampton, Lafayette and Fresno State and three other opponents to be determined.
Then WSU open Pacific-10 Conference play at Stanford, Mar. 25-27. In conference action the Cougars will host Arizona State, California, Southern California and Oregon State, with road series at UCLA, Arizona and Washington in addition to Stanford. WSU will also face nonconference opponents Northern Colorado in a three-game series in Greeley, Apr. 21-23 and Utah Valley State, May 6-8, in Pullman.
"Last year the conference was strong with two teams advancing to the College World Series and this year it is even stronger," said Marbut. "OSU is bringing back 90 percent of its innings pitched. Games are won on the mound and they have all their pitching back. Arizona, USC, Stanford, all were regional teams and I see all three repeating. There were also some good clubs left out last year, particularly Cal and Washington. Two teams last season that were not as strong, WSU and UCLA, I see making big strides to the middle or top of the league. I see the conference getting stronger, not weaker."