BSB | '18 PREVIEW: Gaels Feature Depth Behind Plate, On Bench
The 2018 Saint Mary's baseball team will be one of the deepest the Gaels have had during Head Coach Eric Valenzuela's tenure
SMCGaels.com prepares fans for the 2018 season with a four-day, four-part preview walking up to the season opener on Friday, Feb. 16.
MORAGA, Calif. - Veteran backstops have been a backbone to each of head coach Eric Valenzuela's first four Saint Mary's baseball teams since he took over in 2014. And as a pitching-centric coach, that has been essential.
2018 will be no exception, as senior catcher Jackson Thoreson returns after starting 56 games behind the dish a season ago. The Gaels also return backup Taylor Meilleur while adding freshman JC Santini, as well as a host of newcomers to the bench that will bolster the team's depth.
Thoreson has played big chunks of time in each of his first three seasons at Saint Mary's. And he's been a versatile player for the Gaels, playing plenty of first base and designated hitter along with his catching duties. The veteran proved to be a formidable lefty power threat in the middle of the lineup last season, hitting nine home runs and 13 doubles with an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .772. Opponents recognized his bat, as he led the team with five intentional walks.
"It's great to have him come back as a senior, he's been through a lot of big games. He's also been a utility guy for us as well, playing some first base and DHing," said Valenzuela. "I think last year with Taylor (as the only backup catcher), we were still a little undermanned, and we were lucky to get through the season with Jack being healthy."
Meilleur made his collegiate debut last season, appearing in seven games with one start at catcher. He was sound defensively with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in 18 chances. He also scratched out his first career base hit, RBI and run scored with two walks in his first year.
Santini comes to the Gaels this season out of Woodcreek High School in Roseville, Calif., where he hit .350 and hit 11 doubles. He was also solid behind the plate for the Timberwolves, posting a .995 fielding percentage as a junior and .984 last spring. He finished his varsity high school baseball career as a .304 hitter with an .837 OPS.
"This year we have a little bit more depth with JC Santini who's a really, really good freshman, highly regarded kid that's probably the future of our program behind the plate," said Valenzuela. "Him and Taylor to back up Jack, give him a rest, we feel a lot more confident with our catching situation for sure."
The Gaels go into the 2018 season with plenty of defensive, offensive and running options off the bench. In all, the Gaels will have 12 backup position players, with a diverse selection of seven infielders and five outfielders to choose from.
Outfielders Matt Green, Ryan Novis, Andrew Shebloski and Jacob Talamante return after getting their feet wet as rookies last year. They are joined by newcomer Jack Murphy out of nearby Monte Vista High School in Danville, where he was a power left-handed hitter who slugged .555 in two years of varsity ball and also moonlighted as a relief pitcher, proving his arm strength when he's in the outfield.
"I think we're as deep as we've ever been," said Valenzuela. "Not even (just Talamante), you look in the infield, you got guys like (Austin) Piscotty, (Dylan) Robertson, (Charles) Zaloumis, and the outfield with Jack Murphy, with Talamante, Shebloski and Ryan Novis, Matt Green as well. We've got a lot of bats. It's really good."
Along with Meilleur and Santini, Gio Diaz (Heritage High School, Brentwood, Calif.), Gabe Giosso (De La Salle High School, Alamo, Calif.) and Bill Ralston (Clayton [Calif.] Valley Charter) all join the Gaels' infielders core as freshmen this season. Either the senior Piscotty or junior transfer Robertson out of San Joaquin Delta College will provide the group with a veteran presence while the other starts at first base.
Zaloumis gives the Gaels an option for nearly everything off the bench after hitting .294 in 38 games (30 starts) last year with time in the middle infield and at third base. He also stole three bases and drew 20 walks for a .411 on-base percentage - second-best on the team.
The 2018 Saint Mary's baseball season begins on Friday at Big West Conference champion Long Beach State. The Gaels' 2018 home opener will be on March 2, versus 2018 NCAA Regional participant Xavier.
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