Adversity is nothing new to San Diego State. After having lost four starters — three to graduation and one to the NBA draft — the San Diego State men’s basketball team entered this season with little media attention, with experts and analysts alike touting 2012 as a “rebuilding year.”
So much for that.
So, too, did the SDSU football team — after having lost a plethora of starters, among them the school’s top two wide receivers (both of whom were NFL draft selections), the Aztecs were widely regarded as non-factors on the gridiron last year.
An 8-4 regular season later — one that ended with a berth to the New Orleans Bowl, no less — and there was nothing but praise for yet another SDSU squad that had highly exceeded expectations.
Aztec baseball would like to think it’s next.
“Expectations are high,” junior pitcher Bryan Crabb said, referring to a 2012 SDSU baseball squad that will look to mirror the successes of its athletic counterparts that have notoriously thrived in most recent campaigns largely attributed to contributions from young players.
Head coach Tony Gwynn and company are working hard to mold a baseball team full of young talent into contenders in a competitive Mountain West Conference. The team finished fourth in the standings last year at the conclusion of the regular season.
While SDSU enters its 2012 campaign with a bit of senior leadership in first baseman Jomel Torres and catcher / utility Chris Wilson — both named to the Mountain West Preseason All-Conference second-teams by College Sports Madness — the majority of the roster is comprised of young talent, with the Aztecs expected to start at least five sophomores.
Leading the charge for an SDSU sophomore baseball class that looks to take the MW by storm, both immediately and in years to come, are Cole Swanson, Cody Smith and Tim Zier. In regard to preseason All-Conference teams, the former two — Swanson and Smith — were named to the first team, while Zier was selected to the second.
Smith and Zier look to anchor a lineup that collectively batted an anemic .258 in 2011.
A Freshman All-American selection last season, Smith will be the cornerstone of the Aztecs’ outfield. Regarded as a five-tool player, the speedy Smith was near-perfect in swiping 15 bases in 16 attempts last season while hitting .311, good for second-best on the team, and number one among regular starters.
The then-freshman also tied for the team lead in triples last season with four, and displayed impressive power, hitting two longballs while also being one of four Aztecs to drive in 30 or more runs.
Zier will return to his starting position at second base this season after performing admirably there as a freshman. With a .301 batting average last year that netted him a team-best 66 hits, Zier also ended the season by reaching base safely at least once in each of the team’s final 16 games, while hitting safely in the final 14 — streaks he will carry into the 2012 campaign.
The extremely young trend also carries into the pitching rotation.
At its forefront is sophomore Swanson, who enjoyed a wildly successful freshman campaign that saw him garner Freshman All-American accolades.
At 6 feet 5 inches, the tall southpaw threw consistently throughout the year, and improved in time for conference play, finishing the league season with a record of 3-1 and a very solid 3.27 ERA.
Corey Black also threw very well in his first year of collegiate play, amassing a team-high 78 strikeouts while posting a 3.23 ERA. While he saw limited action in the field last season, the sophomore is expected to strictly be a member of the Aztec pitching staff this year.
Look for Swanson and Black, who were also first and second on the team in innings pitched last season, respectively, to emerge as standout pitchers for the Aztecs this season.
Among the rest of the sophomores who look to play significant roles this year are catcher Brad Haynal, infielders Cody Slader and Evan Potter and outfielder Dillon Bryant.
A recruiting class ranked 25th in the nation doesn’t hurt, either.
Mostly comprised of freshmen, SDSU’s incoming baseball class provides immediate improvement to the pitching staff. One of these pitchers is Michael Cederoth, who enters his first collegiate season with a huge upside. After having been drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 41st round, Cederoth, who throws in the mid 90s, opted to attend SDSU.
A junior with a fitting name, Travis Pitcher is another draftee added to the roster who will make an impact this season.
Freshmen Steven Pallares, Brandon Thomas and junior Ryan Doran also headline a highly touted incoming group of pitchers.
Catcher Jake Romanski and third baseman Ryan Muno lead a talented group of freshmen position players who also look to have their presences felt right away.
While optimism is justified, many would expect growing pains out of a team comprised of many players who have no more than one year of collegiate experience.
“We have a team that is both very talented and young,” Crabb said. “But we won’t use youth as an excuse. Expectations are definitely high.”
Feb. 17-19 vs. Washington
Feb. 21 at UC Riverside
Feb. 23 vs. Kansas State
Feb. 24 vs. Oregon State
Feb. 25 vs. Kansas State / Pacific
Feb. 28 at Cal State Fullerton
March 1 vs. Cal Poly
March 2 vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee
March 3 vs. San Francisco
March 4 vs. Cal State Northridge
March 6 at Long Beach State
March 9-11 vs. Saint Mary’s
March 16-18 at New Mexico
March 20 vs. San Diego
March 23-25 at Cal Poly
March 27 vs. UC Riverside
March 30-Apr. 1 vs. Air Force
Apr. 3 vs. Cal State Fullerton
April 5-7 at UNLV
April 9 vs. San Diego
April 10 vs. Long Beach State
April 13-15 vs. New Mexico
April 17 at UC Irvine
April 20-22 vs. TCU
April 27-29 at Air Force
May 1 vs. UC Irvine
May 4-6 vs. UNLV
May 11-13 at Texas A&M
May 15 vs. Loyola Marymount
May 18-20 at TCU
May 24-25 Mountain West Tournament