#29 Pepperdine Baseball 2016 Preview

Pepperdine Waves
Overall Rank: #29
Conference Rank: #1 West Coast
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Pepperdine was drawn into a tough group in the NCAA Tournament last year. They did not have to travel far, but were paired with Fullerton along with Clemson and Arizona State. After an opening loss to Cal State Fullerton, the Waves fought their way to the title game to get another crack, or two, at the Titans. However, winning those games against Clemson and Arizona State took too much out of this team. After a trip to the Super Regionals in 2014, last year was a bit disappointing for the program. Pepperdine will also be ushering in a new coach in Rick Hirtensteiner with Steve Rodriguez taking over the head coaching duties at Baylor. Hirtensteiner has been on the Pepperdine staff for 18 years now and was an All-American with the Waves in 1989, so it will be business as usual in Malibu.
2015: 32-29, 17-10
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Rick Hirtensteiner
Field Players:
Pepperdine lost their best offensive player in Hutton Moyer. He batted .295 and led the team with 14 homeruns, 45 RBIs, 52 runs scored and 15 stolen bases. The Waves still have plenty of power though. Brad Anderson hit ten homers last season, Chris Fornaci added eight, while Manny Jefferson had six. Anderson is also the team’s top returning RBI producer with 41. Aaron Barnett led the team with 69 hits. He may not have knocked too many out of the park, but he can find the gaps. Brandon Caruso is often the player the rest of the team will drive in. He batted .309 last season and scored 33 runs. With Nick Costello, Jordan Qsar and Matt Gelalich sporting plenty of starting experience, the Waves offense should not miss Moyer all that much.
Like the hitters, the pitching staff loses a key piece, but returns more than enough talent to make up for it. The departed player is Jackson McClelland, who started 15 games and ended the season with a 2.93 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 95.1 innings of work. Ryan Wilson and A.J. Puckett were the other usual starters and are returning for the 2016 campaign. Wilson went 8-3 on the year and tallied a 3.78 ERA. Puckett will give up some hits, but he led the team with 81 strikeouts and three complete games. When Puckett is on, he is tough to hit. Coach Hirtensteiner will need to find a third starter. Sophomore Kiko Garcia and junior Chandler Blanchard each started at least five games, so they are experienced options to step into the weekend rotation. 
Who to Watch:
Chris Fornaci had a big junior season and has all the tools for a great senior season. He batted just .240 in 2015, but the 5-11 infielder hit 13 double and eight homeruns. More importantly, he made up for his low batting average by earning 30 walks and getting hit by a school-record 24 pitches. That boosted his on-base percentage to a solid .393. If he can keep that up, although not getting beaned quite as often may not be a bad thing, and up his batting average to around .270, he will be putting pressure on the opposing pitcher during half of his at-bats. Fornaci does not have a lot of speed, but he does tend to score. He was second only to Moyer last year with 41 runs scored.
Final Projection:
Pepperdine is so good at closing out games and that is largely due to Max Gamboa. He appeared in 27 games last season and recorded a team high eight saves. He went 6-2 with a 2.89 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 43.2 innings. And all of that was as a freshman. The big nonconference series for Pepperdine is at home against Texas A&M. They also travel to Tulane before conference play begins. Games against UCLA, USC and UCSB are also sprinkled in throughout the season. San Diego, perhaps their toughest competition in the WCC this year, comes to Malibu during the second weekend of WCC play. A series win there and the Waves could coast to a WCC title.
Projected Postseason: NCAA Baseball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Aaron Barnett, C, 228
Hits: Aaron Barnett, C, 69
Home Runs: Brad Anderson, 1B, 10
RBIs: Brad Anderson, 1B, 41
Runs: Chris Fornaci, IF, 41
Stolen Bases: Matt Gelalich, OF, 7
Wins: Ryan Wilson, P, 8
Innings Pitched: Ryan Wilson, P, 97.2
Strikeouts: A.J. Puckett, P, 81
Saves: Max Gamboa, P, 8