#6 California Baseball 2016 Preview

California Golden Bears
Overall Rank: #6
Conference Rank: #2 Pac-12
 California Logo
California returned to the postseason for the first time since 2011 when the Golden Bears went to the College World Series. Thus, expectations are very high for this California team that’s brings back their entire weekend rotation along with seven starters in the everyday lineup. If this Golden Bears team can stay healthy, they will be a very dangerous threat to get to Omaha in 2016 and contend for a national championship. The only other thing that could derail them would be not being able to handle being one of the hunted in the Pac-12 versus sneaking up on the rest of the conference like they did in 2015.
2015: 36-21, 18-12
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: David Esquer
Field Players:
Outfielder Aaron Knapp and catcher Brett Cumberland will be two of the core players that will pace the California lineup in 2016. Knapp hit .310, while collecting 72 hits, 12 stolen bases and 23 RBI, so he will cause plenty of havoc all season long. Cumberland will provide more of a power element to the Golden Bears in 2016 as Cumberland hit seven homeruns and drove in 32 last season. A good target for Cumberland this season will be hit at least ten homeruns and drive in closer to 50 runs.
The stability and experience in the weekend rotation will be huge difference maker this season for California. Senior Ryan Mason was the workhorse of the staff in 2015, throwing just under 100 innings, while posting a 6-3 record. Mason does a nice job of pitching to contact as he only walked 21 batters despite allowing 102 hits. Matt Ladrech was a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American in 2015 after posting a 7-4 record with a 2.67 earned run average. Ladrech did an excellent job of going after hitters and will need to continue to do that moving forward now that opposing teams will have a year of video on him. Junior Daulton Jefferies will be the Friday night starter during weekend series this season and Jefferies stepped up in big time fashion at key moments last season. Jefferies was 6-5 with a 2.92 earned run average and walked 17 batters, while striking out 74 batters in 80 innings of work last season.
Who to Watch:
Senior outfielders Drew Pearson and Brian Celsi will bring experience, the ability to generate some power offensively and nearly flawless defense to the table for the Golden Bears. Pearson hit .355 while playing in only 38 games so getting a full season out of him will be a bonus for California. Celsi drove in 31 runs while hitting .278 over the course of 43 starts in 47 games played. There also will be an interesting battle to see who takes over the closer role with the departure of Dylan Nelson and his eight saves from last season, so new pitching coach Thomas Eager will have his work cut out for him.
Final Projection:
There is a ton of excitement around the Golden Bears program, and rightfully so, but they are going to be tested leading up to the Pac-12 schedule. A four game series down in Austin against Texas starting March 3 after playing Michigan at home will tell Coach David Esquer exactly where his team is at on the national landscape of college baseball. The goal should be 3-2 or better during that week. The conference schedule does bring both Oregon State and UCLA to Evans Diamond this season so that will help offset trips to USC and Oregon. If this pitching staff continues to improve and the offense can get that timely hit, then look for California to be a top eight seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Projected Postseason: College World Series
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Aaron Knapp, OF, 232
Hits: Aaron Knapp, OF, 72
Home Runs: Brett Cumberland, C, 7
RBIs: Brett Cumberland, C, 32
Runs: Aaron Knapp, OF, 45
Stolen Bases: Aaron Knapp, OF, 12
Wins: Matt Ladrech, P, 7
Innings Pitched: Ryan Mason, P, 99.2
Strikeouts: Daulton Jefferies, P, 74
Saves: Two with one each

Madness 2016 Draft Rankings:
#30 Daulton Jefferies