2021 San Diego State Aztecs Baseball Preview: Part 3

SDSU Baseball

Credit: SDSU Athletics

The third and final part of the East Village Times preview of the 2021 San Diego State Baseball season is a deep dive into the roster.

While not an exhaustive look at each player, the article aims to give the casual fan enough of a sample of the players to get a feel for the entire team while providing diehards with new details about the players they know.

Taken together, the season preview offers views from multiple perspectives. Part I was the 10,000-foot view of the season. It offered the offseason storylines to follow that provide the context for 2021. Part II zoomed to the 1,000-foot view and offered a general overview of the team on the field. Part III, in turn, is the perspective taken from Tony Gwynn Stadium, 436.9 feet above sea level. It examines many of the players who hope to make this season the best in program history.

The players are listed in numerical order.

#2 Ryan Orr     OF/C

Career Stats       Average              Homeruns          RBI        OPS

.245                     0                           25          .630

Orr is one of three seniors from last year’s team who returns to the Mesa in 2021. He has mostly played catcher in his career but moved into the outfield last season because he found his rhythm at the plate. In the shortened 2020 season, he was hitting 50 points higher than his career average.  He should start the season in left field, and if he can continue his improvement at the plate, he should be a fixture in the lineup all season.

Coach Martinez’ comments

“Ryan Orr, who moved from catcher to left last year. He’s improved his game in left field, so we feel very, very comfortable there.” …

“Ryan Orr hit third in our lineup last year because he could. He’s a good hitter. He’s not a big power type guy, but he’s a big RBI guy. He hit third, fifth. We put him in left field based on the fact he was really swinging the bat. Having a lot of training over the summer and the fall in the outfield has made him a lot better in the outfield. He’s really an outfielder who can catch.”

# 3 Wyatt Hendrie     C

2020 Stats          Average              Homeruns          RBI        OPS

.286                     1                           7            .784

A tenth-round pick by the Giants in 2019, Hendrie came to the Aztecs when he could not reach a contract agreement with San Francisco. As the quotes below indicate, expectations are high for the backstop. His development defensively should be a boon for the staff. Catchers of his quality usually are not playing college baseball. Enjoy his time on the Mesa while it lasts.

Coach Martinez’ comments

“You think about last year, Wyatt was going to be a guy – to take a basketball term – kind of a one and done for us. He was already drafted in the tenth round out of junior college. He was going to be a higher draft pick last year. …then, all of a sudden, Coivd hit, and you get a bonus. You get Wyatt Hendrie back. …”

“Last year, (Hendrie) was a little crude, a little wet behind the ears. The experience he had in our program accelerated his growth. Just coming into this year, he looks like a big leaguer. I’m not saying he’s a big-league talent yet, but he has big-league ability. He can really throw the dog out of it. He’s a great runner for a catcher. He can hit, and he can hit for power.”

“What’s more appreciated is how he’s grown handling our pitching staff. Understanding everybody’s personality down there in the bullpen and in real-time in inner squads and the games has made us a better pitching staff by having that great talent, but also the great personality and leadership that he’s demonstrated…”

#8 Cole Carrigg     3B/C

2021 Freshman: Ranked the 82nd best recruit in the state of California by Perfect Game.

Carrigg came into the program expecting to compete for the starting catching job, but Hendrie’s extra year in the program pushed him to a different position. It says a lot about his talent that he is competing for the starting job at third base. The coaching staff has played him all over the field since he arrived at the Mesa, but he has settled in the infield.

Coach Martinez’ comments

“Cole Carrigg is a catcher recruit. He is also a tremendous athlete. He can play pretty much anywhere in the infield. He is battling Max (Foxcroft) for the starting job at third base. Currently, he’s a freshman. He’s a switch hitter. Tall, lanky dude. He doesn’t look like a catcher. He looks more like a greyhound, not a bulldog. He’s a tremendous athlete. “

#9 Matt Rudick     CF

Career Stats       Average              Homeruns          RBI        OPS

.318                     1                           56          .795

Rudick was picked as part of the preseason all-Mountain West team. He has hit over .300 in each of his three seasons on the Mesa. Rudick is a top-of-the-order hitter who should set the table for the heart of the lineup. He is a plus defender who allows Coach Martinez to hide lesser defenders in left.

Coach Martinez’ comments

“You know our park. We need to have some guys who can run a little bit on (the right) side, with Matt Rudick playing center field. He’s one of our best players. And Jaden (Fein) playing right – he’s played there before – we should be able to cover some of those big areas in right-center with those two guys in center and right.”

#12 Max Foxcroft     IF

Career Stats       Average              Homeruns          RBI        OPS

.155                     0                           16          .487

Foxcroft started nearly every game and hit second in the order at Oregon, which employs a different approach than the Aztecs. The Ducks play for one run, which meant Foxcroft was frequently asked to sacrifice bunt. His fifteen sacrifice bunts were second in the country in 2019. Transferring to SDSU, which gives more freedom to their players, Foxcroft is a veteran player in the mix to start at third. He has the flexibility to play three positions in the infield and should be a key player throughout the year.

SDSU Baseball

Coach Martinez’ comments

“Max is kind of an all-everything dynamo. He can play third, short, second. Right now, he’s battling for the third base position that Casey Schmidt vacated. … Max can plug in at three positions, absolutely. A little left-handed hitter. He’s a skills guy. He can run a little bit. He’s been a huge addition to our program. He kind of fits the mold of what I want. He’s a get after it guy. He’s a tough-minded kid. We’re real excited about the future for him.”

#20 Michael Paredes P

Career Stats       Wins                    Losses                 Innings                ERA

4                           4                           71                        4.94

Last season, the Friday starter, Paredes, will be first in line to be the third and final starter in the rotation. He is a versatile pitcher who, whether he is starting or eventually moves to the bullpen, will be depended upon in crucial situations for the Aztecs. Not blessed with the biggest stature, Parades more than makes up for it with elite competitiveness.

Coach Martinez’ comments

“Mikey Paredes has been a veteran for us throughout the years. … He is a bulldog type guy – mentality-wise. He can close out games. He’s very durable. He’s actually put on some strength and muscle this year, which is really going to help him pitch.”

#21 Brian Leonhardt     DH/P

Leonhardt is the next in a growing list of SDSU players who play both ways. He has pitched more innings as an Aztec than ace Troy Melton. His 46 career RBI is second among the active players. Leonhardt is a redshirt sophomore. A huge year could put him in contention for the school’s all-time RBI leader currently held by Jake McLintock. McLintock had 178 from 2002 – 2005.

Career Hitting Stats        Average              Homeruns          RBI        OPS

.271                    3                           46          .716

Career Pitching Stats      Wins                    Losses                 Innings                ERA

1                           0                           26.1                     5.13

Coach Martinez’ comments

“Brian Leonhardt is a two-way guy that’s been pitching exceptionally well this spring. He’s still swinging the bat like ever, but at the same time, he’s been pitching exceptionally well. He’s another guy who can do a lot of things for us. On the mound, he could start, he can come in the middle of games, and he can also finish games for us.” …

“If we started tomorrow, (Leonhardt) would probably be a DH/pitcher coming out of the bullpen. He’s a guy who has led our team in RBIs the last couple of years. He’s a middle-of-the-order type guy. He’s not going to wow you with a ton of power, but he’s going to wow you with bat discipline and driving in runs.”

#22 Jaden Fein     OF

Career Stats       Average              Homeruns          RBI        OPS

.306                     5                           27          .830

Already named as the preseason Offensive Player of the Year by Baseball America and a preseason all-conference player by Mountain West coaches, Fein is the centerpiece of the Aztecs’ offense. A fluid athlete, Fein brings power to the lineup from the right side of the plate. Anchoring the center of the order, Fein will make everyone in the lineup better.

Coach Martinez’ comments

“Right now, he’s ticketed to play right field. Either left or right. He looks like a big leaguer. He’s 6’4”, 210 pounds, has a tremendous amount of power. Reminds me of – this might date me a little – he reminds me a little of Dale Murphy of the Atlanta Braves back in the day. That type of guy. You watch him play; there’s not like a ton of effort in what he does, but he can eat up a ton of ground in the outfield. He’s got a good arm. He’s got a tremendous amount of power. He should sit in the middle of our lineup. He’s a dangerous hitter.”

#24 Poncho Ruiz     C

Freshman: 30th best recruit from California and the 192 best recruit nationally by Perfect Game. Ruiz was the crown jewel of the 2020 recruiting class.

A local player who lists Tijuana as his hometown, Ruiz was brought in to compete for the starting catcher job as a true freshman. Instead, he will be the primary backup at catcher.

Coach Martinez’ comments

“Pancho is an under-the-radar type guy. Guys didn’t really know who he was. We were very fortunate to get him to come to San Diego State. He’s an exceptional offensive player. He’s got tremendous power. He’ll probably do some of the DH duties as a freshman and be the backup to Wyatt (Hendrie) right now.”

#39 Troy Melton     SP

Career  Stats      Wins                    Losses                 Innings                ERA

3                           1                           25                        3.60

Melton is the star attraction for the team and the highest MLB prospect in the program. Since leaving high school, however, he has pitched more innings for the Anchorage Pilots of the Alaska Baseball League than he has for the Aztecs.  He only pitched four innings in a freshman year cut short due to a lat strain suffered while facing his third batter of the season. 2020, of course, was cut short due to Covid. Melton has thrown only 25 career innings to date, which is 20 fewer innings than he pitched during summer ball in 2019 for the Pilots. Each time Melton takes the mound is must follow baseball. If everything goes as planned, 2021 will be Melton’s last season on the Mesa.

SDSU Baseball

Coach Martinez’ comments

“He just needs to be himself. All the training leading up to this point – the hay’s in the barn so to speak – he’s good. He’s an exceptional player. Anytime he scuffles a little bit, he gets outside of himself. If he just maintains that mentality and trusts who he is, be himself, he’s going to be fine. He’s an ultra-competitor, which is great to have, especially for a Friday night guy. He’s a great athlete. He can field his position and has a plus off move.”

“If he can just be himself, great things are going to come his way, not only for our baseball program but for him personally. If he gets outside of that, that’s where you’re going to see some of his scuffles. He’s a guy that is still very young in his pitching pedigree, so to speak. He was a catcher in high school by trade, so he still has a lot of meat on the bones; that guys really good right now. What’s kind of sad about it, we might not ever get to see the best Troy Melton at San Diego State. We’re going to see that maybe five years down the road  – somewhere in the big leagues.”

#42 Tre Brown     RP

Career Pitching Stats      Wins                    Losses                 Innings                ERA

1                           0                           16.1                     1.65

Brown opens the season as the closer for the Aztecs. However, early in the season, Martinez will employ a closer by committee while pitchers build their endurance. A career relief pitcher, Brown did not play much in his two seasons but was stellar in the shortened 2020 year. Brown should be in the mix for high-leverage situations throughout the year.

Coach Martinez’ comments

“Tre Brown would be a senior this year. He’s a redshirt junior. He’s a guy who can pitch at the back end of the game with a plus fastball and a split-finger.”

#50 Kelena Sauer     RP 

Freshman: Ranked the third-best prospect out of Hawaii and the 364th best prospect nationally by Perfect Game.

A freshman who has already added three to four mph to his fastball. Sauer will look to make his mark in the bullpen this season before transitioning to a starting role next season.

Coach Martinez comments

“We have a freshman, Kelena Sauer, who’s a guy who has a whippy arm deal. He’s up to 94 – 95 miles per hour. He’s another kid who can pitch out of the bullpen.”

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