Aztecs Baseball Preview: Part 1

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The San Diego State Aztecs baseball season begins this month.

In preparation for the season, EVT will be providing fans with all the information needed to cheer on the team in 2022. This includes discussions with head coach Mark Martinez, a breakdown of all the new players, and expectations from the team this year.

MLB4 Tournament

Starting off the season is the MLB4 tournament. This tournament will be broadcast to the nation on MLB Network and includes four exciting teams. The Aztecs will participate along with Texas Christian University, the University of Houston, and UC Berkley. This may be the best baseball fans can feast on with no end in sight for the MLB lockout.

Back to normal Schedules

As the world has adapted to life with COVID, the restrictions placed on sporting events have been eased. For the Aztecs, this means a few things. The first is the return of Tuesday games. These one-game matchups provide an excellent opportunity for players throughout the roster to earn playing time. Except for a March contest against Iowa at Tony Gywnn Stadium, the games in the early part of the week feature teams from Southern California.

The second significant change is no more doubleheaders. As part of the Mountain West’s response to COVID-19, a twin bill was scheduled every Saturday, and it changed the way coaches managed a series.  Managers had to be extra careful about how long pitchers could throw if they wanted to use them later in the series.

Players Graduating/Missing Leadership

It will be an uphill battle for the Aztecs this season. Six players from the 2021 team were drafted/signed with a big-league team. Three other significant contributors– Jacob Cruce, Christian Winston, and Ryan Orr– all graduated.

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When speaking to Coach Martinez, he praised their leadership and now looks toward other players like Brian Leonhardt and Caden Miller to fill the void.

New Coaches

Another difference from last year’s team is the two changes to the coaching staff. Pitching coach Sam Peraza left to take the same role at ASU. Joe Oliveira, who served as the recruiting coach, decided to step into a baseball consulting role.

To fill those two spots, Martinez hired Shaun Cole and Sergio Brown.

Shaun Cole has a diverse set of experiences to pull from. Back in 2016-17, he worked in the San Diego Padres organization. One year as Tri-City Dust Devils pitching coach, and the other as the spring training facility coordinator in Arizona. After that, he took the pitching coach role at Eastern Kentucky University.

After those two seasons, Martinez was shocked when Eastern Kentucky didn’t name Cole their head coach, calling it “both unfortunate and fortunate.” The unfortunate part is Cole not being awarded the head coaching role, but fortunate that Martinez was then able to hire him.

Brown, meanwhile, comes from a more traditional college baseball background. He has coached at UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton, and Arizona. All three of those schools reached the College World Series during his time on the coaching staff. He will serve as an assistant coach/recruiting coordinator.

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Strategy for the season

New roster, new approach. Many of the sluggers that carried the team last year are now gone. The players that have replaced them fit the mold of well-rounded athletes instead of sluggers. Martinez said to expect more “small ball,” like stealing, bunting, and situational hitting. Last year, Caden Miller filled that role perfectly when he batted in the nine spot. He served more like a second leadoff hitter and was able to turn over the lineup consistently.

On the mound, Martinez is falling back to a more traditional approach. Last year, the pitching staff fell apart in the late innings. So, he deployed openers to allow his starters to work deeper into the game. He now feels that the bullpen can hold their own and allow the rotation to work as expected.

The pitching staff will be the focus of the second part of the SDSU baseball season preview.

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