Baseball is back in San Diego!

Credit: Go Aztecs

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Credit: EVT Sports

When custodians, concession workers, waiters, and Uber drivers face a loss of wages, it is insulting to describe the current MLB lockout as a “labor dispute.” While the millionaires and billionaires continue to squabble over the relative crumbs of the economic banquet they gorge on, for fans of the game in America’s Finest City, it brings solace to say: baseball is back in San Diego!

San Diego State baseball kicks off their 2022 season on February 18 against TCU. The season opener, part of the MLB4 Tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona, will be broadcast nationally on the MLB Network.

The Aztecs, as their inclusion in the marquee event to mark the start of college baseball suggests, have been bringing in talented recruiting classes, developing them, and sending their players into minor leagues. Many of those players – Ty France, Seby Zavalla, Alan Trejo, and Greg Allen – worked their ways onto MLB rosters.

East Village Times SDSU baseball beat writer Evan Anderson has already released the first of a three-part in-depth season preview. The final two preview articles will focus on players throughout the roster with insight from SDSU head coach Mark Martinez. Below are five Aztecs, two pitchers, and three position players, who fans will love watching in 2022.  

Troy Melton

SDSU pitcher Troy Melton was not supposed to be on the roster in 2022. Myriads of MLB scouts attended his starts at Tony Gwynn Stadium last season. It was a forgone conclusion that Melton’s 2021 campaign would be his last on the Mesa. The only preseason question was how quickly the inexperienced hurler could tap into his near limitless potential. As it turned out, however, 2021 was a down year for Melton. He went undrafted and decided to come back for his junior year.

Credit: SDSU Athletics

Melton’s trouble centered on teams sitting on his fastball. With wicked off-speed offerings that would give seasoned MLB players fits, the opposition chose an aggressive approach. Swinging early in the at-bat and sitting on his high 90’s heater, 38% of the 87 hits Melton gave up went for extra bases. Melton’s WHIP (1.6), ERA (6.14), and average innings pitched per start (4.87) suffered as result.

There is every reason to believe Melton’s 2022 will be the complete opposite. Even after his 15 starts last season, he still only has 19 career starts at SDSU. Add in the fact that he did not pitch much growing up or in high school, and he probably has started a little over 50 times his entire life. Experience counts, and Melton is entering the place where he finally has some.

Melton is also wildly talented. In seven of his starts, he struck out seven or more batters. He is athletic, has a huge frame, and his secondary pitches are present. Melton is smart and competitive, with last season being one of the few times in his life where he lost. Expect a huge bounce back this season.  

Max Foxcroft

Foxcroft is the type of player fans hate unless he is on their team. At five-foot-nine, it remains to be seen if he can turn himself into an MLB prospect, but he plays winning baseball at the college level. The transfer from Oregon does everything on the field to bother the opposition. SDSU will be depending on him in 2022.

Credit: SDSU Athletics

His nickname alone, “Foxy” is like nails on the chalkboard for whomever the Aztecs play when SDSU’s entire roster and coaches are bellowing it from the dugout following a clever play by the infielder. Need a bunt for a base hit or to advance a runner? Foxcroft can do it. Want someone to grind out an at-bat with endless foul balls? Foxcroft is your man. Foxcroft can take an extra base because the defense had a lapse in concentration, surprise with gap power if a pitcher gets cute, and slap offerings the opposite way.

The short season in 2021 and the players in front of him did not provide Foxcroft the chance to display these traits last year. In 2022, he will have the opportunity to shine. By the end of the season, he will be a fan favorite!

Xavier Carter

The Aztecs are going to play a lot more “small ball” this season, according to Evan Anderson’s first season preview. If that ends up being the case, Xavier Carter’s power bat will make him a change of pace from the SDSU’s otherwise grinding style. Homeruns and deep doubles are fun to watch, and Carter’s bat has the pop to make that happen.

Carter only played in three games with two starts last season. In seven plate appearances, he had two hits and a walk. Like all of the reserves, the shortened season without early week games did not allow for the normal playing time in a typical season. Expect Carter’s time on the field to soar, and with him, a lot of baseballs.  

Poncho Ruiz

The other masher on the team is Poncho Ruiz. The local product from Mater Dei High School was sixth on the team with three home runs. He was the only Aztec to hit more than one home run in fewer than 100 ABs. In only 60 plate appearances, he hit .300 and drove in 20 runs.

Credit: SDSU Athletics

On paper, he looks to be a middle-of-the-order hitter who could provide some protection for Brian Leonhardt. As such, Ruiz should have plenty of opportunities to hit with runners on base in 2022. Driving in runs is the surest ways to endear oneself to the fan base.

The question for Ruiz is how much catcher or designated hitter he plays. He caught sparingly last season with Wyatt Hendrie manning the position. His bat should get him in the lineup most days, but his value to the team would grow exponentially if he was the primary backstop.

Kelena Sauer

The jewel of the 2021 freshman class, Sauer pitched from the bullpen last year. A typical progression is to begin as a reliever before moving into a starting role. It remains to be seen if that move takes place this season, but Sauer has all of the necessary tools.

He boasts a plus fastball in the high 90s and commands attention when he is on the mound. He stands 6’3” and weighs around 200 pounds. Even as a true freshman, his frame and easy velocity stood out. Handling the rigors of starting both physically and mentally is the next step for him. If he is not a starter, he should be one of the high leverage relievers on the team.

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Whatever his role, Sauer is one of the more talented and potentially exciting pitchers on the West coast. His demeanor and attacking style will make him someone to cheer for in 2022.

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