(Photo via the SDSU Twitter account, seen here)
The San Diego State Aztecs will look to defend their Mountain West Conference championship when they kick off their season on February 16. San Diego State has won four of the past five Mountain West championships, as they are the cream of the crop for their conference.
In 2017, the Aztecs were the No. 4 seed in the Long Beach Regional. They dropped their first game of the tournament 6-0 against Long Beach State, but then SDSU proceeded to eliminate PAC-12 representative UCLA with a 3-2 win. Long Beach State beat SDSU again, this time with a 7-4 score, to eliminate the Aztecs from the playoffs.
Two players the Aztecs will miss dearly are shortstop Danny Sheehan, who won the Tony Gwynn Player of the Year Award, and pitcher Brett Seeburger, who took home Mountain West Baseball Pitcher of the Year honors.
While losing these players and replicating a 42-21 season may be tough, the roster from last year carries over 16 players to this year’s team. Of the players coming back, six are seniors, five are juniors and five are sophomores. The melting pot of senior leadership from the returners, 17 freshmen and three transfers on the team will make for an interesting mix in the early going of the season.
Let’s take a closer look at the nitty gritty of the 2018 San Diego State roster…
David Hensley: The swiss army knife on the Aztecs is Hensley. Last season, he made appearances at first base, second base, third base, left field and center field. Hensley had the highest batting average in 2017 of all returners to the Aztecs, as he carried a .357 average. He’s not known for his power, as he finished with three home runs in 210 at-bats last season, but he knows how to get on base, as you can see with his .409 OBP.
Of the six SDSU players named to the Mountain West First Team and Second Team last year, Hensley is the only player returning for the 2018 season.
Chad Bible: The second highest batting average of a returner belongs to Bible, although he only had 22 at-bats following a shortened season due to being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He has since cleared the cancer out of his system and is in remission. The slugger is poised for a comeback season and figures to be a key fixture in the Aztecs’ lineup.
Jacob Erickson: Arguably the most effective pitcher for San Diego State in 2017 was Erickson, as he posted a 5-3 record with a 3.67 ERA in 49 innings. Although he only struck out 35 batters, his approach of pitching to contact worked wonders as he only allowed two home runs.
Logan Boyer: Carrying a 1-0 record out of the bullpen, Boyer made 10 appearances totaling 12 ⅓ innings and finished with a 1.46 ERA in 2017. Opponents hit a meager .128 off of the 6-foot-3 pitcher. Boyer is set to be a key arm in the Aztecs stable of pitchers in the upcoming season.
Dean Nevarez: While managing the pitching staff, and playing stout defense, Nevarez did not underperform on the offensive side, as the backstop smacked nine home runs, tied for second on the team, in 2017. He carried a slash-line of .301/.363/.521 while playing in 52 of the Aztecs’ 63 games. The upcoming season’s roster consists of Nevarez and three freshmen at the catcher position, so it is expected that the junior will handle most of the work behind the dish.
The Aztecs have reloaded with some top-notch recruits, and conceivably have the best crop of freshmen in the conference.
Casey Schmitt: Schmitt can play on the left-side of the infield, as well as pitch, and was ranked as the No. 14 third base recruit in the nation.
PerfectGame.org rated him a 9.5/10 and added this commentary, “Right handed hitter, busy load from a wide base, short uphill swing with strength behind it especially when he gets extended, gets to his front side, shows pull power at times, good balance through contact.”
Joe Fitzhugh: Fitzhugh figures to be the main backup to Nevarez behind the plate this season. Fitzhugh had a terrific senior season at Arbor View HS in Las Vegas, Nevada as he had a .429 batting average with six home runs. This stat line was rewarded with first team All-State honors. He was then ranked as the No. 2 recruit overall and the No. 1 catcher recruit from Nevada.
PerfectGame.org rated Fitzhugh a 9/10 and said he’s, “Defensively he has quick actions behind the plate with good catch and throw tools… He has projectable hitting tools and some power potential. A very athletic catcher with high-level tools across the board.”
Nicholas Israel: Israel is primarily used as a middle infielder, and played exceptionally well and took home first-team All-State honors at Bishop Gorman HS in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was the No. 5 recruit overall and the No. 1 shortstop recruit from Nevada.
PerfectGame.org rated him a 9/10 and described Israel as, “Switch hitter, very good bat speed right handed, ball jumps hard with hard pull line drive contact, high level hitting tools right-handed. Has less bat speed left handed but is still competitive and makes solid contact, more of an inside-oriented swing path, contact over power approach… Nice all around athlete who knows how to play the game.”