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2013 Mountain West Baseball Tournament Preview: Fresno State

The Bulldogs were up and down in their first MWC season, but can dynamic outfielder Aaron Judge help Fresno slug their way to the tournament crown?

College baseball’s regular season was wrapped up this past weekend. Now, the Mountain West squads prepare to descend on Beiden Field in Fresno in order to begin the conference tournament, the winner of which will earn a berth in the NCAA tournament and entertain dreams of a trip to Omaha.

Local writers in each of the six communities were gracious enough to provide insights on their teams ahead of the tournament. Robert Kuwada of the Fresno Bee covers the Diamond Dogs, who will host the tournament beginning on Wednesday, May 22 when they take on Nevada at 10 p.m. ET.

1. Fresno’s first tour through the Mountain West Conference was kind to football and women’s basketball and rough on men’s basketball. Where does the baseball team’s first exposure sit on the spectrum of positive and negative?

Given the success Fresno State had in the WAC, you’d think they’d be doing better in the MW. It’s not like hoops, where there is a big disparity between the conferences. In the RPI, the MW was well ahead of the WAC in basketball. But they’re just so young – 10 of the 12 pitchers are freshmen or sophomores – that it’s difficult to take much from this season.

If the RPI is to be any kind of guide, Fresno State would be deep in the WAC this year, too, and they had been collecting championship rings there the past few years. They were 224th in the RPI going into the week, and Cal State Bakersfield (82), Sacramento State (118), Texas State (131), Texas-San Antonio (138), New Mexico State (156) Texas-Arlington (162) and Dallas Baptist (169) all are ranked higher.

2. SB Nation’s John Sickels recently ran a mock MLB draft in which outfielder Aaron Judge was a late first-round pick. Is Judge worth that kind of hype? What will he bring to the tournament that will most help the Bulldogs make some noise?

Judge should go high in the draft. He’s a huge kid – 6-foot-5, 255 pounds – that plays center field and has a lot of tools. He’s really matured as a hitter this season and has put up some good numbers (.374 BA, 9 HR, 31 RBI, .643 Slg and .463 OBP) even though opponents don’t have much reason to pitch to him.

He’s one of only two regulars hitting .300 or better, and the other (shortstop Chris Mariscal) is right at .300 going into a Thursday game against Nevada. Judge covers a lot of ground in the field and he can run – team-leading 11 stolen bases in 13 attempts. Just an intriguing mix.

3. The Bulldogs’ home and road records suggest the team was much tougher at home in Beiden Field than on the road. Will having the tournament in Fresno provide a real homefield advantage or is the record a mirage?

It’s a bit of a mirage. They had a seven-game winning streak at Beiden late in the year, but five of those wins came against Air Force, one was against Hawaii and the other Cal State Bakersfield. Air Force and Hawaii, last I looked, were a combined 40-something games under .500. Bakersfield is leading the WAC, but still only 82 in the RPI and they did that three of four from Fresno State during the year. Fresno State still lost home series to San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico.

4. Who is the second-best offensive player in the Fresno lineup? Are there enough threats to match up with the other first-round entries if a slugfest breaks out?

There are probably three or four guys that would be tied for second-best offensive player in the lineup, and they’d have a tough time keeping up in a high-scoring game. There is some pop in the lineup, but they don’t put a lot of runners on base – last in the MW in on-base percentage and runs scored.

5. Five different pitchers started at least seven games in the regular season. Who will the Bulldogs rely upon to escape the opening rounds? Who should they rely upon?

They have a couple of options, starting with freshman Blake Quinn and sophomore Jordan Brink. Quinn is 3-3, but has a 2.64 ERA and allowed a .214 opponents batting average. He made a start in a midweek game bullpen game March 19 at Pacific, but since he has joined the rotation, as it is, he has an ERA of 2.27 in six starts.

Brink has had a solid year, too, pitching for the first time since he was in high school. He was going to be the closer at the beginning of the year and can get it up there at 96 or 97. Given the youth of the starters, no one is going to go nine, though. What they have been doing is try to get five or six innings out of the starter and have a backup guy to try to get through the last four or three.

6. Mike Batesole has led the Bulldogs to six NCAA appearances. Is there a hot seat underneath him if Fresno doesn’t earn a seventh berth or is there still a halo effect from the school’s national championship in 2008?