Feb. 14, 2014


Titans Armed and Ready

By Abbey Mastracco

Special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com


FULLERTON, Calif. – To say that Cal State Fullerton has pitching depth is almost an understatement. Pitching riches is more accurate.


The Titans start this season with quite possibly one of the best staffs in the country. Their Friday starter, Thomas Eshelman (12-3, 1.48), walked only three batters in more than 115 innings last season. Saturday features the All-American Justin Garza (12-0, 2.03), who has yet to lose a collegiate start, and Sunday’s guy is All-Big West righty Grahamm Wiest (9-3, 3.27).


Not to mention, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Phil Bickford, is expected to have some role this season as well.


It’s a good problem to have for head coach Rick Vanderhook (pictured above). 


“They’re just good,” Vanderhook said. “They have good aptitude, they have good awareness, they’ve got good work ethic and they really go about their work as professionals. They’ve gone beyond expectations last year and as long as they don’t try to repeat last year and let this year be this year and let the chips fall, I think they’ll be fine with what they do.”


The trio has become close over the past year as they’ve had the same lifting and throwing schedules. But aside from working out together, they’ve learned a lot from one another as well.


“We feed off each other, we motivate each other, we watch what each one of us does and we just talk about the game to get better,” Garza said. “We’ve definitely established a little closer relationship than last year.”


Wiest is the elder statesman of the group. A redshirt sophomore last season, he was someone who Eshelman and Garza looked up to and someone Vanderhook counted on to show the pitching staff what it was to play Titans Baseball.


“We used to say he was the old guy on the staff,” Garza said. “That was his job last year, he had to mentor us and teach us what it was like to play Titan baseball from a pitching standpoint. He kind of just took us all under his wing and told us what we did wrong and tried to explain when one of us messed up on a play or something he’d just let us know.”


Vanderhook added: “Grahamm has been solid for us for two years. He started every game on Sunday his first year and he started every game on Sunday last year, we call him the old man of the team. He leads with wisdom, as the guys say to him.”


The group has now grown to include Bickford. Bickford might be the most highly-touted freshmen with one of the highest-powered arms, but he hasn’t been immune to some of the setbacks all freshman experience in their transition to the college game. It might not look like it on paper but Garza insists than even he and Eshelman experienced those same setbacks.


They took an immediate interest in the freshman during the fall season, and Vanderhook said the attention has paid off. 


“[Eshelman] has really taken Bickford underneath his wing, and I see a lot of change in Phil over the last couple months and a lot of that goes to him and it goes to Garza and even Wiest,” Vanderhook said. “They’ve all kind of taken him under their wing. As we say with our guys, we want to be smart, and he’s getting smarter and those guys are really smart.”


With Vanderhook at the helm, the group has no choice but to keep their heads level and their expectations in check. But with four big young arms, Cal State Fullerton again is in position to be a favorite come June. 


(photo by Matt Brown)