Several key Cal State Fullerton baseball players have indicated they would return in the fall for their senior seasons, but Coach George Horton has learned it's still too early to feel totally comfortable.
"As of now everything is looking good," Horton said. "But, as we've seen in the past, anything can happen."
Last summer, it appeared as if outfielder Spencer Oborn was going to be back for his senior season with the Titans. Oborn had turned down offers from the Chicago White Sox, then played summer ball in the Alaska Collegiate League, all the while indicating he expected to return to Fullerton.
But it didn't turn out that way. Oborn came to terms with the White Sox only about a week before the school year began, and the Titans were left without one of their top players from the 1999 team that reached the College World Series. Fullerton missed the power and hitting consistency he could have brought to the lineup.
This summer, Horton is expecting two of his top pitchers from last season--starter Jon Smith and closer Kirk Saarloos--to be back, along with three-time All-Big West Conference second baseman David Bacani and first baseman Aaron Rifkin. All were draft-eligible juniors but were not selected.
"There's no security for us in a player not being drafted," Horton said. "Now they're available to more teams as possible free agents, but we expect them to be back with us in the fall. I'm sure both Bacani and Saarloos would have been drafted if they had indicated they would have signed for a lesser amount than what they were expecting."
Saarloos is pitching for Team USA this summer, and Bacani and Rifkin are playing in the Great Lakes collegiate summer league in Ohio.
Two other juniors, relief pitcher Mike Nunez and outfielder Matt Belfanti, have indicated they too will return to school.
Adam Johnson, the Titans' top pitcher last season, was the No. 2 pick overall in the June draft and signed with the Minnesota Twins for $2.5 million. Ronnie Corona, another junior starter, also signed with Minnesota, which drafted him in the sixth round. Another starting pitcher, Matt Sorensen, drafted in the 42nd round by Toronto, also is expected to sign.
Only one player from the Titans' recruiting class, outfielder Dave Giorgis of Rancho Bernardo High, has signed a professional contract. He was drafted in the eighth round by the San Diego Padres.
The Titans signed three right-handed pitchers--Darric Merrell of Temecula Valley High, Wes Littleton of Vista High and Chad Cordero of Chino Don Lugo--who were drafted, along with outfielder Shane Costa of Visalia Golden West and outfielder Kyle Boyer of Temecula Valley High.
Horton said recruit Luis Robles, a catcher from Rialto High, has failed to qualify academically. The Titans signed Lachlan Thorburn, a catcher at Riverside College the past two seasons, to replace him.
The Titans also recently signed right-handed pitcher Ivan Ramirez of Tustin High. He is a younger brother of Erasmo Ramirez, who pitched for Fullerton as a senior after transferring from Cal State Northridge.
Horton said two junior pitchers, George Carralejo and Jake Moon, plan to transfer from Fullerton but have not decided where.
EX-TITANS IN MLS
Five former Cal State Fullerton players are playing for Major League Soccer teams this season.
Antonio Martinez, who played for the Titans last fall, is the most recent player to earn a spot. He is a reserve midfielder for the Dallas Burn.
Joey DiGiamarino is in his third season as a defender with the Colorado Rapids, and Brian Dunseth is in his fourth season as a defender with the New England Revolution.
Mike Ammann is one of the league's top goalkeepers. Ammann, in his second season with the New York MetroStars after three seasons with Kansas City, ranks second in the league in saves.
Defender Joey Franchino, who completed his college career at Washington after transferring, is with New England after starting the season with the Galaxy.
Titan Coach Al Mistri said Dunseth and DiGiamarino are expected to earn roster spots on the U.S. under-23 national team that will compete in the Sydney Olympics.
Long Beach State has promoted Mike Weathers, a finalist for the UC Irvine baseball job, to the position of associate head coach. The 49ers also hired Troy Buckley as an assistant coach. He was at Santa Clara the last three seasons as pitching coach.
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Staff writer Paul McLeod contributed to this story.