Top 25 Countdown: No. 21 California

The University of California-Berkeley has played college baseball since 1892, but 2011 could be the program’s final season thanks to budget cuts.

The Golden Bears’ fate isn’t sealed yet. And though the Cal administration voted to cut baseball, several former players and other alumni have stepped forward with pledges to save the program.

Will the fundraising campaign work? Time will tell. But the Golden Bears, whether this is their final season or not, will have a team to be excited about.

Tony Renda is ready to lead the Golden Bears into what could be their final season.
(California)

The Bears welcome back nine hitters that earned at least some playing time last season, while the pitching staff is in good shape with the return of all three weekend starters in Erik Johnson, Justin Jones and Dixon Anderson. They also welcome back Kevin Miller, who will serve as midweek starter to begin the season.

Cal reached an NCAA Regional last season with just a 29-25 record. But this season, the Bears hope to compile a much better record and perhaps reach the College World Series for the first time since 1992.

Wouldn’t a trip to Omaha be ironic for a program in jeopardy?

Projected starting lineup

An asterisk (*) indicates a returning player

C Chadd Krist*
1B Devon Rodriguez*
2B Tony Renda*
SS Marcus Semien*
3B Mitch Delfino*
LF Danny Oh*
CF Darrel Matthews*
RF Chad Bunting*
DH Austin Booker

SP Erik Johnson*
SP Justin Jones*
SP Dixon Anderson*
RP Kyle Porter
CP Matt Flemer*

Offense

Cal is in a unique situation in the sense it welcomes back nine hitters that earned playing time last season for an offense that finished with a .318 average.

The list of returning hitters includes Chadd Krist, Devon Rodriguez, Tony Renda, Marcus Semien, Mitch Delfino, Danny Oh, Darrel Matthews, Chad Bunting and Austin Booker.

Renda, Krist and Semien spearhead the offense. Renda batted .373 with three homers and 37 RBIs, Krist batted .344 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs and Semien batted .328 with four homers and 34 RBIs.

Bunting hit .325 with four homers and 29 RBIs and Oh hit .294 with two homers and 30 RBIs.

The other returning hitters didn’t earn a great deal of playing time last season.

Rodriguez hit .289 in 97 at bats last season while Delfino hit .315 in just 73 at bats. Matthews and Booker hit .259 and .267, respectively, last season, while Bunting hit .325 with four homers and 29 RBIs.

The Golden Bears are expected to have a good year at the plate.

Pitching

The Golden Bears must be more consistent overall on the mound after finishing last season with a 4.91, but high expectations are still warranted.

Weekend starters Erik Johnson, Justin Jones and Dixon Anderson lead the charge.

Johnson started 13 games last season and had a 4.09 ERA in 77 innings. He also struck out 73 and walked 34 and limited teams to a .290 average.

Jones started 15 games last season and had a 4.22 ERA in 98 innings. He struck out 73 and walked 29 and teams hit .272 against him.

Anderson is the weekend starter that must improve the most. He had a 5.17 ERA in 76 2/3 innings last season and teams hit .287 off him.

Newcomer Kyle Porter, Kevin Miller and Matt Flemer are other arms to watch.

Miller made 18 appearances last season and had a 4.72 ERA in 53 1/3 innings. He struck out 35 and walked 21 and teams hit .302 against him. Flemer, meanwhile, had a 4.83 ERA in 31 2/3 innings last season.

Look for the staff to take a step forward.

Shoes to fill

Cal doesn’t have many holes to fill, but replacing offensive cogs Brian Guinn and Mark Canha could be difficult.

Guinn batted .327 with two homers and 30 RBIs last season and had a .392 on-base percentage. Canha, meanwhile, batted .319 with 10 homers and 69 RBIs. He also slugged .520 and had a .425 OBP.

On the mound, Brian Diemer is the only significant departure.

Diemer made 17 appearances last season and had a 2.12 ERA in 29 2/3 innings. He also limited opposing teams to a .304 average.

Overall, the Golden Bears shouldn’t have much trouble moving ahead.

Must step up

With most of their team back, the Golden Bears won’t enter the season with many major question marks. However, there are a few areas that could improve.

The Golden Bears expect to have a productive offense, but power production is a concern after they finished last season with just 45 homers. That number needs to improve for Cal to take a significant step forward.

On the mound, weekend starters Erik Johnson and Justin Jones were solid last season, but Dixon Anderson, who turned down the professional ranks to return for another season, must improve after finishing last season with a 5.17 ERA in 76 2/3 innings.

The Bears also hope closer Matt Flemer is better this season.

Not much needs to happen for this team to compete at an elite level.

Impact newcomer

The Golden Bears couldn’t wait to get two-way star Eric Jaffe into a Cal uniform, but they suffered a hit during winter break when he transferred to UCLA because of the uncertainty surrounding the program. Jaffe would’ve provided a huge lift.

There’s some good news for the Bears. They welcome back a lineup full of experienced hitters, so newcomers won’t be needed too much at the plate.

On the mound, keep an eye on freshman left-hander Kyle Porter. Porter, who is 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, is expected to be the key middle reliever this spring.

Other newcomers could factor into the equation as the season progresses, but Porter is the headliner.

Postseason prognosis

There’s a chance this will be the Golden Bears’ final season for a while, so they’re looking to go out with a bang.

The Bears welcome back four of their top five hitters from a lineup that finished last season with a .318 average, but more power production is needed to advance past an NCAA Regional.

On the mound, the Golden Bears are ecstatic about having three weekend starters back. The rest of the pitching staff, though, must be more consistent after finishing last season with a 4.91 ERA.

There’s not a program that will be more motivated than Cal.

That could pay dividends, and the Bears could find their way to Omaha.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com. Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Jan 23, 2011