On Tuesday afternoon, the USC Trojans (12-1) finally lost their first game of the season, blowing a lead and allowing UC Santa Barbara to complete a walk-off win.
Don’t blame Trojan starter Tyler Gilbert. In six innings, he gave up just three hits and one run, while fanning 11.
Gilbert, who transferred to USC from a Juco (Santa Barbara City College), remains 1-0 and has now lowered his ERA to 3.52. In 15 1/3 IP, he’s given up 14 hits while striking out an impressive 21 batters. Opponents are hitting just .246 against Gilbert.
The 6’3″ lefty Junior was the 2013 Western State-North Division Pitcher of the Year after going 9-2 with a 2.43 ERA. Gilbert is athletic and brings four pitches to the mix, including a fastball that is gaining in velocity (see video below). He was considered one of the top 15 Juco draft prospects in 2014 before opting to try his hand at Division I ball, and based on his performance so far, is likely to get plucked this year.
Another important Juco transfer for the Pac 12-leading Trojans is Junior outfielder David Oppenheim, who is off to blazing start with a .640 slugging percentage thanks to one homer and four doubles already.
Overall, through 11 games (nine starts), he’s hitting .360 with six runs and four RBI. Oppenheim has only whiffed five times and is getting on base at a .486 clip. He has yet to steal a base.
Last year, Oppenheim played at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clara, where he earned First Team All-State honours after hitting .377. Previously, he played at Pepperdine, but he only managed 15 hits in 29 games as a Freshman. Oppenheim was on the radar for the 2014 draft, but after not getting picked, opted to head back to Division I.
A big season this year could vault him into the 2015 draft.
Back to the mound — where the Trojans will live or die this season — Brent Wheatley returns for USC, which was one of the four remaining undefeated Division I teams until Tuesday.
He’s the team’s No. 1 starter this year after acting as the Saturday starter most of the 2014 season. Last year, Wheatley went 4-3 in 18 games, 14 of them starts. This year, the Junior is off to a 1-0 start with a sparking 2.12 ERA and has struck out 25 batters in 17 IP.
A 6’4″ righty, Wheatley had a 3.58 ERA as a Sophomore, but his command was weak as he had the same amount of strikeouts as he did walks. That’s where he’s really made strides so far this year, with a 25/3 K/BB ratio showing how far this kid has come. Coming out of high school, Wheatley was clocked at 90 mph.
Now it’s your turn. Let us know in the comments below which USC Trojans are catching your eye this season.
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