Monday, February 11, 2013

Meet the Aztecs: Part III — The Outfield

The outfielders (left to right): Justin Gheorghe, Avondre Bollar,
Matt Munoz, Spencer Thornton, Steven Pallares and Greg Allen.
SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The most dedicated ballplayers are expected to run through a wall if that’s what it takes.
Well, not literally. After all, they do put a warning track in front of the outfield wall.
Of course, there are always those who get carried away — LIKE THIS GUY.
Anyway, San Diego State sophomore center fielder Greg Allen, like his teammates, has been climbing the walls waiting for the season to get here.
Said Allen: “Our pitching staff is great. Our infield is great. We’ve just got to do our job.”
The first opportunity arrives with Friday night’s season opener at USD.
Aztecs coach Tony Gwynn is eager to see his outfielders in game action. If nothing else than to resolve the lineup’s only unresolved position — left field.
An arm injury to sophomore center fielder Spencer Thornton, who is still recovering from last summer’s Tommy John surgery, necessitated shifting Allen from right to center. Sophomore Avondre Bollar is in right. That leaves left, where auditions have been ongoing since the fall.
“I’ve got three guys who were in the infield last year playing the outfield for the first time,” said Gwynn, referring to sophomores Matt Munoz (San Dimas High), Steven Pallares (Santiago High) and Tanner Reibenspies (Chaminade High).
A recent arm injury has sidelined Reibenspies. That leaves Munoz, who hit .301 with 19 RBI last season and has looked the best at the plate, and Pallares, who has played best in the field.
“Both of those guys will get some game time in left field,” said Gwynn. “You’re not going to really know how they do until you get them out there in game situations and see how they react.”
How quickly freshman Justin Gheorghe (North High) adjusts to the college game could bring some needed depth to the outfield, but that remains to be seen.
Gwynn has no such concerns with Allen (Hilltop High), who batted .312 last season with 2 HR, 31 RBI and 11 SB.
“Greg Allen is one of the most complete players you’re going to get,” said Gwynn. “This kid covers a lot of ground, a lot of ground.”
Bollar (Thousand Oaks High), who batted .231 with 6 RBI in limited at-bats last season, has stepped up his game.
“He has been really good for us here in the fall and into the early spring,” said Gwynn. “We need to see him carry it over into the season.”
Getting the left-handed Thornton (Los Osos High) back into the lineup would provide a big boost. He was one of the team’s biggest run producers last season, batting .297 with 27 RBI, and is eager to contribute again.
“We can save a ton of runs by playing efficiently out there,” said Thornton, “and giving the pitchers confidence that if someone hits a ball in the air we will have a guy under it ready to make a catch for an out.”
Said Allen: “Our team speed and the range we have will go a long way in cutting off some of those base hits. Strong arms (help) as well.”
Any concerns in the outfield?
“No,” said Gwynn. “Just, hopefully, guys will stay healthy.”
Here’s one tip: Avoid run-ins with the wall.

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