Generally, if you’re wearing No. 44 on your back, they expect you to hit. So it comes as no surprise that Cal junior Mitch Delfino emerged as the Golden Bears’ top hitter this season.
Delfino spent two seasons carving a niche as Cal’s starting third baseman. In a part-time role as a freshman in 2010 he hit .315, before hitting .260 last year while anchoring the hot corner amid Cal’s Cinderella run to Omaha.
This season, though, the 6-foot-3 junior earned a regular spot in the middle of Cal’s batting order. The right-handed hitting slugger paced the Golden Bears with a .355 batting average and a .485 slugging percentage.
“I could always see his offensive upside,” Cal All-American second baseman Tony Renda said. “He’s a big kid. He’s strong. I could see it. I was like: ‘It’s gonna click for him some day. He’s going to get it, and when he does, look out, he’s going to be really good.’ And it just so happened it clicked this year.”
Delfino was a highly touted shortstop prospect out of Cloverdale H.S. His three-year varsity career culminated in a USA Today second team All-American nod in 2009, while hiting for a .591 average.
“I’ve always hit well average-wise and had decent power,” Delfino said. “I’ve never felt that anyone could get me out, which obviously is not always the case. But I’ve always been pretty comfortable at the plate.”
As a two-way prep player, Delfino posted a 7-2 record on the mound, though he finished his prep career with a heartbreaking complete-game loss – a 1-0 playoff loss to Berean Christian that ended Cloverdale’s season.
Upon his arrival at Cal, Defino made a seamless transition to the hot corner. And although Renda earned the starting nod at third to start the year, his defensive struggled opened the door for Delfino. He’s been a fixture there ever since. But, it wasn’t until this season that a lot of work in the cages began paying off. With the help of Cal hitting coach Tony Arnerich, Delfino deconstructed his swing before his freshman year. Working with Arnerich was a revelation to Delfino, who had never worked with a hitting coach previous to Cal.
“I definitely had to work at it. I think I’ve gone through seven or eight different batting stances since I’ve been here,” Delfino said. “It’s all about trying to get my swing as quick as I can to the ball. Sometimes I tend to get a little long. So, a lot of off-day Monday work with Tony Arnerich.”
The first alteration his freshman season was lowing his hands to create a shorter path to the ball. As Delfino grew into the Division-I game, and into the new BBCOR bats which force hitters to generate their own power, he built his was back to a high-hands set, which fueled his insurgence this season.
“This year I’ve stayed with the same stance all year, and felt comfortable with it,” Delfino said. “We found something that worked and stuck with it.”
Delfino’s performance was a silver lining on an otherwise disappointing season for Cal. Despite entering into Pac-12 play with an 11-4 overall record, the Bears scuffled in conference by dropping three of their first four series, then getting swept twice down the stretch. Their struggles culminated in an 11-15 conference record, and an eighth-place finish in the Pac-12 in failing to return to the postseason.