2013 Preview – The Pac 12

By Eric Sorenson. Posted on February 1st, 2013 in 2013 National Preview, Pac 10
 

2012 CONFERENCE ISR: 1

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HOW THEY’LL FINISH IN 2013:

1- Oregon State

2- UCLA

3- Stanford

4- Oregon

5- Arizona

6- Arizona State

7- Washington State

8- California

9- Washington

10- USC

11- Utah

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THE LOWDOWN.

The Pac has had the ISR’s top-rated conference in the country in seven of the last 11 seasons, and this year could possibly be more of the same. The top six of the Pac 12 could be particularly tough and if any one of them get hot at the right time (we’re looking your direction Arizona) they could make it two national titles in a row for the Occidental crew. As usual, pitching will be the focus for the Pac 12 as nearly every team returns a gaggle of very strong arms, not just one big stud. Fridays will be fun to watch in the Pac 12 this year. The key must be whoever strings together enough key hits will win the golden sombrero. Perhaps no one has more coming back on the mound than Oregon State does, which is what I think gives them the slight edge. But heavy emphasis on the word “slight” as Arizona has that taste-of-the-kill feeling about them and Oregon will be ready for the next step in the process now that they have had some post-season success. Arizona State and Cal will be back with some heady veterans coming back to the roster. And UCLA and Stanford have some ridiculous talent on the hill and enough quality experience back to make a run to the national title as well. Just sit back and watch the fireworks, ‘coz this league is going to be a blast. All they need now is a network to highlight their games… oh wait. Let me rephrase that: All they need now is a network that DIRECTV carries so I can watch all their games. (Stupid Pac 12 Network… thanks a lot.)

J.J. Altobelli and the Ducks will be motivated by the pain of last year's unsatisfying finish just short of Omaha.

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BREAKTHROUGH TEAM:

- Washington State.

This isn’t a promise that they will break through, but the potential is there with the amount of experience coming back to the bump and a few key bats. After experiencing back-to-back 28-loss seasons, the Cougars will lean on their starting pitching and their bullpen depth until the inexperienced offense comes around.

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TRENDING DOWN:

- Arizona.

Okay, I admit, the reason the Cats are here is solely because there IS nowhere to go but down for them… unless they pull a South Carolina and go an win another national title. Hmmm, you never know with a coach like Andy Lopez. But yes, the holes to refill are significant

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BIGGEST CLEATS TO FILL:

- Kurt Heyer, RHP, Arizona.

The Cats have some strong-armed kids to take the hill this spring, but Heyer is the one who set the tone for weekends and also went so deep into games that he saved the bullpen from being used so often. That was a big reason why UofA only used nine pitchers all season long. Konner Wade and James Farris will be huge in their weekend assignments.

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BEST PLAYER:

- Michael Conforto, C, Oregon State.

Blasted onto the scene as a precocious freshman last year and hit a remarkable .349 with 13 home runs. And yes, those numbers were posted as a frosh despite taking on Pac 12 pitching. Let’s see what the naturally talented soph has for an encore.

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BEST PITCHER:

- Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford

When the No. 8 overall draft pick decided to turn down the pros and come back to the Farm for his senior year, the Cardinal automatically elevated itself into national title contending territory. The big righty will make for some quick Friday games this year.

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IMPACT NEWCOMER:

- Jackson Willeford, SS, Arizona

Don’t be swayed by his slight dimensions (5’9, 175), the former 12th round draft pick has panache and confidence to step right in and replace former team leader Alex Mejia. He’s a dirt-under-the-nails kind of grinder who should be fun to watch.

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STEAL A LEAR JET FOR…

- UCLA at Stanford, May 24-26

First off, that Friday night matchup of Adam Plutko vs. Mark Appel will be a thing of beauty. Plus, with this being the final weekend of the regular season, you never know how big this will play in Pac 12 title hopes and home regional aspirations.

UCLA ace Adam Plutko is back to throw his vast array of confusion pitches for another season.

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CAPSULES…

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- ARIZONA (39-21, 15-12)

2012 ISR: 2

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Johnny Field (.370-3-44, 7triples, 11SBs)

C Riley Moore (.301)

RHP Konner Wade (11-3, 3.96, 105Ks)

RHP James Farris (7-3, 3.97)

RHP Mathew Troupe (6-1, 3.47)

LHP Tyler Crawford (1-1, 3.05, 2svs)

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NOTES:

- “It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”

That was the first thing that came to my mind when the fireworks were going off beyond centerfield at the Big Tiddy, the Wildcats were dogpiling in the middle of the field and coach Andy Lopez was grinning from ear to ear with Wildcat pride. Coach Lopez won his second national title, this time at the UofA. And I know a lot of writers talk about how each coach they know is a really nice guy. Well with coach Lopez it’s no hyperbole. I could go into long stories as proof as to why, but I don’t have enough cyber space here.

- Lots of CWS heroes are still around, including seven of the top eight pitchers from last year. To be honest, the ‘Cats used only nine pitchers all season and there were 16 complete games for the season. Some bullpen development may need to be built up a tad this year, but the Wildcats arms are always best in the clutch. In their five-game run at the CWS they had a 1.13 team ERA in Omaha.

- Offensively, more CWS heroes like Johnny Field (who also played for Team USA last summer), Riley Moore and sophomore 2B Trent Gilbert (.272) will also return. Plus, remember then-frosh Brandon Dixon? He’s the greenhorn who hit the go-ahead RBI double to help secure the title game win over South Carolina. Dixon only hit .245, but who can argue his flair for the dramatic?

- Team leaders like Robert Refsnyder and Alex Mejia are no longer around to carry the team through tough times. But the UofA incoming class is another strong group (ranked No. 21 nationally by Collegiate Baseball), led by 12th round draftee Jackson Willeford, who could replace Mejia at short,

- One thing to keep in mind early on is how squeaky easy the Desert Cats pre-conference schedule is. They will play a pair of games at Long Beach State and two vs. Texas Tech. But other than those four games, going up against Coppin State, San Jose State, San Francisco, Columbia and Butler probably won’t help you out very much. To add fuel to the destruction, they’ll also host Alabama State for three games in late-April.

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- ARIZONA STATE (36-20, 18-12)

2012 ISR: 9

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 1

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Trevor Williams (12-2, 2.05)

OF Trever Allen (.280-3-25)

C Max Rossiter (.326-2-18, just 2Es)

1B/DH Nathaniel Causey (.288)

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NOTES:

- How bad was the 2012 season for ASU? How about not winning 50 games like they normally do, being saddled with probation, sitting at home in June for the NCAA tournament and then watching your sworn enemy win the national title? Piss!!

- Then again, ASU has an NCAA-best 50-year streak of 30+ win seasons. Think about that for a second. That means, even their crappiest teams have still been able to win 30 or more. Amazing. Doesn’t look like that’ll change anytime soon either as head coach Tim Esmay hasn’t skipped a beat, including last year’s 36-win season, done while on probation too. So you figure if anytime it was going to happen it would’ve been in 2012. No dice.

- The arms corps will be paced on the mound by Team USA member Trevor Williams, a mid-90s fireballer who is expected to be a 1st round draft pick this coming June. So expect a lot of dominating Friday nights from the Big Dog Devil.

- He’ll be throwing to a quality backstop in Max Rossiter, who was a 32nd round draft pick last June but chose to come back to campus. He and junior Michael Benjamin (.322-3-22), both of whom had 35 starts last season, will need to pace the offensive resurgence. Powersticks like Joey DeMichele, Abe Ruiz and Andrew Alpin all hit the bricks in the off-season, so there will certainly be a power outage for the Devils in 2013.

- The thing you’ve gotta love about Tim Esmay and his staff is how they are just reloading once again. Probation? No problem. No post-season? No problem. Not a lot of returnees? No problem. This year’s incoming class was once again highly-ranked, at No. 3 in the country according to Collegiate Baseball. Look for LHP Brett Lilek, a hard-throwing, low-90s, and LHP Ryan Kellogg, a 12th round MLB draftee, to make the biggest impact on a pitching staff which lost its Friday ace in Brady Rodgers and saves leader Jake Barrett.

- The Devils will also welcome in outfielders like David Graybill (a 31st round, Pirates), Johnny Sewald (34th round, Orioles) and Cullen O’Dwyer (39th round, Braves), who could all see some action this season and even break into the starting lineup.

- One player to keep an eye for 2013 is strapping 6’8″ LHP Adam McCreery, who only threw in five games last year (going 2-0, 1.32), but was a former 14th round draft pick and should make a big difference this season if he stays healthy… feel free to knock on the nearest piece of wood you can find. Fellow soph Darin Gilles (1-4, 5.03) should make big strides as well after starting 10 games last season.

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- CALIFORNIA (29-25, 12-18)

2012 ISR: 35

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

C Andrew Knapp (.265-5-26)

LHP Michael Theofanopoulos (3-5, 5.04)

1B Devon Rodriguez (.280-5-35 in 2011)

LHP Kyle Porter (2-1, 5.75)

LHP Justin Jones (4-9, 4.57)

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NOTES:

- Okay, okay, you knew it was going to be a little bit of a rough ride in 2012 for the Bears. Coming off that 2011 magical run to the College World Series despite nearly having the program disbanded, a natural falling to Earth wasn’t a shock. Then again, look at that ISR ranking… No. 35. That’s what the 7th toughest schedule in the nation will do for you. Now, what WOULD be a shock is if the Bears don’t start scratching their way back to contending status in the Pac 12.

- There’s a good bit of pitching coming back, but some of it needs a booster shot to get back to their old winning ways – and no, that wasn’t a needle/steroid reference there. But Justin Jones and Kyle Porter, who were key components to that last Omaha team. Jones, a former 7th round draft pick out of high school, went 9-6, 2.93 as the big gun in the Bear rotation in 2011 and Porter was a stout 6-0, 1.89 as a Freshman All American before running into last year’s injury-shortened season. If those two can get close to those numbers and throw effectively again and that could push the Bears into the upper half of the conference – which means a big charge to the post-season, naturally.

- Along with Kyle Porter, another difference-maker who looks to re-establish his presence will be 1B Devon Rodriguez, who played in just four games last season, and is a power-stick at the dish and a vocal leader in the field. He’ll join Vince Bruno as a pair of potent sticks which could lead to a surge in the offensive numbers. C Andrew Knapp (.265-5-26) and 2B/SS Derek Campbell (.264) should be bigger contributors this spring as well.

- The Bears could provide some matchup problems for opposing teams with a left-heavy rotation and reliever Chirs Muse-Fisher (3-1, 1.93) in middle relief.

- Baseball America glossed on about the Cal incoming freshman class, and for good reason. RHP Ryan Mason made the biggest impact in the fall camp and could be a key righty to compliment the left-handers in the rotation. Also, power-packed 1B/OF Nick Halamandaris comes to Berkeley after turning down the big leagues despite getting picked in the 8th round of last June’s draft.

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- OREGON (33-26, 11-16)

2012 ISR: 5

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

LHP Jimmie Sherfy (5-3, 2.20, 19svs)

LHP Tommy Thorpe (2-0, 2.11, 35apps)

RHP Jake Reed (8-4, 2.92, 3CGs)

RHP Brando Tessar (4-1, 3.42)

RHP Jeff Gold (8-4, 3.66)

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NOTES:

- The Ducks came arrrrrrgh! close to making their first visit to Omaha in the George Horton era, but upstart Kent State was just a tad more mentally tough in that hard-fought Super Regional. None-the-less, I get the sinking suspicion that Phil Knight U. isn’t going to take too long in getting close again.

- As you’ll usually find with Horton-coached squads, these guys are lockdown ready in the pitching department. See those five All-Pac 12 candidates listed above? Here’s the part that I love… check out their respective opponents’ batting average. In order they go .172, .176, .230, .235 and .260. That’s almost jaw-dropping.

- In addition to all those arms, two more players worth keeping in mind for 2013 will be a pair of redshirt pitchers. RHP Nick Wagner has had a hard-luck career so far in Eugene, tweaking a knee in pre-season practice each of the last two seasons and not getting any playing time since his freshman year of 2010. But he was a 44th round draft pick of the Blue Jays in June of 2009 and still has a live arm he’s ready to show off. Also, RHP Christian Jones sat last season with an elbow injury but was 7-2, 3.24 in 2011 and was a Cape Cod League All Star in summer 2010.

- UO wasn’t long on offense. And, well… they didn’t have to be, considering the pitching and .978 defense they played. But seven of the top eight bats come back in 2013, led by OF Brett Thomas (.313, 10SBs) and Ryon Healy (.312-4-42). But also keep watch for better numbers from seniors J.J. Altobelli (who seems like he’s been in Eugene since before the program was dropped) and Ryan Hambright, who both hit a rather underachieving .265. If they can amp things up here, the Ducks become lethal.

- Like the rest of the Pac 12 – or so it seems – the Ducks have a banner recruiting class coming to campus in 2013, ranked at No. 23 in Collegiate Baseball. Plenty of people were geeked on incoming southpaw pitcher Cole Irvin, who played in the West Coast Summer League (against current college players) and had no problems against his older competition. Irvin was also a 29th round draft pick last June but decided to stick with coming to Eugene. J.C. All American Clayton Crumb, a 38th round draftee last June, will be one of those mid-90s guys.

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- OREGON STATE (41-19, 17-10)

2012 ISR: 12

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Michael Conforto (.349-13-76, Frosh All American)

SS Tyler Smith (.343, 10SBs, All Pac 12)

LHP Ben Wetzler (8-2, 3.10)

RHP Dan Child (6-4, 2.95)

C Jake Rodriguez (.290)

LHP Matt Boyd (4-0, 3.41, 3svs, .237OBA, 31apps)

1B/DH Danny Hayes (.307-5-27, .457OB%)

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NOTES:

- The Beavers are an odd sort to say the least. Since their 2006-07 national title teams, it seems that the years they’ve been picked to do well, they have a middle-of-the-pack season, but when they’ve had fewer expectations on them, they’ve seemed to shine. Well this 2013 outfit is loaded for bear – so take that as a good thing or a bad thing on your own. This is an Omaha-or-bust unit, no doubt. It will be interesting to see how they do in what should be a top-heavy Pac 12. Either way, coach Pat Casey and Co. have a lot of weapons, experience and pitching to go around this year.

- This will be a senior-heavy team to say the least. I mean, really, we’ve heard names like SS Tyler Smith, OF Joey Matthews (.270), 1B/DH Danny Hayes, OF Max Gordon and pitchers Matt Boyd, Tony Bryant and Cole Brocker for years. It can almost be labeled a “bad thing” since you know Pat Casey and the crew will have to figure out a way to incorporate some of that standout freshman class (RHP Andrew Moore and SS Jerad Casper are the big names to watch) into games at some point.

- The Pesky Beavairs have more than a flat paddle tail this year, they’ll have arms out the ying-yang too. All three weekend starters return in LHP Jace Fry (5-3, 2.45, 3CGs), Dan Child and Ben Wetzler, but also look out for the relief brigade of studs like Matt Boyd, Scott Schultz (3-1, 2.56) and Tony Bryant (6-2, 3.82, 9svs), who is chomping at the bit to return to the form of his All-American 2011 season, not that his 2012 season was a bummer or anything. This team is so deep in the arms corps it’s almost too bad there is only one baseball to go around.

- Bryant isn’t alone in the “making amends” department. Players like INF Kavin Keyes (.302 in 2011, down to .226 in 2012) and LHP Carlos Rodriguez (a 20th round draftee of Atlanta in 2011, pitched just 8.0 innings in 2012) hope to step up their game. If those two come through and play to potential, that could be a huge key to the Beavs breaking through to the promised land again.

- Matt Boyd and Michael Conforto are sure-shot All American candidates, especially after spending last summer playing for the high-profile Team USA. In addition, Boyd was drafted in the 13th round of last June’s MLB draft but chose to come back for his senior year instead. (And yes, we dig that).

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- SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (22-33, 8-22)

2012 ISR: 76

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 0

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Wyatt Strahan (3-3, 1.37, 2svs)

OF Adam Landecker (.329)

OF James Roberts (.290)

OF Greg Zebrack (.343-7-28 at Penn last year)

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NOTES:

- There has been a lot of strife in the storied Trojan program the last few years, but I firmly believe they are headed for greener pastures. But – and this is a very big but – there are still plenty of rough spots ahead in the process. Judging how successful his early 2000s LMU teams were, I’m pretty sure coach Frank Cruz has the hutzpah to get this program back to the hallowed ground of Omaha, but there was still a lot of attrition from last year’s squad and will be a young team again in 2013. So don’t look for any championship runs this time around. Not yet.

- Coach Cruz is on to something here guys. There may not be a lot returning to this year’s roster, given the numbers above, but there is a ray of light ahead. The Trojans have had the No. 5 and No. 16 ranked recruiting classes the last two years, according to Collegiate Baseball, so the talent level is slowly getting back up to acceptable levels in Troy. Let’s see what they can do with it this season.

- For this year’s pack of newbies, look for immediate impacts from OF Timmy Robinson, a stoutly-built 6’2″ 235-pound outfielder with significant amounts of pop in the bat and was selected in the 31st round of last June’s draft, and LHP Kyle Twomey, who was drafted in the 3rd round. They’ll also get the services of senior OF Greg Zebrack, who transfers in from Penn where he was a two-time 1st Team All Ivy performer in 2011 and 2012. The odd thing is that Zebrack actually played at USC as a frosh in 2009, making 21 appearances before transferring to Penn. Welcome back Greg.

- Once again, it must be pointed out that the Men of Troy haven’t had a winning season since 2005, which was also the last time they made a trip to the post-season. Aye-yaye-yaye!

- Unfortunately, among the many talents that will be missing this year, rising star pitcher Stephen Tarpley decided to leave the Trojan program and transfer to Scottsdale CC.

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- STANFORD (41-18, 18-12)

2012 ISR: 3

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Mark Appel (10-2, 2.56, 130Ks, .213OBA)

RHP A.J. Vanegas (4-0, 2.62, 5svs, .235OBA)

1B Brian Ragira (.329-5-50)

3B Alex Blandino (.294-8-40)

OF Austin Wilson (.285-10-54)

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NOTES:

- When 1st round draft pick Mark Appel announced he was coming back to The Farm for his senior season, it automatically catapulted the Cardinal into national championship contenders. But there is a bit of an asterisk to the Trees: *They MUST recover – or rather, forget – from the Tallahassee Tomahawking. That massacre they suffered in the Super Regionals was one of the more remarkable, and mind-numbingly curious, obliterations we’ve seen in college baseball history. Stanford, who I had ranked No. 1 for much of the early season, was outscored in two games to FSU 35-8. NOT a misprint.

- But with Appel coming back, he’ll team with Cape Cod League All Star A.J. Venegas, who has tremendous upside but didn’t always seem to reach it last year, to give the Cardinal a great one-two punch that can beat anyone in the country. Also look for LHP John Hockstatter (3-3, 4.53) who started nine games as a frosh last year, and senior RHPs Dean McArdle (3-3, 3.97( and Sahil Bloom (2-0, 3.56, 2svs) who combined for 45 appearances last season.

- The second biggest optimism for domination has to be in the strapping batting order SU will sport this season, featuring monstrous slugger Austin Wilson, smooth-swinging Brian Ragira and burgeoning superstar sophomore Alex Blandino, who really came on strong later on in the season.

- Don’t forget about the defensive whiz who leads by example in SS Lonnie Kauppila, who was hitting .280 and playing great in the field right before being lost to injury after 30 games into the 2012 season. He’s back and 100% now.

- Once again, Mark Marquess brought in a truckload of MLB-ready talent as well. SU’s recruiting class was ranked at No. 6 in the nation and will showcase five talents who were drafted last June by the bigs. Keep an eye on the battery of 25th round RHP Freddy Avis, who I saw pitch at the Area Code Games in summer 2011, and catcher Austin Barr, a 29th round draftee. And of course, I’m sure two or three other smarties will emerge from the incoming class that nobody really saw coming. It happens every year, it seems.

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- UCLA (48-16, 20-10)

2012 ISR: 1

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Adam Plutko (12-3, 2.48, .215OBA)

RHP David Berg (5-3, 1.46, 50apps, .165OBA)

RHP Nick Vander Tuig (10-4, 4.43)

2B Kevin Williams (.302-2-21)

SS Pat Valaika (.266)

1B Cody Regis (.240)

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NOTES:

- The Bruins made the pilgrimage to Omaha for the second time in three years under the tutelage of John Savage. And before we go any further, it’s probably a good time to say that something tells me that’s not going to change anytime soon either. Especially with the latest recruiting classes that he and his staff have been hauling in over the years. (More on that in a bit).

- As is almost a John Savage tradition in his tenure, the Bruins will be well-armed once again this season. It’s sort of their M.O. After using primarily seven pitchers in heavy rotation last season – I’ll leave it to you to decide if that’s a good or bad thing – the UCLAns will bring back six of those arms for this season. They’ll have their full weekend rotation of All American Adam Plutko, Nick Vander Tuig and Zach Weiss, all three of which are top-level combatants on the mound and all three seemed to get better as the season went on last year.

- The bullpen should be a decided advantage once again with Frosh All American David Berg, who made a mind-boggling 50 appearances last season and was always on top of his game. They’ll be without saves lead Scott Griggs (an 8th round draftee), but he was used less and less as the season wore on as Berg got more clued into the college game. Behind Berg there will still be solid arms in RHP Ryan Deeter (1-0, 0.89, 30.1inns), who made 36 appearances, and a host of new freshman arms coming that will escalate to stud status very soon.

- Speaking of that incoming class, it was ranked as the 2nd-best unit in the country by Collegiate Baseball. Five of the newbies-to-be were MLB draftees last June and three of them are pitchers. 11th round draftee Hunter Virant is a left-handed U.S. Prime low-90s flinger who should make an immediate impact. RHP Cody Poteet was picked in the 27th round and fellow righty James Kaprielian was a 40th round pick who was also named the No. 3 pro prospect in the West Coast League last summer by Baseball America.

- The entire infield returns in 1B Cody Regis, 2B Kevin Williams, SS Pat Valaika and 3B Kevin Kramer (.281), who made 35 starts in 2012. Offensively, keep an eye on Shane Zeile, who hit .371 in 30 games, and could take on a bigger role for 2013.

- Though there is a lot of upside to the Bruins this season, they did have all seven of their drafted players sign with professional teams, though all of them were within the top 15 rounds of the draft. So it’s no big shock.

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- UTAH (14-42, 7-23)

2012 ISR: 170

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

3B Trey Nielsen (.235-2-20)

RHP Mitch Watrous (2-5, 3.48, 1sv)

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NOTES:

- The first go-round in their new digs didn’t go too well for the Utes. Coming off a 16-7 Mountain West slate in 2011, they dropped to a 7-23 Pac 12 finish last season. But you knew there would be some growing pains, so give it some time people. Coach Bill Kinneberg is a respected leader and things should start to smooth out in 2013.

- The biggest thing going for the Utes is the fact that nearly all of the pitching returns from last year. Granted, this was the worst unit in the Pac 12, posting a 5.20 team ERA, but they’ll have experience on their side. A full 45 of their 56 starts from last season come back, including senior RHPs Brock Duke (2-6, 4.46) and Joe Pond (3-10, 6.01), who combined for 28 of those starts. Middle relievers Josh Chapman (1-1, 3.81) and LHP Nick Green (2-1, 4.12) both come back as well, giving the Utes some versatility in the bullpen.

- The top three hitters from last season are gone, leaving Ethan Leiter’s .237 as the best returning batting average. Yes, .237. So the Utes must get better at the dish. They will have a lot of footspeed coming back, so getting on base more often is of paramount importance.

- Two more Lazurus types to watch for are INF Tyler Yagi, who went on a Mormon mission but was the Mountain West tournament MVP in 2009 and should bring some energy and balance to the offense. Also, when Southern Utah drpped baseball, two-way threat Chase Rezac, a 26th round draft pick of the Reds last June, transferred into UU. Rezak hit .330 with five home runs and went 3-7, 6.88 in 10 starts last season for the Thunderbirds.

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- WASHINGTON (30-25, 13-17)

2012 ISR: 32

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Jayce Ray (.311)

RHP Joshua Fredendall (1-2, 1.84, 9svs)

RHP Tyler Kane (7-2, 2.19)

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NOTES:

- Ugh! A little bad and a little good for Udub last year. When I saw them complete a sweep at USC, they improved to 26-18, had an RPI of No. 42 and were tied with Oregon State in the Pac 12 standings. But the 4-7 skid to end the regular season ended up ruining their rankings and kept them home for the month of June. Bu tin hindsight, look at that ISR ranking? No. 32. Also, Boyd Nation had last year’s schedule ranked as the 8th toughest in the country. Makes you wonder… is scheduling a tough slate a good thing or a bad thing?

- Still, let’s big picture this thing. Coach Lindsay Megg’s Huskies still went from 17-37 in 2011 to 30-25 last year, along with that at-large consideration. That’s some very solid improvement there. Onward and upward boys.

- Pitching was the strong point for Washington, after sporting a team ERA of 3.62 and holding opponents to a .249 average. And yes, there’s a fair amount of those boys back this year. So go get ‘em.

- If it gets to the late innings, the Huskies have two of the more underappreciated bullpen talents in the country in Joshua Fredendall and Tyler Kane, who held their opposing batters to averages of .171 and .238.

- The pros had their claws in C Austin Rei, a 38th round draftee and swift OF Braden Bishop, a 36th round pick, but neither player signed, giving the Huskies a shot in the arm for the next few years.

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- WASHINGTON STATE (28-28, 12-18)

2012 ISR: 50

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Jason Monda (.275)

LHP Joe Pistorese (4-3, 2.44)

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NOTES:

- Well if there’s one thing Wazzu head coach Donnie Marbut is counting on is that pitching and defense wins championships. I’m not sure how it happens, but it seems like the Cougars either return all their big hitters one year and all their big pitchers another year. This is one of those “pitcher heavy” seasons for the Cougars. Each of the top six pitchers from last year return to their post and it is a sophomore laden bunch.

- The weekend rotation featured J.D. Leckenby (4-7, 4.50) and Tanner Chleborad (4-3, 4.24) on Fridays and Saturdays, both of whom gave the Maroon & Silver a chance to win each time out, even in Pac 12 play. Sundays were handled by either Joe Pistorese or Kyle Swannack (3-5, 6.08), so there are a lot of options for starting assignments.

- The bullpen will be a strength with the returns of a pair of versatile righties in Kellen Camus (3-1, 3.44) and Scott Simon (2-3, 4.09), who combined for 57 appearances and five saves. The ‘pen is the only slight area of concern for coach Marbut and Co. as there has been some attrition. But there are a number of talented new arms to add to the mix.

- A heavy exodus of position players will leave the Coogs with a lot of holes to fill and a bit of a weaker offense. The top two hitters, Derek Jones and Taylor Ard, supplied all the power for this team, hitting 21 of WSU’s 30 home runs last season. Both have moved on to pro ball. In fact, the top five hitters from last year are all gone now, all of whom hit .290+.

- Watch for SS Trace Tam Sing, a redshirt soph who sat out last season due to injury but was a former 22nd round draft pick out of high school and should be a key contributor this time around.

- A couple of faces to keep tabs on will be OF Yale Rosen, who had just two hits in 23 at-bats last season, but then he went and tore up the New England Collegiate League in the summer, hitting .339-12-36 and ended up being ranked as the No. 3 pro prospect in the league by Baseball America. Incoming catcher prospect J.J. Robinson brings in a lethal left-handed bat and good mechanics behind the dish. He could also be moved to the DH role since the Coogs had catchers, P.J. Jones (.303) and Collin Slaybaugh (.296) split time at the backstop position.

 

COMMENTS:

February 11, 2013 at 6:00 am
Keeley says:

LOVE the looks of the Pac 12 this year. Everybody has a stud pitcher or two coming back. Should have the best arms in the country this year. Keep up the good work.


February 11, 2013 at 6:11 am
Chris Hightower says:

Keep an eye out for Arizona State this year, they’re done with their probation and have a lot to play for this year. The Devils will be back to their old selves this year.


February 11, 2013 at 6:17 am
Wesley says:

Hey Stitch, great work on your conference previews once again. Nobody does what you do. But you’ve got Cal way too low in the Pac 12 rankings. I think they’re going to be the surprise team in the conference in 2013. Can’t wait to see how they’ll do at the Houston College Classic, that should be a key indicator to what kind of team they’ll have this season.


February 11, 2013 at 9:52 am
Johnny Brindell says:

A.J. Venegas might be on the shelf for the first couple weeks of the year with an injury. Hopefully Mark Appel is up to his usual self and dominates on Fridays. Offensively, there may not be a better batting order in the country with Wilson, Ragira, Diekroeger, Kappula and Blandino. If they play up to potential, nobody will hit better than the Cardinal.


February 11, 2013 at 2:55 pm
C.J. Glasser says:

Don’t overlook the national champions. Other than Kurt Heyer, they don’t lose anyone else in the pitching staff. Lots of young talent will emerge this year too. Bear Down, Wildcats.