The Pac-10 sent eight teams to the regionals in 2010, while UCLA and Arizona State both advanced to the College World Series, with the Bruins losing in the championship series to South Carolina. With the amount of teams making the postseason, as well as 20+ game winning streaks by UCLA and Arizona State to start the season, the conference established itself as the premier conference in the country, with most of its elite players returning for 2011.
Arizona (34-24, 12-15 Pac-10)
Starting down south, the Arizona Wildcats look to build off a 2010 which saw them make the Fort Worth Regional and take a game off of Baylor before losing their next two to eventual CWS participant TCU and then Baylor. The Wildcats return the core of their team, losing players only to graduation with Steve Selsky leading the way on offense after a breakout .370, 9 HR campaign in his sophomore year, which was good enough to earn him a 34th round selection by the Rockies. Selsky continued to shine at the plate with a 4 HR, 18 RBI performance over the summer for the Orleans Firebirds in the Cape, but that hot bat will be missed to start the season as he broke his pinky on a bunt attempt in spring practice. He should only miss a few weeks, but will have returning leadership to step up in his absence.
Sophomore centerfielder Joey Rickard had a great freshman campaign hitting .307 with 8 homers leading off for the Wildcats, and is almost under the radar as he was overshadowed offensively by All-Pac 10 catcher Jett Bandy, who has 44 doubles over his two year career in Tucson so far, and will be anchored by what looks to be a first base platoon of Josh Garcia and Cole Frenzel, who are both coming off of injury marred seasons in 2010 to compete for the first base spot. The injury bug seems to be a common theme with the Wildcats as Bryce Ortega returns for his senior season after a back injury limited him to only 35 games last season. Sophomores Alex Mejia and Seth Mejias-Brean return to the left side of the infield after both having plus .300 freshman campaigns. The injury to Selsky should give more time to a group of outfielders in Bobby Brown, Bobby Rinard and Robert Refsnyder to find a groove in the battle for the left field spot.
On the mound the Wildcats return two of their viable weekend starters from last season in right handers Kurt Heyer and Kyle Simon. Heyer (7-4, 3.26 ERA, 109 K’s) will be the Friday night starter with Simon (8-6, 4.27 ERA) going on Saturdays. Simon led the team in innings pitched last year with 109 and played in the Cape Cod League All-Star game. Last year’s Sunday starter Bryce Bandilla will move into the closer role as this year’s Sunday starter looks to be Tyler Hale (1-1, 5.71 ERA), who shined in the team’s final game against Baylor. Junior Matt Veltman missed all of 2010 with a back injury, but could also be in that Sunday role.
Arizona State (52-10, 20-7 Pac-10)
Arizona State is known to reload on command, but are banned from the postseason for 2011. (As of print, ASU is appealing the decision with the NCAA) Their infield loses SS Drew Maggi, who played over the summer with Team USA before signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Raoul Torrez at third base. The other Torrez brother, Riccio, will move over from first to third and fill in the position. As for shortstop, draft eligible sophomore Deven Marrero takes over, and has already earned many preseason accolades at the position even though he mainly played in the outfield last season. Second base is occupied by the reigning Pac-10 Player of the Year in junior Zack MacPhee, who set an ASU record with 14 triples last season. At first base is Cape Cod League All-Star Game MVP Zach Wilson, with the duty also being shared by the left-handed Abe Ruiz at times. Altogether, the ASU infield hit .383 in 2010. Austin Barnes returns behind the plate after having a solid second half of 2010, and will be backed up by Xorge Carrillo.
The outfield returns Johnny Ruettiger in left field, as he led the Cape League this summer with a batting average of .369. With Sophomore Andrew Aplin returning in center and what looks like to be a platoon in right field with senior Matt Newman leading the charge, replacing the Mayor of Omaha Kole Calhoun. Newman was a member of Team USA after the 2008 season but has struggled since, and hopefully returns to form.
Brady Rodgers takes over the Friday night spot for a rotation that lost all three of its 2010 starters to the MLB draft, a rotation that went 33-5 last season. JC strikeout machine transfer LHP Kyle Ottoson joins the Devils as the Saturday starter, while Jake Barrett will start Sundays after excelling in relief in 2010. The left handed Mitchell Lambson is an absolute stud in middle relief, picking up 8 wins without a start last year with a miniscule .81 WHIP. California’s Mr. Baseball freshman Cory Hahn could continue the tradition of two-way closers (Ike Davis, Jordan Swagerty), as he is a possible option in right field as well as DH.
California (29-25, 13-14 Pac-10)
Sadly, the historic Cal Baseball program will officially come to an end on July 1st. That shouldn’t deter them from yet another regional appearance, as they have one of the best recruiting classes in the country.
Sophomore Tony Renda leads the offense as he moved to second base, replacing the departed Brian Guinn. Renda hit a team high .373 last season after spending most of last year at third base, and had 28 multi-hit games as a freshman. His partner up the middle is of course Marcus Semien, who had a breakout sophomore campaign after hitting .328, and hit over .300 this summer in the Northwoods League with the Alexandria Beetles. Mitch Delfino started 23 games at third base last season and will take over the role full time. Replacing Mark Canha’s 10 homeruns and 69 RBI in the first base position will be difficult, but Devin Rodriguez looks up to the challenge after DH’ng for a bit of last year, and also had a good summer. With Canha gone, catcher Chadd Krist will be the main power supply for the Bears, registering a .344 batting average with 10 homers and 44 RBI a year ago.
The outfield will be headlined by junior left fielder Danny Oh, who had a great summer on the Cape hitting .290 for the Brewster Whitecaps. Darrel Mathews takes over the centerfield spot, and with his speed will undoubtedly have more steals than the three he registered last season. Chad Bunting moves over to right field after playing mostly in center last year, after a sophomore campaign that saw him hit .328, culminating in a 3 for 4 performance with a homerun against Oral Roberts in the Norman Regional.
On the mound, the Bears are loaded as they return Junior RHP Erik Johnson, who recovered from a rocky freshman season to become a dominant starter in 2010, going 6-3 with a 4.09 ERA. LHP Justin Jones after a ten win sophomore campaign. Sixth round pick Dixon Anderson, who couldn’t come to terms with the Orioles, returns as the Sunday starter after going 5-4 last season, but had a 5.17 ERA with a .287 batting average against. Relievers Kevin Miller and Matt Flemer have to be more effective this season in order for Cal to have a chance in the later innings.
Oregon (40-24, 13-14 Pac-10)
The marks are high for Oregon coming into 2011, with multiple Top 15 national rankings by various publications after a regional appearance in only their second year since restarting play in 2009. A major question mark for them coming is will be the absence of KC Serna, who is serving an indefinite suspension for an undisclosed issue. Serna (.348, 5 HR, 37 RBI) will leave a huge gap in the young lineup, but will give young players an opportunity to see what the future holds for Oregon. Speaking of the future, two freshmen you could see in various roles this season are Tyler Kuresa (11th round, Twins) and Stefan Sabol. Sabol, the second coustin of NFL safety Troy Polamalu, was regarded as a possible first round pick in 2010 out of Aliso Viejo High School before standing firm on his commitment to Oregon and not budging after the Braves took him in the 17th round. Both could see time early at the corner infield positions, as J.J. Altobelli is moving to shortstop to replace Serna while Jack Marder, the Ducks mainstay at first base last season, moves behind the plate, replacing the departed Eddy Rodriguez.
Speaking to Horton back in January, he said “Kuresa excels and fits in right away defensively, but his bat still needs to come around. Sabol is the other way around and still has rough edges defensively. With his athleticism, we’ve looked at him in the OF as well as 3B.” The outfield seems to be a huge question mark coming in with Marcus Piazzisi being the only certainty out there, and his left handed bat will be crucial as Horton continues to perfect his West Coast offense. Oregon has the talent to live up to their high preseason rankings and expectations, but their ability to use players interchangeably defensively will give Horton the ability to have a lineup that will change one day to the next.
The Ducks got to the postseason on pitching, and their Friday ace Tyler Anderson returns for his junior seasonafter going 7-5 with a 2.98 ERA and 105 strikeouts last season. Anderson had a strong summer with the USA Collegiate National Team going 1-0 in three starts without letting up an earned run. He was ranked by College Baseball Daily as the 22nd best player in the country. They lost their other two weekend starters, Justin LaTempa and Zack Thornton, to the draft, but have the arms to replace them. Madison Boer and Alex Keudell are the most likely to fill in the Saturday-Sunday roles. Boer had a great summer in the Northwoods league going 4-1 with a 0.89 ERA in 14 appearances out of the bullpen to go along with his 3-1 record with a 2.44 ERA for the Ducks last season, starting 4 games, and saving 5 contests.
Scott McGough will be the go-to-guy out of the bullpen, and it’ll be interesting to see what other pitchers step up out of that role. One name to watch out for is Porter Clayton, a 6’4 lefty who graduated high school early in order to be eligible to pitch this season. The Idaho Falls, Idaho, native was a 2010 Under Armour High School All-American, and could provide a change of pace from the right handed McGough in relief.
Oregon State (32-24, 12-15 Pac-10)
Enough time has passed since back to back titles in 2006 and 2007 for the shine to wear off those trophies, and Pat Casey sounds more than ready to get back to work. The theme of this season seems to be that no position is solidified, no matter the accolades. Sophomore Andrew Susac has all the talent to be a high draft pick, but his .260 average last season did little to show his potential as he adjusted to the college game. He’ll be supplanted by team captain Parker Berberet, who will also play first base.
The infield for Oregon State looks like it’s going to be a bunch of interchangeable players fighting for playing time. Carter Bell starred for Team Canada over the summer, and moves over to third base. At shortstop is true freshman Kavin Keyes, who graduated high school early this winter in order to come to campus. Second baseman Tyler Smith returns but could be supplanted by a group of other players as he only hit .247 last season. Dylan Jones, Jared Norris and Danny Hayes return as well.
The outfield is led by senior leader Michael Miller, who spends most of his time in right field, while infielder Jared Norris also plays some right as well. Garrett Nash returns from his 2-year hiatus on a Mormon mission, and will give the team great speed as long he can get on base. Speed is the theme for the Oregon State outfield as walk-on Max Gordon should see some time out there, as well as Oregon State cornerback Jordan Poyer, who joins the baseball squad after spending last year primarily playing football.
The pitching staff is going to have a mix of inexperience and players fighting their way back from injury. Freshman LHP Ben Wetzler was held out in the fall due to being overpitched in the summer, but Casey is really high on him. RHP Adam Duke is rated as the #34 freshman prospect by Baseball America, and he says that Duke is “similar to Dallas Buck as far as stuff goes.” Wetzler will start the season as the Saturday starter, as junior RHP Sam Gaviglio returns as the Friday night starter after going 3-4 with a 5.60 ERA last season in 10 starts. Sophomore LHP Matt Boyd, who went 7-1 with a 1.90 ERA in mainly relief appearances, will be the Sunday starter.
The two guys who many thought would be their top arms headed into 2010 went down with injuries in the offseason and are inching back in Josh Osich and Taylor Starr. The left-handed Osich was dominant in relief in 2009, striking out 34 over 26 1/3 with a 2.05 ERA in one start. Taylor Starr had a phenomenal 2008 coming out of the bullpen with a 3-1 record and 1.61 ERA in 16 appearances, but only made one appearance in 2009 and was held out all of 2010 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Casey made the comment in his preseason presser that “Our best left-handed arm never threw a pitch and our best right-handed arm never threw a pitch, and we went to a regional and lost to an unbelievable team in Florida and I don’t think we played that well.” He also said that Osich seems to be further along than Taylor in rehab. Starr will be out to start the season but could return later in the year.
Stanford (31-25, 14-13 Pac-10)
A team with high hopes and expectations, the Cardinal will lean on leadership in the lineup from a team that had to learn fast as freshmen last season. Kenny Diekroger led the offense last year with a .356 average with five homers and a team leading 41 RBI, and makes the move over to his natural position of shortstop after playing third base all of last season. Highly touted freshman Brian Ragira will move into the third base role. The left handed hitting Eric Smith will be at second base after playing 36 games as a freshman, totaling a .286 batting average, and is the lone left handed bat in the lineup. Stephen Piscotty hit .326 as a freshman and returns to play first base. Behind the plate, a couple of seniors will lead the way as Zach Jones and Ben Clowe will split time, with Ben Clowe in the DH role more often than not.
The outfield consists of a cast of young athletes who should impress in 2011. Starting off, freshman Austin Wilson comes in as decorated as they come, already named a third team preseason All-American by Baseball America, he was a projected first round pick before reaffirming his commitment to Stanford last year.
As a freshman, he comes in as undoubtedly the most powerful hitter on the Cardinal and will give pop to a lineup which the leading homerun hitter had 5 total last year. Tyler Gaffney, who doubles as a running back on the Orange Bowl Champion football team, returns after hitting .328 his freshman year, and Jake Stewart returns for his sophomore campaign after having an excellent summer in the Alaskan Summer League.
Junior LHP Brett Mooneyham returns on the mound after leading the team in strikeouts last season with 99. He was hampered by control issues (62 walks) that led to a 3-7 record with a 5.07 ERA, but shows all the promise in the world and had a great summer with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League, going 3-0 in 4 starts with 22 strikeouts over 22.1 innings pitched. RHP Jordan Pries led the team in innings pitched last year, going 4-4 with a 4.07 ERA, and should be the Saturday starter. RHP AJ Vanegas, a 7th round draft pick by San Diego, will be the Sunday starter, and the Cardinal have a slew of experienced arms that give them the best overall pitching depth in the Pac-10.
UCLA (51-17 overall, 18-9 Pac-10)
It’s no secret to anyone how stellar UCLA pitching staff was last season, led by junior RHPs Gerrit Cole (11-4, 3.37, 153 K’s) and Trevor Bauer (12-3, 3.02, 165 K’s). The starting pitching staff loses Rob Rasmussen and Garrett Claypool, but freshman RHP Adam Plutko seems more than capable to handle the Sunday starter role. Freshman RHP Zack Weiss looks to be the Tuesday starter, with sophomore RHP Scott Griggs also challenging for the spot. The inexperience on the backend of the rotation is coupled with inexperience in the bullpen, as the most heavily used pitchers from 2010 are now in the minor leagues. Junior LHP Mitchell Beacom will be used more, and with a 6’8” frame coupled with a ¾ delivery could be almost unhittable in a setup role. Over a streak of 11 appearances in the Northwoods League this summer, he gave up only 5 hits over 16.1 innings, totaling a 2-1 record with 32 strikeouts over 29 innings pitched. The losses of Matt Grace, Erik Goeddel and closer Dan Klein hurt, but the Bruins hope to offset that with freshman Nick Vander Tuig in the closer role, who hasn’t pitched in two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery.
UCLA was 45-0 last season when the team scored 5 runs or more, and even though the overall depth of the pitching staff takes a hit from last year, the offense is a year older and should compensate. A key loss on offense is shortstop with the somewhat unexpected departure of Niko Gallego, and have to pick between freshman Pat Valiaka and junior Adrian Williams. I’d expect Williams in there more early in the 9 spot of the batting order, and has nice speed at the bottom of the lineup even though he’s never stolen a base in a Bruin uniform and Gallego’s 27 steals will need to be replaced. Returning on that side of the infield will be sophomore Cody Regis, who had an impressive freshman campaign with a .312 batting average, 9 HR and 47 RBI, even though he struggled in Pac-10 play and had a less than desirable .918 fielding percentage. Dean Espy will see time at third as well. A key cog in the offense will be junior second baseman Tyler Rahmatulla, who returns after to the Bruin lineup after injuring himself in the dogpile after the Super Regional victory against Cal State Fullerton. Rahmatulla does everything well and his .328 batting average and 19 doubles from last year are an indicator of that. Beau Amaral returns to patrol centerfield after an impressive freshman campaign that was littered with web gems and a .354 average, but he could stand to get on base more as he walked 20 times in comparison to 53 strikeouts in the leadoff spot. Behind the plate, Steve Rodriguez returns after only posting a .249 average, but is instrumental in calling games and should hold on to that spot.
USC Trojans (28-32, 7-20 Pac-10)
The Trojans have the most to build on in the Pac-10 as they finished 10th in the conference last year and haven’t seen postseason action since 2005. Interim Head Coach Frank Cruz comes in to try and rebuild the program, and has the top power hitter in the conference to help him out. Junior first baseman Ricky Oropesa is far and away the Trojans leading returning hitter, as he totaled 20 homeruns last season with 67 RBI, while hitting .353. Senior Joe De Pinto is back at shortstop after a 72 hit campaign in 2010. Kevin Roundtree returns behind the plate.
The Trojans outfield lose their other top hitter in centerfielder Mike O’Neill, and will need to figure out a way to replace his 64 hits from a year ago. Alex Sherrod and Matt Foat return to the outfield, along with Garret Houts, who filled in for Sherrod in his absence. Freshman Omar Cotto spurned a 12th round selection by the Toronto Blue Jays and will undoubtedly see time in the Trojan outfield.
It was somewhat of a surprise that Austin Wood made it to campus after being picked in the 4th round out of St. Petersburg Community College by the Tampa Bay Rays. The 6’4 RHP formerly of Florida State will try and boost his draft stock after a year in Los Angeles, which is coupled by an outstanding summer in the Cape where he went 3-0 with a 0.58 ERA. Andrew Triggs returns to anchor the USC pitching staff after a 2-7 campaign in 2010. That record is deceiving as his 3.95 ERA was impressive, only giving up a .257 batting average against while surrendering just 3 homeruns over 70.2 innings. The 6’8” Ben Mount also returns after a 5-6 2010, while Chad Smith comes back after appearing in 23 games in 2010. A couple of 6’4 lefties from down in Orange County could be building blocks for the future of the USC pitching staff in Kyle Richter and Bobby Wheatley.
Washington (28-28, 11-16 Pac-10)
Lindsay Meggs enters his second year as Head Coach of the Huskies program. Previously, he led the Indiana State Sycamores to a 2nd place 2009 finish in the Missouri Valley Conference, and led Chico State to two Division II titles in 1997 and 1999 with Chico State University. Meggs is attempting to change the culture at Washington as he did in his prior two stops, but doing so is pretty tough when you’re in the top conference in the country. As far as this season goes, he’s going to rely on some returning starters in the batting order, while leaning heavily on veterans and JC transfers to bring the incoming freshman class along slowly.
Chase Anselement is one the Huskies best returning hitters average wise after going .347 last season, and is either going to be behind the plate for the Huskies replacing Pierce Rankin or be playing right field, and possibly DH. Palomar Junior College transfer BK Santy is competing with Anselment for the catching position, and depending on his development this spring could take over the catching spot full time. In the infield, another Palomar transfer in Ty Afenir will be the everyday shortstop, and while the second base spot is up for grabs, left handed hitting Troy Scott and Jake Lamb return on the corners at first and third base. Scott only hit .233 last season but has great power potential and hit five homeruns and hit .354 over the summer with the Green Bay Bullfrogs of the Northwoods League, so the Huskies are hoping he can parlay that into a stellar senior campaign.
The outfield returns centerfielder Caleb Brown, who will bat in the middle of the order, but may not see action right away as he’s returning from a broken leg suffered over the summer. As stated before, Chase Anselment could see time in right field, the lefty/lefty Brian Wolfe will see time in both left and right field after a tremendous summer in the West Coast League, hitting .311. Lindsay Meggs’ son Joe could see time in an outfield spot as well after sitting out last year due to transfer rules after coming over with his father from Indiana State. Coach Meggs is also high on left handed hitting Spencer Rogers, who hit .494 as a senior last season at Issaquah High School and also picked up six wins on the mound.
Speaking of on the mound, Andrew Kittredge will most likely lead the way in Pac-10 play for the Huskies after picking up 7 wins last season, but he is out for a few weeks due to academic issues. He’s able to come back midway through the season due to Washington being on the quarter system academically, but his absence is going to allow the Huskies to see what else they have in terms of JC transfers and young arms. Look for senior RHP Jacob Clem to possibly step up into that Friday night starter role after spending all of 2010 in relief, and Aaron West to come back after sitting out last year with an arm injury. Geoff Brown only picked up one win last season in eleven starts, but will be leaned on early to eat up some innings.
Washington State (37-22, 15-12 Pac-10)
Team leader Derek Jones returns to man left field after consecutive 12 home run campaigns. Junior Kyle Johnson returns to the centerfield after a scary collision against Texas A&M derailed part of his season. Patrick Claussen has played mainly a utility role over his two years with the Cougars, and he could be called upon to play some outfield as well as DH. Freshman Jason Monda could make an impact early, and should be on the radar for Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year as he’ll start the season in right field.
In the infield, senior Matt Argyropoulos will be relied on to be their everyday third baseman after a .272 campaign last year. Up the middle, Cody Bartlett is going to replace Shea Vucinich at shortstop. Cody hit .323 with 7 HR at second base last season, and makes some of the best defensive plays you’ll see on the diamond. West Coast Collegiate League MVP Tommy Richards will take over for Bartlett at second base. Richards’ summer with the Bend Elks included batting .364 with 2 HR, 10 doubles and 33 RBI in 41 games. Look for freshman Trace Tam Sing to possibly take over for either Bartlett or Richards defensively at times.
Taylor Ard makes his debut after spending two years at Mt. Hood Community College and was in the Cape Cod League this past summer. He enters the season ready to step in and take over the starting 1B role. Redshirt freshman Adam Nelubowich, who was drafted in the 14th round of the 2009 draft by the Seattle Mariners, didn’t play last year due to injury but will see time late in games due to his left handed bat. Jay Ponciano also returns at catcher.
Chad Arnold returns for his senior season and was the workhorse of the Cougars staff last season, throwing 3 complete games and 108 innings in 16 starts, going 5-3 with a 3.74 ERA, but may not see time until Pac-10 play due to a chip on his elbow. Junior Adam Conley racked up 12 saves last season but will be moved into the starting rotation and pitch on Saturdays when Arnold comes back. Conley went 5-4 last season in only 5 starts but appeared in 29 games. Rounding out their weekend rotation is going to be James Wise, who impressed late in the season and ended up going 4-1, and he parlayed those late season starts into a 5-2 record with the Bellingham Bells of the West Coast League with a 3.54 ERA in 8 starts.
1. Stanford – Their pitching staff has the potential to make this team Omaha worthy, but can they find the plate? Their early away slate against Rice, Vandy and Texas will show people what this team is made of in a hurry. If you were to ask me who’s a lock for Omaha out of the Pac-10, I’d choose the Cardinal.
2. Arizona State – Returning infield hit .383, Saturday starter was a menace on the AZ Junior College scene, plus Mitch Lambson coming out of the pen and a relatively unproved Jake Barrett rounding out the weekend rotation. They’re going to win a lot of games this season, but I think their run of being at the top of the Pac-10 is bound to come merely because of the talent pool in the conference.
3. UCLA – Another run to Omaha isn’t out of the question, but they have a lot to replace in the bullpen and stolen bases to play the game Savage intends on. It will be interesting to see if they rest on the laurels of last season.
4. Oregon – Their deep pitching staff could mask any offensive woes early on with the loss of Serna. There’s a lot of preseason talk on Oregon, but Horton will be the first to tell you he’s not getting caught up in preseason accolades
5. Washington State – How will the pitching staff be affected by the absence of Arnold? If he can come back healthy, he’ll give this team a huge boost in Pac-10 play. The core alone is strong enough to keep them in the top 5 in the Pac-10, but could be at the top depending on the years they get out of newcomers Ard and Monda. They could very well end up vying for a host spot come Memorial Day weekend if everything comes together.
6. Arizona – Injury concerns could plague this team, but they are pretty deep offensively and I could see them winning a regional.
7. Cal – They really could have used Eric Jaffe’s bat in the lineup. I don’t think they have the pitching on the back end to keep up with the rest of the Pac-10, but they’ll make it to regionals in their final season.
8. Oregon State – With Pat Casey questioning his own team so much and the rapid descent they took last season on when they lost 11 of 12 conference games at one point, I’m tempted to put this team lower in the rankings.
9. Washington – Coach Meggs is most definitely going about building his program the right way. It’s just going to be a process. Giving up 75 homeruns as a team doesn’t get cured overnight, even with less pop on the bats.
10. USC – Someone has to be last. They have future high draft picks in Wood, Oropesa and Triggs, but it will be interesting to see if the culture of losing can be shifted by an interim coach in Cruz.
Player of the Year: Zack MacPhee, Arizona State
Pitcher of the Year: Gerrit Cole, UCLA
Newcomer of the Year: Austin Wilson, Stanford