The Pac-10 saw six teams head to regionals in the 2011 season, with Cal advancing to the College World Series. This year, those same six teams (UCLA, Cal, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State and Stanford) have all of the tools to stay towards the front of the pack in the race for the inaugural Pac-12 championship. However, in a conference as strong as the Pac-12, every team has the talent to compete and ultimately vie for the title of conference champions. With strong recruiting classes across the board, the addition of Utah to the conference and some of the top players in the country returning, the Pac-12 will host elite competition week after week, re-establishing itself as a premier conference in college baseball.
Arizona (39-21 overall, 15-12 Pac-10)
Key Returning Players:
OF Joey Rickard, OF Robert Refsnyder, P Kurt Heyer,
RHP Kyle Simon, 2B Bryce Ortega, C Jett Bandy
The Wildcats enter the season without first team all-conference selections RHP Kyle Simon and 1B Cole Frenzel, however these losses shouldn’t be too much for Arizona to overcome. The talent level of returning players makes Arizona a serious competitor both in the Pac-12 and nationally. The Wildcats not only return an excellent batting order, with five players averaging above .300 in 2011, but they also led the Pac-10 in fielding last year. Junior Alex Mejia highlights the Arizona defense at shortstop with a strong arm, raw talent and excellent instincts. The Arizona outfield is loaded with talented veterans led by juniors Joey Rickard and Robert Refsnyder who add big bats and consistency to the lineup. The Wildcats have the ability to take advantage of an excellent recruiting class that has lots of strong talent entering the program this year. Riley Moore and Trent Gilbert both have the potential to transition smoothly into the starting lineup of the Wildcats as true freshmen, replacing catcher Jett Bandy and second baseman Bryce Ortega.
The ace of Arizona’s pitching staff is one of the top starting pitchers in all of college baseball, RHP Kurt Heyer. Heyer has plus speed and control and will be a huge asset to the Wildcats. Sophomore Konner Wade, who was a strong prospect in the Cape Cod League over the summer, will also be key to success in the Wildcats’ rotation. True freshman Mathew Troupe will likely join Heyer and Wade in the Wildcats’ starting rotation and has excellent potential to succeed with a dominant changeup and strong velocity.
Arizona State (43-18 overall, 17-10 Pac-10)
Key Returning Players:
DH/IF Joey DeMichele, SS Deven Marrero, RHP Brady Rodgers (SP),
OF Johnny Ruetigger, 3B Riccio Torrez, 2B Zack MacPhee
While hoping to appeal NCAA violations, during last year’s postseason the Sun Devils advanced to the super regionals where they lost to Texas in three games. Unfortunately for Arizona State, their appeal was denied in November, which leaves the Sun Devils’ ball club without a postseason this year. Although no postseason may come across as a lack of motivation for some teams, don’t expect the Sun Devils to play that way. With the inaugural Pac-12 championship on the line, and no possibility of a postseason, be prepared to see the Sun Devils extremely focused and gunning for the title of Pac-12 Champions. The Sun Devils’ biggest losses were outfielder Johnny Ruetigger, third baseman Riccio Torrez and second baseman Zack MacPhee. However the talent that this ball club returns is some of the top in the country. Last year’s Pac-10 batting champ, Joey DeMichele returns to the mix after hitting .368 and coming up clutch in regional play with a walk-off homerun. This year he will extend his role beyond the designated hitter spot to also play in the infield for the Devils. Andrew Aplin and Kasey Coffman also return as outfielders that could be big bats for ASU. The star of the Arizona State infield is shortstop Deven Marrero who is frequently regarded as the top shortstop in all of college baseball. Last season Marrero earned Pac-10 defensive player of the year and is on the shortlist of many for the top pick in the 2012 MLB draft. Several freshmen have the possibility of making their way into the Sun Devils’ lineup, with Drew Stankiewicz as a possibility at second base or elsewhere in the infield and Jake Peevyhouse potentially starting at left field. With the catcher role needing to be filled, Central Arizona transfer Max Rossiter seems to be the front-runner for the spot, which may also see time from Beau Maggi and Nathaniel Causey.
Arizona State returns one of the top Friday starters in college baseball with junior Brady Rodgers who played with Marrero on Team USA over the summer. Another returning pitcher is Jake Barrett, whose high velocity and consistency have made him a predicted first-rounder. Alex Blackford also returns as a strong asset to the pitching staff. Trevor Williams will return for Arizona State, where he has found great success as a reliever in the past, however there is a strong possibility that Williams could move into ASU’s starting rotation. The Sun Devil pitching staff has a range of other options for relief as well. Joseph Lopez is an excellent option as well as a variety of freshman including a pair of excellent lefties in Brandon Bonilla and Adam McCreery, who may also be options as starters. Another freshman that could make an impact in the Devils’ pitching staff this year is right-hander Darin Gillies.
California (38-23 overall, 13-13 Pac-10)
Key Returning Players:
LHP Justin Jones, 2B Tony Renda, C Chadd Krist,
2B Austin Booker, RHP Erik Johnson, RHP Kevin Miller
Last year, Cal began its season with the future of the program up in the air, but with a storybook season, Cal surprised the college baseball world by making it all the way to Omaha after finishing in the middle of the Pac-10. If anything, Cal’s postseason success is a testament to the elite competition and excellent talent that is seen throughout the conference in addition to the excellent work ethic of their entire roster. Although the Golden Bears lose several strong veterans including second baseman Austin Booker and a pair of right-handed pitchers in Erik Johnson and Kevin Miller, the Golden Bears return many players who were key components to the team’s postseason success. One of those players is stud second-baseman Tony Renda. Renda was the Pac-10 Player of the Year and led the conference in hits as well as finishing third in total bases. Another first team all-conference selection, catcher Chadd Krist, joins Renda in the Golden Bears’ infield. Krist, who is one of college baseball’s most elite catchers, also led the conference in doubles last year. Filling out the rest of the infield is much-improved Devon Rodriguez at first, Derek Campbell at shortstop and Mitch Delfino at third. Freshmen Chris Paul and Brendan Farney also have the opportunity to make their way into the Golden Bears’ infield. With Renda and Krist returning with strong bats and veteran leadership, the Golden Bears shouldn’t skip a beat in the infield. The outfield is yet to be set in stone, but Chad Bunting, Darrel Matthews, Danny Oh, Vince Bruno and Andrew Knapp are all strong possibilities.
The big determining factor in Cal’s level of success this season is pitching. Justin Jones—an honorable mention all Pac-12 selection—returns for Cal as an experienced left-handed pitcher with an excellent curve ball. Jones will take the role of Friday starter for the Golden Bears with Kyle Porter and Matt Flemer likely joining him in the weekend rotation. Logan Scott is looking to be the likely closer for Cal and the bullpen will include Mike Theofanopoulos and Joe Donofrio.
Oregon (33-26 overall, 11-16 Pac-10)
Key Returning Players:
RHP Ryon Healy, RHP Brando Tessar, LHP Christian Jones,
LHP Tyler Anderson, 2B Danny Pulfer, RHP Kellen Moen
As a program that is still very young, Oregon Baseball is beginning to fall into place. However, the Ducks took a step back in 2011 after making a regional in 2010. Oregon does return some strong talent, but the program also brings in one of the best recruiting classes in the country, allowing lots of new talent the opportunity to make its mark on the program. Sophomore RHP/IF Ryon Healy, who batted .320 as a freshman last season, highlights the returning players for the Ducks. JJ Altobelli also returns to the Ducks’ infield after having a strong summer batting .295 for the Brewster Whitecaps in the Cape Cod league. Another returning player who will be a strong at-bat for the Ducks is outfielder Brett Thomas, who batted .291 last season. Some of the top freshman prospects in all of college baseball fall on the Oregon roster this year. Those players include RHP Jake Reed and outfielders Billy Flamion and Spencer O’Neil who all have the potential to have a strong impact on this ball club if they fit into the lineup.
In terms of pitching, the Ducks will have to recover from the loss of two excellent pitchers in LHP Tyler Anderson and RHP Kellen Moen as well as big-time reliever Scott McGough. However, Oregon returns a variety of options for their pitching staff. One of the most impressive returning options for Oregon is LHP Christian Jones. Last season Jones started 12 games for the Ducks with a combined ERA of 3.24. Jones had also made an appearance in the 2010 Cape Cod All Star Game. However, health is an issue for Jones. Other pitching options for the Ducks include right-handed pitchers Brando Tucker and Alex Keudell. Oregon’s bullpen also returns Joey Housey who was a great asset in the relief role for the Ducks. In order to gain success this year, the Ducks will need to rely on their many talented newcomers to make a big impression on the program.
Oregon State (41-19 overall, 17-10 Pac-10)
Key Returning Players:
RHP Tony Bryant, LHP Matt Boyd, UTIL Kavin Keyes,
RHP Sam Gaviglio, LHP Josh Osich, C Andrew Susac
Losing catcher Andrew Susac will leave a hole for the Beavers to fill, but the rest of the Oregon State infield returns with plenty of experience. Returning at first base is junior Danny Hayes, who batted .279 last year with 32 RBIs. Hayes has excellent power and is defensively sound. Rodriguez and Keyes return at second and third, and along with Hayes the infielders should be hard outs for opposing pitchers. Keyes, who served as a DH last year, was a first team all Pac-10 selection in 2011. With Dunn returning at shortstop, he will add good range defensively as well as another strong bat to the lineup. The Beavers’ outfield returns Ryan Barnes at left field, but adds new faces with transfer Joey Matthews and freshman Matthew Conforto. Another new name looking to make an impact for the Beavers is freshman Dylan Davis who will likely fall into the DH role for Oregon State.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of this Oregon State ball club is their bullpen, which is among the best in the nation. RHP Tony Bryant is one of the most talented relief pitchers in all of college baseball, making him an extremely dependable part of the Oregon State pitching staff. In addition to Bryant, LHP Matt Boyd—who played with Team USA over the summer—is another lock for the Beavers’ bullpen. In addition to relievers, Oregon State does have some solid options for their starting rotation to replace Gaviglio. Sophomore Ben Wetzler is the most experienced option of the bunch with a repertoire of high-quality pitches. However, freshman Jace Fry is an excellent option after earning the title of top prospect in the West Coast League over the summer in addition to being named the top incoming freshman of all summer leagues by both Perfect Game and Baseball America. Another freshman that could make his way into the Beavers’ weekend rotation is strike-throwing RHP Riley Wilkerson.
Stanford (35-22 overall, 14-12 Pac-10)
Key Returning Players:
UT/RHP Stephen Piscotty, RHP Mark Appel, IF Kenny Diekroeger
LHP Chris Reed, LHP Scott Snodgress, RHP Jordan Pries
As one of the highest ranked teams in all of college baseball, Stanford will have a huge target on their back in Pac-12 play this year. Although the Cardinal lost a trio of talented pitchers from their staff in Chris Reed, Scott Snodgress and Jordan Pries, they return one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball in RHP Mark Appel. Appel is definitely one of the most talked about players in college baseball this year, being the frontrunner for first overall pick in the majority of mock drafts and rankings. However Appel is more than just hype. His play speaks for itself and that is more than evident when you consider that the standout throws a 96-98 mph fastball combined with an excellent slider and changeup for an excellent repertoire. The reason for Stanford as a College World Series favorite lies not just in Appel, but also in the number of outstanding veterans that return to the ball club this year. Aside from Appel, the Cardinal returns standouts Stephen Piscotty, Kenny Diekroeger, Austin Wilson, Tyler Gaffney, Brian Ragira and Brett Mooneyham. One of those players returning as a veteran would be enough to make most ball clubs successful, but all of them returning for the same season is the reason that Stanford has garnered so much hype. In fact, Stanford returns its entire starting nine except for last season’s catcher. However, with an excellent recruiting class, Stanford has excellent options to step-up at catcher including Wayne Taylor, who was the 2011 Texas prep baseball player of the year. Another freshman that has the potential to be an excellent bat for the Cardinal is Alex Blandino, who could potentially fill the DH spot for Stanford.
On the mound, Stanford has several excellent starters. With Appel at the Friday spot, another member of the weekend rotation will be Brett Mooneyham who did not pitch last year due to injury. AJ Vanegas and Dean McArdle will likely compete for the Sunday spot and Stephen Piscotty who was a huge bat for the Cardinal last year will see time in a relief role for Stanford as well. With the loss of Chris Reed, Stanford doesn’t quite have a true closer in the mix yet, but they have many talented pitchers so a great closer is sure to surface with time.
You can check out the second part of our Pac-12 Preview by clicking here.