Here is Part Two of our Pac-12 Preview. You can check out the first part of the preview by clicking here.
UCLA (35-24 overall, 18-9 Pac-12)
Key Returning Players: RHP Zack Weiss, RHP Adam Plutko, OF Beau Ameral
Key Losses Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year Trevor Bauer, 1st overall pick Gerrit Cole, C Steve Rodriguez
The 2011 Pac-10 champions have a huge hole to fill in their pitching staff after losing the 1st overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft,Gerrit Cole, and the 2011 Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year, Trevor Bauer. Fortunately for UCLA, they return an excellent group of juniors that should keep the rest of the ball club in sync this season. Led by five-tool outfielder Beau Amaral, the group of juniors returning for the Bruins is exceptional. Cody Keefer and Jeff Gelalich join Amaral in the outfield, where UCLA is most experienced. Keefer,
an honorable mention all Pac-10 selection last season, may be the best bat for the Bruins this year and Gelalich joins him in the outfield as one of the most athletic players in the conference. First baseman Trevor Brown and third baseman Cody Regis are also part of that core group of juniors that the Bruins are counting on to provide leadership this season. The rest of the infield is rounded off by Tyler Heineman at catcher (which may also see some time by Brown), Pat Valaika at shortstop and either freshman Kevin Kramer or sophomore Kevin Williams at second base. Eric Filia-Snyder, a true freshman out of Huntington Beach, will likely fill the DH spot.
Although pitchers as dynamic as Cole and Bauer are extremely difficult to replace, the Bruins do have some excellent talent in their pitching staff, headed by a trio of strong right-handed pitchers—Adam Plutko, Nick Vander Tuig and Zack Weiss. As the Sunday starter last year, strike-throwing Plutko was named a Freshman All-American. Although Vander Tuig served as a relief pitcher for the Bruins last year, he has the stamina and all of the tools to make an excellent starter for the Bruins. Like Plutko, Weiss was a Freshman All-American as well and he will likely move from a weekday starter spot to join the weekend rotation. Relief is likely going to be headed by junior Scott Griggs who has a strong fastball and an exceptional curveball. The Bruins also have plenty of other options for their bullpen including Berg, Ehret, Jaffe, Ortiz, Watson, Deeter, Kerman, Poole and Brewer.
USC (25-31 overall, 13-14 Pac-12)
Key Returning Players: OF Alex Sherrod, RHP Andrew Triggs, Garrett Houts
Key Losses: 1B Ricky Oropesa, RHP Logan Odom, RHP Austin Wood
The Trojans enter the Pac-12 this year without a significant loss in talent along with an excellent group of newcomers. Although the loss of first team all-conference first baseman Ricky Oropesa will be a big bat to make up for, USC returns several tough outs in Alex Sherrod, Brandon Garcia, Kevin Roundtree, Garret Houts and James Roberts. Sherrod, Garcia and Roundtree all batted over .300 last year earning Sherrod and Roundtree both honorable mention all Pac-12 in 2011. Sherrod and Houts will add veteran experience to the Trojans’ starting nine in the outfield as well as Roberts and Roundtree adding leadership and talent in the infield. Freshman Dante Flores is likely to earn a starting spot for the Trojans in the infield as well.
One of the top returning players for the Trojans is veteran Friday night starter Andrew Triggs. Triggs went 5-4 in 2011 with a 3.67 ERA. Freshman Stephen Tarpley will likely join Triggs in the Trojans’ weekend rotation. Tarpley, who was drafted in the eighth round by the Indians, is the highest drafted freshman in the Pac-12 who did not sign to play professional baseball. As a left-handed pitcher who consistently throws with high velocity and accuracy, expect him to make an immediate impact on the mound for the Trojans.
Utah (29-21 overall, 16-7 Mountain West)
Key Returning Players: IF Trey Nielsen, OF Shaun Cooper, IF James Brooks
Key Losses: 1B CJ Cron, LHP Rick Anton, Stephen Streich
As the newest addition to the Pac-12, Utah has the opportunity to make a big splash. Although they lost an extremely talented first baseman in All-American first-round draft pick, CJ Cron, the Utes return two talented veterans to their infield in Trey Nielsen and James Brooks. The duo is sure to help the Utes transition from the Mountain West into the ultra-strong Pac-12, and the bat of outfielder Shaun Cooper will be hard to ignore as well. In 2011, Cooper was a first team all-MWC selection after batting .332, and over the summer he was selected as Perfect Game’s Summer Player of the Year. The benefit of being the new team in a conference this strong is that it gives Utah’s batters an element of mystery. They have yet to face most of these teams in play, so pitchers will have to adapt to the Utes lineup as they play them, which could throw off the approach of several bullpens—especially with Nielsen, Brooks and Cooper all batting well over 300 last year.
The Utes’ pitching staff will have some adapting to do themselves. Some of the best batters in the country are in the Pac-12 and with road games in warm weather areas such as USC and ASU, Utah’s pitching staff will need to be on it’s A-game or else the ball will be flying. Junior RHP Zach Adams was out last season after shoulder surgery, but if he can remain healthy and return with the same strength and control as before his injury, he will be a huge asset for Utah. Other pitching options for the Utes include Joe Pond, Brock Duke and Ben Mordini as well as an extremely talented relief pitcher in Tyler Wagner. Wagner was a first team all-MWC selection in 2011.
Washington (17-37 overall, 6-21 Pac-10)
Key Returning Players: IF Jacob Lamb, OF Joe Meggs, DH Ryan Wiggins
Key Losses: RHP Jacob Clem, LHP Geoff Brown, 1B Troy Scott
While the Huskies finished last in the Pac-10 last year, they enter the 2012 season with an excellent recruiting class that brings in multiple players with the potential to make an immediate impact on the program. Perhaps the strongest player returning to the Huskies’ starting nine is third baseman Jacob Lamb. Lamb has plus power and hits left-handed, making him a strong at-bat for Washington. Another difficult out for opposing pitchers is Ryan Wiggins. Last season, Wiggins earned honorable mention all Pac-10 as a DH for the Huskies after batting .299. Although he served mainly as a DH, there is also a possibility that the Huskies will see more of Wiggins at catcher. Other players competing for the catching position are BK Santy, who has the most catching experience for the Huskies, and Chase Anselment. Ty Afenir returns to shortstop with some veteran experience for the Huskies’ infield. Both second and first base are still up in the air with Pehl, Jackson and Ely as options at second and two extremely talented freshmen, Trevor Mitsui and Branden Berry, competing for time at first. Berry and Mitsui are both strong defensive players with impressive bats who definitely have the potential to make an immediate impact for Washington. The outfield will be highlighted by Joe Meggs who was also honorable mention all Pac-10 last year after batting .317.
Washington has a multitude of options amongst their pitching staff this season. Weekend candidates include Acker, Asmus, Voth and Swift with the addition of Brigham to that list if health is not an issue. The bullpen is headed by Cimber, with Fredendall and Palewicz as other strong options. The Huskies also have several young pitchers who may serve as options this season including Fisher, Davis, Kim and Zuniga.
Washington State (26-28 overall, 10-17 Pac-12)
Key Returning Players: 1B Taylor Ard, OF Jason Monda, RF Derek Jones
Key Losses: LHP Adam Conley, 3B Matthew Argyropoulos, SS Cody Bartlett
After a disappointing 2011 season, the Cougars enter Pac-12 play with 19 letter winners from last season—seven of which were offensive starters in 2011. Highlighting the returning players is first baseman Taylor Ard. Ard, a first team all-conference selection, is perhaps the top power hitter in all of the Pac-12 and led the conference in homeruns last season. In addition to Ard, the Cougars return a talented outfield led by the duo of Jason Monda and Derek Jones. Jones was an honorable mention all-conference selection in 2011 and Monda had an excellent summer season after batting .333 for the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League and playing in the 2011 Cape Cod League All-Star game. Another key returning player for the Cougars will be catcher Collin Slaybaugh who has one of the best arms in the conference.
After losing their entire weekend rotation including pitchers Adam Conley and James Wise, the Cougars will need to find a solution on the mound in order to compete in 2012. Some of the strongest returning options include Bret DeRooy, Anthony Drobnick, J.D. Leckenby and Richie Ochoa. If Washington State can find players in their pitching staff who are willing and able to step into the starting roles and throw qualities innings for the Cougars, then the Cougars will have a strong chance to make it to the NCAA tournament.
Top 5 Teams*
5. Cal/Oregon State
*This order is the projected Pac-12 finish for the 2012 season
Top 5 Pitchers
1. Mark Appel
2. Kurt Heyer
3. Brady Rodgers
4. Tony Bryant
5. Adam Plutko
Top 5 Hitters
1. Joey DeMichele
2. Tony Renda
3. Joey Rickard
4. Taylor Ard
5. Stephen Piscotty
Top Power Hitter: Taylor Ard
Best Eye: Stephen Piscotty
Best Speed: Joey Rickard
Best Arm: Austin Wilson
Best Glove: Deven Marrero
Best Reliever: Tony Bryant
Newcomers to Watch
1. LHP, Jace Fry, Oregon State
After an excellent summer season earning Fry accolades that include top prospect in the West Coast League by Perfect Game and Baseball America as well as top incoming freshman from all 2011 summer leagues, Fry may be the best freshman pitching prospect in all of the Pac-12. Fry will step in as a weekend starter for the Beavers after opponents batted just .152 against him in high school.
2. IF, Trevor Mitsui, Washington
Mitsui was the 2011 Washington Gatorade Player of the year after only striking out twice his senior year and batting .712. A twelfth round draft pick of the Rays, Mitsui has the opportunity to step in to the Huskies program and make an immediate and significant impact to a program that struggled last year, finishing last in the Pac-10.
3. C, Wayne Taylor, Stanford
As the 2011 Texas prep baseball player of the year, Taylor had a slugging percentage of 1.183 and homered in nine consecutive games for a state record. With catcher being the only position in the Cardinal’s starting nine that doesn’t return a starter from 2011, Taylor has an excellent opportunity to step into the role and add to Stanford’s already extremely talented infield.
4. LHP, Stephen Tarpley, USC
Tarpley is the highest drafted freshman in the Pac-12 that did not choose to sign and as a left-handed pitcher with plus speed and excellent control; Tarpley has the opportunity to have an immediate impact for the Trojans. Tarpley will likely begin his career with the Trojans as a weekend starter, where they will rely on him for quality innings and an excellent freshman season.
5. 2B, Drew Stankiewicz, ASU
A high school teammate of Tarpley, Stankiewicz has the potential to have an excellent breakout season for the Sun Devils. After a strong fall, Stankiewicz is likely to see time in the Sun Devils infield during the 2012 season. Stankiewicz shows proficiency in both his fielding capabilities as well as his batting. While Stankiewicz will likely see time at second base this season, it is likely that he will transition to shortstop in future seasons.
College Baseball Daily Preseason All-Pac 12
C: Chadd Krist, Cal
1B: Brian Ragira, Stanford
2B: Tony Renda, Cal
3B: Stephen Piscotty, Stanford
SS: Deven Marrero, ASU
OF: Beau Amaral, UCLA
OF: Robert Refsnyder, Arizona
OF: Joey Rickard, Arizona
DH: Joey DeMichele, ASU
SP: Mark Appel, Stanford
SP: Brady Rodgers, ASU
SP: Kurt Heyer, Arizona
RP: Tony Bryant, Oregon State
RP: Tyler Wagner, Utah
C: Collin Slaybaugh, Washington State
1B: Taylor Ard, Washington State
2B: Tyler Smith, Oregon State
3B: Jacob Lamb, Washington
SS: Alex Mejia, Arizona
OF: Shaun Cooper, Utah
OF: Tyler Gaffney, Stanford
OF: Alex Sherrod, USC
DH: Kavin Keyes, Oregon State
SP: Adam Plutko, UCLA
SP: Brett Mooneyham, Stanford
SP: Justin Jones, Cal
RP: Matt Boyd, Oregon State
RP: Scott Griggs, UCLA