A wild regular season led to a three-way tie atop the West Coast Conference between BYU, Gonzaga and Loyola Marymount in 2017. BYU won the conference tournament to claim the league’s only bid to the Regionals last season. I think the WCC will be top-heavy with four or five teams in contention for the 2018 conference title.
BYU (2017 Record: 38-21, 20-7)
In 2017, the Cougars won a share of the WCC title for the second consecutive season and earned an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. It was their first regional appearance since 2002.
“I think the guys to keep an eye on for offense would be Brock Hale, Keaton Kringlen, Daniel Schneeman and David Clawson,” said Assistant Coach Brent Haring. “Some of the newcomers to keep an eye out for are Jarrett Perns, Mitch McIntyre and Kolby Kelton.”
Hale batted .395 with 12 home runs, 48 RBI, 14 doubles and 57 runs in 2017. Kringlen hit .318 and drove in 55 RBI last season. Both outfielders could contend for a spot on the All-WCC Team in 2018. Schneeman, the shortstop, batted .317 and stole ten bases on eleven attempts last year. Clawson will likely be the starting catcher as he looks to build on last season’s freshman campaign in which he batted .269 with five home runs and 25 RBI. Jarrett Perns and Mitch McIntyre could platoon in the outfield while Kolby Kelton could contend for a spot at third base.
“I think the area that we would most like to improve is consistency within the pitching staff,” said Coach Harin. “Some of the newcomers to keep an eye out for on the mound are Ryan Brady, Jake Suddreth and Drew Zimmerman.”
Hayden Rogers is the only returning weekend starter. He posted a 9-2 record with a 3.63 ERA last season in 91.2 innings. Suddreth, a transfer from Mesa Community College, is one of a handful of guys who could make the weekend rotation. Another possible starting candidate would be Jordan Wood, who started 6 games last year. He posted a 5.14 ERA in 42 innings.
“We have a very experienced team back with seven regular position players and seven pitchers returning as well,” said Coach Harin. “We also really like our new guys as well.”
Gonzaga (2017 Record: 33-20, 20-7)
Gonzaga found themselves on the bubble last season after winning a share of the WCC title, but, they were ultimately left out of the NCAA Tournament field.
The Bulldogs lost a lot of their key players from a year ago. However, they do return senior first baseman Jake Vieth who had five home runs, 25 RBI and 36 runs last year. Sophomore Troy Johnston could make some noise in the outfield or at designated hitter this season. In 2017, he batted .323 with three home runs and 17 RBI.
After losing their top two starters from 2017, Gonzaga will look to build their staff around Casey Legumina. He is the only returning starter. Legumina posted a 5.46 ERA in 57.2 innings pitched last season. Senior Calvin LeBrun could possibly fill a spot after putting up a 3.56 ERA in 48 innings. Sophomore Mac Lardner went 3-1 with a 3.99 ERA and is another weekend candidate.
Gonzaga has a lot of inexperience, especially in the bullpen. This could make it hard for them to contend for another championship.
Loyola Marymount (2017 Record: 38-18, 20-7)
After an impressive regular season, the Lions fell just short of an at-large bid in 2017.
Loyola Marymount will enter the 2018 season with a very experienced lineup. Senior first baseman Jamey Smart leads all returners after batting .326 with six home runs and 41 RBI last season. The outfield will be anchored by Nico Decolati and Billy Wilson. Head Coach Jason Gill described Decolati as a five tool player. Wilson ran a 6.5 sixty-yard dash and hit 15 home runs on his summer team. Brandon Shearer is back at third base after hitting .314 with 37 RBI in 2017.
Codie Paiva is back for 2018 after going 6-0 with a 2.16 ERA and 5 saves as the closer in 2017. Coach Gill listed three newcomers to watch this year. Those players are Josh Agnew, Nick Frasso, and Sean Paquet. Frasso, a 6’7” right hander, was clocked up to 94 miles per hour this fall. Paquet is a lefty whose fastball sits between 90-92. He redshirted last season.
“We won 38 games last year so there isn’t much to improve on other than when we get to the conference tournament we need to win it to get an automatic bid,” said Coach Gill.
Pacific (2017 Record: 18-35, 6-21)
It was a rough campaign a year ago for the Tigers after not quite reaching the 20 win mark. They’ll look to climb up the standings in 2018.
Pacific returns all but two of their regular starters from last season. Sophomore catcher James Free hit .343 with 14 home runs and 54 RBI a year ago. Free was selected as a 2018 preseason All-American by Perfect Game USA. Ryan Schalch will return to first base for his senior campaign after batting .296 with 30 RBI and 32 runs scored in 2017. Senior second baseman Matthew Tarantino will be a player to watch for this season after he posted a .298 average with seven home runs and 29 RBI last year.
Ricky Reynoso and Ryan Shreve return from last year’s weekend rotation. Reynoso was 5-7 with a 3.75 ERA in 74.1 innings last season. Shreve posted a 1-5 record, 6.36 ERA and 52 innings for his 2017 freshman campaign. Bailey Hansen returns as the only reliever that had an ERA under 5.00 last season. Hansen had no decisions last year while accumulating a 3.52 ERA in 23 innings.
It could be another long season for the Tigers due to a lack of pitching depth.
Pepperdine (2017 Record: 20-32, 8-19)
Needless to say, it was a disappointing season last year for a traditionally good program. The Waves will look to bounce back in 2018.
With only four returning starters, there will be many new faces in the Waves 2018 lineup. Shortstop Aharon Modlin is the top returner after hitting .296 with 15 RBI in 125 at-bats. Jordan Qsar batted .269 with 24 RBI a year ago. He is the only returning outfielder.
Jonathan Pendergast and Wil Jensen return as likely weekend starters. Pendergast was 4-5 with a 4.34 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 76.2 innings a year ago. Jensen was 2-8 with a 4.61 ERA in 82 innings last season. Kiko Garcia returns to anchor the bullpen after his 4-1 campaign in 2017. Garcia also had a 2.53 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 42.2 innings last year.
I think Pepperdine will struggle this season, especially offensively. I expect them to finish in the bottom half of the standings once again.
Portland (2017 Record: 10-41, 5-22)
Last year was absolutely miserable for Portland as the Pilots only mustered ten wins altogether. They finished in last place for the fourth straight season in 2017.
Starting third baseman Daniel Lopez will return to the lineup after breaking his hamate bone in the first series of 2017. Head Coach Geoff Loomis projects that Lopez will be a middle of the order hitter. Seven starters return altogether, led by outfielder Cody Hawken. He batted .237 with five home runs and 27 RBI. Infielder Matt Kelly is back after struggling mightily in the field last year, committing 23 errors. Kelly does show potential offensively, however, after posting a .292 average with 15 RBI and 28 runs in 2017.
Coach Loomis has named Kevin Baker as the staff ace with Corbin Powers and Jordan Horak following as weekend starters. Baker was 3-6 with a 3.03 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 62.1 innings last season. Powers pitched 58 innings to the tune of a 6.21 ERA and finished with a 1-6 record. Horak went 2-7 with a 5.92 ERA a year ago.
“We need to improve in every area. The focus for this year’s group is to play better defense, which in turn will help our pitching staff be more competitive in the strike zone,” said Coach Loomis. “We have the personnel to be a better defensive team. We get two for one if we play better defense for our staff.”
Saint Mary’s (2017 Record: 37-20, 18-9)
After a good regular season, the Gaels went winless in the WCC tournament and failed to qualify for the postseason.
Kevin Milam returns as a jack-of-all-trades for the Gaels this year. He was last year’s WCC Freshman of the Year, freshman All-American, All-American and Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Co-National Freshman of the Year. Milam batted .313 with 12 home runs and 55 RBI. Eddie Haus returns as the starting second baseman after hitting .335 with six home runs and 44 RBI last year. Senior center fielder Joey Fiske comes back after a .332, one home run and 31 RBI campaign last season. Catcher Jackson Thoreson returns after slugging nine home runs and accounting for 31 RBI.
Ken Waldichuk returns after striking out 51 batters in 45 innings to help achieve a 2.00 ERA. Ty Madrigal will be a weekend starter after going 5-3 with a 5.25 ERA in 2017. Delta JC transfer Nick Frank looks to be the Gaels Friday or Saturday guy. Frank reached 93 in the fall and has a plus feel for his changeup and breaking ball. Carlos Lomeli comes in as a dynamic freshman who can touch 94 miles per hour. Assistant Coach Matthew Fonteno says that Lomeli will be a big part of the program’s future. Fonteno also compared freshman Mike Hobbs to Lomeli. Hobbs can also touch 94. Not only can Kevin Milam hit, he recorded 9 saves while accumulating a 2.27 ERA last season.
“Our depth on the mound is much improved as well as having all but one of our starters back in the lineup,” said Coach Fonteno. “This season we look to continue to improve in all areas.”
San Diego (2017 Record: 35-18, 18-9)
The Toreros finished with a solid resume and a 53 RPI in 2017 but were left out of the Regionals. That seemed to be the tale of the tape for the top WCC teams last season.
The Toreros bring back five starters, led by catcher Jay Schuyler who hit six home runs, picked up 32 RBI and scored 42 runs while amassing a .352 average. Kevin Collard is the only starting outfielder returning for 2018. He batted .288 with two home runs, 24 RBI and scored 15 runs in 2017. Second baseman Jeff Houghtby comes back after batting .263 with 21 RBI and 32 runs a year ago.
All three weekend starters come back for 2018. Paul Richan finished 5-2 after he pitched 76.2 innings, struck out 73 batters and earned a 3.05 ERA last year. Nick Sprengel returns having gone 9-1 with a 3.29 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 82 innings last season. Chris Murphy will likely be the Sunday starter after going 3-4 with a 4.17 ERA and striking out 89 batters in 69 innings a year ago.
I think the Toreros offense won’t be as well rounded as it was in 2017 due to missing key parts from last year. However, I think the pitching will be strong enough to help propel San Diego into WCC contention.
San Francisco (2017 Record: 29-28, 11-16)
The Dons played well in their non-conference schedule, going 18-12, but failed to make noise in conference play. This year they’ll try to make the jump from being mediocre to becoming a contender.
Outfielder Tyler Villaroman will be the leadoff hitter this season after batting .194 with 12 RBI and 21 runs in 93 at-bats last season. Outfielder Jonathan Allen will be the two hole hitter. Catcher Riley Helland will bat third after hitting .308 with 13 RBI and 17 runs in 104 at-bats in 2017. Second baseman Michael Perri is slated to be the clean up hitter after batting .312 with five home runs, 22 RBI and 40 runs last season. First baseman Ross Puskarich will bat fifth after getting a .262 average and 30 RBI a year ago. Freshman Jack Winkler will assume the third base position, which is one of the four positions that will be filled by new faces.
Thomas Ponticelli will be the Friday starter after finishing 4-2 with a 2.45 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 69.2 innings last season. Freshman Haydn King is a potential starter this season, coming from Aptos, California. Grant Goodman and Daniel Smolinski could potentially compete for a weekend spot. Goodman was 4-4 with a 4.63 ERA in 79.2 innings last year. Smolinski finished 2017 at 3-5 with a 4.96 ERA in 61.2 innings.
“We have a deeper pitching staff, and more balance up and down the lineup,” said Associate Head Coach Troy Nakamura. “Defense will be very good once again despite losing our two best defenders to the draft last year.”
Santa Clara (2017 Record: 13-40, 8-19)
Last season was one to forget for the Broncos, who finished with only 13 overall wins.
The Broncos return seven starters from last season. First baseman Jake Brodt batted .338 last year with seven home runs and 39 RBI. Third baseman John Cresto comes back after a 2017 campaign in which he belted 12 home runs and 29 RBI.
Eric Lex and Grant Nechak return to the rotation after posting 4.48 and 5.05 ERA respectively in 2017. Lex finished 3-9 and Nechak went 2-7. Eight bullpen pitchers return, posting a combined 8.93 ERA last season.
The offense should be decent but pitching will probably drag the Broncos down toward the bottom of the standings once again.
All-Conference Preseason Team
C: James Free (Pacific)
1B: Jamey Smart (LMU)
2B: Brennon Anderson (BYU)
3B: John Cresto (Santa Clara)
SS: Daniel Schneeman (BYU)
OF: Brock Hale (BYU)
OF: Joey Fiske (St. Mary’s)
OF: Keaton Kringlen (BYU)
DH: Kevin Milam (St. Mary’s)
SP: Kevin Baker (Portland)
SP: Paul Richan (San Diego)
SP: Nick Sprengel (San Diego)
SP: Thomas Ponticelli (San Francisco)
SP: Hayden Rogers (BYU)
RP: Codie Paiva (LMU)
RP: Ken Waldichuk (St. Mary’s)
RP: Kiko Garcia (Pepperdine)
C: Jay Schuyler (San Diego)
1B: Nate Favero (BYU)
1B: Jake Brodt (Santa Clara)
2B: Eddie Haus (St. Mary’s)
3B: Brandon Shearer (LMU)
OF: Nico Decolai (LMU)
OF: Troy Johnston (Gonzaga)
SP: Calvin LeBrun (Gonzaga)
SP: Giuseppe Benedetti (LMU)
SP: Chris Murphy (San Diego)
Projected Order To Finish:
- St. Mary’s
- Loyola Marymount
- San Diego
- San Francisco
- Santa Clara