2014 Pac-12 baseball kicks off this weekend
Pac-12 baseball has proven its dominance in the the world of collegiate baseball, winning the last two College World Series titles and four of the last eight. In 2013, UCLA earned the first national championship in program history, giving the Pac-12 28 titles overall, the most of any Conference in the country. The Pac-12 sent four teams--UCLA, OREGON STATE, OREGON and ARIZONA STATE to the NCAA Tournament with the Bruins and Beavers securing places in the College World Series. The Bruins reeled off 10 straight postseason wins en route to title. Three of the 2013 postseason teams are ranked in Baseball America’s preseason poll: OREGON STATE (2), OREGON (11), and UCLA (12) while the fourth, ARIZONA STATE earned preseason praise in a number of polls. The defending Pac-12 Champion Beavers garnered consensus top-5 preseason rankings with the No. 2-ranking in Baseball America its highest entering the season. All 11 teams kick off the 2014 campaign on Friday with a packed opening weekend that includes non-conference contests against a pair of ranked opponents. California hosts No. 20/18 Texas for a four-game series, while Washington State opens the season with a three game set at No. 1/4 Cal State Fullerton. Washington and Oregon State will both travel to compete in tournaments on opening weekend with the Huskies heading to the Texas State Tournament in San Marcos, Texas and the Beavers going south to Tempe to play in the Husker Classic. The Pac-12 Networks will televise over 80 Conference baseball games this season, kicking off its coverage with two live games on opening day this Friday: No. 22 Arizona State hosting Baylor at 2:30 p.m. MT and Rice visiting No. 26 Stanford at 4:30 p.m. PT.
PAC-12 BASEBALL 2014 TEAM PREVIEWS
Despite winning four in a row to close out the 2013 regular season, 2012 national champion Arizona (34-21, 15-15) was unable to nab a spot in the postseason after tying for fifth in the Pac-12. The Wildcats lost two-time All-Pac-12 performer Johnny Field to graduation, but will look to sophomore shorstop Kevin Newman to spark the offense. As a freshman in 2013, Newman was eighth in the Conference in batting average (.336), 10th in hits (73), and tied for 10th in RBIs (42), earning him All-Pac-12 honorable mention honors in his first year of collegiate baseball. Another key piece on the field will be junior infielder Trent Gilbert, who has started 119 games in two years for the Wildcats. Gilbert was an All-Pac-12 honorable selection a year ago and will be looked on to be a leader both offensively and defensively in 2014. Arizona’s pitching staff will look to senior right-hander James Farris to be their ace in 2014. Farris posted a 5-5 record with a 4.18 earned run average in 15 starts, striking out 73 and walking just 23 in 99.0 innings of work. Farris was drafted in the 15th round of the MLB draft, but did not sign and returns to headline the 2014 pitching staff.
Arizona State (37-22, 16-14) finished the 2013 season in a tie for fourth-place in the Pac-12 and returned to the postseason after being ineligible for postseason play in 2012. The Sun Devils have been an NCAA Tournament staple in the last decade and a half, only missing out on postseason play twice since 1997 (1998 & 2012). Headlining the Sun Devils’ pitching staff will be 2014 preseason All-American SO LHP Ryan Kellogg, an All-Pac-12 performer as a freshman in 2013 who tied for fourth in the Conference with 11 wins in his first year of collegiate baseball. Last season, Kellogg went 11-1 with a 3.15 ERA in 103.0 innings pitched. Also boosting the 2014 pitching staff will be another sophomore standout and preseason All-American in RHP Ryan Burr. The 2013 honorable mention selection went 4-2 in 31 appearances with a 2.20 ERA. ASU returns six position starters from last year’s squad and will look to All-Pac-12 honorable mention JR OF Trever Allen to pick up where he left off in 2013 and lead the offensive attack in 2014. Allen started 58 games in 2013 hitting .297 with 65 hits and a team-leading 49 RBIs.
Three years removed from a remarkable College World Series run, California (23-31, 10-20) looks to bounce back after a 23-31 performance in 2013. With the loss of All-Pac-12 honoree Andrew Knapp to Major League Baseball, the Bears will rely on SR INF Devon Rodriguez and SO OF Devin Pearson to the key the offensive attack. Rodriguez led the team in hits (61) and was second in RBIs (40) while Pearson was second on the team in batting average (.302) and and third in hits (54) as a freshman in 2013. The Bear’s pitching staff in 2014 will look to returning starter SO RHP Ryan Mason for production at the front end of the rotation. Mason went 5-3 in 14 appearances, including 11 starts, and was fourth on the team in ERA (7.76) while leading the squad in innings pitched (69.1). The bullpen will be lead by SR LHP Kyle Porter and SO RHP Collin Monsour, who went a combined 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA in 32 appearances.
Oregon (48-16, 22-8) finished a single game out of first place in the Pac-12 for the second-consecutive year and made its third NCAA regional appearance in the last four years. The Ducks will again challenge their in-state rivals for the Pac-12 title as they return six starting position players and all three weekend starters on the mound. JR LHP Tommy Thorpe was an All-Pac-12 honoree as the Duck’s Friday starter in 2013, while SO RHP Cole Irvin earned freshman All-American honors as the Saturday starter after setting an Oregon record with 12 wins. Sunday starter JR RHP Jake Reed completes a returning trio that went a combined 25-14 with a 2.69 ERA. The bullpen will need to fill the hole left by All-American closer Jimmie Sherfy, but SO LHP Garrett Cleavinger is a more than solid replacement. The Ducks will look to SO Mitchell Tolman, JR Scott Heineman, SR Tyler Baumgartner and SR Aaron Payne for offensive production after losing All-Pac-12 performer Ryon Healy, a two-year starter who led the team in batting average (.333) and several other offensive categories. Tolman, a freshman All-American in 2013, was third on the team in batting (.315) and finished with 37 RBIs.
Oregon State (52-13, 24-6) finished 2013 ranked No. 4 in the country after winning the Pac-12 regular season championship and making its first appearance in the College World Series since winning consecutive titles in 2006 and 2007. The Beavers, who are ranked in the top 5 in numerous national preseason polls inlcluding their highest preseason ranking ever in Baseball America at No. 3, are among the preseason favorites to win the Pac-12 title in 2013. The defending Pac-12 champions welcome back reigning Pac-12 Player and Freshman of the Year in JR INF Michael Conforto and SO RHP Andrew Moore. Conforto, a two-time All-Pac-12 performer and former Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, tied for the lead in the Pac-12 in home runs (11) while batting .328 with 14 doubles, one triple and 47 RBIs. Moore, a first team All-American as a freshman in 2013, returns to lead the Beavers’ pitching staff in 2014. Moore’s 14 wins was tied for first in the Pac-12 and his 1.79 ERA was second while ranking in the top 5 in nearly every major pitching category. The Beavers will also have senior LHP Ben Wetzler back as another weekend starter, in addition to returning four position starters from a year ago.
Stanford (32-22, 16-14) finished the 2013 campaign tied for fourth in the Pac-12 standings, just missing out on the postseason. The 2014 Cardinal pitching staff will have a tough task ahead of them in replacing departed All-American Mark Appel, a two-time All-Pac-12 honoree and the number one overal pick in the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft. To fill the void they will look to SO RHP Bobby Zarubin and JR LHP John Hochstatter. The pair started a combined 23 games and went 6-6 last season. The Cardinal enters the season ranked No. 25 USA Today/ESPN preason coaches poll and will return five position starters from the 2013 squad. Leading the position returners will be SR infielder and 2013 Pac-12 honorable mention selection Danny Diekroeger, who hit .300 with 65 hits and 28 RBIs while starting all 52 games a year ago. JR 3B Alex Blandino will also be a key player for the Cardinal in 2014. The Louisville Slugger Preseason All-America third-team selection collected 48 hits and 32 RBIs in 2013.
After finishing third in Conference play, UCLA (49-17, 21-9) made an impressive postseason run to win its first-ever College World Series title after going unbeaten in 10 NCAA tournament games. In just their fifth appearance in the College World Series in program history, the Bruins became the first team to allow one run or fewer in every CWS game while posting a 0.80 ERA, a CWS record in the aluminum bat era. The defending national champions, who figure to be in the thick of the Conference title hunt again this season, enter the season ranked 12th in the Baseball America poll and ninth in the NWCBA coaches poll. UCLA is led by All-American David Berg, a junior closer for the Bruins who set a NCAA single-season record with 24 saves in 2013 and tied the record for single-season appearances with 51. Berg garnered All-Pac-12 accolades for the second-consecutive year, while he was honored as the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, the NCBWA Stopper of the Year and a Collegiate Baseball and NCBWA first-team All-American. Offensively, the Bruins are paced by preseason All-American infielder Kevin Kramer, a Pac-12 honorable mention selection in 2013 after batting .278 with a .376 on-base percentage and 68 hits, which was tied for most on the team.
USC (20-36, 10-20) looks to improve on its 2013 record in head coach Dan Hubbs’ second year at the helm in 2014. The Trojans return their weekend pitching rotation from a year ago in SR LHP Bob Wheatley, JR RHP Wyatt Strahan and SO LHP Kyle Twomey. Strahan is the top returner from 2013 as he led the team in ERA (2.45) and innings pitched (80.2) while earning a 4-3 record in 12 starts, including one complete game. Wheatley recorded the second-best ERA (2.78) and innings pitched (77.2) with a 3-4 record in 13 starts. The experienced starters should anchor the Trojans pitching staff in 2014. On the offensive side, USC will look to its top returning hitter from a year ago in SR INF Kevin Swick. Swick hit at a .305 clip and collected 51 hits in 2013. SO INF Blake Lacey will be called upon to produce as well, as his .291 batting average was fifth-best on the team in his first year of collegiate baseball. JR C Garrett Stubbs, a 2013 Pac-12 honorable mention selection, will be key behind the plate for a young but talented Trojans squad.
Utah (21-31, 7-23) enters its third season in the Pac-12 returning a number of starters from both its pitching staff and position players group. Leading the pitching coup is JR RHP Mitch Watrous, a Pac-12 honorable mention selection last year who went 4-4 in 12 starts with a 2.81 ERA in a team-leading 93.0 innings. Joining Watrous are returnees SO RHP Dalton Carroll and SR LHP Tanner Banks. Carroll and Banks combined for a 4.31 ERA in 23 starts and 139.2 innings. The Utes also welcome back a trio of experience senior relievers in LHP Nick Green, RHP Luke West and RHP Josh Chapman. Experience should be on the side of the Utes in 2014 as they return all but two starters in the field. SR INF Cory Hunt is the top-returning hitter after hitting .290 with 41 hits and 18 RBIs, all good for second on the team in 2013. SO INF Dallas Carroll and SR OF Braden Anderson will also be relied upon to boost the offense as both were in the top five in nearly all the major hitting categories for Utah in 2013. As a freshman, Carroll started 28 games, hitting .282 with 29 hits and 12 RBIs. Anderson, a community college transfer prior to last season, started 49 games, hitting .275 and collected 50 hits and 20 RBIs, good for second and first on the team in 2013.
Last season, Washington (24-32, 15-15) earned its highest conference finish since 2008, finishing tied for fifth in a league that saw four teams claim postseason berths. After starting the year 4-16 through 20 games, the Huskies finished 20-16 the rest of the way, which should bode well for 2014. The Huskies will field a deep and experienced lineup, with steady competition across the diamond. JR 1B Trevor Mitsui, who has started 82 games in his first two years, figures to be a force in the middle of the order—his 18 RBIs were second-best on the 2013 squad. The Huskies also welcome back JR INF Andrew Ely, who led the team in batting average (.338), hits (68), runs (29) and slugging percentage (.368). UW will have eight players returning that pitched in 2013, but will have to replace friday starter Austin Voth, who was lost to the MLB draft last June. Senior Zach Wright is the likely candidate to fill Voth’s role, as the righty appeared in a team-high 33 games last year with four starts, earning a 3.21 ERA in 70.0 innings of work. Juniors Jared Fisher and Jeff Brigham will also be competing for the other weekend spots. Brigham is returning after missing 2013 with an injury while Fisher’s 10 starts a year ago were second on the team as he compiled a 2-2 record, 3.20 ERA in 59.0 innings. The bullpen may again rely on SR RHP Trevor Dunlap, who headlined the 2013 relievers with a team-leading six-saves and team-best ERA of 2.11.
Washington State (23-32, 9-21) enters the season with an experienced pitching staff, as it has several pitchers competing for weekend starting rotation spots. Looking all but locked in are RS JR RHP Scott Simon and JR RHP Tanner Chleborad, who made a combined 29 starts and 151.3 innings pitched last season.The pair were also second and third on the team in strikeouts (47 for Simon, 41 for Chleborad). The third spot won’t be set in stone as SR RHP Kellen Camas, SR LHP Jason Monda and JR LHP Joe Pistorese will all compete for the starting nod. Camas and Pistorese are coming over solid seasons as Pistorese was second on the team in ERA (2.78) and led the team with 100.1 innings pitched in 15 starts while Camas recorded a 3-2 record with a 3.67 ERA. Monda, a Pac-12 honorable mention selection a year ago, plays the field in addition to his pitching duties. In the 2013 campaign, he went 2-2 in 16 appearances with a team-leading 1.57 ERA and added a .294 batting average, seven home runs and at team-leading 40 RBIs. This versatile senior will be a key to the Cougars’ success in the upcoming season. Jason’s brother SR Michael Monda is a utility player for the Cougars. SO IN/OF Trek Stemp, SR C/OF Collin Slaybaugh and JR OF Yale Rosen return as other offensive threats for WSU. Stemp started 37 games and was second on the team in batting average (.331) as a freshman in 2013, while Rosen led the team in hits (66) and Slaybaugh was second with 60.