8 names to watch ahead of the Pac-12 baseball season
It's starting to feel a lot like spring on the West Coast. The days are getting longer, snow is to melting in the mountains, and Pac-12 baseball returns on Friday, Feb. 18.
The Conference of Champions is once again starting to get recognized as a powerhouse for college baseball, with seven players making it onto the 2022 Golden Spikes Preseason Watch List. So with first pitch just around the corner, here are eight difference makers who could shape the 2022 Pac-12 baseball season.
Brock Jones, OF - Stanford
No batter is going to instill more fear into opposing pitching staffs than Stanford’s Brock Jones. The power-hitting centerfielder earned All-Pac-12 recognition last year after co-leading the conference with 18 home runs.
He took his production to another level in the postseason, batting .361 with five home runs, and a tournament-best 18 RBI. He outdid himself in a Super Regionals matchup against Texas Tech, belting three home runs in one game, including a grand slam to send Stanford to Omaha. The outfielder has caught the attention of major league scouts, with many pundits penciling him in as a top-10 pick in this year's MLB Draft.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAABaseball) June 12, 2021
Stanford is poised for another excellent season, entering the season as the top squad in the conference and No. 5 team in the country. With Jones’ bat in tow, the Cardinal’s potential is unlimited.
Daniel Susac, C - Arizona
After starting nearly every game for the Wildcats as a true freshman in 2021 and earning consensus All-American honors, Daniel Susac enters the 2022 season with lofty expectations.
The 2021 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Susac had no trouble adjusting to the college game, hitting .335 with 24 doubles, 12 home runs, and 65 RBI. And despite being just a freshman, Susac managed an Arizona pitching staff that went all the way to the College World Series last season.
Susac is so respected by his team that incoming manager and Arizona baseball legend Chip Hale decided to don No. 8 on his jersey after being hired so that Susac can continue wearing No. 6.
The Wildcats open as the No. 15 team in the country.
Max Rajcic, RHP - UCLA
Last season, Max Rajcic became the rare true freshman to earn a closing role at the college level. But it isn’t hard to see why Bruins head coach John Savage trusts Rajcic in high pressure situations.
Rajcic has a live arm, reaching the mid-90s as a high school sophomore, and improved as the season went on. The right-hander was dominant in the pivotal month of May for the Bruins, sporting a 1.08 ERA across 16 ⅔ innings.
Rajcic is expected to transition to the starting rotation this year.
After earning trips to the NCAA Tournament for the past four seasons, UCLA is hoping to get over the hump and make it to the College World Series for the first time since 2013.
Cooper Hjerpe, LHP - Oregon State
Oregon State reached the pinnacle of NCAA baseball just a few years ago, winning the 2018 College World Series. If the Beavers hope to return to the top they will need a big season from flamethrower Cooper Hjerpe.
Hjerpe flashed dominant potential last year, including earning Pac-12 and national recognition in late May when he led Oregon State past Arizona. Facing the Pac-12’s most potent offense, the left-hander turned in seven fantastic innings, striking 11 and only allowing a run to get the win.
With a full season of experience under his belt, Hjerpe could be just the guy to lead Oregon State, currently ranked No. 20, back to Omaha.
Sean McLain, INF - Arizona State
Sean McLain enjoyed a 23-game hitting streak last season, tied for the third-longest by a Sun Devil since 1998. Overall, McLain finished his redshirt freshman season near the top of almost every offensive category for Arizona State, including a team-high 18 doubles and 44 runs scored.
The infielder was the star for the Sun Devils in their only postseason victory last year, going 2-for-4 with a double, a walk, and a stolen base in a Regionals-opening win over Fairfield.
The baseball gene runs deep in the McLain family. Sean's older brother, Matt, played for UCLA and was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the first-round of last year's MLB Drafrt. His younger brother, Nick, is joining UCLA as a true freshman.
Ethan Long, INF - Arizona State
Joining McLain on the Sun Devils will be Ethan Long, a slugger who was a consensus All-American as a true freshman after leading Arizona State in batting average (.340), home runs (16) and RBI (54).
Long twice earned Collegiate Baseball News’ National Player of the Week recognition and enjoyed an unreal stretch late in the 2021 season when he hit 15 home runs in 15 games, including a a walk-off three-run shot to send Arizona State past then-No. 23 Oregon State.
— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) May 15, 2021
Along with his dominance at the plate last year, Long wasn’t too shabby on the mound, making six appearances without allowing a run.
Dylan Beavers, OF - California
After co-leading the Pac-12 with 18 home runs in his first full season last year, Dylan Beavers is prepared to take the college baseball world by storm.
Beavers led the Golden Bears in nearly every offensive category (runs, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, total bases, & walks) and earned All-Pac-12 honors in 2021, making him a trendy pick for 2022 Pac-12 Player of the year.
It isn’t just his bat that makes Beavers an intriguing prospect. He was also one of just three players in the league last year to collect 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases.
The @Pac12 leading home run hitter Dylan Beavers did his thing and hit two homers. 💪
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) May 29, 2021
Josh White, RHP - California
Josh White made a seamless transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation last season, which should prime the junior for a breakout year in 2022. White posted the second-lowest ERA in the conference (2.79) and struck out 81 batters in just over 60 innings last year.
California hasn’t made it to the College World Series since 2011, but with Dylan Beavers slugging and Josh White dealing, that streak could be coming to end.