In the history of college baseball, no conference has won more championships than the Pacific-12. But for a while there, it seemed like college baseball’s most storied conference was in decline. The SEC and ACC had emerged as the premier conferences in the game while the Pac-12 lagged behind. But then Arizona and UCLA rattled off back-to-back national championships, proving that the Pac-12 is both alive and well. Neither team were national seeds or favorites to win it all, but their style of play proved to be conducive to winning games down the stretch. The new BBCOR bats and the spacious dimensions of TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series, place an even greater emphasis on pitching and defense. Lucky for the Pac-12, several of their top teams are well adapted to this brand of baseball and poised to make long post-season runs.
Oregon State’s dominant starting pitching allowed them to steamroll opponents on the way to a 52-12 record last season. The majority of the key players from that squad are returning and they could be even better in 2014. Last year they recorded a team ERA of 2.33, which ranked No. 2 in all of Division I. The weekend rotation boasts an impressive trio of arms in Andrew Moore, Ben Wetzler, and Jace Fry. Moore displayed an exceptional feel for pitching as a freshman last year, posting a 14-2 record and establishing himself as the team’s ace. The Beaver’s lineup is also very capable of putting up crooked numbers. Outfielder Michael Conforto is one of the nation’s best offensive performers and has slashed .338/443/.561 over his collegiate career. Dylan Davis possesses big time power and will offer Conforto plenty of protection. Oregon State is one of the nation’s best all around teams and they have very few weaknesses in their rotation or their lineup.
But the Beavers are not the only powerhouse in the Pacific Northwest. To win the Pac-12 and get an automatic bid they will have to get by longtime foe Oregon. The Duck’s may be light on power bats, but they have an aptitude for using small ball to manufacture runs. They effectively used the sacrifice bunt as a way to move runners along and also a very effective as stealing bases. Furthermore, they do possess a very dominant rotation with an excellent one-two punch of Tommy Thorpe and Cole Ervin at the top. Garret Cleavinger is one of the best relief pitchers in the country and should slide over to the closer’s role with ease. With power becoming a less significant part of the game during the BBCOR era, Oregon’s combination of above average speed, defense, and pitching makes them look like a real competitor.
Defending champion’s UCLA will once again be in the mix in 2014. Much like last year’s team they lack power arms and bats, but they are one of the best coached and most disciplined teams in the country. Their pitchers let batters put the ball in play and trust their defense to make plays behind them. The Bruins will miss Nick Vander Tuig and Adam Plutko, but southpaw Grant Watson should slide in nicely to fill the void as the Friday starter. Closer David Berg is the team’s most important player. He was lights-out last year as he shattered the NCAA single-season record for saves (24) and posted a sub-1.00 ERA.
In the Hunt
While there are three clear cut teams at the top, but there are plenty of other teams that could appear in the Top 25 this year and could make the NCAA tournament. Arizona State features a balanced lineup with plenty of pop. Juniors Trever Allen, Michael Benjamin, and Kasey Coffman slugged a combined 25 home runs last year. Canadian left-hander Ryan Kellog flashed brilliance as a Freshman for the Sun Devils and no-hit Oregon State on March 26th.
Stanford is coming off a disappointing 2013 campaign, but there is still plenty of talent there and a rebound is not out of the realm of possibility. In particular, infielder Alex Blandino stands out. He had a good summer on the Cape and is hoping that his success will carry over this spring. Many members of this team have been with each other for three years now, and this is their last chance to win it all.
Keep an eye on Washington State this year. The Cougars were a relatively inexperienced team last year–and it showed as they went just 9-21 in conference last year. But they could improve as much as anyone in 2013. They have intriguing potential on both the mound and in the lineup and will be returning all of their core players. Their leader will be senior Jason Monda, who is one of the top two-way players in the country.
California is still trying to rebuild after loosing recruits when the school tried to cut the baseball program a few years back. They have nice recruiting class this year, but it could take a few years before they are real competitors again.
Utah joined the Pac-12 in 2012 but they faced a rude awakening as they tallied a mark of just 7-23. Last year wasn’t much better as they posted the very same record. It make take a few years before the program is able to adjust to the quality competition in the Pac-12.
Matt Krook was a supplemental pick in last year’s draft, but he bypassed a seven-figure bonus from the Marlins and headed to Oregon. He will likely be a mid-week starter for the Duck’s this year, but in the case of an injury he has the stuff to slide into the weekend rotation.
Chandler Eden was the poster boy of Oregon State’s stellar recruiting class last year. He has an impressive three-pitch fix and an electric fastball that can play up in relief. He could be a late inning weapon for the Beavers this year, but expect to see him evolve into their Friday starter over his collegiate career.
Cal Quantrill has big league bloodlines–his dad Paul logged over 1,000 big innings in the majors–and was considered a potential early-round pick in last years draft. He was considered a hard-sign and ended up honoring his commitment to Stanford.
Player of the Year
Michael Conforto, OF — Oregon State
Scott Heineman, 3B — Oregon
Dylan Davis, OF — Oregon State
Pitcher of the Year
Cole Irvin, LHP — Oregon
Wyatt Strahan, RHP — USC
David Berg, RHP — UCLA
|2014 Projected Standings|