ASU Baseball: A comprehensive preview of the Pac-12
Friday marks the beginning of Pac-12 play for Arizona State, and while the Sun Devils have jumped out to a 10-5 start in non-conference play, their schedule won’t get any easier. To the surprise of many, ASU’s strength has been its powerful middle-of-the-lineup bats, R.J. Ybarra and breakout star Colby Woodmansee. The starting pitching has been up and down, but closer Ryan Burr has been as good as they come in the 9th inning.
The star-studded Pac-12 has powerhouse teams such as Oregon, UCLA and the surprising USC Trojans. The Sun Devils will face off against all ten teams in the conference throughout the next couple of months, so here is a forecast of how each team has fared thus far.
(Teams are listed in order of their current overall record)
USC (15-2): The hot start for the Trojans has come as a surprise to many. USC was expected to finish towards the middle of the pack in the conference, and as such, its non-conference success was not predicted. It had about as good of a weekend as you could possibly have in college baseball last weekend, with victories over No. 2 TCU, No. 5 Vanderbilt and No. 14 UCLA. The Trojans’ victory over the Horned Frogs came on a game-winning suicide squeeze. Seniors Garrett Stubbs and Dante Flores have been standout hitters and lead the team in batting average, while A.J. Ramirez has supplied the power, with three home runs in the early going. Brent Wheatley and Kyle Twomey have been staples at the top of the rotation, and have posted a 1.54 and 2.49 ERA, respectively. The transition to closer for Kyle Davis has been seamless, as he has saved five games already this season. Led by third-year head coach Dan Hubbs, the Trojans seem to be a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-12.
Oregon State (14-3): The Beavers lost many key contributors from last season’s conference championship winning team, including first-round MLB draft pick Michael Conforto. Despite the rebuilding year for head coach Pat Casey, the Beavers were impressive in non-conference play, albeit with a fairly easy schedule. Freshman catcher K.J. Harrison is one of the hottest hitters in the country, homering six times and driving in 24 runs over his 17 games played. Gabe Clark (6 HRs) and Jeff Hendrix (4 HRs) are also big reasons as to why the Beavers lead the Pac-12 in home runs. OSU will be the Sun Devils first opponent of Pac-12 play, and the result of the series could give an idea as to how the rest of the season could play out for both teams.
California (13-3): Another surprising team, the Golden Bears have been continuously strong throughout the season. Over the course of the year, they won a four-game series against UC Irvine and swept Kansas State at home. Cal is tied for second in the Pac-12 in home runs, so like OSU, it has used its power to win games. Chris Paul and Lucas Erceg, each have three home runs. Perhaps the biggest reason for the Golden Bears success is their prowess on the mound. Daulton Jeffries, Ryan Mason and Matt Ladrech make up a formidable weekend rotation. Each of the three have excelled while flying under the radar. While other teams have more proven track records, the Golden Bears could be a dark horse team in the Pac-12.
Oregon (13-4): Starting off the season in the top 25, the Ducks have steadily improved throughout the season and are now ranked at No. 5. They are, however, riding a bit of a cold streak after consecutive losses to San Francisco, and will face Cal on the road this weekend to try and reclaim their mojo. Oregon has not been the strongest offensively, but run producers Mitchell Tolman and Brandon Cuddy have been reliable at the dish. Cuddy leads the team in home runs. The Ducks also have Shaun Chase in the lineup, who set the school single-season record for home runs last season with 14. Like many other teams in the conference, they have succeeded primarily on the mound. Friday starter Cole Irvin has a fantastic ERA (0.60), but has not gone deep into games this season, throwing just 15 innings in four starts. Saturday starter David Peterson and Sunday starter Jack Karraker have been pleasant surprises, but Oregon’s success will rely on if they can maintain their current production.
Arizona (15-4): The Wildcats are off to a hot start this season after a down year in 2014. Arizona has struggled against ranked teams, however, as it is just 1-4 against the two ranked teams it has played (Rice and Mississippi State). Middle infield duo Scott Kingery and Kevin Newman have turned the Wildcats offense into a feared group. The Preseason All-American selections are each hitting above .400 and carry an OPS above .1000. Arizona’s top draft prospect, Bobby Dalbec, has complemented the pair with his team-leading three home runs. The pitching has not been as good for the Wildcats, as they average six runs allowed in their losses. Arizona has yet to crack the top 25, but a hot start to Pac-12 play could earn them a spot among the nation’s elite.
UCLA (12-4): After starting the season at No.4 in the country, the Bruins have dropped from their hold in the top five, but remain in a good place at No. 14 overall. Their pitching staff features arguably the best player in the conference, James Kaprielian, who is expected to be a first-round pick in the MLB Draft this season. Cody Poteet has also held strong as the Sunday starter for the Bruins. All of their losses have come to very good teams, including being swept last weekend against TCU, Vanderbilt and USC. The offense has not had very high expectations after scuffling for much of last season, but they have fared alright thus far thanks to the return of some key contributors from injury. Third baseman Kevin Kramer is the most feared hitter in the lineup. After missing all of last season due to injury, he is picking up where he left off in 2013, hitting .387 while starting all 16 games. Senior Chris Keck is tied for the atop the nation’s home run leaderboard with six. The Bruins pitching will perform, but the offensive will either vault them to the top or be their undoing in conference play.
Washington State (13-5): Not typically known as a baseball powerhouse, Washington State has had a good start, partly due to an easy schedule. The Cougars have lost games against mediocre teams, and struggled against the one ranked team they played in Oklahoma State. Senior Ian Sagdal is the team’s leader in multiple offensive categories. He has a .373 batting average and has also stolen three bases. An interesting case in Washington State’s lineup is Cameron Frost, who leads the team with 15 RBI but is hitting just .180. In short, Frost can be a much more feared hitter if he improves his contact. The rotation for the Cougars is headlined by Friday starter Joe Pistorese, who has a 3.63 ERA but has surrendered 20 hits in 17 and 1/3 innings. WSU opens up conference play against USC this weekend.
Washington (12-5): The Cougars have been solid this season, although they have yet to crack the nation’s top 25. UW has struggled in neutral locations, as it was just 1-3 over four games played in Arizona. Washington is 11-2 otherwise, including a series win over a talented Pepperdine team. The pitching has been better than the hitting, but preseason first-team Pac-12 selection, and five-tool player, Braden Bishop, has been a force for the Huskies. Bishop boasts a .364 batting average, two home runs and seven stolen bases. Starting pitcher Tyler Davis, who was named to the 2015 Golden Spikes Award Watch List, is one of the more feared pitchers in the conference as well as the country. The Cougars are flying under the radar and could make some noise in the conference.
Stanford (9-8): It’s been a rebuilding year for the Cardinal, after appearing in the NCAA tournament three out of the last four years. Two freshman hitters, Matt Winaker and Mikey Diekroeger, are centerpieces of the rebuilding effort. Winaker has played in every game and has hit .377. Diekroeger is still working his way into the everyday lineup, but has made the most of his 11 starts, hitting .381. Stanford’s pitching rotation has been a developing situation, but Cal Quantrill, son of former major leaguer Paul Quantrill, has a 1.93 ERA and 20 strikeouts. Fellow sophomore Brett Hanewich has fit into the Saturday starter role with a good amount of success. Even though its rotation is devoid of a bonafide ace, such as Mark Appel, the Cardinal are finding a way to make it work, although they are still hovering above .500.
Utah (4-11): The weak link of the Pac-12, the Utes currently are the only team in the conference with a record below .500. However, they did win their last series over Kansas on the road. Head coach Bill Kinneberg, who’s in his 12th year, will have the tough task of getting his squad to compete with the powerhouses of the conference. Right now, the Utes are viewed as the bottom-feeder in the Pac-12, but could play spoiler to teams at the top of the conference deeper into the year.
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