Pac-10 Conference Preview

Three-headed monster leads the conference in the preseason



 
 

Feb. 19, 2008

By Eric Sorenson

Special to CSTV.com

ERIC SORENSON
Eric Sorenson is a regular contributor to CSTV.com, covering football, basketball & baseball.
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Because there are way too many polls and rankings out there, the Pac-10 is the only conference that can boast three preseason No. 1 teams: UCLA in Baseball America, Arizona in Collegiate Baseball and Arizona State in the USA Today coaches' poll. And the conference will be deep this year too, with teams like Cal, Stanford, USC and Oregon State - in particular - loaded with future high-round draftees. So everything points to this being the Pac-10's year. Look, if Oregon State can win the national title in a "down" season, just think what the Pac-10 is going to do when they've got all the expectations behind them. But one word of warning, beware the NCAA Selection Committee's penchant for funneling these teams into the same Super Regional.

 

Favorite: According to the polls- Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA

Contender: Oregon State

Darkhorse: California

 

Arizona (42-17, 15-9)

 

The Good News:

Admit it; you did a double... nay, a triple take, when you saw that the `Cats were pre-season No. 1 in Collegiate Baseball's rankings, right? Well, there's good reason. Friday starter Preston Guilmet (12-2, 1.87, 146Ks) is one of the best-kept secrets in the country, except to the pro scouts. Relievers Daniel Schlereth (3-1, 2.68, 8svs) and Jason Stoffel (5-0, 1.87, 5svs) will take on bigger roles, with aplomb. Eight of nine starters return led by CF T.J. Steele (.323-7-47, 21SBs), DH Brad Glenn (.333-10-62) and 2B Colt Sedbrook (.335). There's good power and good speed all up and down the lineup too.

 

The Bad News:

Save for the fact that UofA will lose only LHP Brad Mills and 1B Bill Reinhardt. That's freakin' it! Of course, the Wildcats will have to probably go on the road in the postseason and we saw how that turned out last June, losing out at Wichita State.

 

The Intangible:

The most draft-dodgers in the country.

 

2B Colt Sedbrook (42nd round, Cubs), LHP David Coulon (4-3, 4.98, 42nd round, Rockies), LHP Eric Berger (6-2, 3.84 in '05, 9th round, A's), 1B C.J. Ziegler (.355-13-63, 37th round, Cards) and the aforementioned Schlereth (8th round, A's) all were picked up in the June draft but chose to return to build this national power in the desert.

 

Schedule Note:

Let's see now... start off at Georgia, go to Corpus Christi to take on Notre Dame, play three at Fullerton, two at Oklahoma State, two at San Diego State and two at New Mexico. Yep, their gut check is complete.

 

Arizona State (49-15, 19-5)

 

The Good News:

I like to call it an "embarrassment of riches" because Pat Murphy has more than a cavalry of weapons in his arsenal. 1B Brett Wallace (.404-16-78) spent all last season near the top of the CSTV.com Player of the Year list. Other lumberjacks include C Petey Paramore (.379-6-52), DH Keil Roling (.356-15-63) and 1B Ike Davis (349-8-61), who all look like NFL defensive ends. And don't forget about steady OF Ryan Sontag (.345). The arms ain't too shabby either with 68mph specialist Josh Satow (13-3, 2.76, 199Ks), Mike Leake (13-2, 3.69, 94Ks) and super-Frosh Jason Jarvis (11svs and .375 at the dish) hurling the rock. ASU also led the nation in defense, at .979 percent. (As if the offense wasn't wicked enough.)

 

The Bad News:

Very little bad news, to tell you the truth. Sure, the Devils lose 2B Eric Sogard and SS Andrew Romine to purgatory of the pros, but that may be the only real worry (though it's a big worry at the same time). Okay, they'll need to replace Brian Flores in the weekend rotation. But there are fill-ins to make up for it.

 

The Intangible:

Again, the four-year mercenaries.

 

Coach Murphy has once again brought in some of the best transfers in the country, gathering Kentucky OF Jason Kipnis (.337) and Winthrop RHP Jason Franzblau (8-4, 3.13). In addition, Wallace State CC's Jake Elmore is highly regarded and should fill the 2B void. The rich get richer, man. The rich get richer.

 

Schedule Note:

Though the Devs will have the likes of Vanderbilt, Oregon State, Michigan, Hawaii, Arkansas, Troy, Arizona, Florida International and UC Irvine darkening their door, they won't play a road game until the trip to Palo Alto on April 4th. That's unusual for a Pat Murphy team, who usually like to be road warriors.

 

California (29-26, 12-12)

 

The Good News:

Still a handful of high-round draft picks in Berkeley. Friday night ace Tyson Ross (6-6, 2.49,120Ks) is ridiculously good and has fellow starter Craig Benningson (5-3, 3.34) and relief ace Matt Gorgen (3-5, 2.51, 9svs) to provide competent support. With that as your mound staff, a stable-full of offense isn't necessary, but 1B David Cooper (.382-12-55) leads an offense that has five .300-plus hitters back. OF Jeff Kobernus (.331, 13SBs) was a Freshman All American and OF/P Brett Smith (.320-6-30) made H.M. All-Pac 10 as a Frosh.

 

The Bad News:

Cal still can't seem to get over the hump as it's been since 2001 that the Bears last played in June. Not much more bad news, except maybe more depth in the arms staff must be found, as only six pitchers threw more than 22 innings last season.

 

The Intangible:

Little more consistency.

 

The Bears finished in 4th place in the conference, and if you consider the national champion was the 6th place team, it stands to reason that Cal has a feeling they should've got a bid to the NCAAs. But a poor 3-9 road record in the Pac-10 did them in.

 

Schedule Note:

The Bears will play a pair of pre-conference tournaments that will be huge measuring sticks, at the USD Tournament against Fresno State, Missouri and San Diego. Then, the following weekend they'll take it inside the MetroDome for the Bears to take on Minnesota and New Mexico.

 

Oregon State (49-18, 10-14)

 

The Good News:

Well, whaddya' wanna say 'bout dem Beavers now? I tell you this much, no one's going to doubt them, especially after winning another national championship when they weren't supposed to do so. But when super-frosh Jorge Reyes (7-3, 3.10) and 2B Joey Wong (.288) stepped up better than any other first-year players in the nation, the Beavs season took off. Ninth round draft-dodger Mike Stutes (12-4, 4.07, 129Ks) returns to man the Friday starter role and lots of other seniors are back in CF Chris Hopkins (.266, 17SBs, a 44th round pick of the Royals), 1B Jordan Lennerton (.313-10-51) and OF Braden Wells (.277, 11SBs). The best part has been seeing the national media finally becoming Beaver Believers. It only took two national titles, so it's 'bout time.

 

The Bad News:

Okay, as you saw from ESPN's numbingly endless features on them during the CWS, Darwin Barney and Mitch Canham were the heart-and-soul of the OSU program the last two years, and have moved on. The pitching staff will still be really young with a lot of newcomers needing to contribute.

 

The Intangible:

Coach Casey.

 

Things go in circles in college baseball, and right now Pat Casey is the best coach in the postseason. He pushed all the right buttons in pulling out a regional title at Virginia and a dominant run in Omaha. It's as if the spirit of Augie Garrido has taken over his body.

 

Schedule Note:

Love that three-game series vs. Georgia in the second weekend of the season, which will be played in Portland. It's not often an SEC team comes West, much less Northwest. But before that, OSU's "warm-up" is to take on Top 5 teams Vanderbilt and Arizona State in the DeMarini Invitational in Tempe. Nice.



 
 

 

Stanford (28-28, 9-15)

 

The Good News:

Talk about a program that doesn't stay down long, SU has the goods to get back to the Big Dance. A pair of 3-year lettermen, RHP David Stringer (3-2, 4.70, 7svs) and RHP Erik Davis (4-2, 5.29) will lead the mound corps. Top hitters like Joey August (.343), Sean Ratliff (.339-12-45) and Cord Phelps (.301) should lead an improved offense.

 

The Bad News:

It's just not like a Mark Marquess team to start out 10-5 with wins over the likes of Fresno State, Texas and Kansas and end up a .500 team at the end of the year. The Trees were outscored by 52 runs in innings 4-through-7. And yes, that opponents average really was .314, making SU's pitching staff - gulp! - the worst in the Pac-10.

 

The Intangible:

The starters with non-Stanford numbers.

 

The key to the Cardinal season rests in the performance of the two weekend mound starters that are coming back. Jeremy Bleich (2-8, 5.56) and Jeffery Inman (4-4, 5.74) are plenty talented enough, but those numbers are not a misprint. Fix those, and Stanford is back.

 

Schedule Note:

Nebraska, Cal State Fullerton, Texas, Long Beach State, Hawaii... Stanford's non-conference opponents always read like a who's who. Let's hope the Trees are ready for it this time around.

 

Southern Cal (27-29, 8-16)

 

The Good News:

Last year's young team will play more grown up this year. Big time talents are burgeoning in LHP Tom Milone (just 3-7, 6.17, but Cape Cod Pitcher of the Year), SS Garret Green (.316, wicked glove), RHP Brad Boxburger (3-5, 3.20) and dual threat wunderkind Robert Stock (.253 and 2-2, 4.55, 2svs), whose numbers will only get better. All 56 starts on the staff return. CF Nick Buss (.290) will bat leadoff and had a great summer in the high-profile Alaska Summer League.

 

The Bad News:

The Trojans haven't finished in last place in the Pac-10 since 1985. There was also a lot of turmoil and tumult in coach Chad Kreuter's first season in Troy, though things should go smoother this time around. Matt Cusick and Lucas Duda leave the offense. Hot reliever Paul Koss (16 svs) is the only loss on the mound.

 

The Intangible:

Growing pains.

 

Everything was a huge transition for coaches and players last year, but 2008, with another solid recruiting class thrown in, will also take some adjustments, but Coach Kreuter and Co. should handle it better. Players like Green, Stock, Buss and sophomore RHP Kevin Couture (2-1, 5.79) should blossom.

 

Schedule Note:

Nice start, going across the continent to play at Florida International. USC will follow that up with a trip to UC Irvine, where son-in-law Kreuter will take on father-in-law Mike Gillespie. The Men of Troy will also travel to Winthrop and Long Beach State in pre-conference.

 

UCLA (33-28, 14-10)

 

The Good News:

Anybody who doubts coach John Savage's ability to build a monster program is a fool. Entering his 4th season, this guy's got it goin' on in Westwood. He'll work with the best infield in the country featuring Ryan Babineau (.272 and a brick wall back there at catcher), 1B Cody Decker (.307-14-57), 2B Alden Carrithers (.352), SS Brandon Crawford (.335-7-55) and 3B Jermaine Curtis (.329). Add in the power bat of OF Gabe Cohen (.345-10-36) and this offense has the menacing scowl similar to the '97 bats of Troy Glaus, Eric Byrnes, Eric Valent and John Heinrichs.

 

The Bad News:

The entire roster of pitchers has big time potential and high draft-ability and all, but the rotation of lefties Gavin Brooks (6-7, 4.47, 98 Ks) and Tim Murphy (5-4, 5.68, 96 Ks) and RHP Charles Brewer (0-1, 5.40, injury-shortened) must pick up their game and post better numbers. A clamp-down closer must emerge. The stigma of being ranked pre-season No. 1 by Baseball America adds to the growing target on their back.

 

The Intangible:

Curtis. The man.

 

The vocal 3B Jermaine Curtis missed half the season in '07, but once he came back, UCLA was a completely different team and played with much more confidence. Plus, in the two games I saw him play in the Cape Cod League last summer, he was all over the field and strokin' it at the dish with the wooden club.

 

Schedule Note:

It just wouldn't be right for UCLA to take it easy in the pre-conference challenge. Oklahoma, Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State and a trip to Cal Poly will build this year's callous for Pac-10 play.

 

Washington (29-27, 11-13)

 

The Good News:

Just like last year, the feeling has to be, "Look, Oregon State has done it, there's no reason we can't." Well Ken Knutson has some horses with all his returning mound starters back, led by righties Jason Erickson (4-3, 4.78) and Jorden Merry (6-8, 5.38). 2B Brad Boyer (.363) is an All-Pac-10 returnee, and will be backed by a pair of swift OFs in Michael Burgher (.287, 18SBs) and Andy Lentz (.300). DH Ty Rasmussen (.308-10-35) will provide some power to the lineup. The nation's No.11 recruiting class will don Husky purple this year.

 

The Bad News:

Those regional teams that were 40-plus winners in the mid-90s are becoming more and more distant memories. Lots of youth in the infield could make for some trying times. Losing relief ace Nick Hagadone (11svs) and star 3B Matthew Hague (transfer to Oklahoma State) will also hurt.

 

The Intangible:

Off with the bandages, pick up the metal.

 

Washington went through a lot of injuries across the board last season, but gets some of those guys back for 2008. Two to keep an eye on are 3B Matt Stevens (17HRs in '06) and OF Kyle Conley (.268-4-16 as a Frosh).

 

Schedule Note:

After a tough trip to open the season at UC Riverside and a three-gamer at Pacific, the Huskies will play 22 of their next 25 games at home from March 7th to April 12th. The only roadie will be at Oregon State.

 

Washington State (28-26, 10-14)

 

The Good News:

Pitching was decent in '07 and some experienced pitchers come back in three-year starter LHP Jayson Miller (5-2, 4.10), RHP Connor Lambert (.3-1, 4.47) and LHP Ross Humes (3-3, 4.70, 12 svs), to help better the 5.02 team ERA. Three .300+ hitters also return in OF Simi Reynolds (.347), OF Scott Suttmeier (.336), 3B Paul Gran (.314) and 2B Travis Coulter (.310)

 

The Bad News:

After 36 wins in 2006, last year's drop to 28 caused concern. A 13-6 start quickly led to a 1-8 slide in Pac-10 play. Will miss the leadership of 2B Jeffery Miller, a longtime starter. Despite all the .300 hitters back, Washington State still had the weakest offense in the Pac-10 at .281.

 

The Intangible:

The Prince can't stay a frog.

 

Jared Prince is the key player to the Cougar hopes. Coach Donnie Marbut hopes he can revert to his freshman form, when he hit .401-9-58 and went 6-2, 4.53 on the mound.

 

Schedule Note:

Wazzu has ramped up their schedule big time in 2008, playing the likes of Creighton, Kent State, Kansas State, Wichita State and Oklahoma before the Pac-10 rigors begin.

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