College Preview

College West Preview

Predicting how the Pac-10, Big West and other conferences will shake out




+ 2007 conference tournament champion; # not eligible for 2008 draft; * 2007 NCAA regional participants (2007 records listed; 2008 national ranking in parentheses).

PACIFIC-10 CONFERENCE
HOW THEY'LL FINISH
  Conference Overall
  W L W L
1. *UCLA (1) 14 10 33 28
2. *Arizona (2) 15 9 42 17
3. *Oregon State (7) 10 14 49 18
4. +Arizona State (9) 19 5 49 15
5. California 12 12 29 26
6. Stanford 9 15 28 28
7. Southern California 8 16 27 29
8. Washington State 10 14 28 26
9. Washington 11 13 29 27
 
Projected NCAA Teams (5): Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon State, UCLA.
Conference Schedule: 24 games, begins March 20.
Conference Tournament: None.
 
PLAYERS TO WATCH
ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
C—Petey Paramore, Jr., Arizona State (.379-6-52, 53 BB). 1B—Ike Davis, Jr., Arizona State (.349-8-61, 23 2Bs). 2B—Bradley Boyer, Jr., Washington (.363-3-29). 3B—Brett Wallace, Jr., Arizona State (.404-16-78, 12 SB). SS—Brandon Crawford, Jr., UCLA (.335-7-55, 11 SB). OF—Gabe Cohen, So., UCLA (.345-10-36); Sean Ratliff, Jr., Stanford (.339-12-45, 10 SB); T.J. Steele, Jr., Arizona (.323-7-47, 21 SB). DH—David Cooper, Jr., California (.382-12-55).

P—Gavin Brooks, So., UCLA (6-7, 4.47, 111 IP/98 SO); Preston Guilmet, Jr., Arizona (12-2, 1.87, 135 IP/146 SO); Tyson Ross, Jr., California (6-6, 2.49, 116 IP/120 SO). RP—Jason Stoffel, So., Arizona (5-0, 1.87, 5 SV, 43 IP/55 SO).

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Brett Wallace, 3b/1b, Arizona State.

PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Tyson Ross, rhp, California.

TOP NEWCOMERS
1. Greg Peavey, rhp, Oregon State (HS—Vancouver, Wash.).
2. Garrett Nash, 2b, Oregon State (HS—Draper, Utah.
3. Dillon Baird, 3b, Arizona (Tr. —Yavapai, Ariz., JC).
4. Rob Rasmussen, lhp, UCLA (HS—Pasadena, Calif.).
5. B.J. Guinn, ss, California (HS—Berkeley, Calif.).

PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2008 DRAFT
1. Ryan Perry, rhp, Arizona
2. Brandon Crawford, ss, UCLA3. Tyson Ross, rhp, California
4. Brett Wallace, 3b/1b, Arizona State
5. Preston Guilmet, rhp, Arizona
6. Tim Murphy, lhp, UCLA
7. Petey Paramore, c, Arizona State
8. Ike Davis, 1b/of, Arizona State
9. David Cooper, 1b, California
10. Jeremy Bleich, lhp, Stanford

Arizona's Jason Stoffel
PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2009 DRAFT
1. Gavin Brooks, lhp, UCLA
2. Grant Green, ss, Southern California
3. Robert Stock, c/rhp, Southern California
4. Jorge Reyes, rhp, Oregon State
5. Jason Stoffel, rhp, Arizona

BEST TOOLS
Best Pure Hitter—Brett Wallace, Arizona State. Best Raw Power—Wallace. Best Strike-Zone Discipline—Jermaine Curtis, UCLA. Best Athlete—Brandon Crawford, UCLA. Fastest Runner—Garrett Nash, Oregon State. Best Baserunner—Robert Abel, Arizona.

Best Defensive Catcher—Dwight Childs, Arizona. Catcher/Best Arm—Childs. Best Defensive First Baseman—Jordan Lennerton, Oregon State. Best Defensive Second Baseman—Joey Wong, Oregon State. Best Defensive Third Baseman—Jermaine Curtis, UCLA. Best Defensive Shortstop—Brandon Crawford, UCLA. Infielder/Best Arm—Grant Green, Southern California. Best Defensive Outfielder—T.J. Steele, Arizona. Outfielder/Best Arm—Ike Davis, Arizona State.

Best Fastball—Ryan Perry, Arizona. Best Breaking Ball—Preston Guilmet, Arizona. Best Changeup—Josh Satow, Arizona State. Best Control—Tyson Ross, California.
 
SHORT HOPS
THE WEST'S TOP THREE RIVALRIES
1. Arizona vs. Arizona State
In-state, Pac-10 rivals have put fans in seats at Diamondbacks' Chase Field.
2. Cal State Fullerton vs. Long Beach State
Big West's best share similar playing styles and recruiting targets.
3. Cal State Fullerton vs. Stanford
Regular meetings early in season and in Omaha have bred respect and resentment
OSCAR GAMES
The games everyone will come out to see in the West.
Feb. 22-24
Rice at Long Beach State
Season-opening duel between Top 15 clubs
March 1-2
MLB Urban Academy, Compton, Calif.
UCLA, Southern California, Southern and Bethune-Cookman
Historically Black Colleges and L.A. foes square off with baseball teams and marching bands
May 2-4
San Diego at Pepperdine
West Coast Conference's top teams square off
• The Pac-10 has plenty of history on its side in the argument for Best College Conference, but recent history and the 2008 season should continue to augment that reputation. Three pitchers who started on Friday nights in 2006 in the Pac-10—Southern California's Ian Kennedy, Washington's Tim Lincecum and California's Brandon Morrow—all pitched in the big leagues in 2007. As Oregon State comes off back-to-back national championships—even after finishing sixth in the league's regular season last year—the league's talent level remains almost absurdly high. The Pac-10 placed four teams in BA's top 10, and Arizona State looks like the best preseason fourth-place pick in recent history. Southern California and Stanford, which have combined for three national championships and 14 College World Series trips the previous 20 seasons, battled it out for last place in the league in the final weekend of conference play a year ago. Washington State is the only Pac-10 club not to make a regional appearance in the 64-team era.

• With a young team heavily reliant on freshmen a year ago, Southern California lost six of its last seven, including its final six conference games, to miss out on regionals for the fourth time in five seasons. Many of the team's top players, such as C/RHP Robert Stock, SS Grant Green and RHP Brad Boxberger, are now sophomores, and the Trojans also are hoping for a similar second-year leap from junior OF Nick Buss, who spent his freshman year at a junior college. Buss ranked as the Alaska League's top prospect and batting champion last summer. Second-year head coach Chad Krueter has a totally new staff, adding Trojans alumnus Tom House as his pitching coach. House pitched for USC in 1967 before his nine-year big league career and long career as a pitching guru, with three stints as a major league pitching coach (Padres, Rangers and Astros) as well as creation of the National Pitching Association. House famously mentored past Trojans ace Mark Prior as well.

• Stanford has fallen hard since reaching Omaha five consecutive seasons from 1999-2003, a run that included three second-place finishes. The Cardinal's end-of-season sweep of USC last year helped coach Mark Marquess avoid the program's first losing season since 1993. The Cardinal has failed to register a .600 winning percentage three years in a row; the last time that happened was from 1941-1946. Pitching has been a major problem for a program that once earned a reputation as a pitching factory; Stanford's team ERA has risen from 3.77 in 2005 to 4.55 in '06 to 6.01 in 2007. Like USC, Stanford also has turned to an alum as its pitching coach, with 1998 College Player of the Year Jeff Austin taking over the position after Tom Kunes became head coach at Ohlone (Calif.) JC. Austin was the No. 4 overall pick in '98 (Royals) but had an injury-plagued pro career, last pitching in the majors in 2003. Stanford's offense could use a big year from junior 1B Jason Castro, who hit just .161 last spring but finished second in the Cape Cod League with a .341 average in the summer.

• League coaches have picked Cal to finish fifth, and the Bears have a veteran club that lost just three minor contributors from a year ago. Touted freshman SS Brian Guinn, a hometown recruit from Berkeley, will vie with holdover SS Michael Brady (.271-4-26) for playing time. Junior LHP Craig Benningson returns after a strong summer in the Cape Cod League, where he struck out 48 in 43 innings. Junior RHP Matt Gorgen, whose brother Scott helped pitch UC Irvine to the College World Series, rates as the Pac-10's most reliable closer after giving up only one homer and striking out 75 last spring while tying for the conference lead with 31 appearances.

• Washington coach Ken Knutson doesn't have a star on this year's roster along the lines of Lincecum or 2007 supplemental first-rounder Nick Hagadone, and top slugger Matt Hague transferred to Oklahoma State for his senior season, but Knutson likes his team's depth. One example: Behind the plate, the Huskies hope to have senior defensive stalwart Joey Dunn healthy after an ankle injury stymied him in 2007, but they also return junior Brett Wilcox, who hit .395 in 43 at-bats after transferring in at midseason (end of winter quarter). "We have a lot of players returning from injuries," Knutson said, "which makes it harder to predict but also gave the young guys a lot of time in the fall. We should have good defense and speed with (some) power . . . We need to be more consistent pitching-wise." League coaches picked the Huskies to finish last in voting to BA.

• Washington State is counting on its strength up the middle to carry it to its first regional berth since 1990. The Cougars' top returning players include senior SS Paul Gran (.314-6-34, 11 SB), who hit .328 in the New England Collegiate League last summer; 2B Travis Coulter (.310-0-11), who was forced to DH last year by a shoulder problem but is healthy for '08; and junior C Greg Lagreid (.233-6-25), who hit .402-11-66 for the Nevada Griffons last summer, earning the No. 2 prospect spot in the Jayhawk League. The Cougars also look for a return to form for junior RHP/DH Jared Prince, who hit .401-9-58 and was 6-2, 4.53 on the mound as a freshman but then batted just .277-2-33 last season due to shoulder issues. Prince played outfield the last two years but will just DH and pitch in 2008.
BIG WEST CONFERENCE
HOW THEY'LL FINISH
  Conference Overall
  W L W L
1. *Long Beach State (13) 15 6 39 20
2. *Cal State Fullerton 10 11 38 25
3. *UC Irvine 15 6 47 17
4. Cal Poly 13 8 32 24
5. *UC Riverside 16 5 38 21
6. UC Santa Barbara 9 12 23 31
7. Pacific 3 18 16 43
8. Cal State Northridge 3 18 15 41
9. UC Davis 0 0 24 32
 
Projected NCAA Teams (3): Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine.
Conference Schedule: 24 games; begins March 28.
Conference Tournament: None.
 
PLAYERS TO WATCH
ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
C—Wes Dorrell, So., Cal Poly (.303-6-40). 1B—Shane Peterson, Jr., Long Beach State (.327-4-40, 11 SB). 2B—Adam Ching, Sr., Pacific (.282-2-11). 3B—Brent Morel, Jr., Cal Poly (.332-5-31). SS—Danny Espinosa, Jr., Long Beach State (.319-7-38). OF—Joey Gonzales, So., UC Riverside (.356-2-19); Ollie Linton, Jr., UC Irvine (.342-0-21, 15 SB); Logan Schafer, Jr., Cal Poly (.335-4-34). DH—Gary Brown, Fr., Cal State Fullerton (HS—Diamond Bar, Calif.).

P—Scott Gorgen, Jr., UC Irvine (13-3, 2.83, 137 IP/117 SO); Jeff Kaplan, Sr., Cal State Fullerton (11-3, 3.30, 122 IP/83 SO); Vance Worley, Jr., Long Beach State (1-2, 3.64, 54 IP/38 SO). RP—Joe Kelly, So., UC Riverside (3-1, 1.32, 6 SV, 27 IP/19 SO).

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Shane Peterson, 1b/lhp, Long Beach State.

PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Scott Gorgen, rhp, UC Irvine.

TOP NEWCOMERS
1. Gary Brown, of/2b, Cal State Fullerton. 2. Christian Colon, ss, Cal State Fullerton (HS—Corona, Calif.). 3. Bryce Stowell, rhp, UC Irvine (Tr. —Pepperdine). 4. Eddie Orozco, rhp, UC Riverside (HS—Riverside, Calif.). 5. Jake Thompson, rhp, Long Beach State (HS—Lakewood, Calif.).

PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2008 DRAFT
1. Shane Peterson, 1b, Long Beach State
2. Scott Gorgen, rhp, UC Irvine
3. Bryan Shaw, rhp, Long Beach State
4. Stephen Penney, rhp, UC Riverside
5. Danny Espinosa, ss, Long Beach State
6. Vance Worley, rhp, Long Beach State
7. Bryce Stowell, rhp, UC Irvine
8. Kevin Castner, rhp, Cal Poly
9. Logan Schafer, of, Cal Poly
10. Marco Grifantini, rhp, UC Davis

PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2009 DRAFT
1. Joe Kelly, rhp, UC Riverside
2. Khris Davis, of, Cal State Fullerton
3. Mike Morrison, rhp, Cal State Fullerton
4. Josh Fellhauer, of, Cal State Fullerton
5. Mario Hollands, lhp, UC Santa Barbara

BEST TOOLS
Best Pure Hitter—Shane Peterson, Long Beach State. Best Raw Power—Jared Clark, Cal State Fullerton. Best Strike-Zone Discipline—Shane Peterson, Long Beach State. Best Athlete—Gary Brown, Cal State Fullerton.  Fastest Runner—Gary Brown, Cal State Fullerton. Best Baserunner—Ollie Linton, UC Irvine.

Best Defensive Catcher—Aaron Lowenstein, UC Irvine. Catcher/Best Arm—Joe Oliveira, Pacific. Best Defensive First Baseman—Shane Peterson, Long Beach State. Best Defensive Second Baseman—Adam Ching, Pacific. Best Defensive Third Baseman—Brent Morel, Cal Poly. Best Defensive Shortstop—Ben Orloff, UC Irvine. Infielder/Best Arm—Danny Espinosa, Long Beach State. Best Defensive Outfielder—Ollie Linton, UC Irvine. Outfielder/Best Arm—Josh Fellhauer, Cal State Fullerton.

Best Fastball—Joe Kelly, UC Riverside. Best Breaking Ball—Derrick Saito, Cal Poly. Best Changeup—-Scott Gorgen, UC Irvine. Best Control—Scott Gorgen, UC Irvine.
 
SHORT HOPS
• No conference had as much high-profile coaching change as the Big West. George Horton, who carved out his own legend following program icon Augie Garrido, left the Titans after taking them to four College World Series trips in the last five years and the 2004 national title. He took over the new, well-funded program at Oregon. His replacement was a former assistant, but instead of associate head coach Rick Vander Hook (just promoted to that position in June 2007), the school chose Dave Serrano, Horton's former pitching coach and the 2007 Coach of the Year after leading UC Irvine to the CWS. Serrano brought his staff with him from Irvine, leaving Vander Hook out of the Titans program for the first time since the early 1990s. Irvine, which reached Omaha in just its sixth season of the program's reincarnation, hired former Southern California coach Mike Gillespie to replace Serrano. The 67-year-old Gillespie, who managed short-season Staten Island in the Yankees farm system in 2007, led USC for 20 seasons, claiming the 1998 national championship and creating his own legend after replacing the late Rod Dedeaux.

• Horton's departure makes UC Santa Barbara's Bob Brontsema the unquestioned dean of Big West coaches as he enters his 15th season as head coach and 27th at the school as a player or coach. The Gauchos have an intriguing pair of 2009 draft prospects in the rotation in RHP Mike Ford, who sits at 89-92 mph with his fastball, and LHP Mario Hollands, who redshirted last season but impressed in the summer, ranking as the Alaska League's No. 5 prospect. UCSB has four sons of big leaguers on the roster, with the best expected to be closer Jason Roenicke, son of Gary and younger brother of former UCLA closer Josh (now a Reds farmhand).

• The Titans struggled for most of 2007, finishing fifth in the league before rallying in the postseason to reach the CWS again. That flawed team has lost some key players, such as ace righty Wes Roemer and top hitter Clark Hardman, but has a talented recruiting class Serrano can use to reload. Chief among them are Gary Brown, one of the nation's fastest players and the likely starter at either center field or second base; SS Christian Colon, a crucial recruit considering last year's shortstop recruit Nate Bridges didn't make it academically (and is now in junior college); and RHP Dan Renken, who might have the team's best arm strength.

• The Anteaters lost many of the key players who led them to Omaha but should remain strong up the middle with CF Ollie Linton, SS Ben Orloff and C Aaron Lowenstein, all defensive stalwarts. So. 2B Casey Stevenson, a transfer from JC of the Canyons, should step in immediately and gives the unit some offensive punch. The Anteaters also finally take the wraps off RHP Bryce Stowell, who sat out last season as a transfer from Pepperdine because the Waves did not grant him a release. Stowell was the top prospect in the Central Illinois Collegiate League in 2006 and shook off some rust in the Cape Cod League last summer, going 1-5, 3.72 but posting 44 strikeouts in 39 innings.
MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE
HOW THEY'LL FINISH
  Conference Overall
  W L W L
1. *+Texas Christian 20 3 48 14
2. Brigham Young 17 7 37 20
3. San Diego State 12 12 29 30
4. Nevada-Las Vegas 10 14 24 36
5. New Mexico 12 12 28 30
6. Utah 12 12 24 31
7. Air Force 0 23 8 44
 
Projected NCAA Teams (1): Texas Christian.
Conference Schedule: 24 games. Schedule begins March 20.
Conference Tournament: Six teams, double-elimination, May 20-24 at Fort Worth (Texas Christian).
 
PLAYERS TO WATCH
ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
C—Drew McDonald, Sr., New Mexico (.275-2-38). 1B—Kasey Ko, Jr., Brigham Young (.358-2-45). 2B—Matt Hibbits, Sr., New Mexico (.341-7-44). 3B—Nick Romero, Jr., San Diego State (.319-6-47). SS—Troy Hanzawa, Sr., San Diego State (.307-1-28). OF—Corey Shimada, Jr., Utah (.346-6-45, 12 SB); Matt Vern, Jr., Texas Christian (.319-5-36); Kent Walton, Jr., Brigham Young (.350-8-45, 12 SB). DH—Sean McNaughton, So., Brigham Young (.327-12-43 in 2005).

P—Seth Garrison, Jr., Texas Christian (1-0, 1.93, 23 IP/24 SO); Bobby LaFromboise, Sr., New Mexico (7-3, 3.35, 89 IP/74 SO); Stephen Strasburg, So., San Diego State (1-3, 2.43, 7 SV, 37 IP/47 SO). RP—Marc Baca, Jr., Nevada-Las Vegas (4-3, 3.51, 5 SV, 41 IP/27 SO)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Matt Vern, of/1b, Texas Christian.

PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Stephen Strasburg, rhp, San Diego State

TOP NEWCOMERS
1. Greg Holle, rhp, Texas Christian (HS—Loudenville, N.Y.)
2. Andrew Cashner, rhp, Texas Christian (Tr.—Angelina, Texas, JC)
3. Erik Castro, c/1b, San Diego State (Tr.—Arizona)

PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2008-09 DRAFTS
1. #Stephen Strasburg, rhp, San Diego State
2. Seth Garrison, rhp, Texas Christian
3. Nick Romero, 3b, San Diego State
4. Andrew Cashner, rhp, Texas Christian
5. Kent Walter, of, Brigham Young
 
SHORT HOPS
• Texas Christian coach Jim Schlossnagle had his most experienced team a year ago, and the Horned Frogs will be hard-pressed to repeat last year's 48-14 record after their draft and graduation losses. Three of the team's top four starters, ace closer Sam Demel and the batters who hit 2-to-5 in the TCU order are gone, but the cupboard isn't bare. RHP Seth Garrison seeks to return from Tommy John and should be ready by March, if not the beginning of the season. A pair of twice-drafted juco transfers, RHPs Andrew Cashner and Matt Coburn, will compete for innings with highly touted freshmen such as RHPs Greg Holle and Chris Anagnostou. An experienced outfield should carry the offense, with redshirt junior OF Matt McGuirk, who struggled last season coming off two shoulder surgeries, back healthy alongside senior OF Clint Arnold and Matt Vern, who shifts from first base to the outfield. "He's a very physical player," Schlossnagle said of Vern, whom he compared to former Yankee Shane Spencer. "He has run 6.6(-seconds) in the 60 yard dash . . . His tools may play out better in the outfield, and he's got an average arm and instincts."

• San Diego State is a collective 20 games under .500 (142-162) under Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who enters his sixth year as coach still searching for his first regional bid. After completing a sweep of Air Force with a 31-0 victory and moving to 27-17, 11-4 in the conference last year, the Aztecs lost 13 of their final 15 games. They have two of the best talents in the Mountain West with junior 3B Nick Romero, an athletic switch-hitter, and hard-throwing sophomore RHP Stephen Strasburg, who moves into the rotation as the Friday starter after thriving as the closer last year. San Diego State also is counting on contributions from impact newcomers such as 1B Erik Castro, who transferred in after a year at Arizona; OF Cory Vaughn, a freshman whose father Greg played in the big leagues, hitting 50 homers as Gwynn's Padres teammate in 1998; and RHP Addison Reed, who will step into Strasburg's old closer role.

• Nevada-Las Vegas welcomes junior OF Jay Sferra, whose career started at Arizona State as a freshman when his father of the same name was an assistant coach for the Sun Devils. Sferra had personal problems that prompted him to leave ASU and sit out last season, but he has decided to return to baseball. He will be joined in Vegas by another ASU transfer in Jeff Urlaub, who went 5-3, 4.82 in 2006 for the Sun Devils before missing most of last season with elbow surgery.

• New Mexico welcomes new coach Ray Birmingham, who had a very successful career at New Mexico JC, including a 2005 national championship and .805 winning percentage since 2000. Birmingham brought three players with him this year, including OF Brian Cavazos-Galvez, who hit .477 to rank ninth nationally among juco players, and RHP David Carpenter, a sophomore closer with a low-90s sinker and sweeping slider. Birmingham also has a reliable Friday starter to rely on in senior LHP Bobby LaFramboise, who spins a solid curveball and keeps the ball in the ballpark, giving up just three home runs in 89 innings last season. He turned down the Diamondbacks as a 14th-round pick.

• Brigham Young lost two key pitching recruits as the Mets signed RHP Cole Abbott, and RHP Taylor Cole, the top prep player in Nevada, opted for CC of Southern Nevada. It's a pity because the Cougars return several key pieces to a potent offense that almost powered the team to a regional bid last season. 3B Steve Parker was co-freshman of the year in the MWC, and he's got plenty of help in the lineup, particularly in the outfield. Sophomore Jonathan Cluff, Utah's top prep prospect in 2006, returns healthy after being slowed by a foot injury a year ago. A pair of former second basemen will join him in the outfield, as 5-foot-8 Sean McNaughton returns from a two-year Mormon mission trip to play left field, and speedster Kent Walton also shifts to the outfield. Walton was kicked out of school in early February (losing his ecclesiastical blessing, a must at BYU, which is sponsored by the Mormon church) but was reinstated soon thereafter. "I believe we have one of the strongest outfields in the conference, if not the entire western part of the U.S.," coach Vance Law said. "They have the ability to put up huge offensive numbers and are versatile enough where they can hit any spot in the order."

• Air Force was winless in league play this year and is just 33-173 in four seasons under coach Mike Hutcheon. The Falcons had a player drafted last year, however, in 1B Karl Bolt, and feature a recognizable name this year in infielder Vai Schierholtz, younger brother of Giants outfielder Nate.
WEST COAST CONFERENCE
HOW THEY'LL FINISH
  Conference Overall
  W L W L
1. *+San Diego (11) 18 3 43 18
2. *Pepperdine 14 7 33 25
3. Santa Clara 9 12 27 29
4. Loyola Marymount 9 12 22 33
5. Gonzaga 15 6 33 25
6. San Francisco 9 12 27 28
7. Portland 7 14 21 30
8. Saint Mary's 3 18 21 29
 
Projected NCAA Teams (2): San Diego, Pepperdine.
Conference Schedule: 21 games; begins March 28.
Conference Tournament: Best of three series between two top teams, May 23-25.
 
PLAYERS TO WATCH
ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
C—Tommy Medica, So., Santa Clara (.373-1-23). 1B—Mitchell Bialosky, Sr., San Francisco (.345-5-40). 2B—Randy Wells, So., Saint Mary's (.354-1-37). 3B—Gabe Alcantar, So., Santa Clara (.343-3-33). SS—Chase d'Arnaud, Jr., Pepperdine (.331-3-28). OF—Donald Brown, Sr., Pepperdine (.328-3-25); Josh Romanski, Jr., San Diego (.335-3-30); Angelo Songco, So., Loyola Marymount (.321-4-33, 22 2B). DH—Joel Staples, Jr., Saint Mary's (.311-6-35).

P—Brett Hunter, Jr., Pepperdine (6-5, 3.94, 2 SV, 82 IP/76 SO); Brian Matusz, Jr., San Diego (10-3, 2.85, 123 IP, 163 SO); Josh Romanski, Jr., San Diego (9-1, 3.05, 112 IP/92 SO). RP—A.J. Griffin, So., San Diego (6-2, 2.70, 11 SV, 63 IP/65 SO).

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Chase d'Arnaud, Jr., Pepperdine.

PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Brian Matusz, lhp, San Diego.

TOP NEWCOMERS
1. Kyle Blair, rhp, San Diego (HS—Los Gatos, Calif.)
2. Victor Sanchez, 3b, San Diego (HS—Norwalk, Calif.)
3. Scott Alexander, lhp, Pepperdine (HS—Santa Rosa, Claif.)
4. Matt Thomson, rhp, San Diego (Tr.—Santa Rosa JC)
5. Martin Viramontes, rhp, Loyola Marymount (HS—Fresno, Calif.)

PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2008-09 DRAFTS
1. Brian Matusz, lhp, San Diego
2. Brett Hunter, rhp, Pepperdine
3. Josh Romanski, lhp/of, San Diego
4. #Matt Thomson, rhp, San Diego
5. Chase d'Arnaud, ss/3b, Pepperdine
6. #Tommy Medica, c, Santa Clara
7. Mark Willinsky, rhp, Santa Clara
8. Joel Staples, ss, Saint Mary's
9. #A.J. Griffin, rhp, San Diego
10. Nate Newman, rhp, Pepperdine
 
SHORT HOPS
• Pepperdine lost four players picked in the first five rounds, and a strong recruiting class led by LHP Scott Alexander and RHP Tyler Hess, the projected closer, should help replace some of the lost pitching production. Junior Chase d'Arnaud, whose younger brother Travis was the Phillies' supplemental first-round pick in 2007, was expected to shift from third base, where he was the league's top defender, to shortstop. Chabot (Calif.) JC transfer Bryce Mendonca, a 5-foot-10, 160-pound waterbug with plus-plus speed, should play third but also could shift to short.

• Santa Clara hopes for a breakout year by redshirt sophomore RHP Mark Willinsky, who posted nine saves as a freshman and was the No. 3 prospect in the Alaska League in the summer of 2006. Willinsky missed last season with academic issues, taking a redshirt, and the Broncos could use him recovering his 90-94 mph fastball he showed in 2006. The Broncos have the league's top catcher in sophomore Tommy Medica, who played for Team USA last summer.

• Saint Mary's was picked for last in the league but returns its top player in junior SS Joel Staples, who missed the final 20 games in 2007 due to a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury. Staples returned healthy in the summer and helped lead Athletes In Action to the Alaska League title, hitting .292.

• San Francisco hopes a change of scenery helps 6-foot-6 LHP Evan Frederickson, who posted a 6.98 ERA in 57 innings over the last two seasons at Virginia Tech, prior to transferring. Frederickson pitched the last two summers in the Cal Ripken Sr. League, struggling to locate his fastball, which reaches 93 mph, and decent curveball. His Bethesda teammate this summer, RHP Brian Anderson, should join him in the weekend rotation and will try to build on his Ripken League momentum, when he ran his fastball velocity up to 91-93 mph. 1B/LHP Mitchell Bialosky, who began being a two-way player in earnest just last season, slots into the rotation between them.

• Portland improved its ERA from 6.47 to 4.94 in the first year under pitching coach Larry Casian, a nine-year big league veteran and former Cal State Fullerton pitcher in the late 1980s. It also was the first year coach Chris Sperry's assistants were full-time employees. Four of Casian's pitchers were drafted, and one, 6-foot-5 LHP Ari Ronick, brings 216 innings of experience back for his senior season thanks in part to a stress fracture in his pitching elbow that drove him down in the draft (to the 38th round). A nephew of Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson, Ronick had a 3.05 ERA in 41 innings a season ago before deciding to have surgery.
WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
HOW THEY'LL FINISH
  Conference Overall
  W L W L
1. *+Fresno State (18) 17 7 38 29
2. Louisiana Tech 14 10 35 24
3. Nevada 15 9 35 26
4. Hawaii 11 13 34 25
5. San Jose State 11 13 34 26
6. Sacramento State 10 14 17 40
7. New Mexico State 6 18 22 34
 
Projected NCAA Teams (1): Fresno State.
Conference Schedule: 32 games. Schedule begins March 14.
Conference Tournament: Six teams, May 22-25 at Ruston, La. (Louisiana Tech).
 
PLAYERS TO WATCH
ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
C—Danny Grubb, Jr., Fresno State (.296-3-27). 1B—Gabe Jacobo, Jr., Sacramento State (.363-14-41). 2B—Eric Wetzel, Jr., Fresno State (.346-1-36). 3B—Kyle Bellows, So., San Jose State (.343-6-47). SS—Blake Crosby, Jr., Sacramento State (.258-0-13). OF—Jericho Jones, Jr., Louisiana Tech; (.297-5-36); Brandon Haislet, Sr., Hawaii (.335-4-39, 13 SB); Steve Susdorf, Sr., Fresno State (.340-12-68, 12 SB). DH—Shaun Kort, So., Nevada (.392-6-50).

P—Luke Burnett, Jr., Louisiana Tech (5-8, 4.93, 1 SV, 91 IP/115 SO); Tanner Scheppers, Jr., Fresno State (7-5, 4.65, 93 IP/94 SO); Justin Wilson, Jr., Fresno State (8-5, 3.19, 101 IP/105 SO). RP—Matt Daly, So., Hawaii (7-1, 3.37, 1 SV, 75 IP/80 SO).

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Jericho Jones, of, Louisiana Tech.

PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Luke Burnett, rhp, Louisiana Tech.

TOP NEWCOMERS
1. Max Peterson, lhp, San Jose State (Tr.—San Diego Mesa CC)
2. Lance Abbott, 3b/rhp, Sacramento State (Tr.—Fullerton, Calif., CC)
3. Matt Lopez, ss, New Mexico State (Tr.—Oklahoma State).

PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2008 DRAFT
1. Luke Burnett, rhp, Louisiana State
2. Tanner Scheppers, rhp, Fresno State
3. Matt Daly, rhp, Hawaii
4. Jericho Jones, of, Louisiana Tech
5. Gabe Jacobo, 1b/3b, Sacramento State
 
SHORT HOPS
• The Western Athletic Conference has an odd number of schools (seven) spread out geographically from Hawaii to Louisiana, and has decided to go to four-game conference series to combat the compressed schedule. League play begins March 14-16, with teams playing 32 league games—each league school has to play two others home and home. San Jose State, for example, gets nearby Sacramento State for eight games but also Louisiana Tech. "We really won't know the ramifications of that until we are in the middle of it, but just from a standpoint of what will be physically demanded of our players, it's going to be very tough," Spartans coach Sam Piraro said. "Long weekends, tough weekends, battles of attrition at times. I'm anxious to see how our team is able to handle that." Louisiana Tech gets San Jose State and Hawaii; league favorite Fresno State has New Mexico State and Nevada as its partners.

• Sacramento State (also known as Cal State Sacramento) won just 17 games a year ago, but veteran coach John Smith, entering his 30th year at the school, expressed his optimism over a team that returns three fine infielders and five seniors to the starting lineup. "We have more experience than in years past," he said, "with a better all-around pitching staff." Junior infielder Gabe Jacobo, a third baseman or shortstop in the Alaska League last summer, returns to first base after slugging 14 home runs last spring and another five in Alaska, where he ranked as the No. 4 prospect. He's joined in the infield by Sr. 3B David Flores, an excellent defender, and junior SS Blake Crosby, a Brigham Young transfer who is the younger brother of Athletics SS Bobby Crosby. The projected Friday starter is Lance Abbott, a two-way player and son of ex-big leaguer Paul Abbott.

• Louisiana Tech has not been to regionals since 1987 and fell just short a year ago, losing seven of its last 10 and three of its final four WAC series (all the ones on the road). The Bulldogs have a veteran club returning this season, however, led by 6-foot-8 junior RHP Luke Burnett, a possible first-round pick after his dominant turn in the Cape Cod League last summer; 6-foot-5 RHP/OF Jericho Jones, who hit 16 homers as a freshman but struggled as a sophomore with a nagging groin injury and ineffectiveness; and 6-foot-6 RHP Dylan Moseley, a command-and-control pitcher in the mold of his older brother Dustin, an Angels righthander. The Bulldogs also added an impact transfer in athletic sophomore OF Clint Stubbs, younger brother of former Texas All-American Drew.

• Burnett and Fresno State righty Tanner Scheppers, who both flash 98 mph fastballs, are two reasons why the WAC has more power arms per capita than any college conference this season, and they aren't alone. Hawaii's smallish junior RHP Matt Daly also runs his fastball into the mid-90s, while New Mexico State RHP Tyler Sturdivant was sitting in the low 90s in fall 2005 before requiring Tommy John surgery in 2006. He missed all of last season but returns for '08. Daly had a strong summer on the Cape, throwing a no-hitter, while Nevada returns 6-foot-7 senior RHP Rod Scurry, the son of the ex-big leaguer of the same name. The younger Scurry has some projection left on his 90 mph fastball.

• Third base is the WAC's strongest position, with Sacramento's Flores, Nevada's Matt Bowman (back after missing most of last year with a torn right pectoral muscle) and Fresno State's Tommy Mendonca among the top players. San Jose State's Kyle Bellows could be the best of the lot, coming off a strong summer in the New EnglRP—and Collegiate League, where he ranked as the No. 2 prospect. He played shortstop over the summer, though his lack of speed makes him more of a third baseman down the line, and he hit .341/.441/.511 with wood, including 12 doubles.