• After a tumultuous few years, life is finally back to normal for Arizona State's
storied baseball program, which will celebrate its 100-plus major league alumni with a star-studded Feb. 9 dinner. Former coach Pat Murphy's abrupt ouster in November 2009 hurled the program into a maelstrom that continued with a lengthy investigation into NCAA rules infractions, eventually culminating in the Sun Devils being ineligible for the 2012 NCAA tournament. Even with that cloud hanging over them, the Devils went 36-20 last year (18-12 in the Pac-12), but they must replace mainstays Joey DeMichele, Deven Marrero, Andrew Aplin, Abe Ruiz, Brady Rodgers and Jake Barrett this spring. Even worse, rival Arizona
won its fourth national championship. Still, Arizona State looks poised to return to regionals this spring behind its power pitching. Jr. RHP Trevor Williams
(12-2, 2.05, 110 IP/59 SO) is a proven ace with a fastball that reaches the mid-90s and the ability to command his slider and changeup. His strikeout numbers should improve this year thanks in part to his improved slider. So. LHP Adam McCreery
pitched sparingly last year due to injury, but he is healthy now and showing a plus fastball and wipeout slider. Fr. RHPs Brett Lilek
and Ryan Burr
bring power stuff to the bullpen and will be counted upon to replace Barrett. The Sun Devils are optimistic that holdovers such as Jr. OFs Kasey Coffman
and Trever Allen
, So. LF Jake Peevyhouse
and So. 1B Rouric Bridgewater
are poised for breakout years offensively, but until they prove themselves, ASU's lineup is a bit of a question mark.
has made strides in three years under coach Lindsay Meggs, winning 13 league games to finish in seventh place in 2012—its highest finish since 2008. The Huskies welcome back four seniors in the everyday lineup and a pair of sophomores who looks poised to emerge as stars in powerful 1B Trevor Mitsui
(.308/.372/.376) and gap machine 2B Robert Pehl
(.293/.344/.389). Both players are coming off standout summers in the Cape Cod League, where Jr. RHP Austin Voth
(7-1, 4.14) has also flashed plenty of talent in the last two summers, bumping 93 with his fastball and missing bats with his slider. Voth could team with Jr. RHP Nick Palewicz
(1-2, 5.34) to form a quality one-two punch atop the rotation; Palewicz showed a heavy 91-94 mph fastball and a good 82-84 slider as a starter last summer in the Cal Collegiate League, where he ranked as the No. 5 prospect. Another summer league star, Jr. RHP Tyler Kane
(7-2, 2.19), will be counted on to anchor the bullpen after racking up 14 saves in the West Coast League.
and Washington State
can also entertain regional ambitions, though both teams have more questions to answer. The Golden Bears still lack exceptional pitching depth, but two returning weekend starters provide stability: Sr. LHP Justin Jones
(4-9, 4.57) is a wily veteran who has spent his entire career in the rotation, and Jr. LHP Michael Theofanopoulos
(3-5, 5.04) evokes former UCLA star Rob Rasmussen for his compact frame and sharp breaking ball. The Bears' offense is built around Jr. C Andrew Knapp
(.265/.347/.412), who has shown power from both sides of the plate over the last two summers in the Northwoods and Cape Cod leagues, prompting MLB scouting directors to vote him a first-team preseason All-American. He has athleticism and arm strength behind the plate, and he finally gets to prove himself as an everyday catcher now that Chadd Krist is gone. Derek Campbell
and Chris Paul
provide more athleticism up the middle, but both must improve their offensive production. In fact, with five of last year's top six hitters gone from the everyday lineup, Cal needs a lot more production from a raft of players.
• Washington State
took its lumps last year with a very young pitching staff, but it could be rewarded for throwing its young arms into the fire last year, because the Cougars' three projected sophomore weekend starters are uncommonly experienced: They logged a combined 26 starts and 191 innings as freshmen. Deceptive So. LHP Joe Pistorese
(4-3, 2.44) can bump 90 and has good feel for pitching, giving the staff a solid anchor. Towering So. RHPs Tanner Chleborad
(4-3, 4.24) and Scott Simon
(2-3, 4.09) both made jumps during the offseason, giving the Cougars the confidence to move Jr. RHP J.D. Leckenby
(4-7, 4.50) from the rotation into the closer role, where he could thrive with a power sinker that reaches 94 and a good changeup. The offense is built around a pair of toolsy lefthanded-hitting juniors in OFs Jason Monda
(.275/.369/.363) and Adam Nelubowich
(.254/.310/.381). Both have made names for themselves in the Cape League over the last two summers, and now they need their production to match their potential.
• Southern Californi
a and Utah
face uphill battles to contend for regionals in the loaded Pac-12. Utah could struggle to score runs with a lineup that could feature seven newcomers, but its all-senior rotation of RHPs Brock Duke
, Chase Rezac
and Joe Pond
should at least keep it competitive. The Utes also have more team speed than they've had in the Bill Kinneberg era, and they will rely on it to manufacture offense.
• USC's strength looks to be its pair of talented So. RHPs atop the rotation: Wyatt Strahan
(3-3, 1.37) and Nigel Nootbaar
(1-3, 3.31) will be counted upon to shoulder much greater loads after spending last year primarily in the bullpen. Both of them flash plus fastballs and swing-and-miss breaking balls (a slider for Strahan, a curve for Nootbaar). Jr. RHP Bobby Wheatley
(1-0, 3.46) looks like the front-runner for the No. 3 starter job, but heralded Fr. LHP Kyle Twomey
could push him. The Trojans lack pitching depth, however, and the lineup remains short on firepower. USC also will be without head coach Frank Cruz
—whose two Trojans teams are 48-63—after he was suspended while the school investigates
possible NCAA rules violations. Assistant Dan Hubbs
will lead the program during Cruz's suspension.