Pac 12 Conference Preview

Team to Beat: Oregon State.

The Beavers are back, led by reigning Pac-12 player of the year and defensive player of the year Nick Madrigal (.380/.449/.532), looking to defend a 2017 conference title after going 56-6, 27-3 with two separate 23-game winning streaks. They return much of that 2017 team, including shortstop Cadyn Grenier (.275/.395/.435), catcher Adley Rutschman (.234/.322/.306) and center fielder Steven Kwan (.331/.440/.400)—giving Pat Casey arguably the nation’s top defensive unit up the middle. Oregon State loses All-American Jake Thompson from the rotation, but will have 2017 Pac-12 pitcher of the year Luke Heimlich (11-1, 0.76) back for his senior season to take the ball on Friday nights and righthander Bryce Fehmel (6-3, 3.87) ready to go on Saturdays.

Player of the Year: Nick Madrigal, 2B, Oregon State.

The top-ranked college position player in the 2018 draft class is as safe a bet as any player in the nation to win his conference’s player of the year honor, especially after doing it in his sophomore season. The most talented hitter in the conference, Madrigal seemingly has no holes in his game: he’s a great runner, but his poise on the basepaths (16-for-20 in stolen base attempts) is even more impressive than his raw speed; his hands work equally well on the defensive side and he takes great routes to balls and turns double plays with no problem. In spite of all of his impressive tools, Madrigal’s work ethic, character and leadership are often cited by coaches and scouts before any one physical attribute. He’ll be a top of the first-round selection this June, regardless of his 5-foot-8, 165-pound frame.

Pitcher of the Year: Kris Bubic, LHP, Stanford.

Teammate Tristan Beck could have an argument for this honor based purely on talent, but after missing last season with a stress fracture in his back and the strides Bubic (7-6, 2.79) has taken since then, the 6-foot-3 southpaw gets the nod here. Bubic was thrown into the Friday night starter slot following Beck’s injury and acquitted himself admirably with the sixth-best ERA in the conference while striking out 96 batters and walking 31 in 90.1 innings. Bubic doesn’t light up the radar gun, but he has an excellent idea of where his pitches are going and is comfortable throwing his strong changeup in any count. After his impressive 2017 spring season, he excelled in the Cape Cod League, where he went 4-1, 1.65 and was named the league’s pitcher of the year.

Freshman of the Year: Garrett Mitchell, OF, UCLA.

Mitchell was the highest-ranked recruit to make it to a Pac-12 Conference team last fall, after being ranked No. 62 in last year’s BA 500. Aside from Auburn righthander Tanner Burns (38) and Florida shortstop Brady McConnell (39) Mitchell is the highest-rated freshman in the country. Concerns over Mitchell’s hit tool and how he would handle a professional schedule as a Type I Diabetic caused Mitchell to slide to the Athletics in the 14th round, but he’ll now be able to showcase his potential five-tool talent under coach John Savage. Projected to start in right field, Mitchell is capable of playing any outfield position as a top-of-the-scale runner, with a quick bat and raw power in the tank, though he struggled to get to it in games at Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High.

Top 25 Teams: Oregon State (2), Stanford (9), UCLA (13).

Other Projected Regional Teams:

Arizona: After a Lubbock regional appearance in 2017 following a 38-21 season in which the Wildcats led the Pac-12 in seemingly every major offensive category—batting average (.308), on-base percentage (.403), slugging percentage (.442), runs (453), hits (633), etc.—Arizona has many important lineup pieces coming back and poised for more postseason plate appearances. While the Wildcats won’t have J.J. Matijevic (.383/.436/.633) or Jared Oliva (.321/.385/.498) back in the fold, they still have plenty of firepower in standout sophomore third baseman Nick Quintana (.293/.394/.471), Preseason All-American first baseman Alfonso Rivas (.371/.483/.531) and veteran outfielders Cal Stevenson (.311/.448/.461) and Mitchell Morimoto (.323/.420/.407). They also return righthander Cody Deason (5-3, 3.86), who will move to the front of the rotation following strong summer in the Cape Cod League where he posted a 1.19 ERA in 22.2 innings of work with 32 strikeouts and 11 walks.

California: The Bears will be under the tutelage of Mike Neu this spring after David Esquier moved to Stanford following his 18th season at the helm. The transition to Neu—who was Cal’s pitching coach from 2012-15—should be made all the easier with a talented, experienced team in front of him, headlined by the top two-way prospect in the nation in outfielder/righthander Tanner Dodson (2-6, 5.37 on the mound, .299/.360/.457 at the plate) and reigning conference freshman of the year Andrew Vaughn (.349/.414/.555). While Dodson will get most of his mound work from the bullpen, Neu has some talent in the starting rotation as well, with one of the conference’s top 2019 prospects in sophomore righthander Jared Horn (3-5, 4.64), who took the Friday role as a freshman last season and led the Bears in innings pitched (77.2). The Bears should have the offensive juice to hang with the rest of the conference, but will need Horn and others to take strides on the mound to truly live up to their potential. Neu, who pitched for four major league organizations and threw 46 big league innings, has the exact background necessary to help make that happen.

Washington: After finishing as conference runner-up in 2016, Washington took a step back in 2017, going 28-26 and finishing in seventh place. The Huskies should be able to get back on track this season, as they return much of what was a young lineup last year and bring back three of their top four starters in junior righty Joe Demers (6-3, 3.35) and sophomores Jordan Jones (5-8, 4.42) and Chris Micheles (1-5, 4.38). Ninth-year head coach Lindsay Meggs will miss having Noah Bremer—who led Washington in nearly every major pitching category—on Friday nights after the Rangers selected him in the sixth round of last year’s draft, but Demers has the stuff to fill his shoes and is coming off a solid summer in the Cape Cod League as well. Much of the Huskies success will depend on the steps that the offense takes this season, but they have all the elements—including several experienced bullpen arms and exciting newcomers like speedy freshman outfielder Braiden Ward—to get back to a regional and make noise in the postseason.

Notable Storylines:

There’s a new face filling out the Cardinal’s lineup card for the first time in 41 years at Stanford, as legendary coach Mark Marquess retired after a 42-16 campaign last season. David Esquer was named the new head coach on June 16, 2017, and moves to Klein Field by way of Evans Diamond, after 18 years as California’s head coach. Esquer played shortstop for Stanford under Marquess from 1984-87 and was a starter on the 1987 national championship team. In addition, he served as an assistant coach from 1991-96. No stranger to Stanford or the Pac-12, Esquer’s transition should be a smooth one, and he inherits a top-10 club, but it will be interesting to see how this new era begins.

There’s nowhere to go but up for the Sun Devils in 2018, right? The 2017 season saw Arizona State (23-32) fall below .500 for just the second time in program history and tie Southern California for the worst record in the Pac-12. Fourth-year head coach Tracy Smith brings in the No. 4 recruiting class to improve the team—which finished last in on-base percentage (.331) and allowed the highest opposing batting average (.296) in the conference—with seven players ranked in last year’s BA 500. The development of that freshman class as well as a group of talented sophomores—led by outfielders Hunter Bishop (.301/.363/.484) and Gage Canning (.332/.366/.538) and catcher Lyle Lin (.290/.356/.371)—will determine how quickly ASU gets back into form.

Top 20 2018 Draft Prospects: 
1. Nick Madrigal, 2B, Oregon State 
2. Tristan Beck, RHP, Stanford 
3. Cady Grenier, SS, Oregon State 
4. Matt Mercer, RHP, Oregon 
5. Kris Bubic, LHP, Stanford 
6. Tanner Dodson, OF/RHP, California 
7. Nico Hoerner, SS/2B, Stanford 
8. Trevor Larnach, OF, Oregon State 
9. Drew Rasmussen, RHP, Oregon State 
10. Kyle Molnar, RHP, UCLA 
11. Cody Deason, RHP, Arizona 
12. Alfonso Rivas, OF, Arizona 
13. Justin Hooper, LHP, UCLA 
14. Jon Olsen, RHP, UCLA 
15. Willie MacIver, C/3B, Washington 
16. Connor Higgins, LHP, Arizona State 
17. A.J. Graffanino, SS, Washington 
18. Lyle Lin, C, Arizona State 
19. Steven Kwan, OF, Oregon State 
20. Joe Demers, RHP, Washington

Top 10 2019 Draft Prospects: 
1. Nick Quintana, 3B, Arizona 
2. Andrew Vaughn, 1B, California 
3. Jared Horn, RHP, California 
4. Hunter Bishop, OF, Arizona State 
5. Kenyon Yovan, RHP, Oregon 
6. Adley Rutschman, C, Oregon State 
7. Erik Miller, LHP, Stanford 
8. Michael Toglia, OF, UCLA 
9. Kyle Hurt, RHP, Southern California 
10. Grant Gambrell, RHP, Oregon State

Top 10 Freshmen: 
1. Garrett Mitchell, OF, UCLA 
2. Kyle Hurt, RHP, Southern California 
3. Drew Swift, SS, Arizona State 
4. Alika Williams, SS/2B, Arizona State 
5. Kevin Abel, RHP, Oregon State 
6. Boyd Vander Kooi, RHP, Arizona State 
7. Christian Robinson, OF, Stanford 
8. Ben Ramirez, SS, Southern California 
9. Nick Brueser, INF, Stanford 
10. Clayton Keyes, OF, Washington State

Best Tools
Best Pure Hitter: Nick Madrigal, Oregon State 
Best Raw Power: Nick Quintana, Arizona 
Best Strike-Zone Discipline: Nick Madrigal, Oregon State 
Best Athlete: Hunter Bishop, Arizona State 
Fastest Runner: Garrett Mitchell, UCLA 
Best Baserunner: Nick Madrigal, Oregon State 
Best Defensive C: Adley Rutschman, Oregon State 
Best Defensive Infielder: A.J. Graffanino, Washington 
Best Infield Arm: Cadyn Grenier, Oregon State 
Best Defensive Outfielder: Daniel Amaral, UCLA 
Best Outfield Arm: Tanner Dodson, California 
Best Fastball: Matt Mercer, Oregon 
Best Breaking Ball: Tristan Beck, Stanford 
Best Changeup: Kyle Molnar, UCLA 
Best Control: Kris Bubic, Stanford

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